Oaxaca Travel Guide: Mexico’s Most Enchanting State (2024)

oaxaca travel guide

Oaxaca, Mexico has become something of a hotspot right now. Oaxaca is one of the most popular regions to visit in all of Mexico and for very good reason. This area is one of the most colorful and culturally important and safest states in Mexico. Oaxaca is also home to the best food in the country.

Oaxaca City was recently voted by Travel and Lesuire readers as the best city in the world and Oaxaca state also has many amazing destinations to visit and activities to do too.

In this comprehensive Oaxaca travel guide, we’ll explore everything you’ll need to know when planning a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. We’ll look at how to get there, where to stay, how to stay safe, the best things to do, when to visit and much more in our Oaxaca travel blog.

Oaxaca Travel Guide

About Oaxaca

Let’s start our Oaxaca travel guide with an introduction of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Oaxaca Quick Summary:

  • Where is it: Southern Mexico
  • Difficulty Getting There: Average
  • Time needed: 6 days
  • Best Time to Visit: April/September
  • Top Food/Drink: Memelas, Tejate
  • Our Favourite Gem: Monte Albán

Where is Oaxaca?

Oaxaca is one of the largest states in Mexico and is also one of the most southern in the country. Due to its size and positioning, it’s home to many different terrains such as mountains, rainforest as well as its long Pacific coast.

Is Oaxaca safe for tourists?

Oaxaca is often considered to be one of the safest regions to visit in Mexico. Violent crime against tourists is very rare, although pickpocketing can sometimes be an issue.

As always preparation is key, read some Oaxaca travel guides and blogs to know the safe areas and which to avoid.

In Oaxaca City, be sure to stay within the historic centre as further towards the outskirts can get rough around the edges.

In Puerto Escondido, most areas are safe, with Zicatela and La Punta being the more touristy and safe parts.

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Oaxaca Travel Guide

How to get to Oaxaca

There are many ways of getting to Oaxaca. If arriving internationally, you’ll first need to fly into Mexico City’s international airport. From here, you can either take a domestic flight to Oaxaca City (around $60 and takes 1 hour), or to Puerto Escondido (around $70 and also around 1-hour flying).

From Mexico City, you can also take a bus to Oaxaca City, which takes around 7 hours.

If you are already in Mexico, you can also get to Oaxaca via the neighbouring regions of Chiapas (San Cristóbal de las Casas), Puebla (Puebla City), Guerrero (Acapulco) and also from Veracruz (Xalapa or Orizaba). Most have daily buses that make the direct journey.

Where to stay in Oaxaca

The state of Oaxaca has so much to explore. The colourful state capital, Oaxaca City, is one of the most colourful cities in Mexico. There’s plenty to see and do within the city and it also makes a great base for day trips out to explore the surrounding area which is full of interesting historical monuments and natural features.

No Oaxaca travel guide would be complete without mentioning the beautiful and unspoilt pacific coast beaches in Oaxaca.

playa carrizalillo beach puerto escondido oaxaca mexico

The most popular Oaxaca beaches include Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, both have airports which makes it easy to get there. These beaches are popular with surfers and yogis and offer a more authentic Mexico beach vacation than resorts like Cancun. There’s also the smaller beach towns of Mazunte and Zipolite – Mexico’s only nudist beach.

We recommend that you stay in both Oaxaca City and on one of the beaches for a full taste of all Oaxaca has to offer. You could also see both Oaxaca and Mexico City with this itinerary.

Where to stay in Oaxaca City

One of the best hotels to stay in is Hotel La Casa de Maria, which is perfectly located in the centre. La Noria Centro Histórico is another great hotel that is also close by.

If you want to save money you’ll find some of the best hostels in Mexico are found in Oaxaca City. Try places such as Casa Angel, or Iguana hostel for some of the best budget stays.

Where to stay in Puerto Escondido

Puerto Escondido is home to some of the best beaches in Oaxaca and has numerous places to stay including some fun surf and yoga camps.

