Many people world dream of traveling to the city of Oaxaca in Mexico. It is not surprising why it is a popular destination: it is gifted with a rich history, old tradition and culture, and friendly people. If you want to have an experience of a lifetime, we highly recommend visiting the charming Oaxaca. Below are some of the most interesting Oaxaca facts:
Oaxaca got its name from Huaxyacac, the Nahuatl name for the land. The Spanish conquistadors found it difficult to pronounce the name, so they renamed it Guajaca, which was later spelled Oaxaca. The “de Juárez” was later to commemorate Benito Juárez, a native of Oaxaca.
Oaxaca is nicknamed “la Verde Antequera” derived from its prior name “Nueva Antequera” and due to the variety of architecture built from native green stones.
Historically, Oaxaca is the home of the Mixtec and Zapotec people.
The state of Oaxaca has more speakers of native indigenous languages compared to any other state in Mexico.
The city has a human population of 380 thousand.
An interesting Oaxaca fact: The coat of arms has the image of the beheaded Donaji, a natives princess in the years soon after the Conquest.
In 1987, along with the Monte Alban archeological site, Oaxaca was listed as a World Heritage Site.
One of the most unusual delicacies in Oaxaca is chapulines, a cuisine that primarily consists of barbecued grasshoppers.
Mezcal is one of the best-known products in Oaxaca. It is an alcoholic beverage much like tequila but it is distilled from different varieties of cactus other than the blue agave.
Oaxaca has 16 indigenous groups (formally recognized), each retaining its mother tongue, often in addition to Spanish.
April and May are the driest and hottest months in the city, while June is the wettest month. Things improve considerably after the summer season.
Oaxaca history goes as far back as 7000 years when it was occupied by 18 different ethnic groups. The three prevalent groups fighting over Oaxaca were the Mixe, the Zapotecs, and the Mixtecs. The Zapotecs occupied the areas in the central valleys in the Sierra Norte, while the Mixtecs moved to the areas surrounding the Sierra Madre. Meanwhile, the Mixe was not able to expand their hold in the upper highlands. The Aztecs then came in the 15th century, dominating Oaxaca for the trade routes to South and Central America.
The Aztecs made their settlement in the areas surrounding Cerro del Fortin, including the current location of the Church of Carmen. The central valley was named Huaxyacac, referring to the huaje trees that dotted the green landscape.
The Spanish forces then arrived in 1521 and made their settlement in Segura de la Frontera. They found Huaxyacac too difficult to pronounce, so the Spanish renamed it Oaxaca. In 1532, the settlement was named and further officially renamed Antequera de Guaxaca by the Spanish King Carlos V. Alonso Garcia Bravo did the mapping of the city, the first in the history of Oaxaca.
The city became prominent during the colonial era because of its strategic location as a gateway to South and Central America. It also rose to prominence because of the rumored gold mines, its rich, verdant landscape, and intricate textiles. The people of Oaxaca are proud and mighty and played a major role struggling for freedom during the Mexican War of Independence.
The richness of the history of Oaxaca makes the city one of the more interesting places to visit in the Latin American region.
By and large, Oaxaca is the most ethnically diverse of Mexico’s 31 states. The largest groups are Zapotec (347,000 people) and the Mixtec (241,000 people), but these Oaxaca people only make up two parts of one big complex puzzle.
With 16 different native communities formally registered as indigenous groups, about half of the Oaxaca population still speaks a native language. These indigenous groups are well defined through language and dialect, rituals, customs, cosmogony, food habits, etc. But researchers and historians suggest that this linguistic categorization is misleading largely because most Oaxaca people identify closely more with their community or their village than with their ethnolinguistic affiliation.
The roots of the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs stretch deeply into Oaxaca’s early Mesoamerican period. They live in their fertile valleys and mountain enclaves, and a lot of the early settlers harvested beans, chocolate, corn, tomatoes, squash, chili, gourds, and pumpkin. They also got their food from the rivers with a wide range of fish.
In addition to the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians, the following indigenous groups have also lived and thrived throughout the present-day Oaxaca: Amuzgos, Chatinos, Chinantecos, Chocho, Chontales, Cuicateco, Huave, Ixcatecos, Mazatecos, Mixes, Popoloco, Tacuates, Trique, Zoque.
Much of the exploits of a journey comes from plunging to a foreign culture whose customs may be very different from your own culture. Like all cities in the world, Oaxaca also has customs that make it a unique place. Here are some Oaxaca customs that you should know before traveling to the city:
People of Oaxaca tend to wear a more formal dress in social and business settings than their American counterparts. Sandals and shorts attract raised eyebrows in restaurants. Suits are the norm in the workplace, even on Fridays.
