Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s cultural and culinary hubs. Yet while culture and delicious food are indeed highlights, there is much more to discover and so many awesome things to do in Oaxaca!
There’s lots of fun to be had within the city of Oaxaca itself. The walkable historic city center of Oaxaca boasts beautiful architecture that goes back four centuries, filled with many sights to explore. Art galleries, historic churches, fascinating museums, some of Mexico’s best restaurants, and lively nightlife all await a visit to Oaxaca City.
Fantastic adventures can also be embarked on from this remarkable city to further delve into attractions throughout the entire state of Oaxaca. A wide variety of day trips await visitors, from tasting mezcal at distilleries to exploring ancient ruins to swimming atop a petrified waterfall!
Oaxaca Mexico Quick Travel Facts:
- Oaxaca Pronunciation: wuh-haw-kah
- Oaxaca City Population: 260,000
- Altitude of Oaxaca: 1,557 meters (5,108 feet)
- Oaxaca Weather: Warm afternoons give way to cool nights. Dry Nov-May. Occasional rains June-Sept.
- Oaxaca Airport: Oaxaca International (OAX) with connections throughout Mexico + LA, Houston, and Dallas. Check routes & prices on Skyscanner.
- UNESCO designation: in 1987 for its Historic Centre and Monte Alban ruins. More here.
We’ve written this detailed travel guide about the best 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 worthwhile journeys you can seek out from this inviting city in Mexico. So take a look at all the fun things to do in this colorful Mexican city surrounded by the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains.
15 Best Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexico
So what to do in Oaxaca? The following suggestions reveal our carefully curated list of the 15 best things to do in Oaxaca City and throughout the state!
We’ve also pinpointed each location mentioned in this Oaxaca travel guide to help get your bearings. Be sure to zoom into the city to further reveal the main attraction locations within Oaxaca’s historic city center. And come back to utilize this customized Google Map once you’re on the ground in Oaxaca.
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 centrally located place to start getting acquainted with the city. Oaxaca’s Zocalo is always full of local life, but come on a weekend evening and you’ll really see the Zocalo 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. Perhaps buy a respado (shaved ice) from one of the many street stall vendors who are positioned to help you cool off.
On the southern end of the plaza, head right into the Government Palace. The building is open to the public and features a beautiful mural painting depicting the history of Oaxaca.
Alternatively, consider chilling out at one of the many patio cafes that surround the entire Zocalo. Wherever you choose, be sure to have a few extra pesos on hand to tip the xylophone players who are almost certain to pass by to entertain you with an impromptu performance.
💡 Budget tip: We found that El Importador had the best prices of pitchers of cerveza.
💡 Happy hour on the Zocalo: If you prefer a more intimate atmosphere, skip the patio and instead try to get a balcony table at TR3S 3ISTRO. It can be a little pricey (by Mexico standards), but they offer a nightly two-for-one happy hour on cocktails, beer, and mezcal from 5:00-7:00 pm. Go then to enjoy more economical drinks as you peer down at the lively plaza below.
2) Experience the Culture Museum of Oaxaca
There are a handful of museums around Oaxaca, yet the Culture Museum remains the one that visitors must visit. Even those who don’t particularly enjoy slowly pursuing through museums will likely still find the Oaxaca Museo de las Culturas to be one of the very worthwhile things to do in Oaxaca.
You’ll be able to see one of the museum’s prized highlights. It’s a turquoise encrusted skull that was dug up at a nearby ancient site. That alone is worth the Culture Museum’s modest $70 peso price of admission!
But other than this crazy skull and more cultural exhibits that many find fascinating, the museum grounds themselves are such a scenic place to wander around.
This museum is actually housed in a former monastery, dating back to the 1600s. Even if you don’t look at any of the museum’s displays, it’s quite interesting to simply stroll around the expansive ancient 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.
💡 Nearby Oaxaca Attraction: If you really enjoy horticulture, consider diving deeper for a tour of the Ethnobotanical Gardens that can be viewed from the Culture Museum. The 2-hour English tours of the garden run Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 11:00 am for $100 pesos. Yet for the casual botanist, the Culture Museum provides some great peeks into the impressive garden, with its wide array of well-manicured cactus.
3) Visit the Templo de Santo Domingo Church and More
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.
The church is an impressive sight from the outside. But be sure to pass through the grand doors of the more than 400-year-old structure, which reveal its 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.
When poking into the Templo de Santo Domingo or any of Oaxaca’s churches, 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.
