I love Mexico. I am absolutely head over heels, out of my mind, deeply in love with this country. Especially Oaxaca. I can not say enough good things about this fabulous region, and I strongly believe everyone should come and visit! 🙂
We’ve spent two wonderful months in Oaxaca exploring, eating, drinking and talking (or should I say trying to talk) to the locals. We’re pretty sad to be leaving – so sad that we seriously discussed staying for the foreseeable future but eventually we decided to keep on traveling. We know that we will return one day – hopefully to stay for a while.
If you’re heading to Mexico anytime soon, or trying to convince a friend of your significant other to visit Mexico with you here’s my take on the best of what Oaxaca has to offer to help you plan your trip.
The best place to stay
We stayed in an Airbnb for five weeks and we couldn’t have been happier with our experience. Our hosts Ezequiel and Gabriela were faultlessly kind and helpful. The apartment was larger than we expected and very comfortable. There was always someone around if we needed help with anything, and their puppy Dino makes you feel special every single time he sees you. The apartment is about 20 minutes from the Zocalo, in a local area – but everything you need is within walking distance. There’s a laundromat two blocks away, a large store three blocks away, a handful of restaurants scattered around and a huge supermarket six blocks away.
The listing for this apartment can be found here
The best tacos
Tacos are hands down our favourite Mexican food. We love all Mexican food, but tacos do it for us like nothing else does. We’ve eaten all sorts of tacos in Oaxaca; tacos al pastor, tacos dorado, tacos de cazuela, tacos carnitas, tacos sincronizada…you get the point. We’ve eaten tacos in high end restaurants, mid range restaurants, hole in the wall restaurants and from street food vendors. Our all time favourites are at La Parilla Azteca on Hidalgo (3 blocks down from the city centre). The service is consistently outstanding, they bring you complimentary salsa verde, salsa rojo, pico de gallo, guacamole and grilled baby onions. To drink we recommend the Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus flower juice), its a little sweet, a little tart and absolutely refreshing.
The best beer
There’s only one place that deserves a mention and that is Santisima Flor de Lupo. We went there twice when it was closed (check the opening hours and days before you go!) but on our third attempt we were successful, and it was so worth the effort. We had a couple of North American IPAS, then after recommendations from the very friendly staff we tried two Oaxacan beers, and then finally two Mexican wheat beers. All were delicious, and we felt reasonably priced at 50 pesos each. We also took two home with us to enjoy at a later stage. We went back a couple of weeks later and were greeted like long lost friends – the staff really know how to make you feel special!
The best street food
This is a hard one because we’ve had some great street food here! But, the one item that is consistently delicious and available everywhere is elote. It was the very first thing we ate in Mexico four years ago, and the very first thing we ate after arriving here this time. Elote is sweetcorn covered in mayonnaise, rolled in cheese, sprinkled with chilli and drizzled in lime juice – and yes it tastes just as amazing as it sounds. You can also get it cut up in a cup if you don’t want to get your face messy by eating it off the cob. The price varies depending on who you go to, what night it is, and seemingly what mood the vendor is in – but it won’t cost you more than 15 pesos.
The best chocolate
Casa Mayodormo serves the best hot chocolate. But be warned, it’s very sweet! If like me you don’t like consuming an entire bag of sugar in your hot chocolate make sure you ask for it to be agridulce (bittersweet) – don’t worry its not anything like bittersweet, it’s just not as sweet as the regular concoction.
The best coffee
Cafe Jaguar Yuu on Calle Murguia. This place is awesome! They have probably the friendliest staff in all of Oaxaca too. But more importantly they serve delicious coffee, nice sandwiches and the biggest banana split I’ve ever seen. It has a lovely relaxed, comfortable vibe and free wifi too. We spent several afternoons completing our Spanish homework here – and the staff were always happy to help if we got stuck.
The best date night restaurant
Admittedly we didn’t go on many date nights – and when we did they were pretty low key (we’re on a tight budget!) but for our anniversary we splashed out on a lovely restaurant – La Pitiona – that had been recommended to us by some friends and it was delightful. We ordered a bottle of red wine – that wonderously arrived at room temperature and not chilled!! Guy had a steak, and I had salmon and both were outstanding and generously portioned. All up including the tip we paid around 500 pesos (less than $50).
