34 Insanely COOL Things to Do in Oaxaca

by | Mar 10, 2022 | Mexico, Travel

Want to fall in love with Oaxaca as much as I did?

This travel guide will help you do just that! In this post, you’ll find 34 of the best things to do in Oaxaca City. It’s perfect for those who want to experience the history, culture, food, art, and natural beauty of this magical city.

The guide also has information on day trips to the towns, ruins, distilleries, waterfalls, and mountains around Oaxaca.

For those on a budget, I’ve also included detailed instructions on getting to these attractions by public transportation.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate and a Bookshop.org Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  Please see this website’s Disclosure for more info.

street lined with colorful colonial buildings and colorful flags hanging across

Before we talk about all the things to do in Oaxaca, I’ve got a question for you:

Have you ever visited a city while on vacation and loved it so much that you started to have thoughts about moving to it? Permanently.

You know…

You know… rent an apartment (or buy a house), get some furniture, pots and pans, perhaps a dog or cat or both, make some friends…You know, a place you can call home for the rest of your life.

I’ve only felt this way three times in my life.

The first was Hong Kong.

The second was Guanajuato, Mexico.

And the third was Oaxaca, Mexico.

There was just something about Oaxaca that made me never want to leave. I did, eventually.

What was supposed to be only a week’s stay turned into a three-week stay.

I loved everything about the city: the food, the architecture, the people, the history, and the beautiful scenery.

It was easy to get around and easy to figure out public transportation. And I found an inexpensive and clean hotel run by a wonderful elderly woman near the Zocalo.

What more could you want in a place?

So, I hope this guide to Oaxaca helps you fall in love with it as much as I did.

Table of Contents

small courtyard surrounded by colorful buildings

What do in Oaxaca

There are so many things to do in Oaxaca that you’ll need to stay a week to see them all. In this guide, we’ll start with all the things you can do in the historic center and then make our way through things to do for foodies, history buffs, art lovers, and archaeology nerds. Finally, I’ll share with you all the ways you can experience the natural beauty around Oaxaca City.

1. Wander around the Zocalo

street at dusk with people, vendors, and buildings

Any trip to a city in Mexico should begin in the Zocalo (Oaxaca’s main square). This is the heart and soul of every Mexican city.

Around the Zocalo, you’ll always find the oldest and grandest buildings including the main church of the city. There will be plenty of benches to sit and watch the city go by, street vendors to buy food or souvenirs from, places to get your shoes shined, and expensive and touristy restaurants to grab an overpriced mean from. Someone will always be protesting something or asking you to donate to some cause. Locals, tourists, migrants, protestors, young couples, families, and friends all seem to congregate in the Zocalo.

The main square in Oaxaca has all this and more.

Grab a cup of hot chocolate

The best place to watch the world go by is at the reasonably-priced, Restaurante Mayordomo (Google Maps). It’s a chain restaurant found all over the city. But don’t eat here. Instead, just order a traditional Oaxacan hot chocolate and a pastry called pan de muerta (yolk bread). You’ll be asked whether you want the drink with milk or water. The traditional way is with water. But milk is also very delicious.

Souvenir vendors in the Zocalo

The vendors surrounding the square are not hard to miss. Day and night you’ll see souvenir vendors under tarp-covered stalls in front of the Palacio de Gobierno or just on the grounds around the Zocalo.

They have set up these stalls as a protest against the government not protecting them from being evicted from their land by greedy developers. You’ll find that protests are more common in Oaxaca than in any other Mexican city.

Unfortunately, most of the souvenirs that are sold are not true handicrafts. Instead, they’ve been manufactured in other countries.

Cathedral of Oaxaca

Oaxaca Cathedral at dusk

Next to the Zocalo is the Cathedral of Oaxaca. Its construction began in 1535 and finished in 1640. Over the years, it’s been reconstructed many times due to earthquakes.

The façade is made out of green cantera stone, a material that is particular to Oaxaca. It’s built in the Neoclassical style, a unique style for Mexico as most churches in Mexico are baroque.

The Cathedral is often open to the public, so you can easily have a look inside.

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2. Check out the beautiful colonial buildings

Andador de Macedonio Aclala

If you’re into architecture, you can spend a whole day just aimlessly wandering around the historic center taking in all the beautiful colonial buildings that line the cobblestoned streets.

One of my favorite streets for architecture is Andador de Macedonio Alcala. This pedestrian-only street connects the Zocalo with Santo Domingo Church. It’s lined with galleries, cafes, and shops housed in pink, blue, green, and yellow colonial buildings.

Make sure to break up your wanderings with a stop at a café to get a coffee or hot chocolate or at a rooftop bar to get a beer or cocktail. I highly recommend the rooftop terrace at Praga Coffee Bar (Google Maps). The cocktails are fun but pricey. The views are fabulous.

I also like the coffee shops, Cafebre and Cafe Brujula.

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3. Stop by Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman

  • OPEN: Around 4:00 or 5:00 pm
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
Santo Domingo church in Oaxaca

Probably one of the most beautiful buildings in the city is Santo Domingo Church and Monastery. Built between 1575 and 1608, the church was named in honor of Santo Domingo de Guzman, a Spanish monk who founded the Dominicans. This religious order was known for protecting the indigenous population against the greed of the colonists.

The church is usually closed, so if you see the doors open (usually around 4:00 or 5:00 pm), don’t hesitate to enter. You might not have another chance.

You’ll be treated to a ceiling covered in detailed carvings and gold leaf and a stunning altar also in gold leaf.