💡 More churches in Oaxaca: There seems to be an impressive church just about every couple of blocks in Oaxaca. Two other centrally located churches in Oaxaca that are worth taking a look at are
- Basílica de la Soledad, historic baroque church in Oaxaca centro, and
- Cathedral, grand Cathedral located at the Zocalo. Can’t miss it.
4) Wander Through Oaxaca’s Wonderfully Chaotic Markets
No trip to Oaxaca can be complete without wandering through one of its buzzing local markets. 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.
It’s a beautiful scene that must be experienced even for those who have no intentions of shopping.
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. That’s fried grasshoppers and they’re sold by the basketful. Try them!
More Markets in Oaxaca
➕ For market food: Pull up a stool at one of the many food stalls at Mercado Democracia and chow down on a local delight. Stop at one of the fondas at this food hall to enjoy a local meal experience. Fonda Florecita, in particular, can be a good choice. Note, this market is also known as Mercado Merced.
➕ Visit Oaxaca’s largest market: 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 not just in Oaxaca, but this entire region of Mexico. It takes a bit of an effort to reach by either taxi or local bus, but those who really enjoy shopping for local wares will be rewarded for their efforts.
5) Drink 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 instance mezcal drinkers 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 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 that unique smoky flavor it’s often known for.
Where to Drink Mezcal in Oaxaca
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 a day tour to those Oaxaca attractions. Many tours to Hierve de Agua stop at El Rey de Matatlan. We can vouch that they provided some very generous tastings of mezcal 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 and centrally located places that specialize in mezcal and we can personally recommend from visiting firsthand:
- In Situ – a tasting of three quality local mezcals from the local area (pictured below) will run $200 pesos.
- Los Amantes – tiny mezcal joint near Templo de Santiago.
- La Mezcalerita –larger mezcal bar that also has a great selection of Oaxacan cerveza artesanal (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 mezcal 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 it’s located 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 this world’s widest 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 the Mitla ruins or the Hierve de Agua petrified waterfall.
7) Take a Swim Atop 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 mountainside.
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 also 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.
🧭 If You Go: 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, but that will only bring you to La Cuchilla near Mitla. Sometimes pick-up trucks go the rest of the way, 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 in addition to lunch:
- Arbor del Tule, the world’s widest tree
- an artisan-weaving in the Zapotec community Teotitlan of the Valley
- a mezcal distillery in Matatlan
- the Mitla ruins, and
- Hierve de Agua.
🚐 5-stop Hierve de Agua Tour: This is a great way to pack in many sites all in one day. You can book this exact tour here on Viator. It’s really good value since the tour includes all entrance fees and even includes hotel pick-up & drop-off. It has a vetted track-record of travelers giving 5-star reviews. Check recent reviews, current availability, and up-to-date pricing of this tour.
It’s also possible to book similar tours once in Oaxaca. The prices can be slightly less on the ground, but they don’t include most entrance fees, don’t offer hotel pick-up, and the guide quality and pacing can be a gamble.
🚐 3-stop Hierve de Agua Tour: An alternative to the 5-stop tour is this other tour to Hierve de Agua, which skips the Arbor del Tule and Mitla to give you a little more time (a full two hours) to explore the Hierve de Agua petrified waterfall. It’s a bit cheaper too and still visits the weavers and a mezcal distillery. It’s nice to have more time at the petrified waterfall and save some cash, but you’ll be doing it at the tradeoff of missing the Arbor de Tule tree and the Mitla ruins. So just decide what’s important to you. This tour also receives great reviews. Check recent reviews now, current availability for your dates, and pricing of this tour.
8) Marvel at the Ancient Mitla Ruins
It’s amazing to think the Zapotec people inhabited the sacred grounds of Mitla for nearly two and a half millennia! Yet this was home to the ancient civilization from about 900 BC until the Spanish invaded Mexico in the 1500s.
This ancient site of Mitla 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.
🧭 If You Go: 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.
A tour to Mitla is much more convenient and prices are inexpensive.
🚐 Mitla is also one of the main stops on the “Package 2” day tour we mentioned above that also includes Arbor de Tule, Hierve de Agua, the mezcal factory, and the weavers, which you visit all in one day for those who book this tour.
🚐 For a shorter half-day guided excursion to only Mitla and a short stop at Santa Maria Tule (widest tree), check availability and pricing of this other tour which just visits those two sites in a half-day.
