I first fell in love with Mexico a few years back, long before I ever stepped foot in Oaxaca. It all began on the soft sand of Sayulita alongside it’s charming streets and picturesque shops. Then Tulum took things to the next level last summer, while swimming through a cave in a crystal-clear cenote, and discovering a small island with a single tree growing inside. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find myself swooning over Mexico’s unique beauty once again, but that’s exactly what happened within moments of arriving in Oaxaca City.
Although my trip here lasted only a few days (I could have easily stayed much longer,) it was packed with incredible sights and experiences. I’ve put together a list of my favorites, as well as a few of Oaxaca’s must-see spots. One thing I can say with certainty, is that this beautiful part of Mexico holds no shortage of memorable places to discover and explore.
1. Indoor & Outdoor Markets
Oaxaca has a wide variety of markets, each with it’s own unique vibe, that wonderfully represent the local culture and traditional foods. Mercado Benito Juarez (named after one of Mexico's most beloved leaders), is a popular indoor market located one block south of the city's main plaza. Inside is a maze of booths offering everything from the freshest produce to colorful clothing and beautiful handcrafted objects. The Mercado 20 de Noviembre is another notable market just two blocks further, and is best known for its vast selection of small restaurants, bakeries, and specialty food stalls. The Central de Abastos is Oaxaca’s largest market - with over 2000 stands spread over 810 acres! - and sells the widest array of goods in the entire state. It’s said that if you can’t find something in the Abastos market, you most likely won’t be able to find it in all of Oaxaca. One word of warning though - because this massive market is so crowded, it’s been known to have pickpockets. Make sure to take a few extra safety precautions before heading there (such as removing visible jewelry, putting your smartphone and wallet safely away, and not carrying anything too valuable with you).
2. Walking Tour of Oaxaca
If this is your first time in Oaxaca City, one great way to familiarize yourself with the area is with a walking tour. There are a few free options offered by local tour companies and some hotels (the guides are knowledgeable and tipping them is expected), but if you’re willing to shell out a few extra pesos, you can book a specialized tour (such as a food or history oriented one) for a more unique city experience.
3. Hierve el Agua
Also known as The Petrified Waterfalls, Hierve El Agua is a must-see for anyone visiting Oaxaca. It’s a short drive from the city, but this special spot is well worth the trip and is relatively easy to get to (there are tour buses that go daily, or you can rent a private taxi). Once there you can hike to either of the two ‘waterfalls’ (i.e. natural mineral formations resemble cascading water), or enjoy a refreshing dip in one of the pools set among the beautiful mountain views. There are changing rooms and snack stands in the area, which make staying and relaxing here easy, but take note that it can get pretty crowded throughout the day, especially on weekends.
4. Monte Albán
This UNESCO World Heritage is said to be the most important archaeological site in the Valley of Oaxaca. The impressive remains found at Monte Albán include terraces, pyramids, underground passageways, and canals, and tombs. The site extends over four miles and and dates back to as early as the 1st Century. Getting there requires a short drive from Oaxaca City, but is very accessible either by one of the many local tour buses, or with a private taxi.
5. Ethnobotanical Garden
The Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca Oaxaca City is an Ethnobotanical Garden in Oaxaca City designed by famed Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo. The public garden sits on 2.32 acres of a former sixteenth-century monastery, and has hundreds of flora all native to Oaxaca. Visits to the garden are allowed by guided tours only and require a small entrance fee. English tours are offered 3 days a week (and are two hours long), while Spanish tours run daily from Monday through Saturday (and are one hour long).