But if you’re unlucky like me and it’s always closed every time you walk by, the exterior’s beautiful baroque facade is still a work of art.

The Cultural Centre of Oaxaca is attached to the church. It’s definitely worth a visit as it holds the contents of Tomb 7 from the Zapotec site of Monte Alban.

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Culture Tip: In Mexico and Central America, you’ll find many religious structures referred to as convents. In English, convent is solely a place for nuns. But in Latin America, the word is also used to describe a monastery. Santo Domingo is referred to as a church and “convent”, but it was originally ONLY for monks and NOT nuns.

4. Tour the Oaxaca Botanical Gardens

  • GUIDED TOURS: 11:00 am (M-Sa) in English; 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 (M-Sa) in Spanish; 10:00 am (Sa) in French
  • COST: MXN$100 for the English tour and MXN$50 for the Spanish tour
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
2 rows of Cactus

One of the hardest places to get into in Oaxaca is the Botanical Gardens (Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca). But it is so worth it even if you’re not into plants and flowers. I’m not in general. But I absolutely adored this place, probably because the gardens are full of many varieties of cactus and there is something about these plants that fascinates me.  

Why is it so hard to get into? You have to join a tour, lasting one hour. Unfortunately, tours in English take place once a day at 11:00 am. To make things even harder for you, tours are limited to 15 people. So, line up 2 or 3 hours beforehand to ensure space on the tour.

Check their website for days and times. Due to the pandemic, tour times were only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, according to the gardens’ website, they’re every day except Sundays.

There is a famous Instagram photo of a row of cacti reflected in a pool of water. When I visited, the pool was empty in order to prevent mosquitoes from proliferating and causing a dengue fever outbreak.

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5. Visit the Solidad Basilica

Solidad Basilica in Oaxaca

Just a few blocks from the Zocalo is another not-to-miss architectural wonder: Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Solidad. Mexicans love baroque and Solidad takes this architectural style to a whole new level. Built in 1682 and 1690, the church uses the same green cantera stone found in other churches in Oaxaca. The front, however, uses yellow cantera stone.

Another reason to add this church to your Oaxaca itinerary is the view of the church and the neighborhoods clinging to the hills in the distance.

3D relief of Virgin Mary on exterior of Solidad Basilica in Oaxaca

Finally, check out the beautifully-carved relief on the outside of the church of the Virgin Mary weeping over the body of Christ (the skull and cross and branches with leaves represent life after death) and the city of Jerusalem in the background over her other shoulder.

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6. Aqueduct of Oaxaca

aqueduct in things to do in Oaxaca

Another historic and architectural feature of Oaxaca not to miss is the aqueduct. Built between 1727 and 1751, the aqueduct used to bring water down from Cerro de San Felipe to the citizens of Oaxaca City. It was replaced with a more modern system in 1940. However, you can still find 300 meters of the aqueduct from 2a de Rufino Tamayo (south of 190) to Calle Jose Lopez Alavez (north of 190) in Xochimilco Barrio.

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7. Go on a Free Walking Tour of Oaxaca

  • OPEN: 10:00 AM or 4:00 pm daily
  • COST: tip – MXN$100 – $200 (US$5 – $10)
  • MEETING LOCATION: Teatro Macedonia Alcala
  • CONTACT INFORMATION: Facebook or Free Walk Oaxaca Website
a person using a machine to weave rugs

I highly recommend doing a FREE walking tour on your first or second day in Oaxaca. A guide generally takes you on a tour on foot of the historic center, tells you the history of the city, and brings you to places that you probably wouldn’t find on your own. Without the tour, I would never have known about the organic food court, some cool restaurants and cafes, and the Xochimilco neighborhood.

The length of time varies by tour guide and the enthusiasm of the guests. My tour with Raul lasted over three hours!

At the end, you should give a tip depending on how good the tour was, how long it was, how many people were on it, and how much you can afford. I recommend tipping between MXN$100 and $400 (US$5 – $20).

Contact the tour operators through Facebook or their website to find out the meeting location (address is above).

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Pro Tips: Wear insect repellent to protect against mosquitoes when in Oaxaca. Dengue Fever is real here and you don’t want to get it. Mosquitoes that are infected with Dengue usually are in urban areas during the day, especially at dusk and dawn.

8. Wander Around Xochimilco Neighborhood

a purple volkswagen batle on a street in Oaxaca

One of the coolest neighborhoods in Oaxaca is Xochimilco. It’s a place with old colorful buildings, narrow alleyways and courtyards, small shops, galleries, cafes, hip restaurants, and loads of street art.  The neighborhood is split in half by Calle 190/Highway 190 (it’s easy to cross). Check out both sides of the street.

You can find Xochi’s best street art on the north side of 190. Walk along Calle Jose Lopez Alavez has my favorite art.

I also recommend getting a coffee or brunch in either the garden at Rupestre Pan y Café or the rooftop terrace at Filemon.

Wander around some of the small side streets that go up the hills.

Finally, keep on walking north to the part of the aqueduct where the river flows under the aqueduct (Google Maps).

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9. Get Lost in the Jalatlaco Neighborhood

street art of a family of skeletons painted on a building

Another charming and historic neighborhood to wander around in is Jalatlaco. Just like Xochimilco Barrio, the streets here are also covered with cobblestones and lined with colorful cafes, restaurants, hotels, and street art.

map of Jalatlaco Barrio

Other than the art and a beautiful eighteenth-century church, there aren’t any other attractions in the neighborhood. It’s very quiet during the day but supposedly comes alive in the evening when the street vendors come out.

