Know before you go: Oaxaca

The vibrant city of Oaxaca promises world-class gastronomy, gorgeous architecture, and natural beauty in abundance.

By Allison Green
Published 18 Oct 2019, 08:00 BST, Updated 26 Jul 2021, 11:32 BST
Photograph by Byelikova Oksana, Getty Images

Colourful, diverse, and delicious: these words describe Oaxaca in a nutshell. Candy-coloured buildings line the streets, each as lively as the next. The region's many indigenous groups sell a variety of unique crafts and textiles, and the smells emanating from the markets will surely tempt you with some of Mexico's most flavourful dishes. Combined with a temperate climate and a supremely walkable layout, Oaxaca is easy to love and hard to leave.

When to Go

Oaxaca's climate is pleasant year-round, with sunny days and cool nights thanks to its altitude. The summer months tend to be slightly rainy and overcast, whereas the winter is drier and colder at night. Many come to experience the festivals, namely Guelaguetza in July and Day of the Dead in November, but keep in mind that the city will be extremely crowded during these times.


The most famous festivals in Oaxaca are the weeklong Guelaguetza each July, when the region's indigenous groups celebrate their cultures through folk dancing and traditional dress. Then there is The Day of the Dead, a day of remembrance but also of celebration, and widely celebrated in Oaxaca. To honour their deceased loved ones, locals create memorials and altars, paint their faces with elaborate sugar skulls, and eat traditional themed sweets and breads.

What to Eat

Widely considered the gastronomic capital of Mexico, Oaxaca is best known for its seven classic varieties of mole, a thick, complex sauce served with meat and rice. The most iconic is the smoky-sweet mole negro, made of some 30 ingredients and taking nearly a whole day to prepare. Don't miss tlayudas, Oaxaca's version of a pizza: an enormous fried tortilla covered in lard, beans, lettuce, avocado, meat and cheese.

Souvenir to Take Home

Oaxaca is well-known within Mexico for the skill of its artisans, and several unique handicrafts come from villages in the Oaxaca Valley. One of the most distinctive of these crafts is alebrijes, fantastical animal figurines that are meticulously carved from copal wood before being painted with vibrant colours. Other traditional products include rugs made with all-natural dyes, pottery, and hand-embroidered textiles.

Sustainable Travel Tip

Oaxaca is home to 16 distinct indigenous peoples, who have maintained their identity despite centuries of colonisation and globalisation. To support themselves, Oaxaca's indigenous communities have specialised in handicrafts, each specific to a particular village. Consider finding a responsible tourism company that specialises in providing tours within these villages, where you can see the hard work of local artisans firsthand and purchase souvenirs directly from the source.

Instagram-Worthy View

The colourful walls and doors of Oaxaca's centre all practically beg to be Instagrammed, but the most iconic photos of Oaxaca are often taken at Templo de Santo Domingo. Whether it's inside the gilded church, in front of its gorgeous Baroque façade, or amongst the cacti of the ethnobotanical garden in back, there are countless amazing angles to capture. It's a popular area, so visit early in the morning if you don't want anyone else in your photos.


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