Oaxaca Travel Guide
Introduction to Oaxaca
Located in a desert valley in south central Mexico, Oaxaca is a place that is overlooked by many casual tourists visiting the country, but contains many attractions that will surprise anyone that is wise enough to visit this culture-filled city.
From a ruin complex that was created by a civilization not called the Aztecs nor the Mayans, to a food culture that draws foodies from around the world to revel in the complex flavors that this region is able to produce, you might just find yourself extending your stay here for far longer than you ever thought possible.
Cultural Attractions in Oaxaca
Your first stop in Oaxaca should be the historical site of Monte Alban. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ruin complex of the Zapotec people may not be as impressive as the ruin sites of the Mayans or the Aztecs, but it is a dramatic sight nonetheless.
Starting its life in 500 BCE, and remaining relevant until the 8th century AD, Monte Alban was the site of one of the first civilized cities in Mesoamerica. The remains of pyramids, temples, altars, and old ball courts are what you can expect to find here, as well as the tombs of 180 individuals of this ancient city.
Back in town, check out the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman. Completed in 1666, this Baroque style church is impressive enough on its own merits, but there are two major attractions contained within that draw the majority of its visitors in any given year.
The first of these is the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, which is a treasure trove of artifacts from the Pre-Columbian era. Of particular note are the contents of a tomb recovered from Monte Alban. Here, a Mixtec king was buried with a variety of jewels, pearls and gold.
In the rear of the church complex, you can find the Ethnobotanical Garden, which focuses on plants indigenous to the Oaxacan region. Cacti, agave, and other plants that can be found in abundance in this region are planted in a decorative fashion that even casual admirers of flora will be able to appreciate.
Those wishing to appreciate the finest in art that was created before the Spanish arrived in Mexico can find it at the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Hispanic Art. Gathered by a wealthy philanthropist over the years, it was given over to local authorities in the early 20th century for all this city’s citizens to enjoy.
From stone masks, to sculptures of people that lived here in the era before the Europeans arrived, there is much to admire here while browsing its hallways.
Other Attractions in Oaxaca
Despite being located in the tropical latitudes, Oaxaca is a place that can get cooler than you may realize, especially in the early morning hours. On days like that, why not go for a dip in a hot spring? A great place to do this is at the Hierve el Agua, which is a series of hot water springs located near a series of cliff edges south of the city.
The minerals in the water wash over the sides of some of the cliffs, creating the illusion of a waterfall from afar, so be sure to bring your camera to this attraction, as well as your bathing suit.
When it comes time to go people watching in the city, head straight for the Zocalo de Oaxaca. This is the social center of this wonderful city in Mexico, as there are numerous restaurants, cafes, as well as plenty of buskers and vendors that will entertain you and supply you with an endless array of street food that is famous to this region.
If food is something that you simply cannot get enough of, then making time for the Benito Juarez Market is something you must do. Within its halls, there isn’t just produce, meats, and other grocery items that everyday Mexicans purchase on an everyday basis, but there are meal vendors that will create dishes that far surpass any Mexican food that you have eaten at home.
Walking through the carne asada hall is something that any card-carrying carnivore simply must experience, as the smell and smoke from the grilled meat here will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Even if you aren’t as into meat as they might be, experiencing the chocolate that is created in this region in finished form at the Benito Juarez Market will be something that will keep you in this area for much of the time that you spend here.