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Looking for the best things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico? I’ve got you covered!

In the spring of 2024 I spent a full month living in and exploring the beautiful Oaxaca de Juarez and all of the best things to do in the city. This beautiful city, the capital of the state of Oaxaca is a culture and food hub in Southern Mexico. 

The colorful streets of Oaxaca
Street art in Oaxaca, Mexico

Before we dive in, here are a few of the most popular tours in Oaxaca: 

Things to know before visiting Oaxaca

  • There is a water crisis in Oaxaca so please be mindful of your water usage when visiting. Take short showers and turn off the tap when you’re not using it.
  • Oaxaca is pronounced wa-HA-ka.
  • Oaxaca is the name of both the city and the state. The city is actually Oaxaca de Juarez, but commonly referred to as just Oaxaca.
  • Oaxaca sits at an altitude of 5,102 feet (1,555 meters). You’ll want to hydrate extra when you first arrive to help you to acclimate to the altitude if you’re coming from sea level. 
  • The primary spoken language in Oaxaca is Spanish, but there are actually 16 unique languages spoken in this state. Miztec and Zapotec are commonly spoken as well. 
  • Travel with travel insurance to ensure that you’re covered in case of any accidents. 

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Getting to Oaxaca

Oaxaca is fairly easy to get to because it has its own international airport, Xoxocotlan International Airport (OAX). There are a few direct flights to Oaxaca from US destinations like Los Angeles and Dallas, but most international flights have a quick layover in Mexico City. 

If you’re planning to extend your trip and spend some time in Mexico City as well, you can find a number of domestic flights and buses between the two cities.

The Oaxaca airport is located about 15-20 minutes outside of the city center. You have the option of a private car ($28) or a shared car ($7). 

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100+ locations pinned of the best:
– Restaurants, cafes and bars
– The best markets and food stalls
– Best cultural sites including museums, churches, gardens, etc
– Print and pottery shops for souvenirs

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Getting around Oaxaca

It is super easy to get around Oaxaca, as the city’s tourist center is actually quite small. You can walk from one end of Oaxaca’s downtown to the other in about 30 minutes. 

If you’re traveling to other neighborhoods or don’t feel like walking, you can use the rideshare app DiDi. There is no Uber in Oaxaca, but DiDi is a comparable alternative. Between Centro and Reforma or Jatalaco we typically paid between 80-100 Mexican pesos (in 2024).

There are also collectivo available, which are shared taxis. These are hailed on the street and can be taken if the driver is already going in your direction. 

If you’re traveling further outside of the city then you have the option of renting a car or joining a tour, depending on your preference. We rented a car twice while in Oaxaca and it was a great way to have more independence when exploring, but you’ll learn a lot more about Oaxaca’s history and culture when joining a tour. 

Where to stay in Oaxaca

You can find a wide range of hotels and apartments in Oaxaca. There are so many beautiful boutique hotels to stay at in Oaxaca City. Most of the hotels are located in Centro (where we stayed), but there are also some beautiful options in Jalatlaco and Reforma.

GRANA B&B boutique oaxaca hotel
GRANA B&B
Hotel Escondido
Hotel Escondido

Here are a few of the best hotels in Oaxaca:

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Where to stay in Oaxaca, Mexico

If you’re looking for a longer stay, then there are one and multi-month apartments available on platforms like Airbnb and available through local Facebook groups.

GRANA B&B

GRANA B&B is a lovely bed and breakfast in the heart of Oaxaca City. The bright and plant-filled space is an oasis in the city. A delicious breakfast is served daily in their dreamy kitchen. Rates start at less than $200/per night.

Check rates and availability

What to pack for a trip to Oaxaca

What to pack for a visit to Oaxaca will depend greatly on what season you visit in. Regardless the weather fluctuates greatly, so packing layers is always a good idea.

Even in March, which is considered one of the hotter months, the temperatures at night were often cool enough for a light jacket or sweater.

The sun is definitely strong so a good SPF, hat and sunglasses are a must.

Overall I found that locals in Oaxaca tended to dress more conservatively. There were definitely plenty of tourists wearing shorts, but I always felt more comfortable wearing longer pants in the city myself.

Best time to visit Oaxaca

The best time to visit Oaxaca is from October to February, this is when you’ll have dry, pleasant temperatures. March through May the temperatures start to rise, but we visited during this time and it was still lovely.

