Oaxaca is often cited as one of the cultural and culinary hubs of Mexico. After basing ourselves there for a month to explore the colonial city in depth, we certainly would agree. Yet while culture and delicious food were highlights in Oaxaca, we discovered much more.
There are fantastic adventures to embark on from the city to explore the entire state of Oaxaca. There’s also lots of fun to be had within the city of Oaxaca itself. We’ve written this travel guide about the top things to do in Oaxaca in an effort to not only highlight some of Oaxaca’s must-do cultural activities, but also to expose some of the very worthwhile journeys you can seek out from this magical city in Mexico. So take a look at all the things to do in this colorful Mexican city surrounded by the magestic Sierra Madre Mountains.
Here are the top 15 of what we think are some of the best things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico, presented in no particular order.
1) Unwind in Oaxaca’s Zocalo
You can’t possibly take a trip to Oaxaca without visiting the Zocalo. That’s the main square located right in the historic center of town. You’ll inevitably end up here at some point, but it can also be a perfect starting point to get acquainted with the city. Oaxaca’s Zocalo is always full of local life, but come on a weekend evening and you’ll really see this place in all of its glory.
To the delight of local children, balloon vendors are never in short supply of their helium filled products. They also sell a cylinder balloon-like toy that the kiddos absolutely love bouncing up in the air.
Enjoy a sit in the Zocalo itself to soak in the distinctly Oaxacan atmosphere. Consider buying a “respado” (shaved ice) from one of the many street stall vendors who are positioned to help you cool off.
Alternatively, consider chilling out at one of the many patio cafes that surround the entire Zocalo. During our visit, we found that El Importador had the best prices of pitchers of cervezas. Wherever you choose, be sure to have some small change on you to tip the xylophone players who are almost certain to come entertain you with an impromptu performance. But if you prefer a more intimate atmosphere, skip the patio and instead try to get a balcony table at TR3S 3ISTRO, which offers a nightly two-for-one happy hour on all drinks from 4:00-9:00.
2) Visit the Culture Museum of Oaxaca Even If You Don’t Like Museums
If you’re anything like us and prefer to experience a location rather than peruse through exhibits, then you might not want to use your time in Oaxaca at a musem. Yet we still found the Oaxaca Museo de las Cultares to be one of the very worthwhile things to do in Oaxaca.
First off, there’s this awesome-looking turquoise encrusted skull that was apparently dug up at a nearby ancient site. That alone is worth the Culture Museum’s modest 57 peso price of admission!
But other than this crazy skull and all the other exhibits that many people find fascinating, the museum grounds themselves are such a scenic place to walk through. The museum is actually housed in a former monastery that dates back to the 1600’s. Even if you don’t look at any of the museum’s displays, it is very enjoyable to simply stroll around the expansive hallways and through the former monastery’s courtyards.
The impressive window views of the surrounding Ethnobotanical Garden may even keep you distracted from the exhibits the museum houses. Bonus thing to do in Oaxaca: if you really dig horticulture, consider diving deeper for a tour of these Ethnobotanical Gardens. Yet the Oaxaca Culture Museum provides a some great peeks into the massive garden.
3) Go to Church!
Oaxaca has some grand churches and cathedrals that you simply must pop into as you walk around the city’s charming streets. If you were to only explore one church in Oaxaca, make sure that it’s the Templo de Santo Domingo. It’s an impressive sight from the outside but go through the grand doors of this 400+ year old structure which will reveal an intricate interior. Perhaps most notable is how everything is covered in gold, so much gold! Be sure to duck into the elaborate Rosary Chapel that will be on your right, after walking through the main church entrance.
Like many Mexican towns, there seems to be an impressive church just about every couple of blocks. Other nearby churches in Oaxaca that are worth taking a look at are the Basílica de la Soledad and the Cathedral at the Zocalo. When poking into these sacred places, remember to be respectful. It’s recommended to wear pants that cover the knees and a shirt that covers the shoulders. This isn’t taken too strictly in Oaxaca, but it should still be observed as a sign of respect.
4) Wander Through Oaxaca’s Wonderfully Chaotic Markets
No trip to Oaxaca can be complete without wandering through a local market. A great place to start your market adventure is just south of the Zocalo where you’ll discover the joys of two adjacent mercados: Benito Juarez Market and 20 de Noviembre market.