9) Climb Up the Incredible Monte Alban Pyramids
Mitla isn’t the only ruins around Oaxaca. Monte Alban is a wildly impressive site that’s even more convenient to the city. We’d vouch that a visit to Monte Alban is the most worthwhile half-day trips from Oaxaca. These well-preserved pyramids sit perched above the city and even offer sweeping views of Oaxaca down below.
Yet it’s the ruins themselves that really impress. Monte Alban is said to be the most important archaeological site of this region.
While Mitla acted at the religious center, Monte Alban 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. Read the full significance of both Oaxaca’s historic center and Monte Alban’s UNESCO listing right here.
Climbing to the tops of the pyramids not only offers 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
🚌 For those comfortable with independent travel, we suggest 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 on the west side of the Zocalo next to the Subway, here. The Oaxaca to Monte Alban bus timetable departs from the Zocalo area starting at 8:30 am and continues hourly until the last bus departs at 3:30 pm. It’s half-hourly on the weekends. 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 this 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 and much more, 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. To book in advance, check prices, availability, and recent reviews of this full day tour of Monte Alban and more.
10) Attend a Sporting Event Like 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! The Mexican League is a 16-team AAA league and Oaxaca plays host to one of those 16 teams.
It’s a great local experience to revel in the fun while in Oaxaca. In the Eduardo Vasconcelos 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 are still the same as baseball in the US. You’ll likely enjoy the beer, the popcorn, the cheering, many strikes, and even the seventh inning stretch.
But other aspects of attending a baseball game in Oaxaca are uniquely and beautifully Oaxacan. For example, in addition to hotdogs, there are plenty of tacos and even chapulines (grasshoppers) to eat by the bagful.
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 in the city.
Not in Oaxaca during baseball season? Then consider attending a futbol (soccer) game instead by rooting for the Alebrijes de Oaxaca. Soccer is much more of a past time in Mexico and Oaxaca is no exception to that.
Oaxaca’s football team plays at the Estadio Tecnológico de Oaxaca. The Alebrijes have two seasons: January to April and again from July to November. You can buy tickets directly from the stadium on the day of the event. Note: they aren’t quite as cheap as the baseball games and the stadium is not within walking distance.
11) Experience the Fun of Lucha Libre in Oaxaca
Another sporty consideration is attending a Lucha Libre match in Oaxaca! Yet it’s almost more theatre than it is actual sport. These masked wrestling matches are choreographed but the hits are hard and it’s all such great fun. Having a few drinks beforehand will heighten the fun factor even 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 checking this Facebook Page which sporadically 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 are 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 reenactments of the station of the cross, 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 cojetes (fireworks) throughout the days and nights.
At the start of November, Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) in Oaxaca is one of the most vibrant celebrations in all of Mexico. People flock from all over the world to check out Oaxaca’s rendition of this very special Mexican holiday. It all takes place annually on November 1st and 2nd. If coming during this period, be sure to reserve accommodation far in advance. (Sidenote: take a look here at what Day of the Dead in Mexico City is like.)
If planning a trip to Oaxaca in late July, don’t miss the unique Guelaguetzas celebration. It’s a major annual event in Oaxaca and involves local costumed folk dancing and parades that follow deep cultural tradition. Guelaguetzas occurs every year on the two Mondays following July 16th, but never on July 18th when it’s pushed back to the following week.
If not in town for one of these major events in Oaxaca. Also, check out what other scheduled events may be taking place while in town. During our last visit, we were thrilled to 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 this Calendar maintained by QuePasaOaxaca.
13) Go Hiking in Oaxaca’s 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 from Oaxaca city.
These remote and rural pueblos feel worlds away from the busy life in the city. It’s a breath of fresh air. Literally.
One of the best hikes throughout the Pueblos Mancomunados is the Latuvi-Lachatao trail which ultimately traverses the side of a canyon. While this 15-kilometer (9.3-mile) trek can be accomplished in a day from Oaxaca, we recommend instead staying for a night (or two) in the charming village of Lachatao.
Lachatao, and most all of these Pueblos Mancomunados, have mountain lodging to rest your weary legs. Home-cooked meals further await to refuel after a long day’s trek. And it’s all in the charmingly rural setting of these mountain towns, less than a two-hour drive away from the city.
The Pueblos Mancomunados are also a good place to come cool off during Oaxaca’s warmer months (March-May), as these villages get quite cold in this high altitude environment that exceeds 2,000 meters. Be sure to bring warm clothes with you to the Pueblos Mancomunados, particularly if you’re staying overnight.
🧭 If You Go: 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. So here are directions for how 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 here 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.
