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The ABSOLUTE Best Things To Do In Oaxaca, Mexico


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Joeann Garay



Welcome to Oaxaca, Mexico, a city bursting with culture, history, and vibrant traditions. Nestled in the southern part of the country, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders, colonial architecture, and a rich indigenous heritage.


Known for its colorful festivals, delicious cuisine, and magnificent landscapes, Oaxaca offers a truly immersive experience for art and culture enthusiasts. From exploring ancient ruins to indulging in traditional gastronomy, there are countless activities that showcase the authentic spirit of this region.


As you make your way through the cobblestone streets, you’ll be surrounded by the enchanting aroma of Mexican spices, the melodies of traditional music, and the vibrant colors of artisan crafts. Oaxaca is a place where past and present collide, creating a unique and dynamic atmosphere that will leave you captivated.


In this guide, we will take you on a journey through the absolute best things to do in Oaxaca. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or a nature lover, there is something for everyone in this fascinating city. So, get ready to immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Oaxacan culture and embark on an unforgettable adventure.


Explore the Historic Center of Oaxaca City

The historic center of Oaxaca City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit destination for any traveler. Immerse yourself in the city’s colonial charm as you wander through its picturesque streets and marvel at the well-preserved architecture.


Start your exploration at the main square, known as the Zocalo. Here, you’ll find the stunning Oaxaca Cathedral, a magnificent example of baroque architecture. Step inside to admire its ornate altars and beautiful artwork.


Adjacent to the cathedral is the charming Alameda de León, a peaceful park that offers a respite from the bustle of the city. Take a leisurely stroll through the park and enjoy the colorful flower beds, fountains, and sculptures.


Next, head to the Santo Domingo de Guzman Church and Cultural Center. This grand structure dates back to the 16th century and features a stunning golden altar and a museum that provides insight into the city’s history and indigenous cultures.


As you continue exploring, don’t miss the Benito Juarez Market, a bustling market where you can find everything from fresh produce and local crafts to traditional Oaxacan delicacies. Take the opportunity to sample some delicious street food, like tlayudas (crispy tortillas topped with beans, cheese, and meat), tamales, and mole, a rich and flavorful sauce for which Oaxaca is famous.


For art enthusiasts, there are numerous galleries and museums scattered throughout the historic center. One such gem is the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, which houses a vast collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, including intricate gold jewelry and ancient pottery.


End your day with a visit to the Andador Macedonio Alcalá, a pedestrian street lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. Here, you can shop for locally made textiles, ceramics, and mezcal, a traditional Mexican spirit made from the agave plant.


Exploring the historic center of Oaxaca City offers a glimpse into its rich cultural heritage and provides endless opportunities to discover the city’s vibrant soul.


Visit Monte Albán Archaeological Site

Perched atop a scenic hillside overlooking the city, the Monte Albán Archaeological Site is a fascinating testament to the ancient Zapotec civilization that once thrived in the region. This extraordinary archaeological site is a must-visit for history buffs and offers a glimpse into the monumental achievements of the Zapotec people.


Founded around 500 BCE, Monte Albán was the capital of the Zapotec civilization and one of the most important political and cultural centers of Mesoamerica. The site features impressive structures, including pyramids, palaces, temples, and ball courts, which showcase the advanced architectural and engineering skills of the Zapotec people.


Take a guided tour to fully appreciate the significance and history of this archaeological marvel. As you explore the site, you will encounter the Great Plaza, a vast open space flanked by monumental buildings. Marvel at the intricate carvings on the Hieroglyphic Staircases, which depict the Zapotec calendar, mythological creatures, and scenes from daily life.


Don’t miss the Ball Court, where the Zapotec people played a ball game known as “tlachtli.” This ancient game held great cultural and religious significance, and witnessing the size and structure of the court provides insight into the importance of sports in Zapotec society.


The site also houses several tombs, including the Tomb of Lord 5-Coyote, which contains intricate carvings and murals depicting Zapotec cosmology. These tombs offer a fascinating glimpse into the rituals and beliefs of the Zapotec people during their reign.


Aside from the historical significance, the panoramic views from the site are simply breathtaking. As you stand atop the hill, you can see the vast valley below and the city of Oaxaca in the distance, providing a sense of the grandeur and strategic prominence of this ancient city.


Visiting Monte Albán is like stepping back in time, allowing you to connect with the ancient Zapotec civilization and appreciate their remarkable achievements. It is a truly awe-inspiring experience that will leave you with a deeper understanding of Oaxaca’s rich cultural heritage.