Here, you can find just about anything from flowers, to toys, to meats, to chocolate, to mezcal, to clothes, to herbs, to local crafts, and of course, women selling plenty of chapulines (fried grasshoppers) by the basketful. Try them! For a more filling meal, pull up a stool at one of the many food stalls there and chow down on a local delight. Another good option for a local meal inside a market is Mercado Democracia (AKA Mercado Merced).
Or for a real cultural experience, travel about a half hour east of Oaxaca on a Sunday to get to the weekly Tlacolula de Matamoros market. It’s one of the oldest markets in Mesoamerica and one of the largest markets in this entire region.
5) Drink the Local Firewater: Where to Try Mezcal in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is world-renown for its deliciously intoxicating mezcal. Mezcal in Oaxaca is typically drunk straight and at room temperature. It’s sipped rather than shot, and to use salt & lime would be an insult. Sometimes the mezcal is served with sour orange slices and sal de gusano (a powder mixture of salt, spices, and ground up worms that is actually much more palatable than it sounds). Other times you may simply receive a small glass of water to cleanse the pallet.
Mezcal is similar to tequila in that it is made from the agave plant, but mezcal is so much more complex, both in terms of taste and production. Many different types of agave are used for mezcal, whereas tequila is actually a type of mezcal that only uses blue agave. Additionally, mezcal’s underground roasting process gives it a unique smoky flavor.
To really get a more intimate understanding of the liquor, journey about 45 minutes outside of Oaxaca city to the village of Matatlan. This is where many of Mexico’s famed mezcal distilleries are located. There are dozens of mezcal factories in this area, several of which will offer a complimentary tour and plentiful tastings of both mezcal and crema de mezcals. Often, tours that go to Mitla and/or Hierve de Agua (more on those places below) will also stop at one of Matatlan mezcal distilleries. Be sure to inquire about that if booking one of these day tours. The tour we took to Hierve de Agua stopped at El Rey de Matatlan and provided some very generous tastings of their liquor after being given a brief tour that showed off their mezcal production process.
If you prefer to try mezcal in Oaxaca city, you can find it at almost any restaurant or bar. Here are a few noteworthy places that specialize in mezcal that we can personally recommend from visiting firsthand:
- In Situ – a tasting of three quality local mescals from the local area (pictured below) will run 200 pesos.
- Los Amantes – tiny mezcal place near Templo de Santiago.
- La Mezcalerita –mezcal bar that also has great selection of Oaxacan craft beer.
Also, many restaurants in Oaxaca will greet you with a complimentary mezcal. The free mezcal may not be from the best bottle around, but it’ll give you a chance to try the liquor without spending a peso. Tobaziche is one restaurant/bar in Oaxaca who keeps with this practice and it’s a place that we recommend for both food and drinks.
Whether out at the mescal factories of Matatlan or in an intimate bar back in the city, just be sure to have “drinking mezcal” on your list of things to do in Oaxaca!
6) See the Widest Tree in the World: Arbol del Tule
Have you ever wondered where the world’s widest tree is? Okay, we’ve never really given it much thought either. But apparently it’s right here just outside of Oaxaca city, in the village of Santa Maria del Tule.
It’s not out in a forest but rather in the town square in front of the village’s pleasant church. They say the world’s largest tree is over 2,000 years old!
The Arbol del Tule is an interesting sight to see, although we wouldn’t recommend making the 20-minute (by car/taxi) trip from Oaxaca solely to see it. Rather, consider stopping by this record-holder on the way to somewhere in that direction, such as Mitla or Hierve de Agua.
Entrance into the fence that surrounds Arbor del Tule is a mere 20 pesos per person. But you need not even pay that, since you can clearly see the world’s widest tree without entering the fenced-off area. It’s huge, so you really can’t miss it.
7) Go For a Swim in a Petrified Waterfall: Hierve de Agua
Hierve de Agua is one of the most popular day trips from Oaxaca, and for good reason – it’s a pretty incredible sight! A little more than an hour outside of Oaxaca city, you’ll find one of the only petrified waterfalls in the world. It often received comparisons to Pamukkale in Turkey.
Thousands of years of this mineral-rich water flowing over the sides of this cliff has developed the beautiful white calcium layers that elegantly drape over the side of the steep cliffs. Hierve de Agua literally translates to “water boils” due to the appearance that the water gives off when coming out of the ground. But the water temps are actually tepid and are perfect for a quick dip. Towards the top of Hierve de Agua, you’ll find plentiful drink stands to further aid in your refreshment.
