Why Trust Our ‘Best Things To Do In Oaxaca’ Article?
We understand, there are so many articles out there detailing all the amazing things to do in Oaxaca. Why should you read another one? We spent over 3 weeks traveling all across Oaxaca City AND the greater state of Oaxaca in our camper van and have documented some of the best and most unique things to do in Oaxaca. From the city, to the mountains, to the coastline; we have so much to share about all the things and activities you can do here.
Keep reading to find out more!
Why Travel To Oaxaca?
When I think of traditional Mexican culture and lifestyle; its people, festivals, food, and its artisan products, and picturesque beaches, I think of Oaxaca. To me, Oaxaca is Mexico’s heartland.
Oaxaca is home to some of Mexico’s most prevalent indigenous peoples and cultures. Want to experience an authentic Días de Los Muertos celebration? Come to Oaxaca. Want to get lost in one of Mexico’s best outdoor markets? Come to Oaxaca. Want to discover wonderful handmade artisan products? Come to Oaxaca!
And once you’ve had your cultural fill, head out into the Oaxaca countryside and coastline to experience some of Mexico’s finest natural beauties. Stand out on the edge of Hierve del Agua and look out across the valleys in Oaxaca. Pass through agave farms (Mezcal tour, anyone?) and coffee plantations on your way to the Oaxaca coastline and relax, or party(!), on some of the best beaches in the country.
Whatever your reason for travel, Oaxaca has got you covered. There are so many great things to do in Oaxaca and we want to share all the diverse activities that you can take part in.
This is our Oaxaca travel guide and we hope this article inspires you to plan your own trip to one of our favorite states in Mexico.
Oaxaca Travel FAQ
What are the best things to do in Oaxaca?
In Oaxaca City, our top 3 things to do are:
- Take the free walking tour
- Visit the ethnobotanical garden
- Take a mezcal tour
Outside Oaxaca city, our top 3 things to do are:
- Visit the Tlacolula sunday market and eat Barbacoa en Consomé
- Relax on the chillest beaches in Masunte and Zipolite
- Wool rug shopping in Teotitlán del Valle
Is Oaxaca safe for tourists?
Absolutely. Oaxaca is one of the safest states in Mexico. It always pays to be a smart and an aware traveler. That means always knowing what’s going on around you, being kind and respectful to locals, and never hanging around quiet streets too late by yourself.
How many days do you need to travel in Oaxaca?
To explore Oaxaca city, we recommend a minimum of 2-3 full days. But to properly take in the Oaxaca countryside and coastline, we would reserve an additional 7 days. Be careful, however, the beaches along the coastline may keep you in Oaxaca longer than you initially intended!
What are the best beaches to visit in Oaxaca?
So many beaches to choose from! It really depends what you are looking for in a beach. Here are some of our favorite beaches in Oaxaca.
Puerto Escondidto | Best beach to party and drink
Masunte | Best beach to chill and relax
Zipolite | Best beach to feel the hippy vibes and energy
Bahía San Augustin | Best beach to truly get away
What are the best things to buy in Oaxaca?
Things is a fun question since we bought many beautiful products in Oaxaca! Our top 4 things to buy in Oaxaca are:
- Handwoven wool rugs in Teotitlán del Valle
- Hand carved and painted alebrijes in San Martín Tilcajete
- Artisan mezcal.
- Organic coffee at La Finca Pacifico
Things To Do In Oaxaca City
1. Understand Oaxaca with the free walking tour
Sometimes the best things to do are completely free. When we arrive at a new city, one of our favorite things to do is see if a free walking tour is available, and oftentimes there is. And Oaxaca City has several free walking tours available. The walking tour we took was with “Free Walk Oaxaca”.
This 2.5 hour tour covers everything you want to know about the city and is absolutely one of the best things to do in Oaxaca. From famous architecture, to best foods to eat, and important cultural and political tidbits to know about the city, this walking tour covers everything you want to know about Oaxaca City.
We could not recommend taking this tour more.
There are two tours a day. The morning tour starts at 10am and the afternoon tour starts at 5pm. Both tours meet in front of the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá.