Zicatela is where you’ll find one of Mexico’s best surf breaks and a lively nightlife scene. Hotel Arcoiris is almost on the beach and is the best option for a stay in Zicatela. La Punta is another area which is more laid back. The best hotel for a stay here is Casa Kuaa.

Read more here about the different areas and best places to stay in Puerto Escondido.

Best things to do in Oaxaca City

oaxaca church

There’s no shortage of great things to do in Oaxaca City, from wandering the colourful streets to visiting the historic churches and vibrant markets. Now let’s explore the very best things to do in Oaxaca City, as well as the top foods and nightlife.

Mercado 20 de Noviembre

This market is hands down the best in Oaxaca (and a strong contender for Mexico) for everything food. Here you’ll find many local stalls selling pretty much everything from local delicacies like Tlayudas to Tacos and beyond. Whilst the overhaul of smells and flavours can be overwhelming for some, it’s definitely worth a visit at least once whilst in Oaxaca.

Iglesia de Santo Domingo

Arguably one of the most stunning churches in the country, Santo Domingo is adorned with gold around its altar, and overall is simply stunning. With over 20 rooms, you can learn about Oaxaca’s pre-Hispanic times which are detailed well through its murals.

The Zócalo

The main square of Oaxaca City is where all the action is and simply cannot be missed. Here there’s always something on, whether it’s a parade or some local event. As well as being near all the top nightlife and restaurants, there are also some beautiful buildings and churches nearby too.

Best Day Trips from Oaxaca City

monte alban oaxaca mexico

No Oaxaca travel guide would be complete without mentioning some of the amazing day trips you can take from Oaxaca City. The sights just outside the city and definitely some of the best things to do in Oaxaca. The easiest way to visit these places is by taking a guided day trip. You can book online at Viator.

Monte Albán

These ruins really are spectacular, especially so as they’re located on the edge of a mountain overlooking the surrounding baron landscapes. A mix of Zapotec and Mixtec cultures can be found here, with many sprawling temples and lookout points to explore.

Monte Albán is around half an hour’s drive from Oaxaca City. If you want to learn more about this history to bring the ruins to life we recommend taking this guided tour.

Hierve el Agua

A petrified waterfall that overlooks a row of canyons, it’s safe to say this is a must-stop when in Oaxaca. As well as exploring the site, there’s also a natural infinity pool which is perfect for a quick dip in the hot Mexican Sun.

You can reach this site from Oaxaca City in around 2 hours by car. Or take this tour to combine hiking, swimming and mezcal tasting in one fun day trip.

hierve el agua oaxaca mexico

Where to Eat in Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City is famed for its food, which is without a doubt the best in the country. For those who are backpacking in Mexico or are just looking for an authentic experience, head to Mercado 20 de Noviembre where you can try unique foods made by vendors.

If you’d prefer to be shown straight to the best, and safest, street food stalls this Oaxaca food tour will take your taste buds on an adventure through no less than twenty different local dishes at the markets and street food stalls! It’s a great way to learn about the city and Oaxacan culture through its markets and food.

Oaxaca cooking classes are a popular and fun way of immersing yourself in the local culture and learning how to make some of the uniquely Oaxacan dishes yourself. The best experiences include a guided visit to the market to gather your ingredients before learning how to make traditional Oaxacan recipes in a small friendly group.

Head to Casa Oaxaca for a more upscale experience, where you can try both regional delicacies as well as some of the top National dishes.

Oaxaca Nightlife

Most of the top nightlife in Oaxaca City is located near the Zócalo, in the heart of the city. Whilst you can find other places further afield, these will be more frequented by locals and are in less safe areas.

You’ll want to kick off your night in a mezcal bar, with Oaxaca arguably the best in the country. Mezcalería In Situ is the best, with over 200 different varieties of the good stuff. Los Amantes is another good option. Afterward either head to La Cantinita for a good atmosphere or Txalaparta for a wide range of music styles.

