Oaxaca City Guide,  Mexico

Kitsch baby Jesus in Oaxaca city, Yucatan, Mexico

Welcome to Oaxaca city, kitsch central. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

Oaxaca City Tourism

Oaxaca is one of the less spoilt, more traditional Mexican cities with old-Mexico style and charm though mainly around the Zocalo (city-centre). The capital of Oxaca state and at an altitude of around 1550 m (5000 ft), the city is reasonably cool in the summertime while the impressive and well-restored ancient Zapotec site of Monte Alban is just 6 miles (9kms) east of Oaxaca.

Positively the best time to be in Oaxaca is from October 31 to November 2nd , when the bizarre, kaleidoscopic and emotional ‘Day(s)of the Dead‘ festival takes place, a fantastic event and this city is one of the top three places in Mexico to experience it.

Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman

Oaxaca city, Santo Domingo de Guzman church exterior, Mexico

Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman near Oaxaca Zocalo. Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

One of many stunning churches near the centre of Oaxaca, Santo Domingo de Guzman was built around 1666 and houses some incredible décor as well as an Ethnobotanical Garden offering a collection of local plant species. Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

outrageously lavish baroque decor inside the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman, Oaxaca city, Mexico

More outrageously lavish baroque decor inside the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman decorated with more than 60, 000 sheets of 23. 5-karat gold leaf. Photo by DavidConFran.

The church and monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzman were founded by monks of the Dominican Order. The buildings were constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries and after a spell as a religious centre were used by the military until 1938, then by the Oaxaca University, followed by a stint as a museum and finally restored to its full glory in 1999.

Christ in flowers, San Augustin church, Oaxaca city, Mexico

San Augustin church takes a different tack in the over-the-top design arena. Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

More Oaxaca Sights

Templo de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, Oaxaca city, Mexico

Templo de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. Photo by Cuicani Hernandez.

Oaxaca city mezcal bar, Mexico

Ah, back to the less extravagant streets of Mexico, a Mezcal cowboy joint in Oaxaca.

And just in case you thought Oaxaca is all about prayer, redemption and gold leaf there is no shortage of bars, such as this mezcal joint. Mezcal is an alcoholic speciality of Oaxaca state, a spirit not unlike tequila but made from the agave plant and traditionally sold with worms, weevils, larvae or scorpions in the bottle. Yummy.

Oaxaca City Zócalo

Oaxaca city Zocalo balloons during a festival, Mexico

Oaxaca’s main street beside the Zócalo.

This is tourist ground zero so find a hotel or guest house as close as possible to the zocalo then start walking in circles, especially after chilling with a few Sangritas!

Oaxaca city Zocalo at the weekend, Mexico

Oaxaca’s Zocalo at the weekend. Photo by Nsaum75.

Traditional Mexican towns embrace ancient central plazas, otherwise known as zocalo (meaning base), where locals have always gathered in the shady colonnades or under the trees and kids escape from their mothers; if there is a civic event that’s where it will probably start and consequently that’s where any savvy traveller should stay if affordable or head for the first evening if not. .

Oaxaca city coffee shop, Mexico

A café just off the Zocalo.

Oaxaca city Day of the Dead band, Mexico

The start of the Day of the Dead kid’s parade in the Zocalo. Days of the Dead Pictures

Oaxaca city is in Oaxaca State, a generally mountainous and rugged region but embracing 370 miles of Pacific Ocean coast. The state is tropical, usually hot and humid apart from high altitude locations. The rainy season is from May-October.

Getting to Oaxaca

Jump on a fast and efficient long-distance bus from Mexico City and head 289 miles (465 kms) south to Oaxaca (pron: ‘wa-haka’), more officially known as Oaxaca de Juárez. The bus will be comfortable and take less than 5 hours to reach this little city. The scenery is dull but tranquilising in a zen way after all the Mexico City madness. Oaxaca is mostly busy and not very attractive so head for lovely old town sector around the Zocalo, and if you’re looking for accommodation try to get a place around there.

Monte Alban

Monte Alban panorama, Oaxaca city, Mexico

Monte Alban panorama by DavidConFran. This pre-Maya ancient site makes an excellent day trip from Oaxaca if you can tear yourself away from churches or Days of the Dead celebrations.

The pre-Columbian UNESCO World Heritage Site of Monte Alban is located in the Valley of Oaxaca about 6 miles (9kms) west of Oaxaca (Oaxaca de Juárez).

Monte Alban was founded by the Zapotec civilization about 500 AD and became Mesoamerica’s first major city. The ceremonial centre of this extensive city was constructed on a manually flattened ridge almost 2, 000m above sea level.

A few popular ‘Oaxaca Riviera‘ beaches

Puerto Escondido, a reasonably developed beach destination with first-class surfing and no shortage of neo-hippies enjoying it. It has plenty of accommodation possibilities and a small airport connecting to Mexico City or Oaxaca City.

Huatulco, a new beach resort area well situated beside a cluster of bays but also near the mountains and rainforest of Sierra Madre del Sur for a time out from beach activities.

Mazunte hosts not only an eco-tourist beach and village but also a turtle museum and real live turtles burying their eggs in the beach in season or struggling to the welcoming waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Zipolite, a popular beach destination for backpackers, basic travellers and Mexican families who need low prices, sand and sunshine but don’t require a sophisticated support system.