The summer months June through September bring a lot of rain, and tend to be the low season in Oaxaca.

Best things to do in Oaxaca

There is truly so much to do and see in Oaxaca. We spent a full month in the city and still felt like we only scratched the surface of this amazing place. From the endless art galleries and markets to the incredible cultural monuments and striking landscapes to visit on a day trip, you’ll never run out of fun things to do in Oaxaca! 

Street art in Jalatlaco, an artsy neighborhood in Oaxaca
You can find tons of beautiful traditional pottery in Oaxaca

1. Take a tour at the Oaxaca Botanical Garden (Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca) 

One of the best things to do in Oaxaca is to visit the Oaxaca Botanical Garden, or the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca.Oaxaca is the most bio diverse state in Mexico, and the garden is a great representation of the biodiversity in the region.

The garden was supposed to be a parking lot for a luxury hotel in the city. Luckily, an NGO was created to gain political support and this project was overruled.

The garden itself is only 25 years old but many of the plants are much older since they were transplanted to the garden. 

The only way to visit the Botanical Gardens is by joining a tour. As of 2024, there are daily tours in both English and Spanish. The Spanish tours run Monday to Saturday at 10am, 11am, and 12pm, with an additional 5pm tour during the week. 

The English tours run only at 11am Monday through Saturday. Since you are not able to book in advance, I recommend arriving 30-45 minutes early to guarantee your spot on the tour. There is a nice shaded waiting area so plan to arrive early with a book!

The Spanish tour is 50 pesos and the English tour is 100 pesos, cash only. 

2. Try Oaxacan food staples

Oaxaca is a foodie’s heaven. There are so many local and indigenous cultures and traditions woven into the cuisine in Oaxaca, setting it apart from other Mexican states. 

The list of amazing Oaxacan foods to try is truly never ending, but here are a few that you can’t leave Oaxaca without trying:

  • Tlyadudas – a crispy oversized tortilla slathered with asiento (pork lard), beans, quesillo, chopped cabbage, and a slice of meat or chorizo on the side
  • Mole – A traditional paste created by mixing chiles, chocolate, nuts, spices, and fruits and served with many traditional Oaxacan dishes. Oaxaca is known as the land of the seven moles. 
  • Tejate – a traditional beverage made of roasted corn flour, fermented cocoa beans, mamey seeds and cocoa flower. Expect a sweet light drink with foamy white cocoa butter on top. 
  • Pulque – an ancient alcoholic drink that is made from the heart of the agave plant. It is one of the oldest drinks in the world! 
  • Memelas – small tortillas covered with asiento (pork lard), beans, quesillo, and veggies of your choice. Typically eaten for breakfast. 
Memelas from La Cosecha Organic Market
  • Pozole – a hearty soup made primarily with hominy (dried maize kernels, meat (typically pork, beef or chicken), and seasoned with herbs and spices. Comes in a red or green broth
  • Chapulines – grasshoppers! Yes, in Mexico grasshoppers are a super common snack typically served with salt or chile and fried up for a snack. 
  • Tamales – traditional dish made from nixtamalized or fresh corn filled with meats or veggies and wrapped in a corn husk and steamed before serving.
  • Enmoladas – Oaxaca’s version of an enchilada, enchiladas covered in mole
  • Quesillo (Oaxacan cheese) – Oaxaca’s traditional cheese
  • Mezcal – the famous alcohol made from the agave plant has its birthplace in Oaxaca. You can’t walk more than a few feet in Oaxaca without stumbling upon a place that sells mezcal. 
  • Nieves – traditional water-based ice cream in Oaxaca
Al Pastor Torta from La Flamita Mixe
Chilaquiles Verde from Grana B&B

You can also join a cooking class to learn how to make many of these traditional dishes.

3. Visit Santo Domingo Church (Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán)

You won’t have to spend long in Oaxaca before you see the beautiful Santo Domingo church, known for its beautiful Baroque architecture style. The church is located in the heart of the city, the downtown Centro. Santo Domingo church was built between 1570 and 1608 as part of the city’s Dominican monastery.

A visit to Oaxaca’s famous church is one of the best things to do in Oaxaca. The church is one for visitors Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5:30pm and Sunday from 10am to 3:30pm. Admission costs 90 Mexican pesos (around $5).

