Best Things To Do In Oaxaca

We understand there are so many articles detailing all the amazing things to do in Oaxaca. Why should you read another one? We spent over three weeks traveling 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.

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Why Travel To Oaxaca?

When I think of traditional Mexican culture and lifestyle, its people, festivals, food, 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!

Once you’ve had your cultural fill, head 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 you can participate in.

This is our Oaxaca travel guide, and we hope this article inspires you to plan your 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:

  1. Take the free walking tour
  2. Visit the ethnobotanical garden
  3. Take a mezcal tour

Outside Oaxaca City, our top 3 things to do are:

  1. Visit the Tlacolula Sunday market and eat Barbacoa en Consomé
  2. Relax on the chillest beaches in Masunte and Zipolite
  3. Wool rug shopping in Teotitlán del Valle

Is Oaxaca safe for tourists?

Absolutely. Oaxaca is one of the safest states in Mexico. But it always pays to be a smart and 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?

We recommend a minimum of 2-3 full days to explore Oaxaca City. But to properly take in the Oaxaca countryside and coastline, we would reserve an additional seven days. Be warned that 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 depends on what you are looking for in a beach. Here are some of our favorite beaches in Oaxaca.

Puerto Escondido | 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?

This is a fun question since we bought many beautiful products in Oaxaca! Our top 4 things to buy in Oaxaca are:

  1. Handwoven wool rugs in Teotitlán del Valle
  2. Hand-carved and painted alebrijes in San Martín Tilcajete
  3. Artisan mezcal.
  4. Organic coffee at La Finca Pacifico

Things To Do In Oaxaca City

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 there often 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 the best foods to eat and significant 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.

2. Learn About Oaxaca’s native flora at the Ethnobotanical Garden

Ethnobotanical-Garden-Oaxaca-Mexico

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 growing in Oaxaca’s arid and humid climates. This includes the Oaxaca’s low and humid tropical zones and the state’s cooler mountainous regions.

A paid guided tour is required to enter the garden. A pleasant surprise: garden tours are conducted in Spanish, English, French, and German. But times for these tours can be restrictive,

Spanish Tours | Monday to Saturday – 10 am, 12 pm, 5 pm
English Tours | Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday – 11 am
French Tours | Tuesday – 5 pm
German Tours | Wednesday – 5 pm

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 many other Mexican cities is to find a lovely cafe next to the Zocalo (central park) and watch local life pass you by. Luckily, Oaxaca has one of Mexico’s largest and most active zocalos!

If you find your legs need a rest, grab a drink and a snack at Restaurante Mayordomo. It’s not a quiet corner but 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

Mercado-20-Noviembre1

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 meat eaters, find the vendors displaying their raw meat selection and point to the meats you want. They’ll BBQ the meat right before you and serve it on a tortilla bed with fresh vegetables. Delicious!

5. Hunt down Oaxaca’s best street art

Street-Art-Oaxaca-Mexico

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 on beautiful art murals as we wandered around town.

Much of the street art 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 a mural, stop and see if you can decipher the mural’s message.

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 textiles, you can’t miss visiting Museo Textil de Oaxaca to learn today’s local textile design. This small museum offers contemporary exhibits of textiles from Mexico and beyond. The building is beautiful, 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

Mezcal-Tour-Oaxaca-Mexico

Oaxaca is the king of mezcal, a fiery, high-percentage alcoholic drink made from the maguey plant. Mezcal is 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 pretty 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 an Oaxaca rug tour, and you’ll be amazed by the process just as much as we were. 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 rug’s size and the design’s complexity but can range anywhere between $50-$500.

3. Alebrijes – sculptures of mythical animals

Mexico Shopping Guide - Alebrijes
Painting A Coyote At The Workshop

San Martín Tilcajete is a small town about 20km south of Oaxaca city, well known for creating brightly colored wood carvings of mythical animals called “Alebrijes.”

Although alebrijes are commonly sold in markets throughout Mexico, the best alebrijes require years of wood carving and painting training. There are several schools started by master alebrije artisans, 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, in San Martín Tilcajete. You can take a free guided tour to see the entire process of making these beautiful alebrije artworks.

At 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 miniature figures 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 USD 35.

4. Coffee Plantation Tour at Finca El Pacífico

Although the production of coffee beans is more well-known in Columbia or Guatemala, Mexico is one of the largest coffee-producing countries and the largest producer of organic coffee, which 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 the authenticity of how locals grow, pick, and package coffee beans almost all by hand rather than the mass production process.

Visiting those small coffee farms, taking tours, and purchasing their beans helps locals 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

Tlacolula Oaxaca Mexico

If you happen to be in Oaxaca on a Sunday, visiting the Tlacolula Sunday Market is where you should be.

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 complete. On Sundays, the largest market in Mexico might be here in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Try Barbacoa en Consomé

Barbacoa-en-Consomé-Oaxaca-Mexico

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 in the Tlacolula market and look for the big pots of stewing meat.