2. Learn About Oaxaca’s native flora at the Ethnobotanical Garden
Oaxaca City’s Ethnobotanical Garden began in 1998 as a way to promote all the different plant species that are native to Oaxaca. In this garden you can witness plants that grow both in Oaxaca’s arid and humid climates. This includes the Oaxaca’s low and humid tropical zones all the way to the state’s cooler mountainous regions.
A paid guided tour is required to enter the garden. A pleasant surprise, tours of the garden are conducted in Spanish, English, French, and German. But times for these tours can be restrictive,
Spanish Tours | Monday to Saturday – 10am, 12pm, 5pm
English Tours | Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday – 11am
French Tours | Tuesday – 5pm
German Tours | Wednesday – 5pm
The Spanish tour costs 50 pesos per person. All other language tours cost 100 pesos per person.
3. Grab a coffee and make like a local in Oaxaca’s zocalo (central park)
One of the best things to do in Oaxaca, and in many other Mexican cities, is simply to find a nice cafe right next to the zocalo (central park) and watch local life pass you by. Luckily, Oaxaca has one of the largest and most active zocalo’s in Mexico!
If you find your legs need a rest, grab a drink and a snack at Restaurante Mayordomo. It’s not a quiet corner but it’s festive and there’s lots of life on this street. Soak it all in!
If you’re hungry, the ‘mole negro con pollo’ is the dish to get here.
4. Come hungry to the Mercado 20 Noviembre
November 20 is a popular date in Mexican history; it’s the day the Mexican Revolution started. And that’s why this colorful market in Oaxaca City is called ‘Mercado 20 Noviembre’.
Wander around the aisles of this bustling local food market. From BBQ meats, to filling Tlayudas, and delicious soups, you could eat your way around all of Oaxaca without ever leaving this market!
For you meat eaters, find the venders displaying their raw meat selection and simply point to the meats you want. They’ll BBQ the meat right in front of you and serve it on a tortilla bed with fresh vegetables. Delicious!
5. Hunt down Oaxaca’s best street art
Oaxaca has some of the best street art in Mexico. And one of the things we loved to do in Oaxaca was to keep an eye for beautiful art murals as we wandered around town.
Much of the street art you see in Oaxaca City is due to ‘Lapiztola’, the local street art collective in town. The name “Lapiztola” is a blended word, fusing the Spanish words for pencil (lápiz) and pistol (pistola). Much of their art is intended to spread political and social messages to those who walk by. So when you pass by a mural, stop for a while and see if you can decipher the mural’s message.
We could describe some of our favorite wall murals here, but we’ll just let our pictures below do the talking!
6. Get Artistic Inspiration at Museo Textil de Oaxaca
Although Oaxaca is famous for the beauty of traditional textile art, many talented artists evolved from there.
If you are into fashion and textile you can’t miss visiting Museo Textil de Oaxaca to get to know the today’s local textile design, this small museum offers contemporary exhibits of textiles from Mexico and beyond. Building itself is really beautiful to look at, and this tranquil environment makes you forget that you are in the heart of zocalo. Free admission is a bonus!
Best Tours & Classes In Oaxaca
1. Mezcal Tour
Oaxaca is the king of mezcal; a fiery, high-percentage alcoholic drink made from the maguey plant. Mezcal is very similar to tequila, but without the tight definitions and restrictions. ‘Tequila vs Mezcal’ is similar to ‘Champagne vs Brut’ or ‘Bourbon vs Whiskey’.
One of the best things to do in Oaxaca is to take a mezcal tour. On these tours you can visit a distillery to see the mezcal making process and at the end there is a mezcal tasting event, where you can taste all the different mezcal flavors. Warning: The range of flavors can be quite broad!
2. Wool Rug Tour
Handwoven wool rugs are some of the best souvenirs you can buy in Oaxaca. These high-end artisanal products may not have been on your radar before coming to Oaxaca, but take a Oaxaca rug tour and you’ll be amazed by the process just as much as we were. In fact, we ended up purchasing two small rugs by the end of our trip!
The Oaxaca rugs are made from natural dyes (as opposed to chemical dyes) and carefully handwoven. Prices for wool rugs depend on the size of the rug and complexity of design, but can range anywhere between $50-$500.