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Is Oaxaca safe? I was in Oaxaca for 3 weeks and felt safe walking around during the day and in the early evening alone. However, according to ex-pats on a Oaxaca Facebook group, there have been cases of people getting mugged late at night around the historic center. There was one story of 2 guys leaving a bar late at night, being hustled into separate taxis, and then robbed, beaten, and abandoned somewhere in the countryside.

10. Join a food tour

a woman standing in front of bottles of mezcal

The highlight of my trip to Oaxaca (and perhaps all of Mexico) was the “Eat Like a Local” food tour with Betsy Morales. I’ve been on food tours all over the world (Japan, Vietnam, Singapore…) and Betsy’s tour was THE best one I’d ever done!

By going on a food tour, you’ll get to try foods that you would normally never eat on your own and you’ll get to learn about the history of Oaxacan cuisine.

The tour included a visit to La Cosecha Organic Market, 20 de Noviembre Market, and the Benito Juarez Market. We got to try squash blossom tlacoluya, lacoche (fungus that grows on corn), several moles, barbecue, hot chocolate, chapulines (fried grasshopper), and loads more.

an aisle lined with fresh meat at 20 de Noviembre Market in Oaxaca

The best part was eating grilled Oaxacan meat and veggies at the famous Pasillo de Humo. The guide taught us how to order the meat and sides, which is something that can be hard to do on your own if you don’t understand the customs.

Betsy knew how to pace things so that by the end of the tour I didn’t feel like you ate too much.

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11. Learn how to cook Oaxacan cuisine

a bowl of ceviche with a slice of avocado

Another thing food lovers should do during their stay in the culinary capital of Mexico is to learn how to cook the city’s cuisine by taking a cooking class.

I did the Flavors of Oaxaca Cooking Class with Casa Crespo, and to be honest, I have mixed feelings about my experience.

After doing a tour of a local market, the chef had each of the 6 students cook different parts of the meal. For example, one person chopped the onions while the other person blended the ingredients. At the end of the class, we (except for the teacher) all sat down to eat what we made. 

On the positive side, the chef and teacher, Oscar Carrizosa, asked us what we wanted to cook and followed our requests. We got to make a lot of dishes such as a mole, several different salsas, tamales, a dessert, a ceviche, and soup. The food we made turned out to be the best meal I had during my six months in Mexico.

On the downside, it wasn’t cheap at US$88. But more importantly, the teacher was so cold, unfriendly, and quick to criticize that I was stressed out the whole day. It seemed to me that Chef Oscar didn’t really want to be there.

There are a few other cooking schools in Oaxaca. I can’t vouch for the quality of them, but here are just some that I’ve found: Oaxaca Cooking Class with Quinta Brava, La Cocina Oaxaquena, and Seasons of My Heart.

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12. Stroll through 20 de Noviembre Market

stores selling bread in 20 de Noviembre Market in Oaxaca

The 20 de Noviembre Market has got all the things you want in a market: cheap, delicious, clean, and authentic food. An added bonus is that the vendors are pretty welcoming and patient to people who don’t speak Spanish very well.

The indoor market is just two blocks from the Zocalo. It’s a giant building with entrances on every side, and it’s filled with (I think) only vendors selling food and drinks. They’ve got pretty much everything you want here: mole, tlayuda, grilled meats, Oaxacan sweets, hot chocolate, bread, and on and on.

Shop around! You’ll notice one stall charges MXN$90 for a tlayuda while another just a few doors down only MXN$65.

They’ve got one section called Pasillo de Humo devoted to vendors selling grilled meats. The food looks absolutely delicious but ordering the food looks overly complicated and intimidating. However, if you join The Street Food tour that I mentioned earlier in this post, Betsy will take you to this market and show you how to order.

I ate here over and over again during my three weeks in Oaxaca.

The other market, Mercado Benito Juarez, doesn’t have as much food as Mercado 20 de Noviembre. If you take the food tour with Betsy, she’ll take you to both.

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13. Chill out at La Cosecha Organic Market

  • OPEN: 9:00 am – 4:45 pm (W – Su)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
La Cosecha Market in Oaxaca

I absolutely loved the relaxed vibe of the small and quiet La Cosecha Organic Market.

The vendors were always kind and welcoming, and because it was never crowded, it was also never overwhelming or stressful like sometimes at the other bigger markets. Therefore, I think it’s the perfect market to visit when you first arrive in Oaxaca or if you’re intimidated by ordering food in another language. Plus, the food and drinks were always delicious and reasonably priced.

You can buy all kinds of different foods–mole, seafood soup, craft beer, coffee, fruit juices, and the best tlayuda (with squash blossoms) I’ve ever had.

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14. Visit the Sunday Market in Tlacolula

peopl selling grilled meat at Tlacolula Market

The Sunday market in Tlacolula is another great food experience. This market goes on for what seems like an endless number of blocks. People from all over the area come and sell everything under the sun from backpacks to cowboy hats to computer parts.

The star of the show is the food, though. The market is a great place to buy fruit at a far cheaper price than in the historic center of Oaxaca.

You can also find people selling food that they made themselves. If you come across a woman and her husband selling cornbread, don’t hesitate to buy some.

There’s a huge indoor market with different sections devoted to a specific kind of food. One huge hall is all bread. Another is grilled meats. Another is just vegetables.

I highly recommend buying some chapulines (grasshoppers) from vendors walking around. You can get the ones with lime or the one with chili. Just buy a few for MXN$5 to see what they taste like.

Make sure to stop in at the church, Templo de Santa Maria de la Asuncion Tlacolula (Google Maps). There is a stunning chapel called the Capilla del Senor de Tlacolula that should not be missed.

