Most visits to Oaxaca, Mexico will start in the Centro region. Home to the zócalo, it is a great place to learn the lay of the land and work your way outward from the city center into the farther stretching neighborhoods.
Templo De Santo Domingo De Guzman
Towards the northern end of the centro district, you’ll find the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman. A UNESCO World Heritage site and fantastic example of the city’s Spanish Baroque architecture, this convent was built in the 16th century by the Dominican Order, though it took longer than expected due to financial constraints. You’ll notice the thick, naturally green stone that make up its foundation. The large stones provide a solid base in this earthquake-prone area.
The cathedral is open daily from 7am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm, but be mindful of those who are there to worship.
Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca
Attached to the cathedral is the Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca. Currently open from 10am to 3pm, entrance is $85MXN/person. You open into a beautiful atrium and follow a signed path up into the halls of the building. Mostly comprised of long, empty corridors, the museum occassionaly leads you into side rooms that house artifacts from Zapotec and Mixtec cultures. Perhaps the gem of the museum is the collection from Tomb 7 found in Monte Albán which has gold jewelry, carved bones, and some really neat turquoise adornments.
Perhaps our favorite thing about the museum is the second-floor balcony that overlooks the garden below. This offers breathtaking views of the flora and surrounding mountainside.
At the end was an exhibit that looked more temporary than the rest. Titled Xolos, Compañeros de Viaje (Traveling Partners), the exhibit highlights the Mexican hairless dog and their loyalty through art, bones, and ceramics.
If you’re looking to delve deep into the history of the region, the museum’s signs are mostly in Spanish (though, they do seem to be introducing more English signage), and there isn’t a whole lot of actual stuff inside. That being said, for the price, the museum is well worth it.
Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca
The ethnobotanical garden is different from other botanical gardens that we’ve been to in the past. Owned by the state government, entrance is only offered via a tour that, rather than talking about the specific plants in nature, highlights the relationship between the settlers of the region and the local flora.
Being Mexico’s most biodiverse state, Oaxaca boasts a tremendous amount of different plant species. The garden’s goal is to eventually showcase 1,300 different kinds and to become funded enough to remain open to the public.
Currently, English speaking tours only run three times a week – 11am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for $100MXN. You’ll want to arrive at least 45-60 minutes early, though, because they only allow 25 spots that are quickly snatched up. You wait inside the gate, so there’s no indication of how many spots are left until you approach the gate and ask. Spanish tours are offered more often and for half the price.
Inside is beautiful. The garden is cleverly built on a 7 meter incline so the more thirsty plants receive the water that runs down the gradient. It is broken into sections and the guide walks you through each collection of plants and explains who started cultivating them and why.
The crowd favorite area is a large cactus forest with tons of different types that come in different shapes and sizes. Aside from photo-ops, you also get to learn about the cochineal insect that feeds on the moisture and nutrients found in cacti. When crushed, these insects produce a beautiful red dye. The farmers, needing to save their cacti crops, found themselves with a product that once rivaled gold and silver in terms of value in the area.
The garden is a wonderful stop and warrants an attempt (or two in our case) to get
Is Oaxaca on your to-go list? Have you been and have places to recommend? Let me know in the comments below.
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