From the parking lot atop Hierve de Agua, you’ll need to walk down a path for about 10 minutes to actually reach the petrified waterfall itself. From there, have a look around or go for a swim in one of the pools. There are bathrooms to change into a bathing suit both at the parking lot and down below at Hierve de Agua itself. Bring some spare change for the bathroom attendant, of course. There’s also a network of hiking trails to explore further and get different vantage points of this natural wonder. Hierve de Agua is another “must” for things to do in Oaxaca.
How to Get from Oaxaca to Hierve de Agua
To get from Oaxaca to Hierve de Agua without your own car, you are essentially limited to (1) negotiating with a taxi guide or (2) taking a day tour to the site. You can attempt public transport to Hierve de Agua by way of bus from Oaxaca to La Cuchilla near Mitla. Sometimes pick-up trucks that go from that intersection to Hierve de Agua when full, but this is not reliable.
There is a common tour you can find that travels from Oaxaca to Hierve de Agua and includes five different stops: (1) Arbor del Tule, (2) an artisan-weaving shop, (3) a mezcal distillery, (4) Mitla and (5) Hierve de Agua. Some say the tour feels a bit rushed, but we found it to be a great way to pack in many sites all in one day. You can book the 5-stop tour (also known as “Package 2”) at any travel agency around town for very reasonable prices that are sometimes negotiable. But be sure to bring cash for lunch and entrance fees to each of the sites since only transportation is included in their prices.
To book a tour in advance that includes all entrance fees and also includes hotel pick-up & drop-off, check availability of this 5-stop tour to Hierve de Agua that you can book online with Viator.
Alternatively this shorter tour of Hierve de Agua skips the Arbor del Tule and Mitla to give you a little more time to explore the Hierve de Agua petrified waterfall.
8) Marvel at the Ancient Mitla Ruins
It’s amazing to think the ancient Zapotec civilization inhabited the sacred grounds of Mitla from around 900 BC until the Spanish invaded Mexico in the 1500’s.
This ancient site acted as the religious center for the civilization. Think of it as the Vatican for the Zapotec. Many important ceremonies were carried out here, including gruesome human sacrifices – yikes!
The region has extremely dry air that keeps the remaining structures amazingly preserved. Today you can roam around this former religious center to imagine what life was once like.
How to Get From Oaxaca to Mitla
To get from Oaxaca to Mitla, you can find one of the regular buses that run from the Second Class Bus Station in Oaxaca and expect to pay about $40 pesos. Or you can attempt to negotiate a taxi.
Mitla is also one of the main stops on the Package 2 day tour that also includes Arbor de Tule, Hierve de Agua, the mezcal factory, and the weavers, which you can book for cheap prices once in town or book it in advance online.
For a shorter half-day guided excursion to only Mitla and a short stop at Santa Maria Tule, check availability of this tour that includes hotel transfers.
9) Climb Up the Incredible Monte Alban Pyramids
Arguably one of the easiest and most worthwhile half-day trips from Oaxaca is the nearby Monte Alban ruins that sit conveniently perched above the city. Monte Alban is said to be the most important archaeological sites of the region. This was the political center for the Zapotecs. More recently Monte Alban was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status due to its importance throughout the region.
Climbing to the tops of the pyramids not only offer spectacular views of the expansive ruin site, but you can also see all of Oaxaca in the valley down below. The very orderly set-up of the temples, ball courts, and fields makes Monte Alban one of the most impressive ancient sites in all of Mexico. Don’t miss what we thought was one of the most awe-inspiring things to do in Oaxaca!
How to Get From Oaxaca to Monte Alban
We recommend going from Oaxaca to Monte Alban by bus, which are frequent. You can find the Oaxaca to Monte Alban shuttle bus tickets for sale at a booth in front of a store in the Zocalo next to the Subway. According to the Oaxaca to Monte Alban bus timetable during our visit, the bus departs from the Zocalo area starting at 8:30 am and continues hourly until the last bus departs at 3:30 pm. The return schedule for the Oaxaca to Monte Alban bus begins at Noon and the last shuttle bus returns from Monte Alban to Oaxaca at 5:00 pm. Oaxaca to Monte Alban bus tickets cost 60 pesos per person for the roundtrip shuttle bus.