I visited twice and I found the morning to be less crowded than the afternoon.

You can either go to Tlacolula on your own with public transportation or join a tour that combines the market with a visit to the fabulous Yagul ruins.

How to get to the Tlacolula market:

Tlacolula is a small city about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Oaxaca City.

I went to the baseball stadium and stood on the corner of 190 and Calle De Los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Street) (Google Maps), which was in front of a BMW dealership (Google Maps), and waited for a bus or shared taxi that says “Tlocalula” or “Mitla” on it. Either the bus or taxi works.

A blue and white ATSA bus came by first, so I got on that. It cost MXN$20.

A shared taxi from the same place will cost MXN$30 (US$1.50).

The bus stopped in Tlacolula on the corner of 190 and Juarez (Google Maps). Juarez is the same street the Sunday market is on.

The first time I went to Tlacolula, it took 1 hour to get there by bus as the bus kept on dropping off and picking up passengers along the way.

The second time, there was a blockade on the highway. Some people from a town near Oaxaca were protesting that the government had done nothing to help them after a flood destroyed their homes. My friends and I had to get off the bus and walk through the blockade to catch another bus. There were also tuk-tuks there to pick people up.

If you are staying in the southern part of the city, you will probably want to get a shared taxi and bus from the Second-Class Bus Station (Google Maps).

How to get back to Oaxaca from Tlacolula:

I crossed Highway 190 and stood in front of a pharmacy on the corner of Juarez and 190 (Google Maps) and waited for an ATSA bus or a shared taxi to come by. This time a shared taxi pulled up first and that’s what I took to get back to Oaxaca. It cost me MXN$30 (US$1.50).

Shared taxis will go all the way to the Second-Class Bus Station. However, you can be dropped off anywhere along the way.

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15. Do a Mezcal Tasting Tour

a row of agave plants

Oaxaca is the mezcal center of Mexico, so make sure to try this populq4 drink at least once while here.

Mezcal is an alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant. Tequila is also made from the agave plant, but it can only be made from blue agave, while mezcal can be produced from any agave.

Although locals have been drinking mezcal for centuries (it was even illegal at one point), only in the past four or five years has it become popular outside of Oaxaca. Now people from all over the world come to the state just to try its mezcal. It is made in other states in Mexico but Oaxaca’s mezcal is the best due to its altitude and climate.

You can join a tour or visit a distillery on your own. There are all kinds of tours–some affordable and some expensive. There are ones where you spend the whole day drinking mezcal, which I heard can be a bit too much if you’re not used to drinking lots of alcohol. If you can’t drink alcohol all day, there are tours that combine mezcal drinking with other activities.

I took a tour through Coyote Aventuras that combined a visit to an agave farm and distillery, a weaving workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, and a hike up a mountain with amazing views of the landscape of Oaxaca. They also have one that combines visiting a distillery with a stop at Hierve el Agua.

A tour will usually take you to a field of agave plants, a distillery that turns the agave plant into mezcal, and a drinking room that lets you sample different mezcals.

If you’re on a budget and want to visit a mezcal distillery on your own by public transportation, you can visit Mezcal El Rey de Matatlan (Google Maps). I didn’t visit, but I passed by it several times on my way to other sites around Oaxaca. For info on how to get there, see the section on getting to Tlacolula.

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16. Explore the Ruins of Monte Alban

stones with carvings of men dancing at Monte Alban

Just 30 minutes by bus from Oaxaca, Monte Alban rivals even the best Maya ruins in other parts of Mexico. If you love history and archaeology, it should not be missed.

First settled in 500 BCE and abandoned in 1000 CE, Monte Alban was THE political and economic center of the Zapotec people.

The best structures are around a football-sized plaza that reminded me of the National Mall in Washington D.C.  On the two long sides of the plaza are palaces and pyramids and at the north and south ends are two acropolises.

The North Acropolis is the structure to visit first. Give yourself a good chunk of time up here because there’s lots to see.  Plus, you’ll find some good lookout points that provide great photo opportunities of the valley below—the farms, towns, fields, and mountains of Oaxaca.

The other must-see site is the Dansaka–a row of stone carvings of dancing toothless and disemboweled old men. You can see the blood gushing out of some of them as they’ve had their guts cut out or male body parts cut off.

You can usually hire guides at the site or you can arrange a guide beforehand with Get Your Guides.

If you’re short on time, you can do a tour of Monte Alban and a visit to some of the towns around Oaxaca to see the local alebrije and black pottery.

How to get to Monte Alban and back to Oaxaca:

The cheapest and easiest way to get to Monte Alban is to take a bus from Autobuses Turisticos on Francisco Javier Milna (Google Maps). They have buses at these times: 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, and 14:00.

The problem is that they’re not very punctual. And you have no choice on what time you return. I bought the 10:00 am ticket, but the bus didn’t leave until 10:30 am. Thus, it got to the ruins at 11:00, giving me less than 2.5 hours.

I recommend taking the 9:00 am bus as the park limits visitors to 400 a day. You need 3 hours to see everything and not feel rushed.

Return times include the following: 12:30, 13:30, 14:30, and 15:20.

Keep your bus ticket for your return journey. You’ll have to hand it to the bus driver when you return to Oaxaca.

Bus tickets cost MXN$90 (US$4.50) round trip.