You’re welcome to explore the church on your own, or join a guided tour of Santo Domingo

Here are a few tours that stop at the church: 

4. Explore Oaxaca’s countless art galleries 

If you appreciate art then Oaxaca is the city for you. There are probably hundreds of art galleries in Oaxaca City, showcasing and selling amazing prints and paintings. It is almost impossible to visit Oaxaca and not leave with at least a print for yourself.

Here are a few beautiful print shops to check out:

  • Galería gabinete gráfico
  • Taller | Galeria Tëmenk
  • TALLER GRAFICO DE OAXACA
Printed artwork is one of the best gifts to bring home from Oaxaca
Custom postcards from Once in Oaxaca cafe

5. Check out Oaxaca’s museums

Oaxaca has so many incredible museums and galleries to explore, many of which are completely free to visit. These are a great way to learn more about the history and culture of Oaxaca.

Here are a few that I recommend visiting if you have the time:

  • MUSEO BELBER
  • Museo de Arte Prehispanico de Mexico Rufino Tamayo
  • Museo de la Filatelia MUFI
  • Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca
  • Photographic Center Manual Alvaro Bravo
  • Museo Textil de Oaxaca

6. Visit the Centro Cultural San Pablo

Housed in a restored 16th century Dominican monastery, the Centro Cultural San Pablo offers rotating exhibits. You’ll also find a number of presentations and classes held here, all with the common goal of preserving Oaxacan history.

The center is free to visit and is open daily from 10am to 8pm, with the exception of Sundays when the exhibit closes at 6pm.

7. Hang out in Zocalo 

Zocalo square is the heart of Oaxaca City. Zocalo is a plaza that is bursting to life at all hours of the day. You’ll find vendors selling street treats and knick-knacks. There is almost always live music, from local bands or orchestras.

Zocalo at sunset (Oaxaca, Mexico)

Surrounding the square there are a number of cafes and bars – perfect for people watching on a slow day.

On the north side of the square you’ll find the Cathedral of Oaxaca.

There are a number of walking tours in Oaxaca, where you can learn more about the city and the importance of Zocalo.

8. Check out the street art of Jalatlaco 

Jalatlaco is easily one of my favorite neighborhoods in Oaxaca, and a stroll through this colorful neighborhood is a must. The neighborhood of Jalatlaco is located just east of Centor, about a 10 minute walk. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Oaxaca.

This Oaxacan neighborhood is known for its colorful streets, and more specifically the abundance of incredible street art that coat the walls of this barrio. You’ll find a handful of delicious restaurants, food stalls, and cafes in the neighborhood.

Here are a few of my favorite spots in Jalatlaco:

  • Once in Oaxaca – cute cafe and art gallery
  • Onno Loncheria – cafe and brunch spot
  • Lechoncito de Oro – taco stand
  • Mercado de la Merced – local market for shopping fruits and veggies, with hot food stalls
Colorful streets of Oaxaca
Colorful streets of Oaxaca
Street art in Jalatlaco
Street art in Jalatlaco

9. Try a Tlayuda, Oaxacan pizza 

Trying a tlayuda is a must when visiting Oaxaca. Tlayudas, which are often referred to as Mexican pizza, are crispy oversized tortillas slathered with asiento (pork lard), beans, quesillo, chopped cabbage, and a slice of meat or chorizo on the side.

It might look like a pizza, but it doesn’t taste anything like one! You can find them either served flat or folded in half, 

You can find restaurants and stalls all over Oaxaca selling Tlayudas. However, I of course have my favorite spots to grab one. 

  • La Cosecha Organic Market – my personal favorite tlayuda in Oaxaca, I like the ones with flor de calabaza, squash blossom
  • Tlayudas La Chinita – famous family-run tlayuda stall south of Centro
  • Tlayudas Doña Flavia – located outside of centro in reforma, a great local restaurant for tlayudas
Tlayudas La Chinita
La Cosecha Organic Market

10. Watch a performance at the Macedonio Alcalá Theater (Teatro Macedonio Alcalá)

The Macedonio Alcala Theater is a gorgeous theater in Oaxaca’s Centro neighborhood. It is absolutely worth a visit just to see the gorgeous architecture of the theater’s exterior.

However, if you have the opportunity to catch a performance in theater, do it!

12. Try salty chapulines, grasshoppers

Eat bugs? Yes, you heard me right!