3. Alebrijes - sculptures of mythical animals
San Martín Tilcajete is a small town about 20km south from Oaxaca city, well known for the creation of brightly colored wood carvings of mythical animals called “Alebrijes”.
Although alebrijes are commonly sold in markets throughout Mexico, the best alebrijes require years of training in wood carving and painting. There are a number of schools started by master alebrije artesans, and now young adults are being trained to be professional artists themselves.
One of the most famous schools and workshops is by Jacobo y Maria Angeles, located in San Martín Tilcajete. You can take a free guided tour where you can see the entire process of making these beautiful alebrije artwork.
In the end of the tour at Jacobo and Maria’s workshop, you will be guided to their sales shop. The alebrijes sold here are considerably more expensive than the smaller figures you can find in the local markets, but their products are much more refined and detailed.
Unfortunately we live in a van with limited space, so we only purchased two small figurines. But we love them both! Each alebrije was roughly $35 USD.
4. Coffee Plantation Tour at Finca El Pacífico
Although mass production of coffee beans are more well known in Columbia or Guatemala, Mexico is actually one of the largest coffee-producing countries, also the largest producer of organic coffee and is grown by small farmers in Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca.
Oaxaca coffee is usually known for its light body, low acidity and smooth taste.
Finca El Pacífico is located between the city of Oaxaca and its coast. This small, rustic farm shows you an authenticity of how locals grow, pick, and package the coffee beans almost all by hands rather than the process of mass production.
Visiting those small coffee farms, taking tours and purchasing their beans helps locals to keep producing high quality organic beans.
Sign of the farm is almost washed out so it is easily missed, so be sure to whatsapp them ahead!
Best Day Trips From Oaxaca City
1. Get lost in Tlacolula’s Sunday market
If you are not planning to be in Oaxaca on Sunday, change your plans. Visiting the sunday market in Tlacolula is one of the BEST day trips from Oaxaca City.
Tlacolua is a small town 30km east of town along Highway 190. Though the town is just a blip on your map, locals come from all over the countryside and gather here on sundays to sell produce, cooked food, handmade goods, and even cheap products from China. It’s a market for everyone and it took us almost 4 hours to fully complete. On Sundays, the largest market in Mexico might just be here in Tlacolula de Matamoros.
Try Barbacoa en Consomé
One of our FAVORITE things to eat in all of Mexico is Barbacoa en Consomé; a meat stew (guts and all) served with a side of tortillas and a dish of diced onions and cilantro. Search for the food court when in the Tlacolula market and look for the big pots of stewing meat.
Try Oaxaca's Local Drink "Tejate"
I know it does not look pretty in the picture, but it is definitely delicious than it looks. You’ve got to try Tejate if you visit Oaxaca!
This traditional drink of Mexico, is made of toasted corn, fermented cacao beans, toasted mamey pits (pixtle) and flor de cacao (Native tree of Mexico, that is used as a medicinal plant) ground into a paste, mixed with water and sweeten with sugar or honey. Not only it is tasty, but Tejate is filled with good protein and vitamins that keeps you going for your next trip!
If you feel like to challenge....try the local snack "Chapulines"
Insect might be a future source of protein intake…. Yes! Take a bite of yummy spiced grasshopper!
It is widely eaten by local people in Oaxaca, as a snack of watching sports game, sprinkle on the breakfast eggs or tacos!
They certainly have a strong, particular taste and it is not exactly deep fried crunchy, and if you order one they give you a full of them in a bag so make sure to ask for tasting to see if you really like it or not!
2. Get your Instagram shots at Hierve del Agua
Hierve del Agua is a picturesque limestone formation 60km east of Oaxaca City. Calcium-rich water flows off the edge, which, over the years, has created a geological formation that resembles a frozen waterfall.
For some of the best views of Hierve del Agua, find the path that allows you to hike to the base of the limestone formation and around the other side. It’s about an hour to complete the roundtrip hike. We recommend downloading the Maps.me offline map app to see where the hiking trail starts.
Though you can technically get to Hierve del Agua on your own using multiple colectivos, it’s much more time and cost efficient to join a group tour from Oaxaca City.
Camping opportunities exist right inside the park if you want to stay and watch the sunset (or sunrise) at Hierve del Agua.