If You Go: Hiking the Latuvi-Lachatao Canyon Trail
Once you arrive to Latuvi, the trailhead 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.” And be sure to download the Maps.me app before you go. This offline maps app has the Latuvi to Lachatao canyon trail clearly marked on it so you can easily follow on your phone as you trek. Novice trekkers will certainly want a guide.
To book one of Lachatao’s very nice cabañas, email or call Veronica (Spanish-speaking) who runs the village’s tourism operations (phone: 951-292-5419, email: email@example.com).
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) Have a Beach Break on Oaxaca’s Coast
The state of Oaxaca has some wonderful undiscovered beaches to explore. The beaches are quite some distance from Oaxaca City. Yet those who can afford the time to get to Oaxaca’s coastline will be rewarded by what is arguably some of Mexico’s best beaches.
Beautiful golden sands and blue bays await travelers to this lesser-visited and uncrowded stretch of coastline. Along Oaxaca’s shore are some nice surf breaks and interesting snorkeling spots too. Seabirds abound, while dolphins and whales are regularly sighted offshore. Add to all that delicious local seafood served at the many beachfront palapa restaurants. Oaxaca’s beaches are a slice of paradise.
Some of the more notable beach spots are the surfing haven of Puerto Escondido, the laidback beach pueblos that extend out from Puerto Angel, and the slowly developing resort town of Huatulco.
We throw our support specifically behind Playa Zipolite for its ultra-relaxed vibe, its gorgeous stretch of sand, great beachfront restaurants, its budget-friendly accommodations, and the boat tours you can take to snorkel and encounter wild dolphins. Zipolite has it all!
🧭 If You Go: How To Get from Oaxaca City to the Beaches
A trip from Oaxaca city to Oaxaca’s beaches cannot be accomplished in a single day due to long travel distances involved. Instead, it should be pursued only for people who have at least a few extra days to get away to the beach or as part of a larger Mexico trip. You can get to the coast by local flights, an overnight bus that takes a prolonged highway route, or shuttle buses (van) that take a more direct route through twisty mountain roads.
✈️ There’s a 2:00 pm flight from Oaxaca City to Huatulco on TAR airlines with prices usually less than $2,000 pesos on Sun, Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat.
✈️ There’s also a regular flight on a small Cessna prop plane from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido with prices starting at $1,700 pesos. Check Aerotucan for more info.
🚌 ADO has three overnight buses and one day bus that takes the longer highway route to reach Oaxaca’s beaches. Tickets are priced at about $300 pesos and travel times can take anywhere from 9-12 hours depending on the bus and exact destination. Search ADO for exact times and prices.
🚐 Regular shuttle buses (vans) offer a more direct route from Oaxaca to the coast through the mountains. It can take about six hours or so to Puerto Angel beaches, like Zipolite, and may require a taxi or colectivo transfer for the final stretch. Shuttle buses to Hualtulco and Puerto Escondido take a bit longer. Prices are around $200 pesos or so, depending on the exact route. Many of these shuttles depart from the ADO bus terminal, located here, where you can find exact prices and times. Or inquire at your hotel.
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 in Oaxaca are equally delicious, or 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!
Unique Foods to Try in Oaxaca
There are many traditional Mexican food to eat in Oaxaca and international restaurants too. Yet Oaxaca has a variety of regional dishes, that are unique to this region. Hence it’s suggested to try these Oaxacan specialties while visiting the city. Here are some notable dishes from Oaxaca that we recommend seeking out:
- 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 tlayuda. They’re enormous and filling. 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 late-night Oaxacan institution, Cenaduría Tlayudas Libres, which doesn’t even open until after 9:00 pm and stays open pretty much until the crack of dawn.
- 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 by using this single ingredient. You may pick up on tastes such as licorice, root beer, nutmeg, and black pepper all because of the hoja santa leaves. Mole can be found at most restaurants in Oaxaca serving local cuisine. Yet Los Pacos can be a great place to embark on a mole journey.
- Chapulines – For those brave enough, you’ve got to try these crunchy grasshoppers! You’ll find women selling them in baskets in Oaxaca’s markets and often seasoned with chile and lime. If you can get past the mental aspect that you’re eating bugs, you’ll find that chapulines actually are not bad. They can 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. It tastes 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, as some are better than others. So if you didn’t like it the first time, don’t write it off completely. Try it somewhere else! You’ll find tasajo on many Oaxacan menus as a stand-alone dish or as an ingredient or topping for meals like tlayudas.