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17. Explore the Ruins of Mitla

  • OPEN: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm (W – Sa); 11:00 am – 1:00 pm (Su) – only allow 200 persons per day to enter
  • COST: MXN$85 (US$4.25)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
cactus in front of Mitla ruins

If you’re thinking about skipping Mitla because you’ve heard it’s small and hard to get to, don’t. It’s worth every blood, sweat, tear, and penny you need to visit. I loved it.

Mitla is a completely different experience from Monte Alban. While the ladder wows you with its size and grandness, Mitla sucks you in with its details and design. You won’t see anything like this anywhere else in Mesoamerica.  

Mitla and Monte Alban’s purposes were also different. While Monte Alban was a political center, Mitla was the religious center of the Zapotecs.

There are three structures open to visitors. The first two are the best ones.

(1) Right next to the ticket office, the first set of ruins consists of a maze of courtyards and rooms. It was probably the home of a high priest. Besides the stunning geometric carvings on the top part of the walls, look out for the original red paint and the pictures of a jaguar, bird, and snake above one of the doorways.

(2) The second structure not to miss is the stunning Group of Columns. It reminded me of the Palace of Knossos in Crete.  

How to get to Mitla from Oaxaca:

I got to Mitla by taking a shared taxi from the corner of Highway 90 and De Los Derechos Hermanos (Human Rights Street), right near the baseball stadium (Google Maps). If you stand on the corner in front of the BMW dealership/repair shop, the red and white shared taxis, as well as buses, will come by one after another. I got a taxi that said “Mitla” on a sign in its window. A taxi cost me MXN$40 (US$2), while a bus cost MXN$20 (US$1).

Taxis are quicker (45 minutes) than buses (over 1 hour), but my taxi driver drove way too fast and took too many risks passing cars on Highway 190 compared to the bus.

I was told that taxis wait around to fill up before leaving. Mine did not. It left with just me in the car, and for most of the way, I was the only passenger.

The taxi driver dropped me off in the center of town. I then walked for about 15 minutes to the ruins. It was a bit hard finding the entrance to Mitla because what street the entrance is on is not indicated on Google Maps. Just look for signs pointing to the Arsenal Mercado. The entrance is across from a parking lot that is next to the market.

How to get back to Oaxaca from Mitla:

The bus station (Google Maps) in Mitla is a 15-minute walk from the ruins. I had to wait for 20 minutes for the bus. The ride cost me MXN$20 (US$1). The bus stops and picks up and drops off passengers whenever someone needs to get on and off. It also stops at the bus station in Tlacolula, so if you want to combine a visit to Mitla and the Sunday market in Tlacolula or combine Mitla and Yagul, you can.

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18. Get off-the-beaten path at Yagul

ruins of Yagul

The ruins of Yagul are the hardest ones to get to, but they are still worth your time and energy. Part of what makes these ruins so special is the landscape. Yagul is on a hill overlooking the valley of Oaxaca. You get one grand view of fields, towns, and a range of mountains topped with puffy white clouds in the distance.  

The other reason Yagul is so special is the ruins themselves. You get a series of mazelike rooms and courtyards that you don’t generally see in other sites in Mexico. There is also a ball court that you can climb onto the top of and look down on its sloping sides, which is also something you can’t do at any other site in Mexico.

Plus, you’ll most likely get the whole place to yourself.

There are restrooms at the ruins but no gift shops or food or beverages for sale.

You could probably do Yagul and Mitla on the same day or combine it with a visit to the Sunday market in Tlacolula.

If you don’t want to visit Yagul on your own, you can join a tour with a visit to Tlacolula.

How to get to Yagul from Oaxaca:

You’ll need to head to the baseball stadium and catch a bus or a shared taxi from the corner of Highway 190 and Avenida De Los Derechos Hermanos (The Avenue of Human Rights) (Google Maps). Stand on the corner in front of the BMW repair shop. A taxi cost me MXN$30 (US$1.50). The bus was MXN$20 (US$1).

After about 30 minutes, the taxi dropped me off on the side of the highway across from a sign for the ruins. Crossing the highway was easy as there weren’t many cars.  Then I then walked for about 30 minutes along a road that ended at the Yagul ruins.

How to get back to Oaxaca from Yagul:

You’ll need to walk back to the highway to get a shared taxi or bus. At first, I had some trouble getting a taxi to stop because I didn’t know where to stand and the taxis were driving way too fast for them to see me and stop in time. I think 5 taxis passed by before one finally stopped. It cost MXN$30 (US$1.50).

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19. Visit the Voces de Copal Art Gallery

alebrije turtle
alebrije owl

By far the best handicraft in Mexico to buy is alebrijes. They are colorful wooden sculptures of fantastical creatures.

These colorful sculptures originated in Mexico City, where they were made from paper mache. You can see them at the Regional Art Museum in Cholula, which is just outside Puebla.

The people of Oaxaca then made their own style of alebrije using wood.

Now the best place in Mexico to buy them is in Oaxaca City and the surrounding villages of Arrazole and San Martin.

If you’re short on time and you don’t want to go to the two villags, visit the Voces de Copal Art Gallery (Google Maps) in Centro Historico.

This gallery features works of art by Jacobo and Maria Angeles. They are the best alebrije that money can buy. Even if you can’t afford one, it’s fun to just look around.

20. Tour the Alebrije Workshops of Arrazole

The town of Arrazole is one of the two best places to buy alebrije in Mexico. In the center of the town are two blocks of just alebrije workshops and galleries. You can spend an afternoon walking from one gallery to another.

Raul, my guide on the “free” walking tour, lives in Arrazole, and he spent his Saturday afternoon taking me and two other foreign tourists to check out the workshops and galleries there. But you can easily do it on your own.

