Hi, I’m Shelley, and I have been traveling solo and living in Mexico since April 2018! I spent about four months in Oaxaca throughout my years of Mexico solo travel.
It is by far my favorite state!
In a word, Oaxaca feels — magical. I believe it encompasses all the things people imagine Mexico is!
Oaxaca seemingly has it all: from some of the country’s best food to UNESCO World Heritage Sites to gorgeous beaches and colorful festivals like Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), it’s quite obvious why Oaxaca tops so many travel bucket lists.
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Top 10 Things to do In Oaxaca City
1. Centro de Oaxaca
The entire downtown of Oaxaca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend some time leisurely strolling around to see the Colonial architecture, traditional mercados, street food stalls, museums, and more.
2 Hierve el Agua
Located about 45-minutes outside of Oaxaca City, these thermal pools and calcified “waterfalls” is one of the most beautiful and most photographed, places in Oaxaca. Hierve el Agua is one of the most visited places on an Oaxaca City trip; get there early to beat the crowds.
3 Monte Alban
Oaxaca City’s other UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy the day taking in the beautiful views of all of Oaxaca City when you climb to the top of Monte Alban’s pyramids. As with many Mexican archaeological sites, Monte Alban seriously lacks shaded areas. Be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat, bring a reusable water bottle, and arrive early to beat the crowds and the midday sun.
The pueblo magico (magic town) of Mitla is a unique prehispanic archaeological site, by Mexico standards. Rather than a complex of pyramids, Mitla encompasses a grouping of buildings with intricate and elaborate carved stone with geometric designs.
5 Zocalo/Plaza de la Constitución
You’ll find a zocalo in all Mexican towns. This area is the town’s main square, and central meeting point, with a park, (large gazebo) and the city’s largest cathedral, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
6 Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán
Saint Domingo’s Temple is a gorgeous 16th century Spanish Baroque-style church. On the grounds, you’ll also find the Oaxacan Culture Museum and impressive Oaxaca Botanical Garden.
7 Oaxaca Botanical Garden
Tour the 2.5-acre/1 hectare Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca to see Oaxaca’s impressive biodiversity with hundreds of the state’s plant and cactus species. Due to the garden’s fragility, you take a guided tour. They are offered in English several times per week for $100 pesos ($5/€3) per person.
8 Calle de Macedonia Alcala
Macedonia Alcala Street is a lively, pedestrian-only thoroughfare lined with numerous shops, art galleries, restaurants, cafes, bars, and more. It is one of Oaxaca City’s best streets to stroll and people-watch.
Want to learn about, and drink(!), some of Oaxaca’s best mezcals? Mezcaloteca is part tasting room, part mezcal school, and a great place to learn all about Oaxaca’s beloved adult beverage, mezcal. Note: Reservations required.
10. Mercado 20 de Noviembre
November 20th Market is a traditional Mexican/Oaxacan market with authentic foods, artisanal shops, and more. This market, arranged in food hall style, has plenty of places to sample all of Oaxaca’s famous foods.
Food in Oaxaca
Known as one of the foodie capitals of Mexico, there’s no shortage of amazing things to eat, and places to eat them, in Oaxaca City. With the prevalence of nearby farms, and the availability of fresh, organic ingredients nearly-year round, you’re not likely to have a bad meal.
By far, Oaxaca’s most famous food is mole (pronounced mole-lay). Mole is both a marinade and a sauce, and each type has its unique combination of spices, fruits, nuts, and more.
While it often gets lumped as one food, there are actually seven distinct types of mole. The most prevalent type is mole negro (black mole), but many restaurants will serve several types.
Tlayudas (pronounced ta-lie-you-dah) is sometimes referred to as a “Mexican pizza,” and admittedly, it looks like a pizza! However, the similarities end there.
A tlayuda starts with a large tortilla, which is then topped with beans, tomatoes, onion, and quesillo (Oaxaca’s famous cheese). After assembly, it is grilled over carbon (charcoal), folded in half, and served.
Perhaps the most infamous of Oaxaca City’s delicacies are chapulines (pronounced chap-pull-lean-es), AKA Mexican grasshoppers! You’ll find no shortage of street vendors selling throughout downtown, as Oaxacans snack on these insects like popcorn all day long.