The best spot to people watch
The Zocalo is easily the best place to watch both locals and tourists. I love watching the shoe shiners do their thing – they are seriously thorough! There always seems to be something in the Zocalo – whether it’s an orchestral performance, a protest, a book fair or a traditional pineapple dance – there’s always something to watch. Sit in one of the restaurants, or just buy a couple of drinks from a nearby store (I don’t think your technically allowed to but we never had any trouble and we did it quite often – plus we saw lots of other locals doing it too) and sit in the shade.
Other interesting places are outside Santo Domingo church (we saw a few weddings there), and the Parque Juarez El Llano (delicious empanadas too!).
The best place to learn Spanish
Admittedly this isn’t fair – or especcially accurate for that matter as we only went to one school – The Oaxaca International School – but we cannot recommend it highly enough. The teachers there are warm, friendly, funny and most importantly – excellent teachers. The excursions were different every week, we had biscuits with our coffee each morning – and if it’s your birthday they’ll bring you in a cake. It isn’t the cheapest school in Oaxaca, but we really do believe that it offers the best quality.
The best market
Tlacolula has the best market we saw in Oaxaca. It runs every Sunday for essentially the whole day. You really can get everything here and its cheap even by Mexican standards. For example we picked up a bucket of chillis, and a kilo of tomatoes for less than US$1 each. There are also clothes, jewellery, household items, animals and much more. When you get hungry stop at one of the many rotisserie chicken restaurants for a delicious meal of rice, coleslaw, grilled chicken and tortillas.
The town is cute too – and you can buy pineapples from a truck!
You can get to Tlacolula in a collectivo from anywhere in Oaxaca City. Depending on the mood of the taxi driver it will cost you anywhere from 10 to 20 pesos. To get back to Oaxaca walk out to the main road and hail one down.
The best place to exercise
The Escaleras del Fortin (stairs to the small fort).
Full disclosure: I never ran up these, but Guy took the Oaxacan rugby team up here a few times for training’s. I did walk them one day which was lovely (and more than enough of a workout for me!). When you get to the top go through the tunnel and you’ll come out at the auditorium where you have panoramic views over Oaxaca City. It’s also quite fascinating passing by all the little houses located to either side of the steps.
The best place for a daytrip
There are so many places you can see in a day trip from Oaxaca, it’s awfully hard to just choose one! If I had to pick the most beautiful place I would say San Agustin Etla, but it’s relatively expensive to get to, and admittedly there isn’t much to do when you’re there. If I chose the most interesting place it would be Monte Alban – but I have an archaeologist residing deep within me. Guy would choose Hierve el Agua
In no particular order here’s what I would recommend are worthwhile day trips (some of these you will likely visit with your Spanish school if you enrol in one).
Teotitlan del Valle
Hierve el Agua
Unless you speak good Spanish I’d recommend taking a tour. It is possible to visit these places yourself, but in our experience it didn’t work out to be too much cheaper and it was a lot more difficult when our limited Spanish didn’t get us too far. You can also often cram a few attractions into the one day on a tour which is good if your time is limited. There are tours being sold all around the Zocalo and you can also find them online, or in any hostel. If you do choose to do it yourself try to get some information from a local rather than a website or guidebook as this information is often outdated.
The best place for a week away
To me a holiday needs a few things; sand, sun & ocean. Luckily less than a days drive away from Oaxaca city you can find some of the most beautiful beaches in this part of the world. There are four main ones Puerto Escondido, Mazunte, San Agustinillo and Zipolite.
Zipolite is my favourite, in fact it’s one of my favourite places in the world. It’s so laid back that clothes are optional, the beers are cheap, the people are always smiling, you sometimes see whales jumping in the waves in front of you, you might get to release baby turtles and it has the best tacos in Mexico!
You can catch a bus to Zipolite for a few dollars, but a faster and more comfortable way of getting there is by van. They only cost a couple of dollars extra but you’ll arrive in around 7 hours instead 9 (trust me on these windy roads two hours makes a big difference!).
So, there you have it! The best of Oaxaca. I feel like I could have written this post forever – there really is so much to see and do and eat! I can’t recommend visitly it enough – I’ve never heard anyone say a bad thing about it, and there truly is something for everyone there.
Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything from this list!