If you prefer to have a small guided tour of Monte Alban and the ease of hotel pick-up check out pricing and availability for this 3-hour tour of the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For a full day tour that includes Monte Alban, consider taking what is commonly known as the “Package 1” tour. This goes from Oaxaca to Monte Alban before proceeding to Arrazola (village known for its wood carvings), Coyotepec & its 16th-century Cuilapam Convent, and lastly, Cuilapam, where the famous black pottery is produced. Most agencies throughout Oaxaca sell this tour for cheap prices (entrance fees not included), but you can also book such a tour in advance and includes direct hotel transfers.
10) Attend a Guerreros de Oaxaca Baseball Game
If you visit Oaxaca during the Spring and Summer months, from March until August, consider taking in a baseball game to cheer on the Guerreros de Oaxaca. We found there to be no need to secure Guerreros de Oaxaca tickets in advance. Seats were plentiful. Just walk right up to the ticket booth outside the main entrance of Eduardo Vasconcelos Stadium, and you’ll likely be able to buy tickets right behind home plate for a mere 50 pesos (~$2.80) for what may be the best deal for a night out in Oaxaca.
Once inside the stadium, you’ll find a jovial crowd and plenty of beer vendors walking through the aisles who are all anxious to get an ice-cold cerveza in your hand. Many baseball traditions were still the same as in the US. You’ll likely enjoy the beer, the popcorn, the cheering, many strikes, and even the seventh inning stretch. But other aspects are uniquely and beautifully Mexican. In addition to hotdogs there are plenty of tacos and even chapulines (grasshoppers) to eat by the bagful. The pace of the game seemed pleasantly faster and there seemed to be a lack of time fillers.
Going to a Guerreros de Oaxaca baseball game just may be one of the most fun and affordable things to do in Oaxaca during an evening. The AAA team plays at Eduardo Vasconcelos Stadium, which is a half hour walk (or a short taxi ride) from the city center. You can find the Guerreros de Oaxaca schedule here to see if they are playing while you’re traveling to Oaxaca, but be sure to distinguish the home games (Guerreros are listed in right column) from the away games (listed in left column).
Not in Oaxaca during baseball season? Then consider attending a futbol (soccer) game instead by rooting for the Alebrijes de Oaxaca. They play at the Estadio Tecnológico de Oaxaca. The Alebrijes have two seasons: January to April and again from July to November.
11) Experience the Fun of Lucha Libre in Oaxaca
Another sportily consideration is attending a Lucha Libre match in Oaxaca! These masked wrestling matches are so obviously choreographed, yet it’s all such great fun. Having a few drinks beforehand will heighten the fun factor further.
Locals really get into Oaxaca’s lucha libre events that are typically held every other Sunday. Check luchalibreaaa.com for information on upcoming events. If it hasn’t been updated recently, you can also try this Facebook Page which occasionally posts information, pricing, and locations for Lucha Libre in Oaxaca.
This quintessential Mexico experience will have you ringside cheering on your new favorite lucha wrestler. Not sure who to cheer for? Go with the crowd favorites! It’ll be fairly obvious. Grab a beer and enjoy this spectacle that we firmly believe to be one of the best things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico.
12) Go to a Fiesta! Guelaguetza, Semana Santa, or Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
There seems to be so many events in Oaxaca all throughout the year. So if you’re in the city at the right time, be sure to take in one of their festive celebrations. Search around to see what cultural events are taking place during that time of year.
Semana Santa in Oaxaca is quite an experience, as Holy Week is celebrated in full force throughout the city. On Good Friday in particular, you’ll find many station of the cross reenactments throughout the area, all-descending to one of the local churches. Bring your earplugs though, because this time of year also involves lots of ear-piercing firecrackers throughout the days and nights.
At the start of November, Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in Oaxaca is said to be one of the most vibrant celebrations in all of Mexico. Or if you happen to be in Oaxaca in late July, don’t miss the unique Guelaguetzas celebration of local folk dance.
But those are all the major events in Oaxaca. Also check out what other scheduled events may be taking place while you’re in town. During our visit we were thrilled find restaurant week events and even a craft beer festival. Keep an eye out for flyers and street posters. For those planning in advance, we found a great resource to be the Calendar maintained by QuePasaOaxaca.
13) Go For A Hike in the Pueblos Mancomunados
In the Sierra Madre mountains looming high above Oaxaca is a network of eight little villages. They’re connected not only by some rough roads, but also by a network of hiking trails. For those who like to get off the beaten path, these tiny towns are the perfect place to escape to. These remote and rural pueblos feel worlds away from the busy city life in Oaxaca. The Pueblos Mancomunados are also a good place to come cool off, as these villages get cold in the high altitude, typically exceeding 2,000 meters. Be sure to bring warm clothes with you to the Pueblos Mancomunados, particularly if you’re staying overnight.