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 this delicious cuisine? We’ve spent over a month eating our way around this foodie city in order to drop some Oaxaca restaurant reviews and personal opinions on what is said to be some of the best restaurants. So we hope our foray into this food mecca may help to steer others to some of the gastronomic wonders that Oaxaca offers.
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-sourced 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 in other places around the world. 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 agua fresca (fruit water). For a few extra pesos, upgrade to wine. The outdoor patio with flowing fountains is lovely. 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 letdown. 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 Oaxaca’s menu to be priced fairly given the upscale atmosphere.
- Catedral Restaurante & Bar – Our visit to Catedral Restaurante & Bar was for their highly regarded Sunday brunch buffet. It can be a great and economical way to sample many of the restaurant’s dishes in one sitting. Service is fast & friendly, and the live pianist adds to a classy atmosphere. The buffet offers a variety of local options that’s heavy on pork and chicken, in addition to a handful of international dishes, of which nothing particularly stood out. The buffet is all quite good overall, but it’s worth considering sitting down to a full meal too.
- Pitiona – Chef José Manuel Baños dishes out some of Oaxaca’s most creative culinary offerings. Interesting appetizers include a fried avocado in black tempura and a ceviche composed of nopales (cactus) instead of fish. It’s a fusion of old-meets-new, as steak is accompanied by traditional black mole and risotto, while duck comes paired with local sweet potato dumplings. With such a diverse selection, it’s worth considering the $1,200 tasting menu to indulge in 10 different courses.
- Origen – Chef Rodolfo Castellanos has been receiving much praise for his modern approach to traditional Mexican cuisine that utilizes local Oaxacan ingredients. A heavy emphasis is placed on local sourcing whether it be from farmers in the surrounding pastures or seafood from the Oaxacan coast. This intimate restaurant is becoming a fan favorite on the Oaxaca dining scene.
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. Directions to La Teca are here.
- 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! With two locations now, you’ll find the more central one here.
- 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. Located with a view of the Santo Domingo church, right down Calle de Ignacio de Allende.
- 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). Find it here.
- Pez -This trendy little taco joint offers a casual taste from Oaxaca’s coast with great fried fish and shrimp tacos, an extensive salsa bar, and a friendly owner. It all makes for an excellent lunch choice in Oaxaca. It’s located here.
- 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 mezcals and cervezas you’ve been indulging in. Wash it down with a agua de limon to aid your rehydration. Get there after 9:00 pm and find it here.
- 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 a drink. This is a best bet for those traveling on a budget to have filling cheap lunches in Oaxaca. 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. Find them here.
- Santisima Flor de Lupulo – Not a restaurant, but rather one of the few brewpubs in Oaxaca centro. 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 Biznaga, the other oft-recommended place in town where you can swig a house-brewed cerveza. It’s a central location, right here.
Where to Stay in Oaxaca Mexico
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 a mild climate and the aircon isn’t needed.
Best Hostels in Oaxaca Mexico ⭐
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.
🛏️ Casa Angel – This is arguably the best hostel in Oaxaca. It boasts an included hot breakfast, a fun & stylish outdoor communal space, and activities every day of the week, from BBQs to yoga to salsa classes. The superior dorms are almost like capsule hotels, offering solo travelers more privacy while still maintaining low daily costs. Don’t just take our word on this awesome hostel. Lonely Planet lists it as their top choice for Oaxaca and it currently has the highest rating on HostelWorld. Because of these accolades, it does book up full in advance. So be sure to reserve in advance. Check availability now.
If Casa Angel is booked up, these two other hostels in Oaxaca centro make for fine alternatives:
🛏️ Hostal Central – Well-located hostel with privates and dorms that has many fun shared areas to mingle, such as a 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!
Best Value Hotels in Oaxaca ⭐⭐⭐
We always like to seek out the best budget-friendly hotels possible, looking for accommodation that has a prime location, great reviews, wifi, and low prices. In Oaxaca, we’ve honed in on these 3-star and 4-star hotels to be some of the best in the city center that offer prices under the $50 USD 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 – With pretty Oaxacan decor adorning the rooms, this 3-star hotel is located only a block away from the Zocalo and amidst Oaxaca’s lively market yet is completely soundproofed. The complimentary breakfast in the open-air courtyard adds to Trebol’s great value.
🏨 Mision de Los Angeles Hotel – It’s a bit out of the way, 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.
Oaxaca Hotels 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 center.
🏨 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.
