Oaxaca once ranked 5th in the 7 most wonderful cities in the world in 2019 voted by Travel + Leisure magazine. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage city. Coming here, international visitors are often especially impressed with the interesting eco-tourism places. Oaxaca is famous for its bioluminescent beaches, majestic mountains and interesting archaeological sites. Cuisine and unique cultures of indigenous people are also what attracts visitors. Heading to the south you will find breathtakingly beautiful beaches. If you are passionate about surfing, these are the coordinates you need to looking for. So, what to do and how to plan a budget perfect trip to Oaxaca city, Mexico for the first-time? Let’s check out our Oaxaca travel blog (Oaxaca blog) with the fullest Oaxaca travel guide (Oaxaca guide) from how to get, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and top things to do to find out the answer!
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Oaxaca blog: A brief history of Oaxaca
According to history, the first owners of the Oaxaca Plateau were the Olmecs (1200 BC), then the Zapotecs (800 BC), followed by the arrival of the Mixtecs.
As latecomers, continually waged wars, the Mixtecs sought to recapture fertile lands from the Zapotecs, so that both peoples were overthrown by the Aztecs, and in the mid-16th century those White Hispanic skin appeared, subdued the Indians, built a small beautiful city of Oaxaca with a bold colonial architecture.
The Spanish colonial government assigned the design of the city to architect Alonso Garcia Bravo, the best urban planner in the country at that time, as well as the architect of the Mexican capital and the city of Veracruz.
When building Zócalo – the city center square, Alonso Garcia Bravo focused on creating a balance and harmony between the cathedral on the one hand and the city government building on the opposite side. Thus, from the central square, the harmony between religion and life will spread, covering the lives of people throughout the city.
Oaxaca blog: Overview of Oaxaca
Oaxaca is a beautiful city located in the southern region of Mexico. To the west of Oaxaca it borders with the state of Guerrero, to the northwest borders with Puebla, to the north borders with Veracruz and to the east borders with Chiapas. The state of Oaxaca covers an area of about 93 thousand square kilometers (93.952 km²) with a population of about 4 million people (2020). Currently Oaxaca is the largest city in the state of Oaxaca with an area of 85.48 km² and a population of about 705.000 people. The city of Oaxaca has many majestic mountains and is also considered one of the most rugged terrain cities of Mexico.
Oaxaca not only has a beautiful landscape but also has a history of hundreds of years of establishment and development. Therefore, when you come to Oaxaca city, you will have the opportunity to visit many famous architectural works. In 1987, the city of Oaxaca was also recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Located in southern Mexico, Oaxaca is the center of pre-Hispanic culture and today’s modern culture. Partially covering the southern coast of Mexico, this UNESCO World Heritage City has both natural and man-made beauty. It is most famous for its breathtaking natural sceneries, distinctive culinary flavors, endearing and simple indigenous peoples and traditional culture, as well as its vibrant and brilliant arts along with traditional craft villages. All of these have created a unique tourist attraction in this city. When you set foot here, make sure to discover some colorful colonial architecture as well as the many unspoiled coastlines, dense forests and spectacular waterfalls around it.
Oaxaca travel blog: When is the best time to visit Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is located in an area influenced by the tropical climate. The climate in Oaxaca is also variable with altitude. You should come here between April and May, or September to October every year. These are two times when the weather in Oaxaca is quite pleasant. The number of tourists coming to Oaxaca at these times is not too crowded. The peak tourist season of Oaxaca is in summer from June to August every year as well as the holiday season between December and early January. This time, visitors flock to Oaxaca are very crowded, leading to the increase costs of room rates and services as well. So if you want to save money, you should not go at this time.
Every year, every July, Oaxaca begins with a jubilant atmosphere of festivals. An unique and most famous festival that attracts thousands of tourists and people from all parts of the country to gather here to have fun and participate in is the “Guelaguetza” festival. This festival comes from the meaning of “giving and sharing”, sending gifts to each other with the participation of many ethnic groups in Mexico, each group will wear their own ethnic costumes and perform their private dance in the bright colors of wreaths on their heads.
There is also a traditional Corn Husk Festival with the participation of skillful artisans who have created unique products with their hands.
Oaxaca travel guide: How to get to Oaxaca?
You can fly directly to Oaxaca via Xoxocotlán International Airport (OAX). However, unfortunately from Vietnam, there is no airline operating the route to Oaxaca. If you want to fly you must transit in Mexico City then continue to fly to Oaxaca.
