Known for its robust art, culture, and cuisine, Oaxaca is a charming city that belongs on any Mexico itinerary. It was my absolute favorite place from this entire two-week trip to Mexico. As I write this Oaxaca travel guide two months later, I remember still the beauty that was this city and the amazing time we had there.
I can’t wait for you to go and see it all for yourself.
Oaxaca is a home of artisans, particularly textile makers and potters. It’s common to walk down its side streets and see artists at work in their studios, designing or creating something beautiful.
If your trip to Mexico is short or you’re not an arts enthusiast, you may be wondering if Oaxaca is worth visiting. I would say it is absolutely worth visiting Oaxaca on any trip to Mexico, because the city has maintained its historical roots.
If you want to see Mexican architecture from long ago, Oaxaca is the place to do so. Oaxaca is a city and state capital, but it has the small-town feel of a pueblo.
The popularity of Cancún and Tulum bring the crowds to the Yucatán, but Oaxaca is the place to learn more about Mexican culture, cuisine, and history.
In the modern day, Oaxaca is known as not only a cultural capital, but also one of social change. It is common to see graffiti in the city that advocates for social justice movements or for specific policies.
I won’t pretend to know enough about Mexican politics to understand what I saw, but I found it fascinating to see where the old architecture coincided with new ideals.
In this Oaxaca travel guide, I’m sharing some quick travel tips, what to do in Oaxaca, and where to stay.
For all the delicious food you must try in Oaxaca, check out my Oaxaca vegan guide.
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Oaxaca Travel Guide: Quick Tips
- How to pronounce Oaxaca: Wa-HAH-kuh
- Oaxaca is considered one of the safer places to visit in Mexico.
- 3 days is enough in Oaxaca, but stay 4 or 5 days if you want to take a tour or DIY day trip to Monte Albán.
- It’s best to visit Oaxaca from April to May and September to October. We went in May and had great weather, with cool mornings and high temperatures in the late afternoon.
- Oaxaca City is the capital of Oaxaca state, which borders the Pacific Ocean. You can see it on the map below:
Oaxaca Travel Guide: What to Do in Oaxaca
Each place to go in Oaxaca is outlined below, but you can also save the map to see them all during your trip.
For my recommendations on Oaxaca restaurants to try, check out my vegan guide to Oaxaca!
Marvel at the Templo de Santo Domingo, AKA the Gold Church
If you only have 24 hours in Oaxaca, this is the first place to go. The Templo de Santo Domingo is a church famous for its gold interior and ornate art.
Don’t forget to look up—the ceiling is as grandiose as the rest. Depending on where you look, it’s the star of the show.
Templo de Santo Domingo Opening Hours
Monday to Saturday:
7am to 1pm
4pm to 7:30pm
7am to 1pm
4pm to 7pm
Templo de Santo Domingo Dress Code
The church is sacred to Catholics, so it does have a dress code.
For everyone, make sure your legs are covered.
For ladies, cover shoulders and your midriff. If you don’t follow the dress code, you can be asked to leave.
While we were there, I didn’t see this enforced. But it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Admire the architecture of the Santo Domingo Plaza
After your visit at the church, walk around the plaza and enjoy the views from all sides. This area is truly so beautiful—you can even see the mountains behind the city if you look to the right from the plaza.
Have coffee at Oaxaca en una Taza ☕️
I always try local coffee shops while traveling. Oaxaca en una Taza (meaning Oaxaca in a mug) is one of the cutest I’ve visited so far. I ordered an iced latte with soy milk each day and enjoyed my drink there instead of taking it to go.
Even if you’re not a coffee drinker, try this place! They also serve tea and an assortment of pastries.
Witness the magic at Mercado Benito Juárez
Wherever you are, find the local market. If you’re in Oaxaca, the place to go is Mercado Benito Juárez.
You can witness the banter of vendors and the back-and-forth bartering with locals. Peruse the panadería, because Mexican bread is in a league of its own. Take a fresh jugo to go. If you don’t already love markets, this one will convince you.
Fun fact: Benito Juárez was a Mexican revolutionary and eventually president of the country. There are many places in Mexico named after him, including the main airport in Mexico City.
Shop at the artisan markets
Because Oaxaca is an artisan capital, there are many handmade and otherwise unique things to buy in the markets. I bought hand-painted bookmarks, a blouse, and souvenirs for family.
By the way, that is a big deal for me—after 22 countries, I never buy clothes when traveling and rarely buy souvenirs at all. Oaxaca’s offerings were just so unique that I couldn’t resist.
If someone like me is telling you to shop, you know it’s good.
There are stalls beyond stalls with so many options. You’re bound to find something you’ll love to remember Oaxaca.
To find shops, start at the Zócalo near the Mercado Benito Juárez. You’ll see them in no time.
Mezcal is a very strong liquor native to Oaxaca that is part of Mexican culture.
There are many tasting rooms all over the city where you can try multiple versions of mezcal, as well as tours that will take you outside the city to learn more about how it’s extracted, processed, and bottled.
I went back and forth for days on trying it. I barely drink, but I wanted to at least taste mezcal.
On our last night, as we walked around town, a young woman working in a tasting room offered us a free sample.
It was smooth, strong, with none of the peppery aftertaste of tequila. I do recommend trying it, even if it’s just a sip.
If you have more time in Oaxaca:
- Tour the Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca. We couldn’t visit because the museum was closed for renovations. But I would have loved to go! Highly recommend you check it out.
- Take a day trip to Monte Albán. You can DIY it or take a tour. We didn’t go to Monte Albán because we’d already been to Chichén Itzá and the Tulum Ruins on this trip. We preferred to spend all our time in Oaxaca City on this leg of our trip to Mexico.
- Go to one of the many other museums in Oaxaca, like the Textile Museum.
- Tour the botanical garden. (Note: This activity has mixed reviews on Google, which is why we didn’t do it. I would have considered it if we had more time in Oaxaca. I do recommend the tour here if you love botanical gardens, but otherwise, I’d skip it.)
Where to Stay in Oaxaca
The location was perfect—close walking distance to the historical center with everything you’ll want to do in Oaxaca, but far enough away to be quiet at night.
It was also very close to El Llano park, which comes to life at night. There are families everywhere, street food vendors, and runners all enjoying this small park. We even saw a bouncy house one night.
And our first morning in Oaxaca, we saw a doggie obstacle course class. All the pups had to wait their turn in line to practice. It was *adorable.*
We shared a king room which was plenty of space for 2 people. Not only was the bed comfortable, but we loved the décor of the bathroom and shower. Oaxaca is known for design, and this hotel carried on that tradition.
The selling point of the property, though, is its all-pink exterior and courtyard. One evening, we relaxed in the courtyard for about an hour before going upstairs.
My expectations for Oaxaca were high. Maybe unrealistically so. But this city, this gorgeous city, more than delivered. I ate delicious food (which you can read all about in my Oaxaca vegan guide), saw stunning architecture, took about a thousand pictures, and just relaxed.
If you go to Mexico, Oaxaca simply can’t be missed. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll call you back someday. I know Oaxaca is calling me.
Read more Mexico travel guides:
- Mexico Travel Guide: Culture, History, and Cuisine
- Chichen Itza Day Trip and Ik Kil Cenote Without a Tour
- 5 Tulum Vegan Restaurants You’ll Love
- Tulum Ruins Travel Guide
- Oaxaca Vegan Guide
- CDMX Travel Guide (to come!)
- CDMX Vegan Guide (to come!)
- Lonely Planet Mexico (2022 edition)