Apartment Rentals and Airbnbs in Oaxaca 🏠
There are some great Airbnb apartment rentals throughout Oaxaca. We find Airbnbs to be ideal for longer stays to give a more homey-environment to settle down into a local Oaxaca neighborhood. Yet we’re further incentivized to use Airbnb for longer stays since hosts often offer discounts for weekly and monthly (28 days or more) bookings. So that’s what we tend to choose when staying in Oaxaca and spending time to research the city.
🏠 If you’ve never used Airbnb before and want to give it a try, you can use our referal link to get $40 off your first stay.
More Travel Tips for Oaxaca, Mexico
Before you depart on your trip to Oaxaca, here are a few final preparations to consider:
⏳ How many days to spend in Oaxaca? We’d suggest a bare minimum of 3-4 days to experience Oaxaca’s best highlights. For a quick trip, consider (1) one day exploring the city attractions, (2) a day trip to Hierve de Agua + Mitla +mescal distilleries, and (3) a day at the Monte Alban archeological site. Yet a full week would be much more ideal to get to know this special place on a deeper level and avoid rushing through the sights. Plan for a 10-14 day trip in total if also including a trip to one of Oaxaca’s beaches.
📅 Best time to visit Oaxaca? Any time! Day of the Dead (Nov 1-2) and Guelaguetzas (late July) are popular times to visit for the respective festivities. Yet expect a lack of accommodation with higher prices due to an influx of visitors during these periods. Those adverse to heat may want to avoid April and May, with high temperatures sometimes approaching 90° F / 32° C. Meanwhile, the rainy season is June through September. But it doesn’t bring persistent rains, so don’t necessarily forgo traveling to Oaxaca during this time.
🧳 What to Pack for Your Trip To Oaxaca Mexico? Since Oaxaca can get chilly at night, yet warms up during the day, you’ll need to pack for both warm and cool weather in Oaxaca. Check the monthly weather averages in Oaxaca to get an idea of the temperatures during your visit. To ensure you haven’t forgotten anything important, be sure to check out our Ultimate Packing Checklist which is full of packing tips and recommendations for travels through Mexico.
🚕 Getting Around Oaxaca The historic center of Oaxaca is very walkable and no two points are more than a pleasant 30-minute stroll. For further flung locations and arriving from the airport or bus station, taxis are a good option. There is currently no Uber or rideshare in Oaxaca. Yet taxis here tend to be honest and reliable. Confirm the fare before setting off. Colectivos and local buses can help to get outside of the city. Yet for attractions such as Hierve de Agua and the Mitla ruins, days tours can be a far more convenient option that will ultimately save lots of time and remain affordable.
💬 How’s Your Spanish? Given Oaxaca’s rising popularity with international tourism, there is some English spoken at a handful of the better restaurants and even some of the day tours we’ve mentioned. Yet much of the city and at most of local spots throughout this guide, you’ll find that people only habla español. Knowing some basics can really enhance a trip to Oaxaca and anywhere in Mexico. We like to use Babbel as an easy, fun, and inexpensive way to learn Spanish. With each lesson just 10-15 minutes, it’s something we can always work into the day and the associated app even lets us use it on-the-go. Right now you can use this discount link to save 25% off a 6-month or longer subscription.
⚠️ Have You Purchased Your Travel Insurance Yet? We found Oaxaca to be very safe, but you never know what could happen during 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, camera gets stolen, or you just get sick. In 2016 there were 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:
- Yucatan’s alluring capital city is the gateway to Mayan culture: Best Things To Do in Merida
- An indigenous city in the mountains full of adventure: Best Things To Do in San Cristobal de las Casas
- Mexico’s most colorful city & arguably the most beautiful: Best Things To Do in Guanajuato
- A historic city center amidst a surrounding wine region: Best Things To Do in Queretaro
- A beautiful colonial city that few international travelers visit: Best Things to Do in Morelia
Best Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexico?
Those are our top suggestions for the best things to do in Oaxaca Mexico. If you’ve been to Oaxaca before, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below. We’re always looking for new things to do and more restaurants to try on our next visit. We look forward to returning again and again, in an effort to keep this Oaxaca travel guide up-to-date.
Or if you’re planning a trip 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! Feel free to bookmark this article to come back later, or pin the images below to your Pinterest boards.
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Happy travels amigos!
Publishing note: This Best Things to Do in Oaxaca Travel Guide was initially published in June 2016 and most recently updated in June 2019 in an effort to keep information up-to-date with the latest changes.