Need something sweet after all that savory?! Two of Oaxaca’s tastiest desserts are nieves (an ice cream/sorbet hybrid, pronounced nee-yev-es) and tejate (pronounced tay-ha-tay).
Tejate is a prehispanic chocolate and corn beverage served cold. While this combo might sound weird, this tasty, centuries-old drink has obviously stood the test of time.
Eating at the markets
Oaxaca City has several mercados (markets) where you’ll find everything mentioned here, and so much more. The biggest marcado is Central de Abastos, which can feel a bit overwhelming. For a clamer experience, head to Mercado 20 de Noviembre and Mercado Benito Juárez.
Oaxaca City Money Saving Tips
Looking to keep costs down while traveling to Oaxaca City? Mexico, in general, is quite inexpensive for European and American travelers with the exchange rate working in our favor, but here are few ways to keep costs to a minimum.
While you’ll likely find the most food in Oaxaca economical, stick to mercados and street vendors to conserve even more of your budget.
If you want to check out some restaurants as well, see if they have a menú del día (menu of the day). Common throughout Mexico, menú del día will usually come with two to three courses and a beverage for about $65 pesos ($2.50/€2.5). As the name implies, the items offered change daily.
Oaxaca City has pretty good public transport within the city limits. If you’re venturing outside, you also have public transport options, as well as taxis.
If you’re looking to go to a few sites outside of Oaxaca City in one day, consider hiring a taxi for the whole day. This is common throughout Mexico; just tell any taxi driver where you want to go and ask them for a day rate.
Shop at the Mercados
Looking for Oaxacan handicrafts and souvenirs to take home? Buy everything at the local mercados, and not the airport. If your accommodation has a kitchen, you can also buy groceries at the mercados and cook your own meals.
Oaxaca City Packing Advice
In general, the temperature ranges from about 85°F/30°C and sunny in the daytime, and about 60°F/16°C during the night. This means you can get away with pretty basic/minimal packing for Oaxaca City.
You’ll want to bring a few warmer weather outfits with sandals or sneakers for the daytime, and a few cooler weather outfits with sneakers or boots should work for the night.
Unless you’re planning to go hiking in the mountains surrounding the city, sneakers should suffice for both walking around downtown, and for climbing the pyramids at Monte Alban.
Checkout Claire’s Mexico Packing Guide here
Where to Stay in Oaxaca City
I strongly recommend staying in Centro (Downtown), and as close to the Zocalo as possible.
This will give you ease of walkability, and as with most downtown areas, Oaxaca’s Centro neighborhood is the most equipped to host visitors. Here, you’ll find Airbnbs, hotels and hostels, for nearly every budget.
For budget accommodations, check out the trendy Selina hostel. This chain of hostels has locations all over the world.
Want to get a better idea of local life? Consider an Airbnb houseshare with a live-in host. These hosts usually make great resources for getting insider tips on the city you’re in.
For a splurge, check out the Quinta Real Oaxaca, located the same building that formerly housed a 16th-century Dominican convent. This gorgeous boutique hotel has both an old school Colonial esthetic, with all the modern conveniences.
Two additional neighborhoods that also work are Xochimilco (pronounced so-chee-mill-co) and where I stayed, Jalatlaco (pronounced ha-lat-lak-oh)
My personal favorite neighborhood, located just outside of Centro, is Jalatlaco. It felt very safe, and had plenty of amazing restaurants, colorful buildings and cool street art. This very photogenic area should be on your radar, even if just for a visit.
Xochimilco, located about a 15-minute walk from Centro, is Oaxaca City’s oldest neighborhood. You will still get the old school colonial city feel and look of Centro, but you’ll be further away from its touristy scene.
Traveling in Oaxaca City
To get to Oaxaca City, you’ll fly into OAX airport. From there, you can grab a taxi or colectivo (shared van) as soon as you exit the airport.
The airport is located just 25 minutes outside of downtown. A private taxi will cost about $200 pesos ($10/8€) total, and the colectivo is about $50 pesos per person ($2.5/2€). Uber is not legal in Oaxaca, so you’ll have to opt for one of those two choices.
