Oaxaca (city) – Travel guide at Wikivoyage

Spanish Colonial Oaxaca

Oaxaca (Oaxaca de Juárez) is a city in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico. It lies at an altitude of 1,555 m (5,102 ft), so in winter nights are cold and days are warm. In summer it’s always hot and often wet. Oaxaca’s colorful and culturally-rich historical city center, along with the archeological ruins of Monte Alban, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Understand

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People have lived here since earliest times; the first settlements were Zapotec and Mixtec. The nearby sites of Monte Albán and Mitla were built by the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, and the former, a world heritage site, is regarded as a precursor to present-day Oaxaca. The Aztecs arrived around 1440, and the current name derives from Aztec “huax yacac”, meaning “in the nose of the squash”. In 1521, the Spanish led by Francisco de Orozco, came looking for gold.

The Spanish laid out a colonial town in the present grid pattern in the 16th century, and in the 19th century, it grew rich from the export of cochineal, the red dye. Later development didn’t much touch it, so today it makes for a charming old-time city centre.

During the Spanish era, the name of the city was Antequera, but after Mexican independence it was changed to Oaxaca. Perhaps the most famous Mexican president, Benito Juárez (whom the airport in Mexico City is named after) was born in the state and started his political career in the city. After his death in 1872, his family name was added to the city’s official name, which since has been Oaxaca de Juárez.

One notable event in modern history were the 2006 unrests, which began as a teacher’s strike. At one occasion police opened fire on strikers assembled to a non-violent demonstration. After that the teacher union members and people opposed to the state governor formed a left-wing movement named Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), that took over government buildings and functions and eventually ran the city as an anarchist community for several months.

Climate

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Oaxaca (city)

Climate chart (explanation)

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Average max. and min. temperatures in °C

Precipitation

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totals in mmw:Oaxaca_City#Climate

Imperial conversion
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Average max. and min. temperatures in °F

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totals in inches

With a tropical location but high above sea level, Oaxaca has a tropical savanna climate. The dry season, from November to April sees very little rain, and during that time night temperatures usually drop down to around +10°C or +50°F but on occasion down to freezing. Nevertheless, daytime highs average +27.1 °C (+80.8 °F) even in the coolest month, December.

In the first months of the year day temperatures climb until April, which is the hottest month. After that comes the rainy season from May to October with smaller daytime temperature variation and warmer nighttime temperatures, but 16-17 days of rain every month on average.

Tourist information

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Get in

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By plane

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From the airport, you will need to find transportation into the city. The ubiquitous yellow taxis in the city do not seem to take arrivals from the airport to the city. There is a booth as you leave the airport where you can purchase a ticket on a colectivo, a small van that will leave when full and which will drop you off right at your desired address. The order is determined based on the other passengers in your van and the price is M$85 (pesos) per person (for Zone 1 – Centro). You may also purchase a taxi ‘especial’ which is just for you or your party. The cost is M$300.

To get to the airport via colectivo, get your ticket the day before at the office near the Zocalo at the Alameda de Leon. Take your airline ticket and they will book you a seat on the colectivo that will get you to the airport in time for your flight. A taxi from the historical center to the airport should run between M$170-200.

By bus

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The more adventurous traveler can fly directly from the United States to Mexico City, Huatulco or Puerto Escondido and then take a bus to Oaxaca (6½ hr from Mexico City or 8 hr from Huatulco or Puerto Escondido). The services are excellent and usually run on time.

By shuttle van

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If you are arriving from Puerto Escondido, two shuttle van companies do multiple daily runs between Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca (City) and are a faster alternative to the bus. The very scenic route winds directly through the mountains with hairpin curves and takes about 6-7 hours depending on road conditions. Passengers who are inclined to get car sick should definitely take motion sickness tablets. There is a toilet and snack break about midway.

Get around

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The central, tourist-oriented part of town is well signposted and easily walk-able by foot, although taxis are somewhat plentiful and buses numerous and cheap (M$7). You can pick up a free city map from one of several information booths, including one right outside the cathedral. No one local seems to know the bus routes or where the collectivos (buses to the pueblos) stop but you can get a good bus map for M$40 at the Oaxacan Lending Library.

There are also plenty of taxis found in the Centro Histórico, including a taxi rank near the Zocalo. Make sure to settle on a price before heading off to your destination.

Buses stop running around 21:00.

As with other Mexican cities, there may be more than one road with the same name (Mexicans often use the nearest corner to navigate) and a road’s name may change from one end to the other. This is particularly true for the city’s downtown, which is divided into north and south by Independencia Avenue. All streets crossing it change its name except for two other main streets running along with Independencia: Morelos Avenue and Hidalgo Avenue. From east to west street names change when crossing Macedonio Alcalá (north of Independencia) and Bustamante Street (south).

See

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Oaxaca’s streets have a very tranquil and organic feel to them. Much of the joy of a Oaxaca trip comes from simply strolling the downtown streets, sitting in a sidewalk cafe on the Zócalo, and soaking up the atmosphere. On your strolls, try to see a few of the outstanding local landmarks. Reforma, a wealthy neighborhood about 20 minutes walk north of the historical center that is speckled with trendy cafes and restaurants, is also worth a visit.

Downtown landmarks

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Templo de Santo Domingo interior

Jardín Etnobotánico

Museums and galleries

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One of the treasures from Tomb 7 of Monte Albán, at the Santo Domingo Cultural Center

Do

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Region around Oaxaca

Guelaguetza

Noche de Rábanos

Events

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Sports

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  • Rugby Rugby is played on Saturdays with the Zinacantli and Jabalies Rugby Clubs, which host the annual Torneo de Dia de los Muertos.

