Oaxaca is big enough to give the best choices in culture and entertainment. But this beautiful historical city is small enough to get around to. This popular destination bursts with intense energy and sparkling colors.
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.
The traditional culture is evident in Oaxaca cuisine. When you visit the city, make sure that you sample local food. It usually begins with some palatable appetizers that often include some of the city’s famed cheeses or quesillo. The coffee in the city has an excellent, world-class quality. Also, you should sample the Oaxacan chocolate. It also features some nice local sweets. The city’s restaurant scene is so busy that you will find restaurants that offer delectable food of your choice.
In addition, Oaxaca is also a center of entertainment. Shopping is a big attraction in the area. Oaxaca has two busy markets: Zócalo and Abastos Market. You can buy Oaxacan crafts throughout Mexico, but the most authentic crafts are found in the colonial city of its surrounding towns. Haggling is expected in many shops here.
Oaxaca offers exciting and pulsating night activities, making it much easier for tourists and locals alike who want to enjoy the great nightlife. The city has almost everything for people with varied tastes. Jazz, salsa music, blues, and even folkloric shows are as popular as disco or rock, which makes a huge part of Oaxaca nightlife.
The magical and fascinating Oaxaca is home to numerous museums, art galleries, and art exhibits. This makes it hard for visitors which one to visit first. To help you with your Oaxaca museum tour, we have identified the city’s major and must-see museums.
Benito Juarez Home
Located at Garcia Vigil 609 between Quetzalcoatl and Carranza, this museum is the home of the former Mexican president during his teenage years. It has interesting memorabilia and striking period furnishings ca. 1820-1840.
Institute of Graphic Arts of Oaxaca
Located at Alcala 507, opposite the Santo Domingo Church, IAGO was founded in 1989 by Francisco Toledo, one of Mexico’s most important and original contemporary artists. The museum houses around a 10,000 volume library on art and literature, archaeology, architecture, movies, photography, and crafts and design. It also has temporary exhibition galleries, a collection of more than 5,000 graphic works, and a book shop that sells publications.
Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca
This important Oaxaca museum is located at Alcala 202 between Murguia and Morelos. It is housed in a huge colonial building that features two gorgeous patios. It also has a book shop that sells non-commercial monographs, postcards, magazines, and books about Oaxacan arts and culture. The museum has a permanent collection of the works of Oaxaca artists like Francisco Toledo, Rufino Tamayo, Rodolfo Morales, Francisco Gutierrez, and Rodolfo Nieto.
Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Colombian Art
This museum stands at Morelos 503 between Tinoco y Palacios and Porfirio Diaz. Rufino Tamayo, the great Oaxacan painter, restored this striking colonial house. You will find here his collection of pre-Columbian arts from the country’s major ancient civilizations.
Regional Museum of the State of Oaxaca
You will find the Regional Museum of the State of Oaxaca in Alcala between Berriozabal and Gurrion. One of the most excellent Oaxaca museums, this is a must-see attraction largely because of its stately architecture and because it shows important information about the history of Oaxaca. Collections include artifacts from the nomadic period to the pre-Hispanic civilization. Highlights include the gold jewelry unearthed in some of the state’s archaeological sites and the rich trove discovered by archaeologist Alfonso Caso.
Religious Museum of la Soledad
This museum is housed in the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad on Independencia 107 between Morelos and Arteaga. This Oaxaca museum exhibits works of art, adornments, and memorabilia related to the patron saint of Oaxaca, the Virgin of the Soledad.
Architecture in Oaxaca city is an amazing eclectic showcase of styles. Just walk around the streets to experience an authentic aesthetic feast of buildings with the pre-hispanic era and contemporary styles. Monte Albán and the city’s historic center have been listed in UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Despite the threat of earthquakes, many Oaxaca architecture still stands. They are famous for their well-built stone exteriors with extra-thick walls.
Oaxaca sits neatly on a typical Spanish colonial grid system. The streets are promptly lined with impressive colonial mansions that stood the test of revolution and earthquakes. The brightly colored paintwork of these houses adds an eccentric touch to the city center, perfectly complementing Oaxaca’s diverse culture. Today, many of these houses are used to house some interesting.
