During my 6-month Mexico road trip, I spent two weeks in Oaxaca, known for its indigenous cultures, food, colorful streets and architecture, mezcal, textiles, and art. And like many others before me, I fell in love with Oaxaca.
I had a car in Oaxaca, which was very convenient — the city is very walkable, but there is a lot to do just out of town! Here are my DIY recommendations for what to do, what to eat, day trips from Oaxaca, and where to stay in Oaxaca. (If you prefer to book a guided, multi-day tour where everything is planned and taken care of for you, check out this 10-day itinerary for Oaxaca)!
Note: Details about places and things may have changed since the time of this writing. Be sure to cross-check while planning your trip!
Oaxaca Day #1: Thursday
There’s no better way to get acquainted with Oaxaca than a walk around centro! Head to the Zócalo (the main plaza), stroll the pedestrian street Andador Turístico, and be awed by the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán (check out the Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca next door)!
In the evening, take in the Guelaguetza dinner show and four-course authentic Oaxacan meal at luxury hotel Quinta Real for 770 pesos per person (Thursdays only — make reservations in advance). This was truly special (that’s my mom!)!
Oaxaca Day #2: Friday
Grab coffee and breakfast at A.M. Cafe Centro (don’t forget to snap a pic in front of the Insta-worthy ‘Oaxaca Te Amo’ neon light in the courtyard!) and head out to Zona Arqueológica de Monte Albán. Go early to avoid the heat and give yourself two hours — the site also closes relatively early. Monte Albán was a highlight of my time in Oaxaca — the ancient pyramids are gigantic; it’s probably the most impressive archaeological site in Mexico I’ve seen yet!
Monte Albán can be easily reached by car or taxi, if you’d prefer a guided tour that includes transportation, I recommend this one.
After you’ve worked up an appetite, head over to the unassuming Las Quince Letras for its delicious and affordable mole poblano, a signature Oaxacan dish. For a bit of a trendier vibe, try the also very good Levadura de Olla.
Oaxaca Day #3: Saturday
Go to Boulenc for brunch — the shakshuka is incredible, the pizzas (and chili oil) wonderful, and the almond croissants melt-in-your-mouth. In my two weeks in Oaxaca, I ate at Boulenc three times (don’t judge me, when I find something I like, I go back)! Prepare for a wait if you arrive after 9:30 a.m.
And don’t feel bad about indulging in all the carbs… you’ll need the calories for an afternoon of mezcal tasting in Santiago Matatlán, the “World Capital Of Mezcal,” one hour’s drive from Oaxaca. Stop at the Tree of Tule on your drive there — the Montezuma cypress tree is the widest in the world and costs 20 pesos.
Oaxaca Day #4: Sunday
Need a mezcal-hangover cure? Tlayudas (sort of like a huge, crunchy quesadilla filled with beans, meat, cheese and whatever else they throw in there) are just the thing. Tlayudas El Negro hits the spot!
Then, spend the day walking through the picturesque and mural-filled Barrio de Jalatlaco (east of the center) and Barrio de Xochimilco (north of the center). If you need a break from Mexican food, Tastavins has excellent tapas and is very affordable. I ate there twice during my stay— the wine is the cheapest in the city, and the salads and charcuterie boards are muy rico!
Oaxaca Day #5: Monday
Another highlight of my visit to Oaxaca — Hierve de Agua! An outing to this rock formation / natural swimming pools about 1½ hours’ drive from Oaxaca is not to be skipped. It can get crowded with tours, so consider timing your visit early or late in the day. The area also offers hiking, and there’s food and drink stands so you can make a day of it. I drove there, but if you don’t have your own transportation, I recommend this tour.
On your way back, stop in the pueblo magico of Mitla and walk the small and clean, colorful town known for embroidered textiles.
Oaxaca Day #6: Tuesday
About 45 minutes from Oaxaca is a small textile town called Teotitlan del Valle. Here is where many of Oaxaca’s rugs are produced. It was very special to see a work-in-progress and learn about the rug-making process!
A good choice for dinner is La Popular, near centro. The cochinita pibil tacos were perfection! I also recommend the al pastor tacos at Taqueria Tacomer for a reasonable and authentically-Mexican option.
Oaxaca Day #7: Wednesday
Make an appointment for a free tour of the workshop of Jacobo Y Maria Angeles, about 45 minutes south of Oaxaca, and prepare to be amazed at their handiwork! If you have time after the 1-hour tour, explore the rest of the town (there are a lot of murals and a few other galleries). Then, head back to Oaxaca and meander the food stalls and artisanal goods at Mercado 20 de Noviembre.
Where to stay in Oaxaca?
Penny and I had a lovely stay at 3-star Grana B&B, a dog-friendly boutique hotel located right in centro. The rooms are comfortable and reasonable, the breakfasts are delicious, and the view is impressive! We felt wonderfully at home there. Another option is Fiesta Inn Oaxaca, which has a pool — perfect for those warm days. I can also recommend Grand Fiesta Americana Oaxaca and Holt Hotel De Mi Independencia.
Well, there you have it! Enjoy your time in Oaxaca, one of my new favorite cities in Mexico… because I’m currently dreaming about going back… and if you have any favorite spots I or my readers should try, leave a comment!
The Centro de las Artes de San Agustín is about 30 minutes north from Oaxaca. If you’re heading that direction, it’s worth a detour — but skippable if you have limited time.