Out of town trips

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Along Macedonio Alcala street are many tour operators with a range of destinations. Prices are from M$150 and offer full day trips to a selection of places such as wool rug makers, mezcal producers, Mitla, Monte Alban and Hierve el Agua. The tour cost doesn’t include entrance fees or the often pricey restaurant lunch, so you may want to take your own food.

Beautiful Monte Albán

Just west of town is – 8 km. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, this is one of the most impressive ruins in Latin America. The Zapotec built this site in the early centuries AD; it was in decay long before the Spanish arrived. Bus to the site from 501 C d Minas hourly, at half past the hour outbound and at the top of the hour coming back, M$60. Site entrance M$50.

Further afield

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Learn

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Spanish lessons

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Cooking lessons

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Black mole ingredients

Buy

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  • Chocolate. Mina Street smells of chocolate and the city’s most famous warm beverage is hot chocolate.
  • Mezcal. The state of Oaxaca also is well known for its Mezcal and there are several tours that visit the distilleries.

Markets

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Alebrijes, whimsical wooden figures carved from copal wood, for sale at the Mercado Pochote

, whimsical wooden figures carved from copal wood, for sale at the Mercado Pochote

Mercado Benito Juarez

Dried chilies for sale at Mercado de la Merced

Grocery stores

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Eat

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Oaxacan food is justifiably famous, and the city’s many restaurants offer both traditional and creative dishes to suit many tastes and budgets.

Budget

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Enchiladas divorciadas, half with mole coloradito and half with salsa verde, served at the 20 de Noviembre Market

, half with mole coloradito and half with salsa verde, served at the 20 de Noviembre Market

Pasillo chile stuffed with beans and topped with fried queso panela, at Café La Olla

Splurge

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Shrimp in tamarind mole sauce at La Biznaga

Drink

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Oaxaca is famous for at least two drinks: Mezcal and hot chocolate. The state also has a thriving coffee industry. With a few exceptions, most of the cafes are closed on Sunday.

Mezcal factory at Teotitlan del Valle

Mezcalerias

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Cafés

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Chocolate

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The eastern end of Mina Street (2 blocks south of Zócalo) are several chocolate shops where you can taste samples. Some of these also have cafes in the back where you can drink several types of hot chocolates. Some have free Wifi.

Bars

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Oaxaca is not renowned for its nightlife and, with the exception of the Zócalo and its surroundings, the streets can feel quite empty later at night. There are several rooftop bars around the Templo de Santo Domingo offering gorgeous views, particularly at sunset. Other bars and nightclubs are scattered haphazardly around the city center.

Sleep

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A lot of accommodation is available through standard hotel booking websites like Booking.com, and the on-line booking agency Airbnb. On booking.com you need to pick Oaxaca de Juárez. Once you get to know the city better you might decide that some areas are more desirable to you than others and you can search in those neighbourhoods for places to stay. Some areas are more busy and have more noise and some involve a bit of a walk to the city center where you might be spending some of your time.

Rates can go up significantly during the high season and rooms are difficult to reserve during that time. National holidays and religious holidays are also very busy. Budget hostels can be found for around M$200 per night (March 2022).

Catedral Metropolitana

Budget

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Weaving exhibition at Teotitlan del Valle

Splurge

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Stay safe

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Oaxaca is a safe city by Mexican standards, although robberies are not unknown. Some of the streets leading out of the Centro Histórico become quite dark at night. Consider taking a taxi if your destination is far afield. The area between the Centro Histórico and the Cerro de Fortin (the hill with the amphitheatre) has a bad reputation but isn’t outrageously dangerous.

Pickpockets are common in the Mercado de Abastos. Limit the valuables you carry with you when exploring the market, and avoid crowds (if you can).

Stay healthy

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Street food is plentiful and delicious in Oaxaca, but it is risky. One option is to avoid street meat and stick to vegetarian fare, although this is by no means a fool-proof strategy. Another is to travel with an adequate supply of an anti-diarrheal such as Immodium/loperimide (this can also easily be obtained at a local pharmacy; ask for “loperimida”). Should worse come to worst, ask your accommodation to point you to a local doctor, who can prescribe antibiotics or other medicines for either free or a ridiculously low fee.

Connect

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Oaxaca has good 4G and LTE connectivity throughout the city. Tourists usually acquire a SIM card from Telcel, the largest Mexican carrier, and there are several Telcel locations within the city center.

Cope

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Consulates

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  • Canada
  • United States

Libraries

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Biblioteca Pública

Money

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The currencies of other countries can be exchanged into pesos at banks or various currency exchange booths, both of which are quite common in the central part of the city. It might pay to look around for the best rates of exchange. You may find that the banks offer a better rate but they might be slightly less convenient to deal with. For example, the banks might require a photocopy of your main passport page, which you will have to get at a copying shop for a peso or so, and they might have longer queues. Their better exchange rate might make that worthwhile, especially if you are exchanging larger sums.

People working in these businesses are likely not to speak English. This shouldn’t be a problem once you figure out what the process is. So, make sure you have your passport with you and realize that you may need a photocopy of your passport that they will keep.

Go next

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Your next destination for staying can be…

In the south

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In the north-west

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  • Puebla – 340 km
  • Orizaba – 310 km
  • Córdoba – 340 km

In the east

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By plane

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From Oaxaca there are direct low-cost flights for example to Cancún, Mérida and Mexico City.

This city travel guide to Oaxaca has guide status. It has a variety of good, quality information including hotels, restaurants, attractions and travel details. Please contribute and help us make it a star!

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