Oaxaca bursts with majestic pre-hispanic architecture and archeological. Monte Albán houses some of the most impressive and famous examples of such architecture in the country. The Zapotecs carefully expanded and honed Monte Albán to architectural finesse. They built palaces, tombs, complex drainage systems, and much more 400m above the Central Valleys.
Mitla also has some of the other noteworthy prehispanic architecture, including well-preserved pre-Colombian Mesoamerican palaces. The design has Mixtec and Zapotec influences and the dominant geometric reliefs give the architecture a unique flavor.
Gothic and Renaissance styles
The Spanish settlers brought with them the Gothic and Renaissance styles popular during the 16th and 17th centuries. These styles are evident in the Jesuit Templo de la Compañía built-in 1579. It was rebuilt many times due to damages from earthquakes. In the 1930s, the building was officially named a historic monument and has since received much-deserved care. The typically gothic facade with pointed, tiered arches and detailed carvings has been skillfully restored.
Mexican Baroque style
The best examples of Mexican baroque architecture can be admired religious buildings, most notably the Oaxaca Cathedral. The construction of this enormous architecture started in 1533 and took more than 200 years to finish as earthquakes kept delaying the construction. The exterior features carved arches, with statues lining the entrance.
Basílica de la Soledad is another grand piece of Oaxaca architecture reflecting the baroque design. Construction began in 1682 and it took eight years to complete. Its facade is an exquisite example of Mexican baroque and the chiaroscuro effects used in the carvings and the tiled frontispiece are above all dramatic. Iglesia de Santo Domingo is also an early statement from the Mexican baroque period, constructed in 1570 and completed in 1608.
The 18th century Templo de San Felipe is an interesting mix of baroque and renaissance. But the interior, especially the multiple altarpieces, reflects the flashy embellishment of the later baroque period – the Churrigueresque.
The Neoclassical style is one of the last architectural styles to flourish during the Spanish colonial period. You can find the best example at the Palacio de Gobierno in Zócalo. The current building, however, is not the entire original model since it underwent a major restoration in the 1930s.
Arts & Crafts
Traditional Oaxaca arts and crafts are extremely varied, and there is something for different tastes. Whether you are searching for a beautiful ornament as a keepsake or a higher-end piece of furniture or artwork, Oaxaca has got all of them for you.
Oaxacans are known as makers of beautiful, intricate jewelry. Stones usually used in Oaxaca jewelry include amber, amethyst, onyx, and turquoise, among others. Markets and craft shops in the city showcase them and offer discounts on some silver or gold pieces.
Oaxaca has a great painting tradition. In fact, it is home to some great Mexican painters, including Francisco Toledo, Rodolfo Morales, Francisco Gutierrez, and Rodolfo Nieto. Perhaps the most popular Oaxacan painter is Rufino Tamayo. He is internationally renowned and is considered as one of the greatest modern painters of the 20th century.
Pottery and ceramics
Oaxacans are skillful in making brightly painted pots, cups, vases, and anything makeable on a potter’s wheel. Oaxaca black pottery is the most traditional form. It is made from a dark clay that can only be found in the region. The elegant and unique final product is easily recognizable for its black, smooth surface.
Oaxaca arts and crafts are perhaps best represented by textiles. If you take pleasure in looking at gorgeous hand-woven textiles, then Oaxaca is the ideal place. Textiles are very popular items on the market and you will be spoilt for a wide range of choices. Traditional textiles include woven rugs, table cloths, bags, curtains, and bedspreads. Visit workshops to see how artisans make these colorful and beautiful textiles.
You will find in Oaxaca a lot of wooden crafts that range from games and masks to guitars and toys usually painted in bright colors. Oaxacans traditionally use copal wood (specific to the region) to make Alebrijes. These wood carving figures of mythological animals make great presents. They are, in fact, very common Oaxaca souvenirs.