You can also do a tour with Get Your Guide that combines a visit to Arrazole with Monte Alban and some other towns in the area.

How to get to Arrazole from Oaxaca:

I got a shared taxi on Periferico Street in front of Mercado de Abastos (Google Maps). Look for taxis that say they are going to Arrazole (there usually is a sign in the taxi’s front window or painted on the side of the taxi). It cost MXN$12 per person and took 30 minutes to get to Arrazole on a Sunday afternoon.

21. Tour the Alebrije Workshops of San Martin

The other town full of alebrije workshops and galleries is San Martin (Google Maps).

Two of the most famous artists, Jacobo and Maria Angeles, have their workshop here (Google Maps), and they give tours in English, where you get to see how the wooden sculptures are made. It’s totally worth it!

You can also sign up for a workshop and learn how to make your own alebrije.

How to get to San Martin from Oaxaca:

Go to Automorsa, also called Auto Transportes Morales, (Google Maps) for vans to San Martin. It’s on 622 Bustamante Street (Google Maps). I paid MXN$30 ($US1.50) for a ride to San Martin (30 minutes).

The van or bus will drop you off at the intersection of Highway 175 and Avenida Ote, which is the road leading into San Martin. Across the street from where the van or bus drops you off is Azucena Zapoteca (Google Maps), a wonderful restaurant that serves some of the best food in Oaxaca and at a reasonable price. Have brunch or lunch here and then walk or take a tuk-tuk into San Martin for MXN$8-12.

How to get back to Oaxaca from San Martin:

Just wait on the side of Highway 175 and a bus or shared taxi will pass by.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

22. View the Street Art of Oaxaca

street art of a skeleton surrounded by red flowers

Oaxaca is full of really cool street art: edgy, political, and whimsical. You can go on a street art tour by bike or just walk around yourself. I chose the latter. The best places for street art are in the neighborhoods of Xochimilco and Jalatlaco.

However, I wish I had done the street art bike tour as I would have learned more about the history and culture of Oaxaca and Mexico. It’s four hours long and you get to visit three neighborhoods: Xochimilco, Jalatlaco, and downtown Oaxaca. You can sign up for a tour with Coyote Aventuras through Get Your Guide.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

23. Visit the Textile Workshops and Galleries in Teotitlan del Valle

machine making colorful rugs

The rugs in Oaxaca are the most beautiful I’ve seen in Mexico. In the town of Teotitlan del Valle, there are several family-owned workshops making Zapotec rugs by hand.

The families do everything by hand–from dyeing the wool using natural ingredients to weaving the rugs.

I visited Josefina’s family’s textile workshop and store on a tour with Coyote Aventuras, where we got to have lunch as well as a demonstration of how they made the rugs.

You can buy the finished product at the workshops or at galleries in Teotitlan del Valle.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

24. Shop for the Black Clay Pottery of San Bartolo Coyotepec

black clay pottery

It seems like the art of Oaxaca is endless. One other ancient craft that the local people have been doing for centuries is making black clay pottery (barro negro).

The center of this handicraft is in San Bartolo Coyotepec, where you’ll find a museum dedicated to the art form (Google Maps) and a handicraft market around the main square (Google Maps).

Black clay pottery is a tradition that dates back 2,500 years. Today they use the technique and pottery to make black skulls that are popular during the Day of the Dead celebrations.

How to get to San Bartolo Coyotepec:

Go to Automorsa, also called Auto Transportes Morales, (Google Maps) for vans to San Bartolo. It’s on 622 Bustamante Street (Google Maps). I paid MXN$30 ($US1.50) for a ride to San Martin (30 minutes).

Get dropped off in front of the San Bartolo sign in the main plaza, which is across from the main church (Google Maps).

How to get back to Oaxaca from San Bartolo Coyotepec:

You can get a shared taxi or bus from in front of the San Bartholomew Church on Highway 175 (Google Maps). Expect to pay MXN$40 (US$2) per person for a shared taxi or MXN$30 ($US1.50) for a bus.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

  • OPEN: 11:00 am – 7:00 pm (M – Sa)
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
a drawing of a girl crying

Oaxaca has loads of art galleries. For me, the most interesting one was the Espacio Zapata Gallery. Founded by the art collective, ASARO (Asamblea de Artistas Revolucionarios de Oaxaca), the gallery contains art with a political edge–commentary on important historical events and people of Mexico.

The gallery has two works of art that you shouldn’t miss.

(1) One is a famous drawing of a young girl crying and the numbers 68, 43, and 3. The number 68 represents 1968, the year the government opened fire on protesting students, 43 is for the 43 students who disappeared as they made their way to Mexico City, and 3 is for 3 additional people who’ve disappeared. You can find reproductions of this drawing all over Mexico.

(2) The other work of art is the Last Supper of Mexico. Notice who takes the place of Jesus and see how many powerful Mexicans you can identify in the painting.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

26. Museum of the Cultures of Oaxaca

  • OPEN: closed due to the pandemic; 10:00 am – 6:15 pm (Tu – Su)
  • COST: MXN$80 (US$4)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Attached to the Templo de Santo Domingo is the Museo de las Cultura de Oaxaca. It’s devoted to both pre-Hispanic and contemporary Oaxacan history and culture.

