Ready to explore Mexico’s enchanting city of Oaxaca? This is your guide to planning the best things to do while visiting Oaxaca.
Oaxaca has long been on my list of places to visit in Mexico. And with this year dedicated to exploring all that Mexico has to offer, like this remote surfing town, the jewel box town of San Miguel de Allende, and this Yucatan treasure, I was more than eager to get to Oaxaca.
I had the chance to explore Oaxaca with El Camino Travel, a curated group trip company. I led a 6-day tour with 12 women, all with the help of El Camino Travel. Their ability to find the best local things to do, connect with artisans, and give an incredible travel experience made our trip to Oaxaca amazing (and completely unrepeatable). So I can’t say better things than to book that El Camino Travel group trip — check out my IG highlights on Oaxaca for more.
I came in a night early into Oaxaca before the group trip and took two days to explore the city on my own. Throughout the El Camino trip, we also had ample free time to explore, so my guide is for all of the wonderful things I discovered while there.
Read on to find the best things to do while visiting Oaxaca — from the arts, and coffee shops, to memorable dining, Oaxaca has it all.
Short on Time? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels and Things to Do in Oaxaca:
- Pug Seal, for the best design hotel
- Grana B&B, for the best design for dollar hotel
- Hotel Escondido, for the best luxury hotel
- Casa Antoineta, for the best romantic stay
Things to Do
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
For all international trips, I recommend having reliable travel insurance. I like to use World Nomads.
The Ultimate Guide to Oaxaca, Mexico
What to Know About Visiting Oaxaca, Mexico
How to Get to Oaxaca, Yucatan?
You can get to Oaxaca, Mexico, by flying into Oaxaca’s Xoxocotlán International Airport (IATA: OAX) from major Mexican cities like Mexico City, Cancún, or Guadalajara. There are direct flights from the US from airports like Dallas Ft. Worth and Los Angeles.
Once you arrive in Oaxaca, it’s best to take a taxi or pre-book a private transfer into the city center (around 25 minutes.). On arrival, once you clear customs, there is a taxi stand inside the airport where you prepay. There are two options: collectivo and private. Collectivo means a group transfer. It’s cheaper but you will have multiple stops (around 140 pesos).
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Oaxaca?
The best time to visit Oaxaca, Mexico, is generally during the dry season, which spans from late October to early May. This period offers pleasant weather with warm days and cool nights, making it ideal for exploring the city and the surrounding attractions. However, be aware that Oaxaca can get crowded during major festivals like Dia de los Muertos (late October to early November) and Semana Santa (Holy Week, typically in March or April), so plan your trip accordingly if you want to experience these cultural events.
How Do I Get Around Oaxaca?
Oaxaca’s city center is compact and pedestrian-friendly, making it easy to explore on foot. Many of the city’s attractions, shops, and restaurants are within walking distance of each other.
For longer distances, taxis are a convenient way to get around Oaxaca, especially for reaching destinations outside the city center. You can find taxis at designated stands or hail them on the street. It’s a good idea to agree on the fare with the driver before starting the journey or make sure they use the meter. You will need cash for almost all taxis.
Do I Need a Rental Car in Oaxaca?
For visiting the city of Oaxaca itself, you do not need a rental car. If you plan to do a day trip to nearby sights without a hired guide/transfer, this is where a rental car may be handy. You could allot a few days of your trip with a rental car if you wanted to. In Mexico, I use Discover Cars for the best rates and take comprehensive insurance as required by Mexico.
Is Oaxaca Safe?
In general, Oaxaca is considered one of the safest destinations in Mexico. I had several afternoons and evenings out solo and felt comfortable. Should you practice common sense when traveling? Absolutely. Consider where you go, when, and whether or not it’s best to be solo or with a group when traveling anywhere in the world.
Currency, Language, and Health
The local currency is Mexican pesos, which you could pull out prior to arrival or on arrival at a local ATM. You will need cash for smaller stores, food stalls, and markets. Credit cards are widely accepted at large institutions.
The local language is Spanish, and I always recommend having a handful of useful, everyday phrases to refer to if need be.
Is it Safe to Drink the Tap Water in Oaxaca?
It is not safe to drink tap water in Oaxaca. Stick only to bottled water and reliable sources.
Where to Stay in Oaxaca, Mexico
Oaxaca has a vibrant selection of boutique hotels, design-worthy vacation rentals, and haciendas. Check out the full list of my favorite hotels in Oaxaca for more!
Where I Stayed: Grana B&B
While there are many incredible hotels to choose from, I went with Grana B&B for my one solo night in Oaxaca before joining the group trip. Its central location, chic design, and included breakfast were a few reasons I had chosen this hotel. The rates are some of the best in comparison to other design hotels in Oaxaca, making it a reasonable place to stay in terms of price. The central courtyard and even complimentary rooftop yoga classes are a wonderful addition to the stay. Book the best rates here.