Parks & Gardens
Whether attending a merry religious fair, strolling around on a lazy afternoon, or taking part in a heated in a political protest, Oaxaca parks and gardens are hosts to all kinds of lively activities. Here are some must-see parks and gardens in the city:
Alameda de Leon
Alameda de Leon is one of the oldest Oaxaca parks. Opened in 1843, you will find here a statue of former governor General Antonio de Leon. He developed this place along with Benito Juárez, his secretary.
Jardin Socrates or Socrates Garden is one of the must-see Oaxaca parks and gardens. Formerly the main plaza of the Church of Soledad, it became a garden open to the public in 1881.
Situated along Abasolo between 5 de Mayo and Alcalá Street, Labastida Park features a limestone foundation that dates back from the 17th century. It also boasts of the historic Caja de agua, used by people during the Spanish colonial period for storing water. Artists exhibit paintings and sell traditional crafts, including Teotitlán weavings, jewelry, and black pottery.
Plaza de la Danza
Plaza de la Danza or Dancing Square is also a must-see. You can find it close to Jardin Socrates as they are part of the complex of churches of Soledad and San José. This park was built in 1959 by Eduardo Vasconcelos as an upper terrace. It hosts the Bani Stui Gulal (repetition of antiquity) during the Gualaguetza celebration.
Paseo Juarez ‘El Llano’ Park
Located six blocks north of Zocalo, it is one of the most visited Oaxaca parks. Dedicated to former Mexican President Benito Juarez, it holds the distinction as one of the largest and oldest parks in the city. General Jose Maria Morelos planted some of the trees here in the 1812-1813 winter. A monument to Juarez was erected in 1894, which still stands today. It used to house a zoo from the middle of the 1900s to 1970. Today, El Llano contains gardens, walkways, four large fountains, and benches. December 12 is the best day to visit this park when friends and families flock to celebrate the Virgen of Guadalupe.
This Mexican city is a very festive place. It is home to many exciting and colorful festivals. In each Oaxaca festival, expect fun parties, civic and religious activities, flowers, foods, as well as shopping opportunities and expanded handicraft production. Following these festivals is immensely entertaining, giving you a deeper insight into the city’s people, crafts, and customs. Here is a list of some major festivals in Oaxaca that interest most visitors.
The Guelaguetza, also known as Lunes del Cerro or Monday on the Hill, is celebrated on the last two Mondays of the month of July. In this celebration, representatives from different Oaxacan communities gather and observe the diversity of their cultures and traditions. People wear colorful traditional clothing and perform native dances particular to their region.
Día de la Santa Cruz
The Día de la Santa Cruz or Day of the Holy Cross is celebrated every May 3. Students of the University of Oaxaca dress up for the occasion and play tricks while dancing through the city streets. They make harmless tricks like throwing confetti or breaking eggshells filled with flour on the heads of bystanders. They place small crosses on under-construction buildings.
Semana Santa or Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday when people weave crosses and sell them in plazas and markets. On Holy Thursday, Oaxacans visit seven churches, with altars put in place for La Dolorosa or Our Lady of Sorrows.
Carnival is one of the most colorful and loudest Oaxaca festivals. It has a flexible date, celebrated the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday and the last day prior to the beginning of Lent. The city-wide festivity includes colorful parades, lively dances, and great music. The celebration in Pacific Coast at Pinotepa de Don Luis is perhaps the best carnival festival in the city.
Fiesta de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo
The Fiesta de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo or the Festival of the Precious Blood of Christ is celebrated in Tlacochahuaya every September 23-30. It is an 8-day festival of colorful processions, beautiful dances, spectacular fireworks, and great food.
Oaxaca is largely a conservative city, with traditional customs and religious Catholics. Because of this, displays of homosexual affinity are uncommon in many public places. In fact, many men in Mexico still consider homosexuality disgusting for men, especially in areas outside of resort places or in rural areas. Nevertheless, the city is now more tolerant than it used to, and experiencing gay Oaxaca is something that you should not miss.
In general, locals respect the gay and lesbian community. Once you are in the city, you should not experience any harassment. Just make sure you give due respect to local traditions and customs. Visitors, gay and straight alike, who do not respect Oaxaca’s culture will certainly get some pestering.