The highlight is the Mixtec artifacts from Tomb 7 at Monte Alban. After the Zapotecs abandoned Monte Alban, the Mixtecs came in and used one of the abandoned temples as a tomb to bury one of their kings, his servants, and his treasures of silver, turquoise, jade, and gold.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

27. Palacio de Gobierno

  • OPEN: Closed to the public
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Palacio de Gobierno is another place I sadly wasn’t able to visit. It wasn’t closed due to the pandemic but because the protesting souvenir vendors had set up camp in front of the building. If you have a chance to get in you’ll supposedly be treated to a beautiful mural by Arturo Garcia Bustos showing famous figures from Oaxacan history and culture.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

28. Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Hispanic Art of Mexico

  • OPEN: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm; 4:00 – 7:00 pm (M – Sa)
  • COST: MXN$90 (US$4.50)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

The Rufino Tamayo Museum is another place for those interested in Mexico’s ancient history. It includes a collection of over 1,000 artifacts from the pre-Hispanic cultures across Mexico. There are five rooms, each of which is painted a different color that matches the color in the artifacts.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

29. Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca

  • OPEN: 10:30 am – 8:00 pm (W – M; closed on Tu)
  • COST: MXN$20; Sundays are FREE
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Located in a renovated seventeenth-century mansion called the House of Hernan Cortes (the conqueror actually never stepped foot in Oaxaca), the Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca is where you can see both contemporary and traditional works of art of some of Oaxaca’s most famous artists.

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30. Museo Casa de Juarez

  • OPEN: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm (Tu – Su)
  • COST: MXN$55 (US$2.50)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

This small museum is for those who know a bit about Mexican history. It is dedicated to the first and only indigenous president of Mexico, Benito Juarez. The famous man lived here from 1819 to 1828 when he was a young man getting his education.

The house represents a typical eighteenth-century Oaxacan middle-class home. Although the furniture and objects in the museum are not the ones that were originally there, they’re emblematic of ones from that same time period.

You can find a few of Juarez’s belongings and documents in the museum as well.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

31. Museum of Oaxacan Textiles

This is the only museum that was open when I visited, but unfortunately, it’s not worth walking out of your way for. Although it’s free and the textiles are pretty, the museum includes only one small room plus a gift shop. Explanations are only in Spanish.

It’s really too bad that you can only see a small portion of the museum’s collection of 5,000 textile pieces.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

32. Hierve el Agua

  • COST: MXN$15 and MXN$50 entrance fee
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
Hierve el Agua
Hierve el Agua, thermal spring in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico

The #1 place that I wish I had visited but didn’t (it was closed due to a dispute between locals and tour companies) is the petrified waterfalls and natural springs of Hierve el Agua. Located 70 kilometers from Oaxaca City, Hierve el Agua means “boiled water” in Spanish.

Hierve el agua is REALLY popular with locals and foreign tourists, so it can get really crowded. There’s a tour through Get Your Guide that gets you to the springs BEFORE everyone else shows up.

Hierve el Agua waterfalls

Going during the wet season (fall) will provide you with better views and more water but more people. If you go in the summer months, there will be fewer people but less water in the pools.

The pools go right up to the edge of the ravine so that they look like infinity pools.

How to get to Hierve el Agua:

Take a bus or shared taxi to Mitla from the 2nd Class Bus Station (Google Maps) or the corner of the Baseball Stadium (Google Maps) and then a pickup truck to Hierve el Agua. The truck leaves when it gets at least ten passengers.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

33. Hike the forests and mountains of Oaxaca

crosses on a mountain

One tour company that does lots of hikes and gets good reviews is Coyote Aventuras. I went on one of their hiking tours. Although I found my guide to be unfriendly and irresponsible, the things we did on the tour were fantastic. We went to a mezcal distillery, a weaving workshop, and a hike up a mountain with stunning views.

I don’t see that particular tour on their website any longer. However, they have other unique tours in which they combine a hike with a cultural activity like mezcal, weaving, or visiting a local’s home. Here are some of their hikes:

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

34. Explore Cerro del Fortin

  • OPEN: 24/7 – but may not be so safe in the evening
  • COST: free
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

I never made it to Cerro del Fortin. At the time, there were posts on the Oaxaca Expat Facebook group about muggings taking place on the trails during the day. It was too bad because the hill supposedly has nice panoramic views of the city.

Cerro del Fortin also has a famous concert venue called Auditorio Gualaguetza (Google Maps), the location of the Oaxacan annual folk dance festival that takes place in July.

You’ll also find a planetarium, observatory, a statue of Benito Juarez, and a Christian cross.

Jump back to the complete list of 32 things to do in Oaxaca

Where to stay in Oaxaca

Make sure you stay in the Central Historic District or the neighborhoods of Xochimilco or Jalatlaco. These are the safest and most convenient places in the city. I particularly liked the area near Jardin Conzatti (Google Maps)–safe, quiet, and beautiful.

I usually use booking.com to book my hotels.

Budget Hotels and Hostels

Posada de Los Angeles – (Booking.com | Agoda) I stayed in this simple, comfortable, and inexpensive hotel in a very safe and beautiful neighborhood and within walking distance of all the main tourist attractions in the city. Rates are usually set at US$21 a night, but I negotiated for a lower rate as I stayed for three weeks.

Hostel Nordes – (Booking.com | Agoda) Another hotel with private rooms at an amazingly great price and located close to all the main attractions is Hostel Nordes.

Mid-range Hotels

Comala Bed and Breakfast – (Booking.com | Agoda) This B&B was on my radar when I was looking for a place to stay. Great rating, location, and comes with a rooftop terrace!

NaNa Vida Hotel Oaxaca – (Booking.com | Agoda) This hotel is in a great location and has a 9.5 rating on Booking.com with over 500 reviews.