Discover the Ancient Hierve el Agua Petrified Waterfalls

Hidden high in the mountains of Oaxaca, you’ll find the extraordinary natural wonder of Hierve el Agua. These petrified waterfalls, formed over thousands of years, are a sight to behold and an absolute must-visit destination for nature lovers.


Translated as “the water boils,” Hierve el Agua gets its name from the mineral-rich springs that flow down the cliffs, creating stunning terraced formations that resemble cascading waterfalls. These unique natural formations are a result of the mineral-laden water that has undergone a process of evaporation, leaving behind beautiful deposits that mimic the appearance of frozen water.


Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by the breathtaking panoramic views of the valley below. As you explore the site, you can walk along the edge of the petrified falls, marveling at their jagged edges and surreal patterns. The formation known as the “Infinity Pool” is particularly mesmerizing, as it offers a perfect reflection of the surrounding landscape.


Take a refreshing dip in one of the natural mineral pools, which are believed to have therapeutic properties due to their high mineral content. Delight in the experience of swimming in water that appears to be suspended in mid-air, surrounded by the lush greenery of the mountains.


If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike to the top of the falls for a different perspective. The hike is moderately challenging, but the reward is well worth it. You’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the entire valley and the opportunity to witness the natural wonders up close.


Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the stunning beauty of Hierve el Agua. Whether you’re capturing the vibrant hues of the mineral formations, the crystal-clear waters of the pools, or the sweeping vistas, the photo opportunities are endless.


To fully immerse yourself in the experience, consider visiting Hierve el Agua during sunrise or sunset. The warm, golden light adds a magical touch to the already remarkable landscape and creates a truly unforgettable atmosphere.


Exploring Hierve el Agua is not only a visual delight but also an opportunity to connect with the natural wonders of Oaxaca. It is a place where time seems to stand still, allowing you to appreciate the extraordinary beauty and geological wonders that abound in this region.


Take a Mezcal Tour in the Surrounding Villages

No visit to Oaxaca would be complete without exploring the fascinating world of mezcal, a traditional Mexican spirit deeply intertwined with the cultural heritage of the region. Embark on a mezcal tour and venture into the surrounding villages to discover the secrets of this beloved beverage.


Mezcal, often referred to as the “ancestor of tequila,” is made from agave, a succulent plant native to Mexico. Unlike its famous cousin, mezcal is produced through a traditional artisanal process, preserving the ancient techniques passed down through generations.


Start your mezcal journey by visiting villages such as Santiago Matatlán, known as the “world capital of mezcal.” Here, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the entire mezcal-making process, from harvesting the agave plants to distillation in rustic clay or copper stills.


Local mezcaleros, or mezcal producers, will guide you through their ancestral palenques (distilleries) and share their knowledge and passion for this traditional craft. Learn about the different varieties and flavors of mezcal, each influenced by factors such as the agave species used, the fermentation process, and the region’s unique terroir.


As you explore the palenques, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the cultural significance of mezcal in Oaxacan traditions. Witness the traditional techniques of roasting the agave hearts, fermenting the mash, and distilling the spirit, all while immersing yourself in the rich aromas and flavors that permeate the air.


Be sure to indulge in tastings during your mezcal tour. Sip the different expressions of mezcal, from joven (young) to añejo (aged), and discover the nuances in flavor profiles, ranging from smoky and earthy to fruity and herbal. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and engage with the mezcaleros to deepen your appreciation for this time-honored craft.


The mezcal tour also offers a cultural experience beyond the spirit itself. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with local artisans, visit vibrant markets, and learn about the traditional uses of agave beyond mezcal production, such as weaving, cooking, and medicine. This immersive experience allows you to fully grasp the interconnectedness of mezcal with the local communities and their way of life.


At the end of the tour, you’ll not only have a newfound appreciation for mezcal but also a deeper understanding of the cultural heritage and traditions of the Oaxacan people. It is an enriching and unforgettable experience that showcases the spirit of this special region in Mexico.


Explore the Colorful Markets of Oaxaca

A sensory delight awaits you as you step into the vibrant and bustling markets of Oaxaca. These colorful and lively marketplaces are not only a hub for trade and commerce but also a reflection of the rich cultural tapestry of the region.


One of the most renowned markets in Oaxaca is the Mercado Benito Juarez, located in the heart of the city. Here, you’ll find a plethora of stalls selling everything from fresh produce and spices to handcrafted textiles and pottery. Explore the vibrant maze of alleys, each offering a unique treasure trove of local specialties.


