Oaxaca de Juárez, otherwise known as Oaxaca City, or simply Oaxaca is a city that’s around 33 square miles and home to nearly three-quarters of a million people. There’s no shortage of things to see or do, but if you’re pinched for time or want a great starting point to your visit, I can highly recommend my Top 10 Things To Do In Oaxaca. Be sure to follow the links under each suggestion for a more in-depth review of each activity and let me know in the comments which you’ve enjoyed or plan to do in the future!
People Watch At The Zócalo
One of the easiest ways to get your bearings and introduce yourself is to visit the city’s main square, called the “zócalo.” Come during the day and you’ll see people sitting in the shade of the trees or enjoying lunch at one of the restaurants surrounding the perimeter. These are some of the more accessible places to eat as they offer English menus; Oaxaca is a place to use Spanish as it isn’t as highly touristed as the coastal beach destinations.
Visit The Cultural Museum and Ethnobotanical Garden
North of the zócalo is the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, an ex-convent that offers a few things to do. Open daily, you can step inside the church for free and see the decorative ceilings or worship. Afterwards, step into the gate next to the church doors after 10am and explore the convent that has been turned into a museum of the area’s origins.
At the south-eastern corner of the church is the entrance to an ethnobotanical garden. You need to join a tour to enter, but you get to learn about the relationship between the native people and nearly 1,000 different species of flora. It’s a pretty and informative walk.
Explore Monte Albán
Oaxaca sits inside of a large valley, but right outside of the city limits is a large, artificially leveled ridge that sits the pre-Hispanic archeological site of Monte Albán. Existing for around one thousand years starting in 500BCE, it served as one of the first mesoamerican cities and the preeminent capital of the Zapotecs. Go early to avoid crowds and let your imagination build a bustling city of socio-economic and spiritual importance around you.
Check Out The Street Art
Oaxaca has no shortage of beautiful art to look at. From hand-woven tapestries to embroidered blouses, some of my favorite pieces of art to look were painted on the sides of buildings. Each neighborhood has a different look, but you’ll want to keep your eyes open for large, building-sized murals as well as small, detailed pieces. Two of my favorite barrios to check out are Xochimilco and Jalatlaco.
Shop The Mercados
The best place to really embrace the local life is to hop into the many markets, or mercados, of the city. Head to the two most popular spots – Mercado Benito Juarez or Mercado 20 de Noviembre, and grab a bit to eat before shopping around stalls for souvenirs. I enjoyed coming back here on different days to sit and shop beside locals.
Read more about the markets here.
Try All Of the Food
Okay, by now you’ve heard that Oaxaca is the gastronomic hub of Mexico. That means it has some lofty expectations to live up to. Don’t worry, it does. Split your time between trying tlayudas from street stalls, enfrijoladas in one of the markets, or one of the seven, famous moles atop a terrace with a breath-taking view of the city.
Curious about what’s on the menu in Oaxaca? The Virgo Voyager has a great introduction to the different foods found here.
Find All Of The Drinks
Okay, you’re a member of the clean-plate club, and now you need to wash it all down. Put together a treasure-map checklist of different drinks to try and start to knock them all off. From mokas made from Oaxacan chocolate to maize-based tejate and atole, you’ll want to try them all to find your favorite refreshment.
Read about my favorite cafés here.
Learn About Mezcal
Among the more important drinks of the region is mezcal. While made from agave like tequila, this isn’t the same spring break, shot after shot, type of liquor. This is looked at more as the wine of the area. You sip and appreciate a serving of the smoky spirit.
You can take a longer, day-trip out to a mezcal farm and learn the process of growing agave, cooking the heart, and distilling the mash. Or, if you’re a bit pressed for time, join a tasting to learn the flavor differences between types of agave, types of distillation, and find your favorites.
Take A Cooking Class
Remember how I said Oaxaca was the food capital of the country? It’s not just the fantastic flavors you can find, but also the ways in which the dishes are prepared. We thoroughly enjoyed pressing our own tortillas and watching them cook on a clay comal while trying our hand at mixing mole, chocolate, and other salsas.
Even if you don’t walk away with additional kitchen skills, you’ll at least leave with a full and happy belly.
Just Walk Around
Some of the best days we had were just walking around without plans. An open itinerary lets you walk into shops or restaurants at your leisure. You can people watch or snap photos of the street art. You can stay in the shade or embrace the warmth of the sun. It’s a beautiful city and sometimes that is enough to enjoy.
Have you been to Oaxaca or is it on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments if this helped or if you’d like to see more Top 10 Lists in the future. Thanks for reading!
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