One of the best hikes throughout the Pueblos Mancomunados is the Latuvi-Lachatao trail that which ultimately traverses the side of a canyon. While the trek can be done in a day from Oaxaca, we recommend instead staying for a night (or two) in the charming village of Lachatao. To book one of the very nice cabañas, email or call Veronica (Spanish-speaking) who runs the village’s tourism operations (phone: 951-292-5419, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
How to Get from Oaxaca to Latuvi-Lachatao Canyon Trail
Getting from Oaxaca to Latuvi on your own with no car can prove to be a difficult challenge, as there is little information available and even most locals don’t seem to know, often providing incorrect and conflicting directions to Latuvi. So here are directions how we managed to get from Oaxaca to Latuvi by bus and taxi:
To get from Oaxaca to Latuvi, first take one of the many local public buses that run to the Monumento Benito Juarez on the outskirts of town. Note: there are multiple Monumento Benito Juarez’s, so be sure you go to the one located at the intersection of 175 (Oaxaca-Tuxtepec) & 190 (Carr. Internacional). From there, walk about 100 meters up 175 and you’ll come across a taxi stand on the right-hand side of the road that has reasonably-priced taxis making the trip from Oaxaca to Latuvi.
Hiking the Latuvi-Lachatao Canyon Trail
Once you get to Latuvi, the trail head for the Latuvi to Lachatao canyon trail is fairly well marked. It’s located on the lefthand side of the road just before you approach the town of Latuvi. If you do go into Latuvi, you will find a tiny tourism office run by Expediciones Sierra Norte who can provide you additional information and even guide service for the Latuvi-Lachatao canyon trail. They’ll also assess a small fee for accessing the trail, regardless of whether or not you take their guide service. We didn’t use a guide and were able to navigate the trail on our own, despite questioning a few forks in the trail. Follow the yellow signs that read “Camino Real.” Novice trekkers will certainly want a guide.
You can also arrange the entire trip directly with Expediciones Sierra Norte who will plan out all your transportation, meals, logistics, and provide guide service every step of the way. However, although Sierra Norte works with most of the Pueblos Mancomunados villages, it does not work with Lachatao. Therefore you’ll have to make those arrangements separately, directly with Veronica. We found Expediciones Sierra Norte’s prices to be a bit excessive, but the added cost may be worth the convenience and ease for others. They also have many other trekking itineraries throughout the Pueblos Mancomunados.
14) Take a Beach Break on Oaxaca’s Coast
The State of Oaxaca has some wonderful undiscovered beaches to explore but they are quite far from Oaxaca City. To get to the paradise that awaits on the Pacific coast, you’ll need to take a shuttle bus (van) through the mountains 6-8 hours, or alternatively an overnight ADO bus. So this recommendation is only for those who have some extra days to plan a beach getaway.
Yet if you do make the effort to journey west, you will be handsomely rewarded with what we think are some of the best beaches in all of Mexico! We throw our support specifically behind Playa Zipolite for its laidback vibe, its gorgeous stretch of sand, great beach front restaurants, its budget-friendly accommodations, and the boat tours you can take to snorkel and see dolphins. Zipolite has it all!
Really, Zipolite deserves an entire blog post all unto itself, which we hope to write soon.
15) Gorge Yourself on Oaxaca’s Local Cuisine …All of It!
Oaxaca is a gastronomic hub of Mexico and there are some fantastic foodie finds throughout the city. Eating is a thing to do in Oaxaca! You can visit some top-notch restaurants in Oaxaca to experience a true culinary treat.
But you must also try the street food, as you may just determine that such cheap eats are equally delicious (or dare I say sometimes even better!) To uncover the best street food in Oaxaca, keep a keen eye out for long lines of locals and you’re certain to find a winner. Simply eating your way around town is one of the best things to do in Oaxaca!
Oaxaca has a variety of regional dishes, that you must try while in the area. Here are some notable dishes from Oaxaca that we recommend:
- Tlayudas – This may be one of the most iconic dishes to Oaxaca. Huge tortillas are filled with a spread of refried beans, quesillo (Oaxacan cheese), lettuce, and avocado. They’re then grilled on open coals for a light & crispy texture. Often they’re topped with a serving of meat, usually carne asada. Tlayudas are a bit like a quesadilla, yet closer to the size of a pizza! They’re absolutely delicious but we can never seem to finish an entire one. Oaxacan locals tell us they’re best eaten as a late night snack on the way home from the mezcal bars. One of our favorite tlayuda shops is somewhat of a latenight Oaxacan institution, Cenaduría Tlayudas Libres, which doesn’t even open until after 9:00 pm.