Other Hotels in Oaxaca to Consider
Though I only had time for one hotel stay, I always have a few favorites on my radar:
- Hotel Escondido, for the best luxury hotel
- Pug Seal, for the best design hotel
- Casa Antoineta, for the best romantic stay
Where to Eat in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is home to incredible food. It’s truly one of the best “culinary” destinations in Mexico with a strong cultural presence in their ingredients and cuisine. I’d recommend a mix of experiences — street food and fine dining. It’s a beautiful blend of many types of food in Oaxaca. Do know that in high season, reservations are highly recommended.
Levadura de Olla was one of my favorite meals in town, I came in solo for lunch. Have to try their tomato salad and any of their entrees are wonderful. One other unique drink to try here is the “tepache” or fermented pineapple beer.
One of the better fine dining experiences in town. Casa Oaxaca has stunning views of the church and if you can reserve a rooftop, try to! Loved all of the food, the bean soup was a personal favorite.
Chef Enrique Olvera, known for his Michelin-star cuisine, opened up Criollo. On the World’s 50 Best Restuarant lists, this prix-fixe menu pays homage to Oaxacan cuisine. The setting is stunning, do reserve in advance.
I’m 50/50 on what I ate here but want to include it nonetheless as many love Los Danzantes. I liked most of my meal, it’s more elevated dining, and the setting is tucked away off the street. I walked in without a reservation, I think having one would have changed the experience for me.
Sabina Sabe is such a gem, it’s a mezcal bar with tons of small plates. Also listed on North America’s Best Bars, I came in for a late lunch. The pork tacos here are a must!
On North America’s 50 Best Bars list, I’d recommend popping into Selva at least once for a cocktail. Their innovative menu is so fun and the server will help you choose the best one for you. I did the house cocktail, which was more savory than sweet!
A total classic street food cart in town, definitely come by Tacos Del Carmen for late breakfast or lunch.
There are many pastry shops in Oaxaca, but Pan Con Madre was my favorite for both pastries and coffee. I ended up taking some for takeaway as I couldn’t decide.
One of the more popular bakeries and restaurants in town, I popped into Boulenc twice while in Oaxaca for a bite. On my final morning, I had a sit-down breakfast, the food was delicious.
Other Restaurants on My List
While I can’t eat everywhere, I always have an ongoing list of places. Those included:
My Favorite Coffee Shops in Oaxaca
- Muss Cafe at Casa Antoineta
- LIA Café at Hotel Principal
- Cafe Blasón
- Cafe “El Volador”
- Onnno Loncheria
- Masea Trigo y Maiz
Things to Do in Oaxaca
Explore the Downtown
On arrival, one of the best things to do in Oaxaca is to walk downtown. Many small plazas and the Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución) are bustling with city life. You really can’t go wrong with a leisurely stroll starting from the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán down into Centro.
Visit the Many Museums
Oaxaca is packed with culture and history, with several different museums on offer. My favorite one was the Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca, Santo Domingo (open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday), housing archaeological artifacts, an ancient library, and cloisters. I’d block out 2 hours to see this one as there is a lot to take in.
Another favorite was the free Museo Textil de Oaxaca (open daily from 10 or 11 a.m. until 6 or 8 p.m.), which houses textiles from the region.
Museo De La Filatelia is another must-visit museum that houses surrealist art and a beautiful patio (open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.).
Try Ancestral Hot Chocolate at Rito Chocolatería
Oaxaca is known for its artisanal hot chocolate that comes from hundreds of generations ago. Often referred to as ancestral hot chocolate, Rito Chocolatería is the spot to go in and try it. You can also pop in and buy chocolates to bring home.
You’re in the mezcal capital of Mexico, so what better place to try mezcal? While you can certainly visit a mezcal distillery, one way to enjoy it is by stopping at one of the many mezcal bars in Oaxaca. My three choices are Selva, Sabina Sabe, and Mezcalería In Situ. For those looking to do a sit-down tasting, La Mezcaloteca was recommended (reservations required).
There is no end in sight when it comes to shopping. I went to over a dozen stores during my time exploring Oaxaca. I found some of the “mercados” to feel not super authentic, so I ended up returning to a few stores to purchase more. My favorite find of the trip was LIA Café, a coffee shop and curated store. I went in 4 separate times because each time new items kept arriving in the store.
Another favorite for ceramics was Cooperativa 1050º, so many goodies here and don’t forget the second floor. For custom hats, do stop into Sombreros Alberly Premium, these hats are amazing. Another store is Marchanta, a great collection of Mexican designers, but quite expensive in price.
Peruse and Eat in the Markets
Oaxaca City has several markets to peruse through, many housing small restaurants and food carts. Mercado Benito Juárez is the biggest, and well worth a visit. Afterward, you’re right next to Mercado 20 de Noviembre, another fresh food market with stalls of local street food.
Taking a day trip to Hierve el Agua is a must when visiting Oaxaca. About 1.5 hours away, you can either rent your own car or join a tour that takes you out there. I’d highly suggest getting out as early as possible as once it reaches a maximum capacity of 200 people, it closes off. The scenic petrified waterfalls and cool spring pools are set high in the mountains.
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