For a truly authentic experience, venture into the indigenous communities surrounding Oaxaca. The Sunday market in Tlacolula de Matamoros is a must-visit, attracting locals from far and wide. This market is famous for its diverse range of products, including fresh fruits and vegetables, traditional textiles, and woven goods.


Another gem is the Mercado de Santo Domingo, located near the Santo Domingo de Guzman Church. This market is a haven for arts and crafts enthusiasts, offering a wide array of handmade jewelry, ceramics, and traditional Oaxacan textiles.


Don’t miss the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, a bustling food market where you can indulge in the mouthwatering flavors of Oaxacan cuisine. From quesadillas and tlayudas to memelas and mole, the market is a food lover’s paradise. Grab a seat at one of the food stalls and savor the delicious dishes prepared right before your eyes.


As you wander through the markets, you’ll be captivated by the vibrant colors, the rhythmic sounds of merchants calling out their wares, and the enticing aromas of spices and street food. It’s an immersive experience that will awaken your senses and transport you into the heart of Oaxacan culture.


While exploring the markets, take the time to interact with the local artisans and vendors. They are often more than happy to share stories about their products and offer insights into their traditional crafts. Whether it’s admiring intricate embroidery or learning about the unique techniques used in pottery making, these encounters provide a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and cultural heritage of Oaxaca.


Exploring the colorful markets of Oaxaca is an unforgettable experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the vibrant spirit of the region. From sampling delicious street food to discovering unique handcrafted treasures, these markets are a true reflection of the cultural richness that Oaxaca has to offer.


Indulge in Traditional Oaxacan Cuisine

Prepare your taste buds for a culinary adventure as you delve into the world of traditional Oaxacan cuisine. Renowned for its bold flavors, unique ingredients, and centuries-old cooking techniques, Oaxacan food is a true delight for food lovers.


One iconic dish that you must try is the rich and complex mole, a savory sauce made from a blend of chilies, nuts, seeds, and spices. The Oaxacan mole is distinct from other regional variations and is often accompanied by tender chicken or succulent pieces of pork. Each mole preparation is a labor of love, with recipes passed down through generations.


Another culinary highlight is tlayudas, a popular street food that can best be described as a large, crispy tortilla smeared with beans, topped with cheese, and piled high with an array of savory ingredients. The combination of textures and flavors creates a truly satisfying and delicious meal.


For a taste of true Oaxacan street food, seek out the stalls serving memelas and empanadas. Memelas are small, thick corn tortillas topped with beans, cheese, and salsa, while empanadas are fried pastries filled with various savory fillings. Enjoy them with a squeeze of lime and a dollop of spicy salsa.


Oaxaca is also famous for its vibrant markets, where you can indulge in a wide variety of snacks and treats. Try the crunchy chapulines (grasshoppers), a popular regional delicacy that is unexpectedly addictive, or sample a refreshing nieve de garrafa, a handmade ice cream churned in a wooden barrel.


No culinary exploration of Oaxaca would be complete without experiencing the famous Oaxacan cheese. Known as queso Oaxaca or quesillo, this stringy and stretchy cheese is made by weaving and braiding the curds together. Enjoy it on its own or in dishes like tlayudas, quesadillas, or enchiladas.


Don’t forget to accompany your meals with a glass of mezcal, the traditional agave-based spirit of Oaxaca. Savour the smoky flavors and distinct aromas, and learn about the different mezcal varieties and production methods from knowledgeable local experts.


Whether you’re dining in a high-end restaurant, sampling street food, or exploring the markets, indulging in traditional Oaxacan cuisine is an experience that will truly tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more. Allow yourself to be swept away by the flavors, textures, and vibrant culinary traditions unique to this fascinating region.


Attend a Traditional Zapotec Weaving Workshop in Teotitlán del Valle

Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Oaxaca by attending a traditional Zapotec weaving workshop in the charming village of Teotitlán del Valle. Nestled in the valley just outside of the city, Teotitlán del Valle is known for its vibrant textile traditions and its skilled artisans who continue to uphold ancient weaving techniques.


As you step into the workshop, you’ll be greeted by the rhythmic sound of the looms and the vibrant colors of the dyed yarns. The Zapotec people have been weaving for generations, and this craft is deeply ingrained in their cultural identity.