The Best Time to Visit Oaxaca

As already mentioned, the region of Oaxaca is varied and has climates ranging from hot Pacific beaches to cool mountainous towns. Fortunately, there is however both a dry and wet season that is the same in all regions.

The dry season runs from November until April. In Oaxaca City, average temperatures range from 63-72°F, with highs of up to 87°F and lows of down to 48°F. The rainfall here ranges from 0.3-1 inch each throughout each month.

In Puerto Escondido, temperatures are much hotter with averages of between 83-86°F, highs of 95°F and lows of 72°F. The rainfall here and along the coast ranges from 0-0.5 inches each month during the dry season.

The contrasting wet season runs from May up to late October. In Oaxaca City, average temperatures are warmer and range from 67-72°F, with highs of 85°F and lows of 56°F. Rainfall during the wet season averages between 3-6.5 inches for each month.

In Puerto Escondido, temperatures can get very hot, with averages ranging between 85-87°F, with highs of 94°F and lows of 77°F. Rainfall during the wet season in Puerto ranges from 2-7 inches throughout each month.

Oaxaca Culture and History

colourful textiles in oaxaca, mexico

Oaxaca is one of the most diverse areas of Mexico, home to indigenous tribes such as the Zapotec and Mixtecs which are still alive today despite the arrival of the Aztecs. Much of their artisanal knowledge and handicrafts have been passed down through the generations, making Oaxaca one of the best places to buy novelties.

Best Oaxaca Events and Festivals

We can’t finish our Oaxaca travel guide before letting you know about the events and festivities that Oaxaca is famous for. In early February, the Festival of the Virgin of the Candelaria is celebrated which is one of the biggest cultural festivals in Oaxaca. Here you’ll see large parades throughout the historic centre, and is also a popular time to eat Tamales, which is part of the local custom.

If you want to experience an awesome food festival, then on the 1st of May Oaxaca City hosts its annual Feria de la Tortilla. There are many demonstrations and food-based competitions all over the city and is a great opportunity to try some of the best delicacies from the Oaxaca region and also further afield in Mexico.

Other important and lively festivals (which are also celebrated in Puerto Escondido) include Mexico’s Revolution Day (16th September) and also The Day of the Dead (1st/2nd November).

In Puerto Escondido, you’ll find lively parties and excuses to celebrate pretty much every day of the week! Simply ask the locals or ex-pats and you’ll find where the hotspots are.

Our Top Recommendations

– If heading between Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido, be sure to look at flight prices as these can be similar to that of the bus (and also many tend to get sick on the bus as it’s constantly swerving along mountainous roads!).

– In Oaxaca City, be sure to stay within the Historic Centre which is the safest area, as well as closest to all of the best sites.

– Visiting in March or April is great as the weather is still within the dry season, and it’ll be cheaper too as it’s not a peak travel season. September is also great and cheap if you don’t mind a shower or two every now and then.

To finish our Oaxaca Travel Guide

And that’s all for our travel guide to Oaxaca.

One of the most diverse areas of Mexico to explore, here there’s everything from tropical Pacific beaches and mountains to incredible Aztec Ruins. The food here is also the best you can try in Mexico.

In this Oaxaca travel guide, we’ve explored the best areas to visit and covered important information such as how to get there, where to stay, what to do and how to stay safe. We’ve also included our top recommendations based on our own time spent here.

If you want to see more of Mexico then how about combining visiting Oaxaca with exploring exciting Mexico City too. See how to do all this with our 2 week offbeat Mexico itinerary.

We hope our Oaxaca travel guide has helped you to plan an amazing trip to Oaxaca!

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1 comment

Jennifer M. Bell January 25, 2023 at 11:05 am

Oaxaca is a great place to learn Spanish, with many language schools offering intensive courses and cultural activities.


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