3. Explore ancient ruins at Monte Alban
If you’re only going to visit one ruins site in Mexico, make it Monte Albán. The ancient ruins at Monte Albán is the best archeology site close to Oaxaca City.
Originally built sometime around 500 BC, it wasn’t until around 100 BC-200 AD that Monte Albán became one of the most dominant entities, and a major center for Zapotec culture, in Oaxaca and the greater Mesoamerica.
There is so much to see when visiting Monte Albán. Climb the many pyramids located all around the site, explore the ballcourts, and grab a panoramic picture while atop the South Platform.
We actually preferred visiting Monte Albán versus the more famous Teotihuacán because of the significantly less tourists that were at this Oaxaca ancient ruins site.
4. Get on the artisan trail in Teotitlán del Valle
Some of the best artisan products in Oaxaca are all throughout the Oaxacan countryside. And the small village of Teotitlán del Valle, a village roughly 30km east of Oaxaca City, is a great place to go hunting for handcrafted products. Below are some of the artisan products you can purchase in the Tetitlán region:
Handwoven Wool Rugs | We purchased two beautiful rugs in Teotitlán del Valle from an honest and friendly family shop that has been making handmade wool rugs for over 4 generations. Free on-site tour detailing the natural dye and rug creation process. English spoken. El Tono De La Cochinilla. For more information, read our article on Oaxaca’s Handwoven Rugs.
Mezcal Maker | For delicious mezcal head over to El Rey De Matatlan. They are located on the main Carretera Internacional right at the exit for Teotitlán. There are three mezcalerías here and El Rey is the one in the middle.
Handmade Candles | A wonderful family that has been making candles for generations. They usually only make candles in the morning, before the day gets too hot to work the wax. The shop is called Velas de Concha de Cera Virgen and if you would like to visit, they would like you to call them in advance to make sure they are available.
Tel: (01-951) 52-4-43-92.
It can be a bit difficult to visit Teotitlán without your own vehicle or with an organized tour. Consider renting a car for the day for a memorable day trip exploring the countryside.
5. Witness the ‘stoutest’ tree in the world in Santa Maria del Tule
Check off a bucket list by seeing the ‘stoutest’ tree in the world. The tree’s circumference measures 42m, which is the largest diameter for a tree in the world, but this measurement is also due to the fact that this tree’s trunk extends out, like a star, in all directions.So the true cross section of the trunk may not appear as large as you might think. But Santa Maria del Tule is still a worthwhile stop if you plan to continue heading east along the Carretera Internacional.
Things To Do Along The Oaxaca Coastline
1. Scratch that surfing itch at Zicatela beach in Puerto Escondido
Though not for the faint of heart, the waves at Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido are world class. And if you’re just starting out, plenty of surfing classes promote their services along the beachside.
And when the sun starts to go down, grab a drink at one of the many hip bars and restaurants located right on the sand in Zicatela.
2. Shake your nerves and bare it all at the nudist beach, Zipolite
Nope, nope! We aren’t the type of people who leave our clothes behind and walk proudly butt-naked up and down Zipolite beach. But with the beach’s relaxed vibes and unpretentious feel, Zipolite was one of our favorite beaches in all of Mexico.
For a more romantic feel, climb over to nearby Playa del Amor, to the east of Zipolite, and watch the gorgeous sun set into the Pacific ocean.
Head back to town at night for some delicious street food at the lively night market.
3. Lose the crowd and get off the beaten path at Bahía San Augustin
If you’re looking for a place with considerably less crowds, make your way to Bahía San Augustin. Because of the cove, there are no waves here. Instead, this beach is a great place for some snorkeling.
If you have your own tent, search for Camping Don Taco. For a small nightly fee, the Dutch owners will let you set your tent under a beautiful cabana right on the sand, 10 meters away from the water.
4. Help release turtle eggs at Mazunte
Head over to Centro Mexicano de La Tortuga to learn more about these beautiful sea turtles in this fascinating museum just by Playa Mazunte. The facilities can appear a little run down and this place seems tight on funds, but the purpose and goals of this turtle sanctuary and museum are good and noteworthy. Definitely worth a stop by if you’re in Mazunte.