- The 7 Moles of Oaxaca – The folks in Oaxaca take their moles seriously and there are a total of seven different moles to try: negro, amarillo, verde, colorado, rojo, mancha manteles, and chichilo negro. The labor-intensive mole negro (black) is arguably the most renowned mole of Oaxaca and is a good place to begin your mole journey. It has a complex combination of about 20 different ingredients ranging from spicy chiles that are countered by the sweetness of chocolate, yet without an overpowering presence of either. One of the differences of Oaxaca’s mole negro is the addition of hoja santa leaves which impart a very unique combination of flavors within this single ingredient. You may pick up on flavors such as licorice, root beer, nutmeg, and black pepper all because of the hija santa leaves.
- Chapulines – For those brave enough, you’ve got to try these crunchy grasshoppers! You’ll find women selling them in baskets in Oaxacas markets and often seasoned with chile and lime – they’re actually not bad and make for a decent accompaniment to a cold cerveza. But better yet, we find that they make good toppings or fillings in other Mexican dishes. We’ve tried chapulines on tlyadas, quesadillas, and in others that the critters added a nice crunch to.
- Quesillo – This white stringy cheese is so delicious simply on its own, fresh from the market. But you’ll also find quesillo as a key ingredient in many Oaxacan dishes, such as tlayudas. This Oaxacan cheese is similar to mozzarella but a bit saltier. Quesillo is a must-try food when in Oaxaca!
- Tasajo – This dried beef is yet another trademark Oaxacan food. You’ll find it on many Oaxacan menus as a stand-alone dish or as an ingredient or topping for meals like tlayudas. We found it to taste like a cross between less salty beef jerky and a skirt steak. That may not be the most appetizing description, but trust us when we tell you that tasajo is delicious! Still, we found tasajo to vary drastically in quality from place to place. So if you didn’t like it the first time, don’t write it off completely. Try it somewhere else!
For an intimate understanding of Oaxacan cuisine, consider taking a cooking course such as this highly-rated Oaxacan cooking class that takes place at one of Oaxaca’s raved about restaurants.
Best Restaurants in Oaxaca
So where are some of the best restaurants in Oaxaca to eat some of this delicious cuisine? We spent the month eating our way around this foodie city in order to now leave our Oaxaca restaurant reviews and opinions. Admittedly, we’ve only scratched the surface of the food scene in this culinary capital. Yet we hope our monthlong foray into this food mecca, may help to steer others to what we thought were some of the best restaurants in Oaxaca. We’re not gourmands. But having eaten our way around the world for three years, we know good food when we taste it! We also kept an eye out for the best restaurant values in Oaxaca.
Are These the Best Restaurants in Oaxaca?
There are three perennially raved about & recommended restaurants in Oaxaca. We tried each one. These restaurants are often highlighted in guide books, written up by international newspapers, and have a wealth of positive reviews on crowd-source review sites. These places are more upscale, showing off Oaxaca’s culinary prowess. They can be a bit on the pricey side by Mexico standards, but would be bargains elsewhere. Also given their popularity, you often will require a reservation to get a table, particularly during high season in Oaxaca.
- Danzantes – Of these three restaurants, Danzantes was our favorite, partly because of the excellent value of their unadvertised set menu of the day, which they have only on Wednesdays and Fridays 1:00-4:00. This $115 peso menu del dia delivers a delicious three course lunch, that comes complete with mezcal and a fruit water (agua). For a few extra pesos, upgrade to wine. The outdoor patio with flowing fountains is lovely. The service is prompt, although not particularly friendly. Most importantly, the creative dishes that appeared before us completely lived up to its high reputation with a beautiful presentation to match its deliciousness.
- Casa Oaxaca Restaurant – This esteemed favorite of Oaxaca will not be a let down. The gorgeous rooftop patio offered sweeping views of the nearby Templo de Santiago as the night sky took over, providing for a pleasant open air ambiance. The complimentary made-from-scratch salsa that is prepared and hand-muddled tableside is a nice touch. The fusion menu highlights many fresh seafood dishes and we found Casa Oaxaxa’s menu to be priced fairly given the upscale atmosphere. The cuisine itself was good, although not particularly memorable given the restaurant’s noteriety. Still, we found it to definitely be worth a visit when in Oaxaca.
