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What to do in Oaxaca – Mexico
Are you planning a trip to Mexico and wondering where to go? We get you. There are so many wonderful spots in this vibrant country that it can be a bit overwhelming at first to pick and choose! If you want to be mesmerised and want your senses to be ignited then read on
Oaxaca is Mexico’s fascinating southern land. The city was named after the green stones upon which the town was built. A state that overwhelms the eyes and delights the palate. A cultural center for both pre-hispanic culture and the culture of today. Perched at 1500 meters in altitude, the city lies 500 km south of Mexico city and is home to a captivating Indian culture, cradle of millennia old civilisation and well known lively traditions. Packed with hundreds of years of history, the colonial town will charm the visitor in many ways: Colonial architecture, traditional and artisan colorful markets, Maya ruins or culinary delights will take you on a unique cultural experience through Oaxaca past and present.
We listed below a few of the many things to experience when in Oaxaca:
- Historic center
If you travel through Mexico, you will most likely encounter a lot of gorgeous little colonial towns. However, few are as beautiful as Oaxaca. Peaceful cobblestone streets, sumptuous trees blooming with superb flowers … and all these colorful facades! Between November and January, the climate is ideal; blue sky, very few showers and perfect temperature. Sidewalks are large and welcome the visitor to explore, wander and shop the tens of little artisan shops along the way. One of our favorite things when I visited was to stroll along the streets in the center at the end of the day enjoying the atmosphere, the locals and the last rays of sun shining on the Santo Domingo Church and the mountains on the horizon.
If you have a bit of time, we would recommend to wander north of the town between the calle de Xólotl and the old Acquaduc. If you are a culture aficionado, we would recommend to visit the Santa Domingo church, the Santo Domingo temple and the botanical garden. The church was built using Cantera stones. The Cantera has notably been used in many of the buildings, walls, and roads of Oaxaca giving the city a distinct green color. This rock is formed by volcanic ash and dust. The inside is also pretty fantastic with a very unique baroque style. The temple is rich in pre columbian treasures discovered in the archeological town of Monte Alban (we talk about it a bit later).
The botanic garden is home to endangered native plants and flowers. If you like lively town centers, then head to the zócalo, the main square of the city. There is always a festival or ceremony going on as well as musicians, balloons merchants, food stalls or women dancing with their traditional outfits. Talking about dancing, every wednesday, after 6pm, the zocalo welcomes dressed up couples who spend the night dancing on some romantic mexican vibes.
For a panorama of the entire city, climb to the Mirador del Fortín and enjoy the 360 degree view!
- The site of Monte Alban: A few kilometers away from the vibrant Oaxaca and over 2000 meters above sea level, lies the incredible archaeological site of Monte Alban.
Former Zapotec capital, it was built on top of a mountain so the inhabitants taking advantage of the 360 degree view, could spot danger from miles away. The most incredible thing about this site is that the Zapotec literally ironed out the top of the mountain before setting up their fantastic city. Titanic job! Today’s ruins include magnificent tombs and numerous pieces of art like fine golden jewels.
Monte Alban was one of the first significant cities of central america and the center of the Zapotec state which used to rule over the current state of Oaxaca. The first settlements started approximately 500 BC and between 250 and 800 AC, the city was home to over 50,000 people. The temples were carefully aligned with the sun and cardinal points. When the town and other Mexican cities collapsed, the Mixtecs will use Montel Alban as their royal cemetery.
- Tule tree, Teotlitan villages and Mitla ruins: If you have some more time in Oaxaca, we would urge you to explore the Teotlitan village and the Mitla ruins.
Mitla replaced Monte Alban when the Mixtecs took over the center of Mexico approx. 1000 AC. City of significant importance when the Spanish conquistadors invaded the region, it was destroyed and a church was built in place of former temples. Therefore, something rather striking when visiting the site is the mix between Mixtec and Spanish style. What makes the archaeological city particularly interesting, besides the desert surrounding the buildings, are the red temples and the architectural decorations and geometric patterns adorning their walls. The inhabitants only speak Zapotec.