In social gatherings, women often greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, even if it is their first time to meet. Men who already know each other greet with a hug as well as a slap on the back. In business settings, people greet each other by a handshake. It is, however, unacceptable in social ones.
Oaxaca lunchtime considered the day’s most important meal, begins around 2 pm or 3 pm, usually lasting a couple of hours. Many people who live near their workplace have lunch at home with family. Unlike in the US, it is very common for Oaxacans to have alcoholic drinks while having a meal, even on business meals.
Tipping is one of the Oaxacan customs you need to observe. Waiters in the city expect tips between 10% and 15%, while hotel bellhops expect a $2 tip. While taxi drivers do not expect tips, it is customary that you round up the bill.
When they speak, Oaxacan people stand close to each other. Also, do not be surprised if you get to be touched when talking to a local. It is very common for a local to touch you on the arm or shoulder occasionally while speaking.
Haggling is very common in Oaxaca’s open-air markets. To haggle, you should offer half of the original selling price and then bargain up from there. However, you cannot use formal establishments.
One of the more fascinating Oaxaca customs is arriving at a social gathering much later than the start time. So do not be surprised if you arrive at an event on time and see that you are all alone there. Arriving on time is usually considered rude as many hosts expect guests to be at least 30-minute late. But arriving late at business meetings is much less tolerated.
Mexican Spanish is the Oaxaca language spoken in the city and the state. But the geographical topography all over the Central Valleys (Valles Centrales) has to lead to separation between communities. Thus, each indigenous group has maintained its own unique sense of identity. They have preserved their traditional culture and norms, including their language.
The Oaxaca languages that continue to be spoken and used regularly around the region are attributed to the 16 ethnolinguistic groups that inhabit the region. But while we can easily define these native languages, there are actually many more if the many dialectal variations are included. Here are the 16 ethnic groups in Oaxaca and the number of people who speak their language (the data below come from the 2005 census):
Zapotec – 357,134
Mixtec – 290,049
Mazateco – 164,673
Chinanteco – 104,010
Mixes – 103,089
Chatino – 42,477
Trique – 18,292
Huave – 15,324
Cuicateco – 12,128
Zoque – 10,000
Amuzgo – 4,819
Chontal – 4,610
Tacuate – 1,726
Chochotec – 524
Ixcateco – 207
Popoloco – 61
Of these speakers of indigenous language, almost 478,000 are non-Spanish monolingual.
There are many schools in Oaxaca that teach Spanish. One of the top schools is Soléxico, whose thrust is to provide an environment that is conducive to learning Spanish in a short period of time while being immersed in the Mexican culture. Its professional staff, coupled with effective teaching methods and strategies, maximizes the students, learning capabilities.
Solexico in Oaxaca is located right in the center of the city. Its strategic location allows students to easily access a number of cafes, museums, art galleries, shops, and Internet cafes. Set in a colonial building, the campus has a large patio where students get together during the breaks or after classes.
Because the majority of the people in Oaxaca speak Spanish, it would be at your convenience if you also get yourself familiar with the language, especially if you are staying in the city for more than a week. There are various ways to learn Spanish in the city. You can browse for resources online, read Spanish-English dictionaries, or you can simply enroll in a Spanish language school in Oaxaca. Here are a few of them:
Abasolo 503 Centro Historico
This Spanish language school has been offering Spanish classes for more than 10 years already. It specializes in personalized lessons for small groups of about 2-6 students. The teachers are fully-trained and are native Spanish speakers. They are also noted to have an exceptional amount of patience.
Amigos del Sol
Pino Suárez 802 Office
Amigos del Sol is popular among travelers because it offers relatively cheaper Spanish lessons. Classes take place every weekday between 8 AM and 9 AM, 3 PM and 4 PM, and after 8 PM.
Instituto Cultural Oaxaca
Avenida Juárez #909
The schools offer language programs catered to learners of all levels and requirements. It gives students a choice between one-on-one instruction and group classes. Aside from its Spanish language classes, the school also provides cultural workshops to visitors to provide a deeper understanding of the Spanish culture.
Español Interactivo Language School
Armenta y López #311-B
With 15 years in the business of providing Spanish language education to travelers, this language school has established itself to be among the credible language institutions in the city. It provides quicker and personalized learning because it limits its class to up to three students only. The best thing about this school is that it requires no registration fee or deposit to be enrolled.
Solexico Language and Cultural Center
This language school aims to “provide the best quality instruction of Spanish as a Second Language“. Its Spanish courses are specially categorized to meet the learning needs and requirements of students.