I went to Oaxaca City as a solo female traveler and felt quite safe using the taxis. As a general rule, public transportation is less safe than private transportation, but overall, Oaxaca City is known as a safe place.
I also felt safe walking around downtown by myself at night. If you’re staying outside of the City Center, you might want to consider taking a taxi home, just in case.
Coworking in Oaxaca City
If you are a digital nomad then it’s going to be important to you to know where you can get good coffee and blazing WiFi in Oaxaca.
Although Selina is pitched as a digital nomad friendly hostel. In reality, their wifi is dreadful, but there are a few places close by that you can work from.
If you prefer to work from a cafe then PanAm has great coffee and the wifi is pretty solid. They do a nice breakfast too and they won’t kick you out after your coffee has gotten cold.
If you want the best wifi in town though Convivio it where it’s at. They have the best internet speeds I’ve ever seen in Mexico, bar none. It’s also a super cool place to hang out eat in their restaurant, have a drink, and even take a Mexican cooking class! They also have a schedule of live events up on their website.
Oaxaca City Safety Advice
Considered one of the safest states in Mexico, general travel safety measures should suffice.
As a solo woman in Oaxaca City, I did what I normally do when traveling: listened to my intuition. If something didn’t feel right, I avoided it; if some street felt sketchy, I didn’t walk down it; etc. If I wandered too far from my Airbnb at night, I took a cab home.
Though in general, I have felt safe while traveling solo throughout Mexico, I don’t believe that has been an accident! I have stuck steadfastly to a few precautions that I know kept my safe in Oaxaca City, and all of Mexico.
Oaxaca City isn’t very big, and in fact, it really feels like more of a small town. I found the locals to be reserved, yet helpful when asked about anything.
The Best Time To Visit Oaxaca City
Oaxaca City’s temperate/desert climate means this city basically makes a great year-round destination. Typical of a desert, you can expect hot days & cool, crisp nights — think 85°F/30°C and sunny during the day, and 60°F/16°C at night.
The city does have a relatively short rainy season, from July-September, though it doesn’t tend to rain too much.
If you want to avoid the tourist crowds, the best times to visit Oaxaca are from April-May and September-November. The spring and fall seasons tend to have fewer tourists and moderate temperatures.
Oaxaca City’s tourist crowd starts to appear in October, and will linger through about March. Expect the highest concentration of tourists during Oaxaca City’s two biggest festivals, the Guelaguetza (pronounced gay-la-get-zaa) in mid- to late-July, and Day of the Dead in late-October/early-November.
Hi, I’m Shelley! I’m a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world! After traveling solo to 14 states in Mexico, she decided to live in Mérida. I created the Travel Mexico Solo blog and the Dream To Destination podcast to inspire women who have always dreamt of Solo Travel & Mexico Travel, but haven’t (yet!) accomplished either goal. I hope we can continue this conversation on the socials: Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter
What to Read in Oaxaca
This 2020 American Fiction Awards Winner in the Women’s Fiction category seems to have taken a page out of the author’s real life! Jessica Winters Mireles, who’s married to a Zapotec indian man from Oaxacan, has her own personal connection to the state.
The author, as well as the novel’s protagonist, Camille, are both pianists. In the novel, Camille suffers an accident and loses mobility in her hands, cutting her piano career short. She moves back in with her mom and starts teaching piano to the housekeeper’s daughter, Graciela.
Graciela abruptly disappears back to her native Oaxaca right before a big piano competition and Camille goes after her — with no knowledge of Oaxaca or the Spanish language. She eventually falls in love with the culture, and an Oaxacan man named Alejandro.
One of the biggest names in travel writing, Paul Theroux travels all over Mexico — from the Sononra/Arizona border in the north, to Oaxaca and Chiapas states in the south.
While in Oaxaca, he spent time with some of the native Zapotec people who work in mills in Oaxaca’s mountainous highlands.
As with most of Theroux’s books, this one takes a critical look at the stigmas surrounding marginalized peoples and communities, to give readers a deeper understanding into often misrepresented groups.