- Catedral Restaurante & Bar – Our visit to Catedral Restaurante & Bar was for their highly regarded Sunday brunch buffet. We thought this would be a great and economical way to sample many of the restaurant’s dishes in one sitting. Meh. The buffet wasn’t bad by any means but we didn’t feel that it showed off the Catedral Restaurante’s full potential. Service was fast & friendly, and the live pianist added to a classy atmosphere. The buffet offered a variety of local options that were heavy on pork and chicken, in addition to a handful of international dishes, of which nothing particularly stood out. We say, consider skipping the Sunday buffet at Catedral and sitting down to a full meal instead.
There are two other upscale Oaxaca favorites which are continually raved about to round out a top 5. We didn’t get a chance to personally try these, but we would be remiss not to at least mention them in a “best restaurants of Oaxaca” section. They are: Pitiona and Origen. Give ’em a try and let us know what you thought.
Other Favorite Restaurants in Oaxaca
- La Teca – It’s worth venturing outside of the Oaxacan city center to enjoy some authentic isthmus cuisine, typical to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region. Try the ganaches, a signature snack. Better yet, order the plate of isthmus favorites as your meal to have a perfect sampler platter of the region. Arguably even more delightful than the food itself is La Teca’s homey atmosphere, which is essentially an addition to someone’s house. Ask for a table in the garden out back and you’ll be escorted through the kitchen and even a living room.
- Los Pacos – If you came to Oaxaca to try the 7 moles, Los Pacos may be a good place to determine which is your favorite. Ask your server about the mole sampler to try them all!
- Comala – This restaurant will never win any culinary awards for having the best food in Oaxaca, yet Comala had us returning again and again for its primo location, fantastic rooftop patio with amazing views, very reasonable prices (particularly for the location), and its simple yet solid fare that never let us down.
- Tobaziche – Anywhere that greets us with a complimentary mezcal deserves a spot on our “best-of” list but Toabaziche earns it on the merits of its creative dishes that are perfect for a snack or a meal. The restaurant has a balanced ambiance that is stylish yet relaxed, with an interesting menu that plays up local ingredients like chapulines and nopal (cactus).
- Pez -This trendy little taco joint has great fried fish and shrimp tacos, an extensive salsa bar, and a friendly owner. It all makes for an excellent lunch choice in Oaxaca.
- Fonda Florecita – You simply have to have a market meal at some point while in Oaxaca and Fonda Florecita may be one of the best forays into this dining option. Located in the middle of the Mercado Democracia (also known as Mercado Merced), pull up a chair at one of the communal tables, make friends with a local and dig in!
- Tlayudas el Negro – You haven’t really been to Oaxaca unless you’ve stopped here to have an enormous late-night tlayuda to help soak up all those mescals and cervezas you’ve been indulging in. Wash it down with a agua de limon to aid with your rehydration.
- menu del dias on Calle Novembre de 20 – There are a handful of restaurants across the street from the Benito Juarez market that offer $50-$60 peso 3-course menu del dias, including drink. We tried them all and although none were particularly great, you simply can’t beat the value of a complete lunch for under $3 USD.
- Santisima Flor de Lupulo – Not a restaurant, but rather one of the only brewpubs in Oaxaca. After you’ve had your fill of mezcal, stop by for a glass of their home-brewed craft beer, as there are usually three on tap. It’s better, more intimate and more casual than the Biznaga, the other oft-recomended place in town where you can swig a house-brewed cerveza.
Where to Stay in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is a very walkable city. Hence we recommend staying within a 20-minute walk of the city center to enable you to get around easily on foot. Anywhere further than that, you’ll be in for some long walks or having to rely on taxis, which involves dealing with the city’s traffic. If staying in the hottest months of April-May you may want to ensure that your accommodation has an air-conditioner. Many do not since Oaxaca otherwise has mild climate and the aircon isn’t needed.
Where We Stayed – Airbnb: We rented an apartment through Airbnb, as we typically do for longer stays. But whether only staying for a few days or an entire month, there are some great and very affordable Airbnb options around Oaxaca’s city center. It was nice to be in a neighborhood and experience Oaxaca more like a local. If you’ve never used Airbnb before and want to give it a try, you can use this link to get $25 off your first stay.
