Oaxaca City Travel Guide: What to Do, Eat, and Where to Stay

A view of Oaxaca — a courtyard with a small garden filled with cacti is visible in the foreground, while a few people sit on a bench nearby. Colorful buildings surround the courtyard, and small mountains are slightly visible in the background.

If you love art, history, culture and amazing food and drinks, then you’re definitely going to love Oaxaca. Officially called Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca City is the capital of the state of Oaxaca. Located in southern Mexico, Oaxaca is a necessary stop on any Mexico itinerary — or even for a trip on its own! This Oaxaca City travel guide is filled with all the best destinations, foods and drinks to try (and where to try them) and places to stay, making planning for your Oaxaca vacation a breeze.

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Best time to visit Oaxaca

Oaxaca does have a rainy season from June to August. I visited from the end of May into the beginning of June, and unfortunately there were a few rainy days. On the days it rained, it luckily wasn’t for the whole day. As much as I hate the rain, Oaxaca is still magical, and I would return in a heartbeat — preferably during sunnier weather though.

Apart from weather, Oaxaca also hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in early November is one of the most famous ones, as is Guelaguetza which takes place in late July. I unfortunately didn’t visit at either of these times, but I can imagine they were amazing experiences — but also crowded and probably pricier.

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How many days in Oaxaca are enough?

Oaxaca City’s historic center, where you’ll likely spend most of your time, is relatively small, but regardless, I’d recommend staying in Oaxaca City for five or so days, so you have time to explore without feeling rushed. With that said, you could easily spend longer here! With any less time, you could definitely check out the highlights and make it work, but Oaxaca is such a culturally rich city that it’s worth giving some extra time if possible. 

Is Oaxaca City safe?

I felt completely safe my entire time in Oaxaca City. Of course, always check for any travel advisories before traveling to a different country, and be aware of any risks. Although it’s currently advised to not travel to a few Mexican states, that’s not the case for Oaxaca. Just be sure to take normal safety precautions like being aware of your surroundings and not carrying all your money with you at once, and check out my safety guide if you want more of my best tips.

What to do in Oaxaca

First things first, get a lay of the land. Oaxaca’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you can bet that it’s colorful and bursting with art and culture. 

The best place to start is in the historic downtown area. Oaxaca is super walkable and easy to get around, so just enjoy wandering and exploring! 

Museums to visit in Oaxaca

In the downtown area, you’ll want to check out the Santo Domingo Church, which is a 1500s-era convent. I’m not a huge fan of visiting churches while traveling, but this was far more than just a church. Not only was the architecture itself interesting, but it also has a garden, a library featuring books published from the 1400s through 1900s, and the Museum of the Cultures of Oaxaca, which has 23 exhibition rooms covering Oaxaca’s history from Pre-Hispanic times onward.

Admission is 90 pesos, which is around $5.32 USD, while the garden is accessible through a guided tour for 100 pesos. (I didn’t do the garden tour, but you can get still great views of it from around the church.) (1a. Cerrada de Macedonio Alcala s/n, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro)

Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños, (The Museum of Oaxacan Painters), which is in a restored 17th-century building, has temporary exhibits by lesser-known Oaxacan painters, typically featuring contemporary artwork. It’s closed on Mondays and costs 20 pesos, less than $2 USD. (Avenida de La Independencia 607 Calle de Manuel Garcia Vigil).

Whether or not you consider yourself a photography buff, the Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvaro Bravo is worth a stop, in my humble opinion. Its seven exhibition rooms have featured really prominent photographers, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mary Ellen Mark, Graciela Iturbide, and of course, Manuel Álvarez Bravo. It’s closed on Tuesdays. (M. Bravo 116, corner with García Vigil)

Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca is an arts school and cultural space that’s home to one of Latin America’s most significant collections of graphic arts. It also has three exhibition rooms and a library dedicated to art books, which are fun to look through! It has two headquarters (507 Macedonio Alcalá Street and Avenida Juárez 203). 

Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca

Museo Textil de Oaxaca is a free museum dedicated to the preservation and cultural significance of textiles in Oaxaca. (Av. Hidalgo 917, Centro Histórico)

Markets to visit in Oaxaca

Oaxaca is truly a shopping galore. Apart from the many artisan shops, galleries and stores here, make sure to visit a market or two while here. 

ARIPO Oaxaca Artisan Market is also worth a stop for its wide variety of crafts, textiles, and other fun shopping. (C. de Manuel García Vigil 809, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro)

Mercado Benito Juárez is one of the oldest trading centers in the city, and has everything from souvenirs, pottery, and art, plus lots of food and drinks. (Las Casas S/N, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro)

If you have time in your itinerary to head further out of Oaxaca City, here are a couple options for the surrounding area. I personally didn’t get to do these, but will definitely be saving them for my next visit!

Other things to do in Oaxaca

Hierve el Agua is a natural rock formation about an hour-a-half away from Oaxaca City that looks like a waterfall. Here’s a fun Viator tour option that picks you up in Oaxaca City and includes a visit to a rug workshop, an ancient tree, and a mezcal distillery. 

Another excursion closer to Oaxaca City is Monte Alban, a Zapotec and Mixtec archeological site. It’s just about 20 to 30 minutes from the city center. Here’s an option to book with Viator if a tour interests you! (Admission to the site isn’t included in the tour price.)

What to eat in Oaxaca

A highlight of visiting Oaxaca is truly its culinary scene, and this is by no means an exhaustive list.

A requirement of visiting Oaxaca is that you have to try some mole while here. I’m partially kidding, but still, mole is Oaxaca’s most iconic of dishes. It’s a type of sauce that can come in a number of different forms, and Oaxaca notoriously has seven different types of mole, all made with different seasonings and ingredients. If you only try one type, get mole negro. Usually served with chicken, it’s the most well-known kind of mole, and it’s made with a delicious combination of spices, chiles, and chocolate (which is also significant in Oaxaca, as I’ll explain in a bit). 

→ Try mole at Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante. (Constitución #104-A Centro)

Tlayuda is a popular traditional food that kind of felt like a giant quesadilla to me, although it’s sometimes referred to as pizza-like. It’s essentially a large fried tortilla that is filled with things like beans, cheese, and meat.

→ Have a tlayuda at Tlayudas Libres. (Calle Libres 212)

Chilaquiles are a popular breakfast food across Mexico, consisting of tortilla chips, topped with sauce, cheese, and eggs. You can usually choose whether you’d like your sauce red or green, and it’s typical for every restaurant to have their own recipe so no two sauces will be exactly the same. Either way, this breakfast has never once disappointed me.

→ I had breakfast every day at my hotel (which did fortunately include chilaquiles on some of the days) but Fonda Rosita in Mercado de la Merced is highly rated! (Av. José María Morelos 1522A, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro)

As for dessert, nieve de leche quemada con tuna is another Oaxacan specialty. Nieve is similar to a shaved ice, but the burnt milk ice and prickly pear flavors are creamy and sweet like ice cream without veering too sweet. And, it’s super refreshing and delicious. 

→ Go to Manolo Nieves. (Calle Macedonio Alcalá 706 Col. Centro)

What to drink in Oaxaca

Fun fact, Oaxaca is also considered the capital of mezcal. If you’ve never tried mezcal before, it’s somewhat similar to tequila, but it’s much smokier tasting. While tequila is traditionally served with salt and a lime wedge, a proper mezcal shot comes with oranges and chili salt. As for me, I prefer my mezcal in cocktails, which you can easily find at restaurants or mezcal bars across the city. 

→ There are so many places to get mezcal in Oaxaca depending on what kind of experience you’re looking for, but I got a shot at Vaca Marina, a delicious seafood restaurant. (Calle de Ignacio Allende #109, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA)

Did you know that some consider Oaxaca to be the birthplace of chocolate? Centuries ago chocolate was used both ceremoniously and as currency by the Mayans, and today, there’s still a rich tradition of enjoying chocolate in Oaxaca. I especially recommend trying hot chocolate, which Oaxaca is particularly known for.