There are many places teeming gay activities in Oaxaca. The top gay and gay-friendly bars and clubs include international-looking Club Privado 502 (Porfirio Diaz 502), the relaxed La Chinampa (Bustamante 605) that sells the cheapest beer, and the vibrant Gavana Dance Club (Calzada Porfirio Diaz. No 216). If you are into bathhouses, visit Baños La Fuente (Calle 20 de Noviembre).
One of the events to look forward to in order to have an authentic gay Oaxaca experience is the Marcha Calendar. This year, the LGBT group Luzónica celebrates this gay pride event with the motto, “Being Different Is a Right”. There are many travel agencies out there that offer tours and itineraries exclusively for gay and lesbian travelers. Visit the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association website, www.iglta.org, or contact them at 954/776-2626 or 800/448-8550.
Welcome to the city Oaxaca, where color radiates from the vibrantly painted colonial houses, chilies in the markets, and the traditional textile Indian women. The Oaxaca music scene is just as pulsating. Oaxaca’s musical tradition is vast, with the different tonal languages of native groups and the instruments used in each giving rise to an explosion of great music.
On the streets of the city, you can hear musical ranchera, bolero, cumbia, danzon, mariachi music, and wild brass bands playing in indigenous villages. Native beats cross-pollinate with the Austrian and French brass band tradition as well as Spain’s tragic music; while African slaves introduced the marimba and upbeat rhythms. These all add flavor to Oaxaca music that people of today enjoy.
Young people are still passionate about indigenous music since Oaxacan life and music are inseparable. Today, more and more youngsters are becoming involved in Nueva Trova. Trovadores or trova players are traditional guitarists who sing their songs and poems in bars and cantinas. They combine their songs with clave, Danza Habana, and bolero rhythms. Nueva trova today has sociopolitical nature.
The alternative Oaxaca music scene is also alive and kicking, as evidenced by the many posters advertising punk, rave, and electronica events.
Oaxaca gives you the opportunity to enjoy a wide array of sports and recreation activities to keep you busy during your vacation. Like many people in other cities in the world, Oaxacans love to play fútbol or soccer, the most popular sport in the city. But if you are not into soccer, do not worry. The city offers many other sports alternatives. Many Oaxaca sports involve nature in one way or another.
Oaxaca has a vast coastal area that lets visitors practice some water sports. If you like yachting, sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, or fresh water fishing, the city has facilities to realize you dream vacation.
If water sports is your game, we suggest you contact the following: Balneario Vista Hermosa (Address: Hidalgo 18 San Agustín Etla. Tel.: 521-2049), Buceo Sotavento (Address: La Crucecita Bahías de Huatulco. Tel.: 958 587-2166), and Ventures Huatulco Sport Fishing (Address: Santa Cruz Marina Bahías de Huatulco. Tel.: 958 587-1788).
Club de Golf Vista Hermosa is located in the beautiful hillside community of San Agustín Etla, which is around 25 minutes north of Oaxaca (Address: Carretera a San Agustín Etla. Tel.: 044 951 547-1177).
If you want to enjoy the rolling countryside, see the breathtaking nature, and breathe fresh air while working out, then go mountain biking. This is one of the more popular Oaxaca sports. Contact Mountain Bike Oaxaca at 011-52-951-508-2098 (if you are in the United States) or 951-508-2098 (if you are calling from Mexico).
Oaxaca’s favorable weather that prevail all year round, is an invitation to play some tennis. Visit Club de Tennis Brenamiel (Address: Carretera International Km. 539.5. Tel.: 512-6822), Club de Golf Vista Hermosa (Address: Carretera a San Agustín Etla. Tel.: 044 951 547-1177), and Deportivo Oaxaca (Address: Carretera al Tule Km. 6.5. Tel.: 517-5271).
Oaxaca also has an irresistible geography favorable to the practice of trekking or hiking, mountain climbing, canyoning, rappelling, surfing, water skiing, kayaking, canoeing, paragliding, hang gliding, balloon flights, horseback riding, bungee jumping, and many other Oaxaca sports and recreation options.