Luxury Hotels

Casa Antonieta – (Booking.com | Agoda) This hotel has a 9.5 rating with over 200 reviews. Elegant, stylish, and just 2 blocks from the Zocalo.

Where to eat in Oaxaca

Besides the 20 de Noviembre Market, Benito Juarez Market, and La Cosecha Market, which I mentioned earlier in this post, here are some more restaurants that I recommend:

Good coffee and nice place to hang out

  • Cafebre – (Google Maps) Nice coffee shop
  • Boulenc – (Google Maps) Excellent pastries and coffee; there’s pizza and burgers as well; very popular

For those on a budget

  • Comedor La Villa Alta (Google Maps) If you’re on a budget, go here! They have set lunch and breakfast menus for MXN$50
  • Dona Ceci – (Google Maps) For cheap delicious tacos, head to Dona Ceci.

Tasty food at a reasonable price (MXN$100 – $150)

  • Mundo Ceiba A.C.  – (Google Maps) Go here for the shrimp tacos
  • La Olla – (Google Maps) You can’t miss this restaurant as the exterior is bright pink; I had some very good mole roja here at a reasonable price
  • Don Juanita – (Google Maps) You MUST go to Don Juanita’s and get the tacos el vapor! They are divine.
  • Okasa Lovely Food – (Google Maps) I went here several times for breakfast; your meal comes with fruit, juice, and unlimited coffee refills for MXN$100! It was always full of locals

Stop here when in Xochimilco

  • Filemon – (Google Maps) Great breakfast; delicious coffee; and a rooftop terrace with terrific views
  • Rupestre Pan y Café – (Google Maps) Lovely courtyard area with really good food

For a special occasion

  • Casa Oaxaca el Restaurante – (Google Maps) This is THE place to eat in Oaxaca. A bit expensive and at times hard to get into, if you have the money it’s well worth it.
  • Criollo – (Google Maps) A bit out of the way for most people (it’s not in the historic center) but another popular place to visit; get the testing menu or go for breakfast

How to get to Oaxaca de Juarez

Most long-distance buses in Oaxaca leave from and arrive at the safe and clean ADO Bus Station (Google Maps). You can buy your tickets ahead of time through the ADO Website (I always do it this way) or go to the station and buy your ticket in person. For some reason, I’m only able to access the ADO website on Google chrome in an incognito window. Not sure why, but if you have trouble accessing their website, try my method.

From San Cristobal to Oaxaca: ADO and OCC have night buses for MXN$914 to $1064 (US$46 – $53). It takes 12 to 13 hours. I took this overnight route and it wasn’t too bad at all. We left at 8:00 pm and arrived at around 9:00 am.

From Puebla to Oaxaca: It takes ADO and ACC buses 4.5 to 5 hours to get from Puebla to Oaxaca and costs between MXN$444 and $623 (US$22 – $31). This is a safe and comfortable route. You can read more about getting to and from Puebla in this useful guide.

From Mexico City to Oaxaca:  There are tons of busses throughout the day traversing from Mexico City to Oaxaca Juarez. It takes 6.5 hours and tickets usually range between MXN$506 and $750 (US$25 – $38), but you can find tickets as low as MXN$320 (US$16).

Popular Destinations from Oaxaca

From Oaxaca to Mazunte and Zipolite: I got a minibus to Mazunte (also goes to Zipolite) at Eclipse 70 (Google Maps) for MXN$300.  Bus left at 7:15 am. You can also get tickets at Lineas Unidas (Google Maps)

From Oaxaca to San Jose del Pacifico: The buses that go to Mazunte and Zipolite also stop in San Jose del Pacifico. You can get tickets at either Eclipse 70 (Google Maps) or Lineas Unidas (Google Maps).

From Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido: You can get minibuses to Puerto Escondido at Terminal de Service Express (Google Maps) or Villa del Pacifico (Google Maps).

How to get around Oaxaca

I walked nearly everywhere in Oaxaca. Most of the best places in Oaxaca are located in the historic center. The two barrios are also right next door o the central market.

Final Thoughts

If you don’t have time for all 32 places on this list, here are my top 6 things to do in Oaxaca:

  1. Go on a food tour
  2. Visit Monte Alban
  3. Wander around the historic center and the neighborhoods of Xochimilco and Jalatlaco
  4. Visit Hierve el Agua
  5. Check out the alebrije in Arrazole or San Martin
  6. Explore the street art on your own or with a tour

If you’ve been to Oaxaca and you’ve done any of these things on my list, let me know about your experience. If you’re planning on visiting Oaxaca and have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. Thank you!

Where to Go Next in Mexico

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things to do in Oaxaca - Monte Alban and Santo Domingo


  1. Wow! We were hoping to get to this part of the world for only three days before the pandemic ruined our plans. But maybe this was a good thing, we would have missed out on many places and things to do.
    When we do get to Oaxaca, it will be for much longer, and I will be armed with your excellent guide – Thank You.

    • Thank you! I really hope you have a chance to visit. Three days is not enough. Five at least.

  2. Having not visited Oaxaca, I would not have known where to start my list of things to see and do. So your blog post was a great start. I am glad you included instructions for getting to spots by public transport. Often when we travel we rely on local options if they are safe and reliable. I can see why 3 weeks was still not enough time to enjoy it all.

    • Thanks. I hope you have a chance to visit. It’s a great city.

  3. Oaxaca looks like excellent place to visit with so many things to see and do. I have never been to Mexico, so it’s something to consider for my future travels.

    • I hope you get a chance to travel to Oaxaca. It’s a fascinating and beautiful destination.


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About the Bamboo Traveler

The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

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