Chapulines, or grasshoppers, are a common snack in Oaxaca, and throughout Mexico. They are typically fried and salted, sometimes with a spicy seasoning.

Chapulines from the local market
Chapulines from the local market

These little critters are packed with protein and actually make a great snacks. You can buy them by the bag at any of the markets. You’ll also often find them as seasoning on guacamole or mixed into a typical mole dish. El Escapulario is a great restaurant to try traditional dishes made with various insects, including chapulines.

13. Take a day trip to Hierve de Agua 

A day trip to Hierve de Agua is easily one of the best things to do in Oaxaca! The name Hierve de Agua translates to “the water boils,” which is an appropriate name for this natural wonder. Located about 1.5 hour drive from Oaxaca City, you’ll find this awesome location. The name refers to the natural rock formation that resembles a petrified waterfall.

There are a few short hikes to take in the area, incuding to the bottom of the “waterfall”, and two pools to soak in at the end. The pools are just a short walk from the parking lot so you won’t need to do any strenous hiking if you don’t want to.

Refreshing pools at Hierve el Agua
Refreshing pools at Hierve el Agua
Mountain views behind the pools
Mountain views behind the pools

The pools are said to have healing properties.

There is a fee of 20 MXN per person to enter the road leading to Hierve el Agua, and 50 MXN each to park and enter the grounds.

Hierve el Agua views from above
Hierve el Agua views from above

We reached Hierve el Agua by renting our own car for the day, which gave us the freedom to explore and stop at other cool spots like the Tree of Tule and Mo-Kalli restaurant. If you are driving, be aware that there is a $10 USD toll on the highway each way. There is a slightly longer, and less maintained, road you can take to avoid this fee.

If you don’t feel like driving yourself, there are tons of amazing tours that visit Hierve de Agua, often combined with a mezcal tour or a stop in Tule.

Mountains views on the way to Hierve de Agua
Mountains views on the way to Hierve de Agua

14. Spend a morning at the ruins of Monte Alban

One of the best things to do in Oaxaca is a visit to the famous Monte Alban ruins. Located about 20 minutes southwest of the city, Monte Alban was once one of the most important cities of the Zapotec civilization. The city historically served as a political, economic, and religious center for 1,000+ years!

Nowadays you can visit what is left of the city, either on a self-guided or group tour.

A guided tour is a great opportunity to learn more about the history and culture of Monte Alban, without the hassle of arranging any of your own transport.

However, visiting on your own is also super easy! You can hail a taxi or book a DiDi. Plan to spend around 125-150 MXN each way for a car.

Monte Alban is open from 8am-5pm daily and the entrance fee is 90 MXN.

15. Join a mezcal tour (or mezcal tasting)

If you have the time, I highly recommend joining a mezcal tour. These tours take you outside of the city to experience and taste how mezcal is made. Oaxaca is the birthplace of this delicious liquor, so it is the best place to learn about mezcal and all of the different varieties of mezcal and production styles. 

We hired a driver for the day and drove an hour south to Santa Catarina Minas to visit a local palenque.

You can book the tour directly with Mezcal Ancestral Rolando Angeles.

Mezcal Ancestral Rolando Angeles mezcal tour
Mezcal Ancestral Rolando Angeles

If you do not have time to join a full mezcal tour, you can still learn about mezcal at a mezcal tasting in the city. There are even mezcal tasting guided tours in the city. 

There are a number of places that offer mezcal tastings, but here are a few popular ones: 

  • La Mezcaloteca 
  • La Mezcaleria 
  • Sabina Sabe 
  • Sobrio by Mezcal Speakeasy 
La Cueva Cocktail Bar
La Cueva Cocktail Bar
Sobrio by Mezcal Speakeasy 
Sobrio by Mezcal Speakeasy 

16. Volunteer with migrants 

Oaxaca is known as a state with relatively decent migrant shelters, however many migrants still suffer from extreme hardships in the city daily as they are passing through.

COLLIN A.C. is a volunteer-run organization in the city. Even if you can only donate a few hours of your time to make some sandwiches or pass food out to those in need, it can make a difference.

The organization has a number of regular volunteers, but it always looking for more hands to help!

Head to this link to sign up for a volunteer slot!

17. Visit the Meat Hall

The famous Smoked Meat Hall is located adjacent to the 20th of November market (20 de Noviembre mercado). It is an alleyway filled of stations grilling up and serving a variety of smoked meats.