Whilst traveling between Oaxaca and Mitla, stop in the little village of Santa María de Tule and admire the biggest tree in the world. 2000 years old, this phenomenon of a trees is 42 meters high and 58 meters wide! We particularly enjoyed our exploration of the indigenous villages in the Oaxaca valley, namely Teotitlán del Valle, Santa Ana del valle or Tlacolula. They all have markets offering an abundance of colorful textiles, scarves, fabrics or high quality wools made by little family and artisan workshops in the surroundings. This ancestral tradition has survived as of today.
- Hierve del agua: This is the story of a remarkable place. That of an extraordinary landscape shaped by nature over the course of thousands of years, slowly, gently, patiently to eventually turn it into a master piece of a painting… This is the story of the geological petrified waterfall Hierve El Agua. The site lies 70 km away from Oaxaca and it takes approximately 1h30 to drive there ( the last bit is on an unsealed road with spectacular views over hills flanked with cacti, canyons and arid valleys. Pure Happiness!
The entrance fee is 35 pesos. No one can truly picture the beauty and the serenity of the place unless they experience it in real life but we’ve included a couple of pictures to give you a taste of it. Once parked, you’ll discover two infinity natural mineral pools sitting at the edge of a cliff, full of calcium carbonate and sulphur (just enough to lend them a yellow hue) and cascading down the side of the cliff. The pools are facing a grandiose valley. The decor is incredible. You can take a dip in these dreamy pools even though the water is a bit chilly. Because the water is packed with minerals, it has a strange take on your skin but you’ll forget the strange feeling and the water’s rather cold temperature very quickly whilst gazing at the idyllic panorama.
- Food Scene: If Oaxaca is filled with beautiful textiles, architecture, streets and garden, the cuisine is probably what makes the place a real attraction. One of the specialty is the Mole Negro or Mole Oaxaqueño which is a chocolate based sauce used as a dressing for a lot of local salty dishes. The mix between sweet and savoury is delightful. The chocolate used in the sauce is made locally.
It is often mixed with cinnamon, almonds or vanilla. You can buy it in the form of powder or in tablets. It is to die for my friends! The local coffee is also very famous and for good reason. It is very often mixed with spices which give it such a unique taste. If you’re in for a treat, head to Mayordomo for a taste of a traditional hot chocolate. You won’t regret it
The tlayudas are another popular regional dish. Avocado, tomato, meat and Oaxaca cheese are often spread onto these big dorado tacos. I am a big fan of cheese ( being originally from France) and I can tell you that Oxaca cheese is worth the trip in itself! Last but not least, a trip to Oaxaca wouldn’t be complete without trying the well known Mezcal! The Mezcalerias encourage shoppers to taste a few before picking a specific bottle. As you can imagine, we didn’t wait for them to ask us twice! The production process to make Mezcal is quite interesting;
The hearts of the agave plants, piñas, are cooked in pits in the ground in a style that’s similar to that for making barbacoa giving it its smoky flavor.The cooked agave is then crushed, combined with water, and allowed to ferment. Besides pure plain agave, you can buy Mezcal cream; pina colada mezcal, coffee mezcal, mago mezcal etc… You could literally spend a day trying all the different sort. To complement your Mezcal before dinner, you can try grilled grasshoppers drizzled with lemon and with or without pepper. Quite an adventure!
Where to stay?
Does cocktails in the infinity pool watching the sunset over the ocean sound good? This is exactly what you can do at Las Palmas Villas & Casitas! The views from the Villas are second to none, and the property is simply gorgeous. Some of the activities include room massages overlooking the private beach, manicures and pedicures, wet bar or just relaxing in one of the three pools; all with different views!
Some places seem to have been designed with so much love that they not only blend in with their surroundings, they enhance one’s appreciation of place and moment.
A recent write-up of Las Palmas Villas & Casitas says it all “no matter how you imagined it, it’s better.” Perched on a cliff with incomparable views of Violin Bay on one side and Santa Cruz Bay on the other, this stunning resort is one of the Mexican Pacific’s finest. If you want to check the place out, hope hop onto https://www.hotelesboutique.com/en/hotel/las-palmas/
We hope you’re now dying to visit the fabulous state of Oaxaca to experience the vibrant culture and amazing landscapes. Please share in the comment below if you’ve visited any other spots in this beautiful place so that everyone can add to their bucket list
Christelle and Dan