5. Party hard in Puerto Escondido
Perhaps you’re simply looking for the best party scene along the Oaxaca coast? If that’s the case, reserve your room at either Pipeline Hostel or Selina Puerto Escondido, make some friends and grab drinks and dance at Sativa until the sun rises.
Selina Puerto Escondido also functions as a cool co-working space. So if you plan to catch up on some work, this is the place to be.
Best Places To Eat In Oaxaca City
Casa Oaxaca el Restaurante | A real treat to eat here. Casa Oaxaca serves delicious contemporary Oaxacan cuisine in a beautiful and peaceful setting. Delicious mole and tlayudas crammed full with ingredients. Book in advance and ask for a seat on the terrace for great views.
Restaurante Coronita | Fantastic place to sample traditional Oaxacan cuisine. They have a delicious mole sample platter here that allows you to try all 7 different types of Oaxacan mole.
La Olla | Great Oaxacan and Mexican flavors. Authentic food and great service. If you can, grab a table upstairs on the terrace. Awesome views of the rooftops of Oaxaca City.
Best Cafes In Oaxaca City
Boulenc | A local and traveller favorite. Delicious coffee and wonderful pastries. Solid place for lunch as well. Check out the bakery next door for some of the best almond croissants in Mexico!
Muss Café | Wonderful place for some truly artisanal coffee. Coffee is taken seriously here, but they also serve some fun fusions like their cold brew tonic & and coffee blended with mezcal. Brunch here is also delicious.
Café Rústiko | Wonderful chic ambience and delicious hot chocolate. If your stomach can handle it, the Double Mocha with Oaxacan Chocolate is a real treat. Double bonus if you’re here when there’s live music.
Best Places To Sleep In Oaxaca
Best Budget: Casa Angel Hostel – Social, clean, and high-quality bunk beds, Casa Angel has everything you’d want from a budget accomodation. Lots of programs to keep guests entertained like salsa and yoga classes and mezcal tasting sessions.
Mid-Range: AYOOK – Beautiful rooms and interior courtyard make this mid-range option a travelr favorite. The included traditional Oaxaca breakfast and the super attentive customer service is one of the highlights of this hotel.
Luxury & Trendy: Casa Antonieta – Great location in the heart of Oaxaca’s historic center. Casa Antonieta provides the perfect mix of luxury and modern chic. The unassuming front door leads to a beautiful interior courtyard and a delicious cafe by the lobby.
Best Time To Visit Oaxaca
If cooler temperatures appeal to you, then visiting Oaxaca City is better outside the months of March-May. These three months are when the weather starts to get hot, but the rainy season hasn’t yet begun to cool the air down.
Luckily, most of Oaxaca is above 1000m and so temperatures, even during the summer months, are temperate compared to other parts of Mexico.
The best time to visit the Oaxaca coastline is usually from December to April. It is the dry period during these months and is just before hurricane season.
How To Get To And From Oaxaca City
From The Airport To Oaxaca City
The Oaxaca airport is roughly 30 minutes from the city. The quickest way to get to the city from the airport is by taxi, which costs anywhere from 150-200 pesos. Local colectivos (shared taxis) wait outside the airport and can cost about 80 pesos per person.
From San Cristóbal de Las Casas To Oaxaca City
There aren’t many options to get from San Cristóbal de Las Casas to Oaxaca City and taking the bus is likely the only reasonable way. It is roughly a 12 hour journey between the two cities and most likely the only option is an overnight ride. But at least you’d get to save money by not paying for a hotel that night. Check the ADO travel website for more details.
From Mexico City To Oaxaca City
Traveling by bus is likely the best way to get from Mexico City to Oaxaca. Travel time takes just about 7 hours and you can choose whether you want to travel during the day or travel overnight. You can use the ADO travel website to see bus schedules & fares.
Is Oaxaca Safe?
Yes! In our 500+ days traveling around Mexico, we felt that Oaxaca was one of the safest states we visited. Whether we were wandering around Oaxaca City, exploring the countryside, or relaxing on the many beaches along the Oaxaca coastline, we never felt like our safety was in question.
Every local we met was friendly and welcoming. We could not have asked for anything more. But as with any place you travel in the world, it pays to always be aware of surroundings and practice some basic street smarts. Common sense goes a long way, especially here in Mexico.
Go Back: Mexico Travel Guide