Bus is also a type of transport that many visitors choose when they want to traveling from Mexico City to Oaxaca city. You can go to the TAPO Bus Station (Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros de Oriente) (Address: Calz. Ignacio Zaragoza 200, 10 de Mayo, Venustiano Carranza, 15290 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico) and take the ADO bus. There are many daily buses running from TAPO to Oaxaca to serve the needs of tourists with an average travel time from 5h50m – 6h50m and bus ticket price ranging from $13 – $29.
To getting around Oaxaca City, you can take the bus, taxi, bike. Especially you can take a walk because the city center is quite small but concentrating many main tourist attractions.
Oaxaca blog: Where to go and what to do in Oaxaca?
Not only a famous tourist place, but also Zocalo Square is considered a symbol of the city of Oaxaca. This square is located right in the central area of the city. For a long time, Zocalo Square has become an ideal picnic destination for the people of Oaxaca and tourists.
The Church of Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman
Having visited Zocalo square, surely you can not help but visit Oaxaca church of Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman. This is a beautiful old church located in the northwestern part of Zocalo Square. The church was officially started construction in the 16th century. However, it took over 200 years to be completed. Visiting Oaxaca church, you will have the opportunity to see an splendid ancient architectural work with extremely sophisticated carvings. Each wall, column, or window frame, and decorative paintings are delicately carved to attract the eye. Spend time visiting the unique church, visitors will immerse themselves in mysterious stories, enjoy a rare peaceful space.
Address: Calle Macedonio Alcalá s/n, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico
Architectural styles: Baroque, Baroque architecture
Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca (Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca)
If you want to learn about the long-standing culture of Oaxaca, perhaps the Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca is a great place for you. This museum is housed an old monastery which was built in the 1600s. Here you will have the opportunity to admire many precious antiques. The most special one must mention a skull made of extremely precious pearls.
Address: 1a. Cerrada de Macedonio Alcala s/n, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico
Hours: 10am-6pm Tue-Sun
Price: Adult/Child under 13yr M$75/free, Guided tour per hour M$600
Visit and take photos of colorful ancient buildings
The architecture of Oaxaca will make you impressed as soon as you arrive, especially for those who love “virtual living”. Spend some time walking on the streets and admire the stylish, colorful houses and buildings. This is a great way to have discovered the hidden gems of Oaxaca. You will also find some interesting street arts as you explore the city.
Try out traditional Mexican costume in Oaxaca
Traditional Mexican costume comes in a variety of colors and is extremely interesting. For traditional textiles, you can visit shops: Huarache, Joyas de Oaxaca and Mercado de Artesanías de Oaxaca. Shops in the city also offer a wide variety of goods for you to enjoy shopping like bags, shoes, jewelry, rugs and souvenirs to bring back.
An unforgettable Monte Alban
Coming to Oaxaca, you cannot help but go the “Monte Alban” area, a hilltop holy place built by the Zapotecs in the 7th century BC. Surrounding it there are many mound builders stretching along four sides with a large square in the middle with the central courtyard used as a place to conduct rituals or community political activities.
Around the sanctuary are complexes of tombs, shrines and other public works that testify to a work that will last forever.
Periods: Middle Preclassic to Terminal Classic
Designated as world heritage site: 1987 (11th session)
The Petrified Waterfalls of Hierve el Agua
It will be extremely regrettable if you travel to Oaxaca without visiting Hierve de Agua. This is the only petrified waterfall in the world today. Here you will admire an amazing natural scene. Hierve de Agua meaning “boiling water” is considered a rare phenomenon, the waterfall stream freezes in the middle of the hot weather.
Address: Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico
Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Closed
Shopping at the markets
To immerse yourself in the life of the indigenous people on your Oaxaca trip, you will be extremely excited while walking around the bustling local markets. Colorful rows of houses lead us to the market – where many elaborate handicrafts are traded, colorful traditional dresses to delicious specialties, and ingredients to create many other delicious dishes. If you intend to shop at the market, do not hesitate to bargain to freely bring all kinds of gifts for relatives and friends.
I am really impressed by the colorful streets, busy markets, and the variety of traditional handicrafts. If you are a lover of handmade products, you will not be able to take your eyes off the dolls wearing traditional dresses made by the sellers themselves or the colorful aluminum mirrors or the traditional dresses are embroidered by hand.
