Things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico
by Josien - 11 May, 2020
I like to contradict that all cities in Mexico are the same. Yes, they are colonial and therefore have many similarities. But every city definitely has its own character. Oaxaca is a lot smaller than Mexico City and is characterized by a lively art scene. The streets are teeming with galleries and studios and even Amsterdam can learn something from the many hipster cafés that adorn the plazas here. There are many things to do in Oaxaca and I’d like to tell you all about them:
Whether for tasty food, colorful markets, or leading museums: Oaxaca has something for every type of traveler. The city is bursting with beautiful places and atmospheric hotels, and you will not be the first to stay here longer than planned. Make sure you’re wearing good shoes, cause everything is done on foot here (besides tours to Hierve El Agua and Mitla). Also, check the weather in Oaxaca before you book your trip.
The center of Oaxaca
The center of Oaxaca is a photogenic place thanks to the many cobbled streets full of colored houses. Your camera will run overtime because one street is even more beautiful than the other. Behind the colorful facades, you will find small museums and cozy restaurants, but also impressive courtyards where time seems to have stood still. In any case, do not hang on the main streets, but also take a side street. It is recommended to just spend an afternoon wandering through the beautiful center, on your own, or during an organized FREE walking tour. There are several companies that offer free city walks through Oaxaca.
The beating heart of Oaxaca is the central square of the city: Zócalo. This large square is surrounded by numerous cozy restaurants with pleasant terraces. Here you can drink a beer (or cocktail!) and enjoy the daily life that passes by here. The square of Oaxaca is regularly the scene of dance performances and music performances, but you will also find market stalls where you can buy nice souvenirs.
Churches of Oaxaca
El Templo de Santo Domingo is one of the most famous landmarks of the city and much more beautiful inside than outside. The church dates from the 16th century and has a beautiful interior with Baroque influences. It is one of the most beautiful churches you can visit in Mexico, so be sure to take a look inside. In addition to this church, there are more places in Oaxaca that are worth admiring. You can also take a look at the Cathedral of Oaxaca, which is located at the Zócalo.
Markets of Oaxaca
The markets in Latin America are an attraction in themselves and for that matter, you will certainly find yourself in Oaxaca. In the center of the city, you will find both large market halls and lively markets in the open air, where you can buy vegetables, fruit, meals, and souvenirs. Mercado Juárez is the domain of the locals, who come here to do their daily shopping. For souvenirs, you should take a walk on the Mercado de Artesanías or take a look at the stalls on the Zócalo. And are you in Oaxaca on Friday? Then take a look at the market in Llana Park, where you can stroll along with food stalls with street food and stalls full of unique souvenirs.
Museums in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is also known as the cultural center of Mexico and that is not without reason. There are many interesting museums that you can visit here. In the interactive Museo del Palacio, for example, you can admire various exhibitions that are linked to Oaxaca. Also interesting is the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, which focuses on regional history. In the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo you can see modern art and the tiny photography museum regularly has interesting exhibitions of talent from home and abroad.
Restaurants in Oaxaca
There are many great restaurants in Oaxaca. They even call the city the place to be when it comes to Mexican food. So get out there and try the local Moles, taquerias, Michelin star restaurants, and hipster-chic breakfast places.
Most of the restaurants have wifi but don’t expect to work from here if you are a digital nomad. Please read the pros and cons of being a digital nomad in Oaxaca here.
Oaxaca has a lot of graffiti in the streets and you will easily find them when walking around in the center of the city. Yet, there are bigger and better art pieces to be found a little bit out side of the touristy streets.
We found this one for example on 2a. Calle de Rufino Tamayo 878:
And we found these at Cinco de Mayo:
Hierva el Agua
I spend a whole blog post on this beautiful location. Read it here.
Free walking tours
Twice a week you can join free walking tours. You recognize your tour guide on his/her pink sweater or umbrella waiting at the entrance of the big church on the Zicalo Square. You can do this tour in English and in Spanish.
Our English guide knew literally EVERYTHING about Oaxaca. From history to religious events and from most recent protests to former artists who lived in the city. I can absolutely recommend this free tour. And even that it’s free, please make sure you tip the guide if you enjoyed your tour.
Mexico might be famous for tequilla, but its little brother Mezcal is almost just as famous! It’s one of Oaxaca’s signature drinks and you can’t escape it when you’re in town. So put it on your list of things to do in Oaxaca: mezcal tastings.
You can find many mezcal bars in the city and all tour operators offer a visit to agave farms to learn about the brewing process.
The oldest tree in Mexico, Árbol del Tule, grows next to a church in a town nearby Oaxaca. If you’re in town for exiting things to do, then don’t go here. It’s a big impressive tree, but there’s really nothing much to it. We spent ten minutes here as a stop on our way to Hierve el Agua and it disappointed me. There are many tourists taking pictures of a tree. A TREE. And it’s even hard to get the whole tree in a picture since it’s so big! So in the end, your picture looks like this:
Things to do in Oaxaca (city), Mexico:
- Center & streetart in Oaxaca
- Hierve El Agua
- Árbol del Tule
- Mezcal Tastings
- Museums & Churches
- Ruins of Mitla
- Markets and Mercado’s
- Restaurants and bars
- Free walking tours