Hostels in Oaxaca
For solo backpackers or those who enjoy a hostel environment, these are some of the highest rated hostels in Oaxaca’s city center. But for those traveling as a couple or group, we found better value at nearby hotels compared to private rooms in a hostel.
- Hostal Central – Good location hostel with privates and dorms that has many fun shared areas to mingle, such as courtyard, dining room, rec room, and even a rooftop patio.
- Azul Cielo – With both privates and dorm rooms, this hostel has a relaxed vibe and provides guests lots of welcomed extras such as complimentary breakfast and free bike rentals!
- Hostel Don Nino – This hostel has inexpensive private rooms and dorm bed, across from Parque Paseo El Llano.
Best Value Hotels in Oaxaca
When traveling around the world, we seek out the best hotels possible, looking for a prime location, great reviews, wifi, and low prices. We’ve scouted out these 3-star and 4-star hotels to be some of the best in the city center that offer prices under the $50 mark.
- Hotel Casa del Sotano – A charming 3.5-star hotel located directly in the historic city center, only 3 blocks from Templo de Santo Domingo.
- Hotel Trebol – Rooms have pretty Oaxacan decor, this 3-star hotel is located only a block away from the Zocalo and amidst Oaxaca’s lively market yet has soundproofed rooms. The complimentary breakfast in the open-air courtyard adds to Trebol’s great value.
- Mision de Los Angeles Hotel – It’s more than a 15-minute walk to the city center, but it may be worth it to cool off in the enormous onsite swimming pool!
- Hotel Pasado del Centro – Simple, very central, well-decorated hotel with lovely outdoor terrace and free bike rentals. It has very inexpensive rooms if you don’t mind a shared bathroom. Otherwise shell out a few pesos more to get a private bathroom.
Worth the Splurge
For those who want to class it up to have a more luxurious experience while in Oaxaca, these are among the best high-end hotels in the city:
- Hotel Palacio Borghese – Sometimes priced at just a little more than a hundred bucks per night, this ultra-elegant property right in the city center is an absolute steal! Take a look at the gorgeous rooms, some of which sport balconies that overlook the historic centre.
- Quinta Real – It’s in a historic building, has beautiful gardens and a lovely swimming pool. Plus it’s all positioned in the prime location right between the Santo Domingo church and the Zocalo.
- Hotel Azul – This ultra-stylish and modern hotel is centrally located a few blocks from the main pedestrian thoroughfares has a unique feel to it. Don’t miss the rooftop terrace with views of the cityscape and mountains!
- Hotel Casa Sierra Azul – If you’ve ever wanted to stay in a historic 19th century mansion, this is your chance. And the location is hard to beat, only steps from the Zocalo.
Are You Packed and Ready To Explore Oaxaca?
Before you depart on your trip to Oaxaca, here’s a few final preparations to consider:
- What to Pack for Your Trip To Oaxaca Mexico? Oaxaca can get chilly, particularly so at night. But temps will significantly warm up during the day. It got particularly hot during March and April. You’ll need to pack for both warm and cool weather in Oaxaca. To ensure you haven’t forgotten anything important, you can check out our Ultimate Packing Checklist which is full of packing tips and recommendations.
- Have You Purchased Your Travel Insurance Yet? You never know what could go wrong during a trip to Mexico. Possibilities include getting sick, a flight gets canceled, earthquakes (Oaxaca is in an active tectonic area – we felt many tremors), lost baggage, your phone falls in the water, your camera gets stolen, etc. Lately there have been strikes and political protests affecting Oaxaca. Don’t let any of this ruin your adventures here. Travel insurance will have you covered, so that you won’t be stranded or incur the high cost associated with some of these unfortunate possibilities. We never roam around Mexico without travel insurance. We use and have been happy with World Nomads, with what we’ve found to have the best price and coverage combination. Enter the dates for your trip to get a quick estimate.
- Where To Next? Check Out Our Other Mexico Travel Guides: If you found this Oaxaca travel guide to be helpful, you may also like our guides to Merida and San Cristobal de las Casas:
Best Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexico?
So those our are top suggestions for the best things to do in Oaxaca Mexico area. If you’ve been to Oaxaca before, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below! What are your favorite things to do in Oaxaca? What do you think are some of the best restaurants in Oaxaca?
Or if you’re traveling to Oaxaca, please let us know if this travel guide was helpful or if you have any questions! We hope you have a great trip to this special region of Mexico! You can also pin this image to your Pinterest boards, if you’d like to save this post for later.
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