If You Only Have Three Days in Oaxaca

In town: a women’s handicraft co-op, a sip of tejate, and desserts like cascada de chocolate. In the surrounding villages: handmade weavings, Zapotec ruins, mezcal production in action, and natural mineral pools and waterfalls.

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
Teotitlan del Valle is world-renowned for its production of high quality woven goods. The weaving tradition in this village dates back to ancient times, when they paid tribute to the Aztecs in weavings, although at that time they wove mostly cotton and used the backstrap loom. The majority of the residents in this community speak Zapotec as well as Spanish and have conserved many of their traditions. On a visit to Teotitlan you can visit a family of weavers and they will show you the whole process of how the rugs are made from spinning the wool to dyeing it (using natural colors such as the cochineal and indigo) and weaving the rugs. Designs range from traditional geometric patterns like those found on the walls of the nearby Mitla archaeological site, to more modern designs such as reproductions of the work of contemporary artists.
Cerro de la campana, Santa María Atzompa, Oax., Mexico
On a hilltop adjacent to Monte Alban, just outside the city of Oaxaca, there is an archaeological site that has just recently been excavated. Atzompa was a satellite city of the great Zapotec capital of Monte Alban. The site provides breathtaking views of the valley and is fascinating in its own right. Archaeologists have uncovered three ball courts, two sumptuous residences, several temples and a large kiln here. Atzompa archaeological site dates from around 650 to 850 A.D. Since excavations are not yet complete, very few tourists make their way up here, so you can quietly enjoy the beauty of the spot.
Calle Macedonio Alcalá 403, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
Los Danzantes is a hip restaurant offering contemporary Mexican cuisine. It’s located on Alcalá street, in the same building that houses the Oro de Monte Alban jewelry store. It’s in a large partially covered patio space, with adobe walls and a koi pond on one side, and a bar made of recycled materials. Many of the items on the menu are made with traditional Mexican ingredients, but combined in new and interesting ways, and presented artfully. If you’re not feeling adventurous, there are also a number of pasta dishes to choose from. For dessert, the cascada de chocolate (fondant cake), served with vanilla ice cream will satisfy any chocolate cravings you may have—but order it in advance because it takes about 20 minutes to prepare.
Flores Magón s/n, Local 30-31, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
While wandering through Oaxaca‘s markets, you’ll probably spot large clay basins filled with a liquid that’s topped with a beige foam. This is tejate, a drink that dates back to pre-Hispanic times. It’s made with cocoa beans, maize, the seed of the mamey fruit, and a flower called “Rosita de Cacao.” All the ingredients are ground up to form a floury paste. The “tejatera” mixes it by hand while slowly adding water until it is completely mixed and a thick foam forms on the top. In Oaxaca city a great place to try tejate is La Flor de Huayapam. It’s a stall inside the Benito Juarez market. They have a counter and wooden stools so you can have a seat while you sample the concoction.
Latin America
Mitla is located in the Oaxaca Valley, just a short distance from Oaxaca City. However you get there, it’s worth the visit. It’s not a large site; an hour and a half will be more than enough time to walk around. There are so many things that set Mitla apart from other ruins in Mexico. First off, it’s neither Maya nor Aztec. Its influence comes from the Zapotec and Mixtec cultures. It sits right on the desert floor, so cactus, desert scrub, and aloe plants punctuate the surrounding landscape rather than jungle. There are no pyramids to climb; the highest structure on the site probably has no more than 10 or so steps to get to the top. There are no stone sculptures or carved walls to be seen anywhere. Instead, the decoration on the buildings are beautiful geometric patterns created by inlaid and interlocked pieces of stone (grecas). Amazingly enough, no two walls have the same grecas, and on some of the walls, you can still see the original red-painted stone. Some of the walls and the cupolas of the San Pedro Church (built by the invading Spaniards) have been restored to their red-colored glory. The desert backdrop, the grecas, the pops of red color – it all adds up to a very special place!
Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca, Mexico
This small village just east of Mitla has a large sign declaring it the world capital of mezcal. Here you’ll be able to see the whole process of how mezcal is made from harvesting the agave plant to distillation. There’s a wide variety of producers—some are small family distilleries, others have larger-scale production—but they all use traditional techniques. But the best part of a visit to Matatlán is the opportunity to sample the wide variety of mezcals including reposado, añejo, espadín and tobalá, among others.
Calle Macedonio Alcalá 202, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
The 17th century mansion that houses Oaxaca‘s contemporary art museum is commonly referred to as “La Casa de Cortes,” although it was in fact built over a century after the death of Hernan Cortes, it is certainly lavish enough to have been worthy of the great conquistador. The front of the building has the family seal of the Lazo de la Vega and Pinelo families, who were the home’s original inhabitants. The state government acquired the building in 1986 and it housed a different museum prior to the opening of the MACO (Museo de Arte Contemporareo de Oaxaca) in 1992. The museum has 13 exhibit rooms, with the permanent collection on the second floor, and downstairs areas are used for temporary exhibits, which change frequently.
Exconvento de San Pablo Hidalgo 917 esquina con Fiallo
Oaxaca’s textile museum opened its doors in 2008. The museum is set in a lovely restored colonial mansion in Oaxaca city’s historical center on the same grounds as the San Pablo cultural center. The museum celebrates Oaxaca’s rich and varied textile traditions, and also hosts occasional temporary exhibits showcasing textiles from other parts of the world. It is a small museum, but the collection is well-selected and there are frequently conferences and workshops given here as well. The gift shop at the front of the museum has beautiful high quality textile pieces and other items for sale.
204 5 de Mayo
This handicraft shop in the center of Oaxaca is run by a group of women artisans. It’s one of the best places in town to purchase well-priced handicrafts, and it’s satisfying to know that the profits go to the women who produce the pieces. Walk through the various rooms—don’t forget to look on the second floor—and make your selections, then make your way to the front of the shop to pay. The little tin magnets near the entrance always catch my eye. There’s a huge variety of designs, and they’re so inexpensive. What better way to keep the memories of your trip alive than with a fridge magnet? But there’s so much more to choose from—lovely embroidered blouses, rebozos, leather huaraches, woven handbags, pottery, rugs, tin work, and jewelry... they’ve got it all.
108 A Gurrión
In response to the popularity of a large chain of coffee shops in Mexico selling “Italian” coffee, this family of coffee producers set up a little shop near Santo Domingo church and called it The Oaxacan Coffee Company. Here they proudly serve organic coffee that is exclusively from the area of San Miguel Talea de Castro, Oaxaca. It’s a small cafe with wooden benches and stools, and they serve the coffee in handmade pottery cups. The owner is friendly, the coffee is strong, and they also serve fresh pastries. You can get some coffee beans to go, as well as Oaxacan chocolate. If you like chocolate-covered coffee beans, stock up here!
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