Try Oaxaca’s Local Drink “Tejate”

Tejate-Oaxaca-Drink

I know it does not look pretty in the picture, but it is more 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 (A 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 is it tasty, but Tejate is filled with good protein and vitamins that keep you going for your next trip!

If you feel like a challenge….try the local snack “Chapulines.”

chapulines-Oaxaca-Mexico

Insects might be a future source of protein intake, so take a bite of a yummy spiced grasshopper!

It is widely eaten by locals in Oaxaca as a snack for watching sports games, sprinkled on breakfast eggs or tacos!

They certainly have a strong, particular taste, which 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 a tasting to see if you like it or not!

How-to-get-to-Tlacolula-from-Oaxaca

How to get to Tlacolula from Oaxaca: The best way to get to Tlacolula from Oaxaca is to jump on a shared taxi (‘colectivo’ in Spanish). The cost is roughly 25 pesos each way, about a 40-minute ride. When you hail a colectivo, ask the driver if he plans to drive as far out as Tlacolula before you get in. Not all colectivos heading that way will go that far.

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 takes 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, joining a group tour from Oaxaca City is much more time and cost-efficient.

Camping opportunities exist 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 only visit one ruins site in Mexico, make it Monte Albán. The ancient ruins at Monte Albán are the best archeology site close to Oaxaca City.

Originally built around 500 BC, it wasn’t until around 100 BC-200 AD that Monte Albán became one of the most dominant entities and a significant center for Zapotec culture in Oaxaca and the greater Mesoamerica.

There is so much to see when visiting Monte Albán. Climb the many pyramids around the site, explore the ballcourts, and grab a panoramic picture atop the South Platform.

We preferred visiting Monte Albán versus the more famous Teotihuacán because of the significantly fewer tourists 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 spread throughout the Oaxacan countryside. The small village of Teotitlán del Valle, a town roughly 30km east of Oaxaca City, is a great place to search 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 four generations—a free on-site tour detailing the natural dye and rug creation process. English spoken. El Tono De La Cochinilla. For more information, please 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 contact them in advance to ensure they are available.
Tel: (01-951) 52-4-43-92.

It can be a bit difficult to visit Teotitlán without your vehicle or with an organized tour. Consider renting a car for a memorable day trip exploring the countryside.

5. Witness the ‘stoutest’ tree in the world in Santa Maria del Tule

Santa-Maria-del-Tule-Oaxaca-Mexico

Check off a bucket list by seeing the world’s stoutest tree. The tree’s circumference measures 42m, the largest diameter for a tree in the world, but this measurement is also because this tree’s trunk extends out, like a star, in all directions. So, the actual cross-section of the trunk may not appear as large as you might think. But Santa Maria del Tule is still worthwhile if you plan to continue heading east along the Carretera Internacional.

Things To Do Along The Oaxaca Coastline

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 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 on the sand in Zicatela.

2. Shake your nerves and bare it all at the nudist beach, Zipolite

Driving In Mexico - Zipolite Oaxaca Mexico

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 to nearby Playa del Amor, to the east of Zipolite, and watch the gorgeous sunset 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

Bahia san augustin oaxaca mexico

If you’re looking for a place with considerably fewer crowds, visit 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 on the sand, 10 meters 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 excellent and noteworthy. It’s worth a stop by if you’re in Mazunte.

5. Party hard in Puerto Escondido

Perhaps you’re 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, 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 of ingredients. Book in advance and request a seat on the terrace for great views.

Restaurante Coronita | This is a Fantastic place to sample traditional Oaxacan cuisine. They have a delicious mole sample platter here that allows you to try all seven types of Oaxacan mole.

La Olla | Great Oaxacan and Mexican flavors. Authentic food and excellent service. If you can, grab a table upstairs on the terrace—fantastic views of the rooftops of Oaxaca City.

Best Cafes In Oaxaca City

Boulenc | A local and traveler favorite. Delicious coffee and wonderful pastries. It’s a solid place for lunch as well. Check out the bakery next door for some of the best almond croissants in Mexico!

Muss Café | This is a beautiful place for some genuinely artisanal coffee. Coffee is taken seriously here, but they also serve fun fusions like their cold brew tonic & and coffee blended with mezcal. Brunch here is also delicious.

Café Rústiko | Wonderful chic ambiance and delicious hot chocolate. The Double Mocha with Oaxacan Chocolate is a real treat if your stomach can handle it. It’s a 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 budget accommodation. There are many programs to keep guests entertained, like salsa and yoga classes and mezcal tasting sessions.

Mid-Range: AYOOK – Beautiful rooms and an interior courtyard make this mid-range option a traveler’s favorite. The included traditional Oaxaca breakfast and the super attentive customer service are some 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, visiting Oaxaca City outside March and May is better. 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, 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, 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 town from the airport is by taxi, which costs anywhere from 150-200 pesos. Local colectivos (shared taxis) wait outside the airport, costing 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; 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 to travel during the day or 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, it always pays to be aware of your surroundings and practice some basic street smarts. Common sense goes a long way, especially here in Mexico.

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