In the markets, what caught my attention the most was the chili selling area. At first, I only envisioned they are red and green peppers with different sizes of large and small, but when I came here I realized that there were more than 100 different types of chili peppers. Green, yellow, red, round, long, big, and dry chili peppers are all over the market. This also explains why Mexico is one of the most famous culinary countries in the world thanks to the variety of ingredients and the characteristic spicy taste of dishes.
Oaxaca is full of busy markets, very interesting to wander and explore. Just to the south of Zocalo square is a great place to explore 20 de Noviembre Market (Address: 20 de Noviembre 512, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico/Hours: 7AM–9PM) and Benito Juarez Market (Address: Las Casas S/N, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico/Hours: 7AM–9PM). La Merced Market (Mercado Merced Comidas) (Address: Rosario 104, La Merced, Zona Centro, Venustiano Carranza, 15100 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico/Hours: 8AM–6PM) is a food market, a favorite place for gourmet.
Other prominent places to visit in Oaxaca:
- Carmen Alto Church built in the 17th century.
- The weekly village Tianguis specializes in selling red ceramic crafts.
- San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya church was built in the 16th century by the Dominican people.
- Lambityeco area used to be one of the most important trading centers of the Zapotecs.
- The village of Santa Ana del Valle still retains the traditional handicrafts such as oil paintings, wool products.
- Tlacolula flea market meeting every Sunday morning.
Oaxaca blog: What to eat?
Food always has a strange attraction in every trip and so does Oaxaca. The first taste impression of this city is its quirkyness. Being a blend of many countries Spain, Arab and Asia, the cuisine of Oaxaca is rich in aromatic, flavor and creativity creates unique, delicious dishes. Oaxaca is famous for dishes about insects such as grasshoppers, ants, larvae; the simple bread is perfect for a convenient breakfast and other delicious sweet and savory foods. The attractive foods of Oaxaca will surely make you not forget about this land.
Oaxaca has a strong chocolate and cocoa culture, so you can’t miss the chance to enjoy this flavor. Chocolate is sold in markets and is an important part of the traditional Mexican diet in this area. Chocolate drinks are served daily and also for special ceremonies and events. Try an Oaxacan-style chocolate drink to see the difference and originality!
Some foods you should try in Oaxaca
- Tlayudas: A traditional street food from Oaxaca, are oversized corn tortillas topped with beans, cheese, meats and vegetables.
- Huitlacoche Corn Fungus Tacos
- Enfrijoladas: Mexican enchiladas covered in a black bean sauce stuffed with cheese and ready in only 15 minutes!
- Memelas (Memelitas): Grilled thin masa cakes topped with beans, salsa, cabbage, guacamole and cheese.
- Tetelas: Tasty triangle-shaped corn masa treats that are stuffed with black beans and cooked on a griddle.
- Tacos: Signature dish of Mexico are made with a variety of fillings, including beef, pork, chicken, seafood, beans, vegetables, and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety.
- Tamales: Made of masa or dough which is steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf.
- Tamales Oaxaqueños (or Tamales Hoja)
Oaxaca travel blog: Where to stay?
Below we recommend more best cheap, budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.
- Quinta Real Oaxaca, a top rated 5-star hotel with room rates from $259/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Hotel Casona Oaxaca, a top rated 4-star hotel with room rates from $105/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Hotel Las Golondrinas, a top rated 3-star hotel with room rates from $69/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- NaNa Vida Hotel Oaxaca, a top rated 3-star hotel with room rates from $76/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Holiday Inn Express Centro Historico Oaxaca, a top rated 3-star hotel with room rates from $145/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Oaxaca you can refer to
- Full-Day Tour of Oaxaca
- Oaxaca: Half-Day City Tour
- Oaxaca: Monte Alban Guided Archaeological Tour
- Huatulco Bay: Bahías Boat Tour & Snorkeling Experience
- From Oaxaca: Oaxaca, Mitla, Hierve el Agua & Mezcal Factory
- Visit the Bays of Huatulco by Boat
- Oaxaca: Ocotlan de Morelos Cultural Experience and Tour
Above is the fullest Oaxaca travel guide, hope it help you planning a wonderful trip to the most colorful city in Mexico. Check out more things to do in Oaxaca here. Happy traveling!