Soak in the town’s rich history, with ancient traditions still very much alive in the day to day. The town dates back to the 16th century, but the Oaxaca Valley has been inhabited since 1000 BC.
The Plaza de la Constitucion, otherwise known as the Zocalo, is the hub of the city and where its historical buildings such as the Palacio de Gobierno can be found. But don’t think that this is a dusty town of relics from ages past. Instead, new life has been breathed into its colourful colonial streets with vibrant cobbled laneways filled with boutiques, restaurants, bars and galleries showcasing its artistic prowess.
This southwestern city, the third largest in the country, is a haven for artsy types and one if the best places to experience the unique Dia de los Muertos festival – an annual celebration of the dead which takes place around each Halloween and which sees the town’s crumbling cemeteries take on new life as they are lit up with candles and celebration.
Then there is Guelaguetza – considered the most flamboyant of Oaxaca’s festivals, its aim is to keep the gods happy so that they bless the valley with rain to ensure an abundant harvest.
That harvest is used to create a cuisine that is distinct to the area with Oaxaca considered a major gastronomic centre of Mexico. Here, you’ll find immense diversity of flavours thanks to the varied climates and cultures of the region. Sure you’ll find tacos and tortillas here, but you’ll also come across dishes such as tlayudas – large chewy tortillas with toppings of beans, guacamole, meat or seafood and cheese, and large tamapes wrapped in banana leaves with a mole filling. The state is known as the land of the seven moles after all.
The more daring can try snacks such as chapulines, deep fried grasshoppers, that are nibbled like peanuts and offer the same satisfying crunch.
And the city’s appeal lies not just within its walls, but in the surrounding areas where you’ll find world class attractions such as the stunning hot springs of Hierve el Agua and important historical sites like Monte Alban, among others.
Hierve el Agua
Places to Visit in Oaxaca
- Plaza de la Constitucion, otherwise known as the Zocalo, and the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage area.
- The ruins of ancient Zapotec capital Monte Alban.
- The second most important architectural site in the area, Mitla.
- The rock formations and hot springs at Hierve el Agua.
- The weaving village of Teotitlan.
Unique Things to See and Do in Oaxaca
- Take part in one of its festivals – from Guelaguetza to Dia de los Muertos, the calendar is packed with events worth checking out.
- Learn more about Oaxaca’s unique cuisine by taking a cooking class.
- Take a dip in the thermal waters of Hierve el Agua while admiring the spectacular view.
- Discover one of the world’s oldest trees, El Arbol del Tule
- Visit a producer of Mezcal - the ancient, artisanal, agave-based spirit made mainly in this area.
The city of Oaxaca de Juarez, the capital of the state of Oaxaca, derives its name from the Aztec settlement of Huaxyacac, founded in the late 15th century, which means “In the Nose of the Squash”. But the town’s importance dates back to 1529 when the Spanish invaders settled a new town around the Zocalo.
More recently, earthquakes have blighted its growth. Much of the colonial city was destroyed in a severe earthquake in 1854, with another disastrous quake striking in 1931.
But the city has bounced back, and has re-established itself as a hub of Southern Mexico with a population of around 260,000. Tourism thrives here thanks to its varied culture, rich in Indigenous influences, which is seen in the food, crafts, art and traditions of the area.
It also has a staggering 1,200 historic monuments prompting UNESCO to award it World Heritage status in 1987.
Getting around Oaxaca
To get around the city’s main tourist hub, all you’ll need are your feet. Most of the guesthouses, hostels and hotels are set among the cobbled streets, as are the restaurants and main tourist attractions. If you’re travelling to the other side of town, it’s probably easiest to take a taxi, and to head just out of town to one of the amazing historical sites or villages, then a bus is your best bet.
Did you know…?
Oaxaca is the birthplace of president Benito Juarez, who led the country for five terms from 1858 to 1872.
Did you ALSO know…?
Monte Alban, located nearby, is considered the first great city of Mesoamerica - originating around 500 BC.
Best time of year to travel to Oaxaca
Oaxaca has a mild climate thanks to its location 5000 ft above sea level – making it welcoming for visitors year round. Winter days average around 16 degrees Celsius while spring averages are around 25 degrees Celsius. Rainy season lasts from late June until October, but rainfall is most common in the evenings.