During the workshop, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the entire weaving process, from the preparation of the threads to the intricate techniques used to create intricate designs. The skilled weavers will guide you through each step, explaining the significance of different patterns and symbols that are intertwined with Zapotec mythology and traditions.


Not only will you observe the weaving process, but you’ll also have the chance to try your hand at weaving on a traditional standing loom. Under the guidance of the artisans, you’ll learn how to thread the loom, create different patterns, and weave your very own small textile.


Throughout the workshop, you’ll gain a deep appreciation for the time, skill, and dedication required to create these intricate textiles. Each rug, blanket, or garment tells a story and carries the heart and soul of the weaver who brought it to life.


At the end of the workshop, you’ll have the opportunity to support the local community by purchasing handcrafted textiles directly from the weavers. These unique pieces, made with natural dyes and local wool, are not only beautiful but also serve as a tangible connection to the cultural heritage of Oaxaca.


Attending a traditional Zapotec weaving workshop in Teotitlán del Valle is a truly enriching experience that allows you to witness the skilled craftsmanship and artistic talent of the Zapotec people. It is a chance to preserve and celebrate a centuries-old tradition while supporting the local community and bringing home a cherished piece of Oaxacan culture.


Visit the Spectacular Rufino Tamayo Museum

Art enthusiasts should not miss the opportunity to visit the spectacular Rufino Tamayo Museum in Oaxaca City. This renowned museum is dedicated to showcasing the works of Rufino Tamayo, one of Mexico’s most influential and celebrated artists of the 20th century.


The museum is housed in a modern architectural gem designed by Mexican architect Teodoro González de León. Its sleek lines and use of natural light create an inviting and contemporary space that perfectly complements the artworks on display.


Inside the museum, you’ll have the opportunity to explore an impressive collection of Tamayo’s paintings, sculptures, and graphic works. His vibrant and expressive style, characterized by bold colors, organic forms, and a mix of indigenous and modern influences, captivates viewers and offers a unique perspective on the Mexican art scene.


As you wander through the museum, you’ll encounter Tamayo’s iconic pieces, such as his “Mujeres” series, featuring powerful and stylized depictions of women, and his “Hombres en el Paisaje” collection, portraying human figures in the natural landscape.


The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions that showcase the works of other renowned artists, both national and international, providing visitors with a diverse and engaging art experience.


In addition to the stunning artworks, the Rufino Tamayo Museum also offers educational programs, workshops, and guided tours, allowing visitors to delve deeper into the artist’s life and artistic process. Through these programs, you’ll gain a greater understanding of Tamayo’s contributions to the art world and his lasting legacy.


Before leaving, take a moment to relax in the museum’s outdoor courtyard, surrounded by lush vegetation and contemporary sculptures. This tranquil space offers a moment of respite and reflection, allowing you to fully appreciate the artistry of Tamayo in a serene environment.


Visiting the Rufino Tamayo Museum is not only an opportunity to immerse yourself in the extraordinary works of a Mexican master but also a chance to engage with the vibrant art scene of Oaxaca City. It is a must-visit destination for art lovers and a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the region.


Explore the Magical Mazunte and Zipolite Beaches

Escape to paradise and unwind on the pristine shores of Mazunte and Zipolite, two enchanting beaches located along the beautiful coast of Oaxaca. These hidden gems offer a tranquil escape from the bustling city life and a chance to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Mexico’s Pacific coastline.


Mazunte, a quaint fishing village turned eco-tourism destination, boasts stunning beaches with crystal-clear turquoise waters. Relax on the soft golden sand, soak up the warm sun, and take in the breathtaking ocean views. The laid-back atmosphere of Mazunte is perfect for those seeking peace and tranquility.


Explore the Mazunte Turtle Center, a conservation project dedicated to protecting endangered sea turtles and educating visitors about their importance. The center offers guided tours and the opportunity to witness nesting turtles or participate in the release of baby turtles into the ocean.


Just a short distance from Mazunte, you’ll find the bohemian paradise of Zipolite. Known for its long stretches of pristine beaches and a vibrant alternative community, Zipolite offers a unique and off-the-beaten-path beach experience. Feel the warm sand between your toes as you take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline.


One of the highlights of Zipolite is the opportunity to witness stunning sunsets over the ocean. Find a comfortable spot on the sand, and as the sun dips below the horizon, marvel at the kaleidoscope of colors casting a golden glow over the water.