→ Try some at Chocolate Mayordomo. (Miguel Hidalgo #616, Col. Centro)

While here, also drink some tejate. It’s a frothy corn and cacao-based drink. While some would say its an acquired taste, personally, I liked it! 

→ Get a tejate from Mercado Benito Juarez. (Las Casas S/N, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro)

Enjoy a coffee. Ok, this one isn’t quite as unique as some of the other things on the list, but coffee is another thing that has deep roots in Oaxaca. 

→ Grab a coffee from Café Brújula. (Macedonio Alcalá 407)

Where to stay in Oaxaca

I loooved my stay at Hotel Casa de la Tía Tere. It’s a super beautiful colonial-style building that has a pool, a courtyard, and included a made-to-order breakfast each morning. It’s also in a prime location for exploring the city. The one caveat is that it was very calm and most of the other people at the hotel were older than me, so I probably wouldn’t stay here if you’re looking for a party atmosphere. Find out more here.

If you prefer more of a hostel vibe, Azul Cielo Hostel is a great option that includes breakfast. It’s rated highly for cleanliness, security, and honestly, every other category listed on HostelWorld. Learn more here.

Casa Angel Hostel is another super-highly-rated option. (It was even voted HostelWorld’s best hostel in Central America in 2024.) Private rooms and dorms are available, and depending on what option you book, breakfast is included. There are also daily happy hours and lots of activities from walking tours, BBQs, yoga classes, food tours, and more! If I was planning a solo trip here soon, this would probably be my pick! Check it out here. (And if you’re looking for some tips to planning the ultimate solo trip, check out this guide.)

I hope that this Oaxaca City travel guide has you feeling prepared for an amazing trip! Oaxaca is such a special place, and I know you’ll have a great time. Let me know what else do you want to know about visiting Oaxaca, or if there are any things I missed that I’ll have to do next time. And if you’re also planning a visit to Mexico City, check out this guide too.

Tess <3

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  1. June 26, 2024 / 6:39 pm

    I feel like Latin America is having a resurgence in traveling right now, which I love! Do you recommend pairing oaxaca with any other cities/destinations in Mexico?

    • Tess
      June 26, 2024 / 7:43 pm

      Latin America is amazing – there’s so much to explore!! When I visited Oaxaca, it was part of a larger trip with 3 other cities, which I think worked out really well! It’s a 3-hour drive from Puerto Escondido, which is a super beautiful beach town. It’s also a 1-hour flight (or 4-6-hour bus ride) from Puebla, which I visited after Oaxaca and also loved 🙂

  2. Sara Meyer
    June 26, 2024 / 9:21 pm

    Great blog! Added to my travel bucket list.

    • Tess
      June 26, 2024 / 9:22 pm

      thanks so much 🥰

  3. June 27, 2024 / 1:03 am

    Wow, I didn’t know Mezcal came from Oaxaca!

    • Tess
      June 27, 2024 / 1:25 am

      I think it’s made in some other places in Mexico too but like 90% or so is from Oaxaca 🙂

  4. June 27, 2024 / 1:08 am

    The food also looks amazing :))

    • Tess
      June 27, 2024 / 1:26 am

      it was sooo good! definitely a highlight 🙂

      • June 27, 2024 / 7:52 am

        That hotel looks so lovely. I must visit Oaxaca! X

        • Tess
          June 27, 2024 / 3:35 pm

          yesss please do! <3

  5. June 27, 2024 / 3:52 am

    The food looks so amazing. I always try to travel to areas that have amazing food, I need to add this to my list.

    • Tess
      June 27, 2024 / 4:00 am

      you would for sure love Oaxaca then!!

  6. Carmen
    June 27, 2024 / 4:09 am

    Mexico seriously looks like such a foodie’s delight. I think we’re going to try to go this fall! Love your posts.

    • Tess
      June 27, 2024 / 4:12 am

      It really is! ahh I hope you do!! thank you so much 🙂

  7. June 27, 2024 / 7:20 am

    I want to go for the food alone! Wonderful guide – adding Oaxaca right this second!

    • Tess
      June 27, 2024 / 3:36 pm

      thanks so much, Jazmarae! I’m sure you’d love it <3

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