How it works:

  • Pick a stall
  • Choose from an assortment of meals, they are served by the quarter kilogram
  • Have a seat at the tables and wait for your meats to cook
  • While waiting you will be offered cold drinks and sides such a lime, salsas, cactus (nopal) for add to your order

18. Check out the local Oaxacan markets

Whether you came to Oaxaca to shop or not, the markets are the best place in the city to do just that. Oaxaca has so many different markets to check out, some specializing in souvenirs like hand-woven goods and pottery, while others are packed with food stalls and fresh fruits and veggies to purchase. 

Here are a few of the best markets in Oaxaca:

  • Mercado Benito Juárez – Oaxaca’s most popular market 
  • La Cosecha Mercado Organico – artisanal market with local food and organic products for purchase with picnic style tables for dining
  • Mercado 20 de Noviembre – a large food market just south of Oaxaca’s centro, known for its smoked meats 
  • Mercado de Abastos – one of the largest markets in the country , good for shopping, eating and try local dishes 
  • Atemporal Mercado de Diseño – a small market

19. Enjoy a cold tejate – a typical Oaxacan drink 

I have absolutely fallen in love with Oaxaca’s local chocolate drink, tejate. As I shared above, tejate is a traditional beverage made of roasted corn flour, fermented cocoa beans, mamey seeds and cocoa flower. 

You can expect a sweet light drink with foamy white cocoa butter on top. Don’t be afraid of the chunk foamy top, it is delicious! 

My favorite tejate is from the stall at La Cosecha Mercado Organico. I went there so many times while living in Oaxaca for a month.

My favorite tejate from La Cosecha Mercado Organico
My favorite tejate from La Cosecha Mercado Organico
Tejate stand in Benito Juarez market
Tejate stand in Benito Juarez market

20. Head to the coast for Puerto Escondido, Mazunte, and San Agustinillo 

After some time in the city under the hot sun, you might be looking for a cool escape by the water. The journey between Oaxaca City and the coast used to be a treacherous one, but with the grand opening of the new highway, you can now reach the coast in just 3 hours!

The coast of Oaxaca state is made up of some of the most beautiful beaches, with towns like the popular Puerto Escondido, and more low key towns like Mazunte and San Agustinillo dotting the coast.

21. Take a hike in the Sierras

Oaxaca is surrounded by the magnificent Sierra mountains. One our first weekend in Oaxaca we joined a local hiking group via Facebook and made our way and hour and a half to the beautiful town of Latuvi. There are a tons of hikes originating from this town. There is an information center in the town where you can learn more. Make sure to grab some fresh Pan de Sierra bread across the street as well!

Our hike was a relatively flat 9.5 mile trail, mostly shaded and with beautiful vegetation throughout including forms of Spanish Moss.

22. Visit the world’s widest tree in Tule 

Did you know that the widest tree in the world is located right in Oaxaca? Yep, you’ll find this gorgeous tree in the nearby town of Tule. The tree is over 46 feet wide!!

The tree is located on the church grounds in the center of the city of Tule. While you can easily see the tree from afar, the cost to enter the grounds is 20 MXN.

The town of Tule is located about 20 minutes outside of Oaxaca City, on the road to Mitla. There are a number of tours that stop here, otherwise you can rent your own car or take a colectivo. Alternatively, there are tours that actually bike all the way to the famous tree.

23. Learn how to make quesillo, Oaxacan cheese

A visit to Oaxaca is not complete unless you’ve tried the local cheese, quesillo. It’s a salty string cheese that is local to the region. Imagine the best cheese stick you’ve ever had, but ten times better.

We visited Don Juan Queso y Quesillo for a cheese demonstration. It was an awesome opportunity to learn more about the process and buy some delicious fresh cheese.

You can check out their Facebook page and message them directly!

Learning to make quesillo in Oaxaca
Learning to make quesillo in Oaxaca
Quesillo, or Oaxacan cheese
Quesillo, or Oaxacan cheese

24. Shop for local pottery

I absolutely fell in the love with the pottery in Oaxaca. I had to buy an extra bag for the flight home so I could fit all of my new beautiful mugs and plates. But I promise, it is worth.

You don’t have to be in Oaxaca long before you realize that every dish you order or coffee you drink is served on the most beautiful ceramics.

Check out Marias Arte y Diseño for the most beautiful pottery in Oaxaca.

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