For the adventurous, Zipolite is renowned for its nudist-friendly beach. Embrace the freedom of the nudist lifestyle or simply enjoy the open-minded and accepting atmosphere that permeates this part of the beach.


Both Mazunte and Zipolite offer a range of charming accommodations, from eco-friendly cabanas to cozy beachfront bungalows. Embrace the simplicity of beach living and fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.


Indulge in fresh seafood and traditional Mexican cuisine at the beachside restaurants, serving up delectable dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Savor the flavors of the sea as you enjoy a leisurely meal with your feet in the sand.


Whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or a sense of reconnection with nature, the magical beaches of Mazunte and Zipolite offer a blissful and rejuvenating escape from the everyday. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Pacific coast, and let the rhythm of the ocean wash away your cares.


Experience the Vibrant Nightlife in Oaxaca City

When the sun sets, Oaxaca City comes alive with a vibrant and energetic nightlife that caters to a variety of tastes. From lively bars and music venues to cultural performances and traditional festivals, there is something for everyone looking to experience the vibrant rhythms of Oaxaca’s nightlife.


Start your evening by exploring the charming streets of the historic center. Here, you’ll find a multitude of bars and cantinas offering a wide selection of mezcal, beer, and cocktails. Immerse yourself in the local culture by sampling different varieties of mezcal, a sacred elixir deeply rooted in Oaxacan traditions.


If you’re in the mood for live music, head to one of the city’s many venues that showcase a range of musical genres. From traditional folk music to contemporary jazz and rock, you’ll find a diverse array of talented musicians and bands performing throughout the city.


For a truly unique experience, don’t miss the opportunity to witness a traditional Zapotec dance performance. These captivating displays of indigenous culture often take place in the historic center or at cultural centers, and feature vibrant costumes, rhythmic movements, and ancient rituals that have been preserved for centuries.


Oaxaca is also known for its vibrant festivals and celebrations. During certain times of the year, the city comes alive with colorful processions, lively parades, and traditional dances. Join in the festivities and witness the joyous atmosphere as locals and visitors come together to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the region.


The nightlife in Oaxaca is not restricted to the historic center alone. Explore neighborhoods like Jalatlaco which offers a more laid-back and bohemian atmosphere, with cozy bars and live music venues tucked away in its winding streets.


As you explore the city’s nightlife, don’t forget to indulge in the local street food scene. Late-night food stalls offer a variety of delicious snacks and treats, from mouthwatering tacos and quesadillas to sweet treats like churros and buñuelos. Grab a bite to eat and savor the flavors of Oaxaca as you continue your nighttime adventures.


Whether you’re seeking a relaxing evening of mezcal tasting, an energetic night of dancing and live music, or a cultural experience that immerses you in the traditions of Oaxaca, the vibrant nightlife of the city promises an unforgettable experience that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.



Oaxaca, Mexico is a captivating destination that offers a blend of cultural heritage, natural beauty, and vibrant traditions. From exploring the historic center of Oaxaca City to immersing yourself in the rich arts and crafts scene, there is an abundance of activities to engage your senses and ignite your curiosity.


Visiting Monte Albán allows you to step back in time and witness the architectural marvels of the ancient Zapotec civilization. The Hierve el Agua petrified waterfalls offer a surreal and breathtaking natural wonder, while the colorful markets of Oaxaca City are an invitation to feast on delicious street food and immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of local crafts and produce.


Indulging in traditional Oaxacan cuisine is an experience that will tantalize your taste buds, with dishes like mole and tlayudas showcasing the rich flavors and culinary traditions of the region. Attending a traditional Zapotec weaving workshop in Teotitlán del Valle allows you to connect with the timeless artistry of the local artisans, while a visit to the Rufino Tamayo Museum offers a glimpse into the artistic genius of one of Mexico’s greatest painters.


Exploring the magical beaches of Mazunte and Zipolite provides the perfect escape, where relaxation and natural beauty combine to create an idyllic coastal experience. And for those craving an energetic nightlife, Oaxaca City offers a vibrant array of bars, live music venues, and cultural performances that will keep you entertained long into the night.


Whether you’re an art aficionado, a history buff, a nature lover, or a food enthusiast, Oaxaca has something to offer everyone. It is a place where the past and present collide in beautiful harmony, creating an immersive and enriching experience that will leave a lasting impression.


So, pack your bags and embark on a journey to Oaxaca, where you’ll discover a world of captivating beauty, rich cultural heritage, and unforgettable memories. The wonders of Oaxaca are waiting to be explored – are you ready?