As the culinary and culture capital of Mexico, beautiful Oaxaca City has so much to offer to serious travelers. After exploring and eating my way through Oaxaca as a traveler – and living there as a digital nomad – I can think of one million reasons to visit Oaxaca as soon as possible.
If discovering a vibrant city full of bustling markets, rainbow-colored colonial architecture, incredibly rich history, artisan galleries, street art, and workshops galore, friendly locals, and some of the world’s best street food interests you, then Oaxaca is your place.
And the good news is, that’s only a small portion of what Oaxaca brings to the table. There are so many other incredible reasons to visit Oaxaca City, Mexico.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of in this life, it’s that you are going to fall in love with Oaxaca. Hard.
So without further ado, here are my top ten reasons to visit Oaxaca City, Mexico!
Should You Travel to Oaxaca?
10 Amazing Reasons to Visit Oaxaca City
1. The countless amazing cultural experiences
When you arrive in Oaxaca, you will quickly notice just how much there is to discover – from food and drink to arts and crafts. The culture here is so incredibly rich, you’d best set aside 4-7 days for exploring!
A few of the captivating experiences you’re sure to have include exploring authentic markets; strolling the streets in search of the best street food, street art, and handicrafts; wandering the ethnobotanical garden; visiting fascinating museums; taking day trips to nearby ancient ruins; exploring magical indigenous villages; sipping smoky mezcal at distilleries; savoring amazing meals at fine-dining restaurants; drinking carefully crafted cocktails at rooftop bars; and so much more.
2. The stunning colonial architecture
Oaxaca’s bold-colored colonial architecture is one of the many reasons to visit Oaxaca.
These vibrant centuries-old colonial buildings, that line each and every worn cobblestone street, bring even more life to a city that’s already so rich with culture, energy, and charm.
All of the little details – the different-colored doorways, the intricately hand-carved moldings, the potted plants, the wrought-iron lampposts, and all of the delicately painted murals – add to Oaxaca’s extraordinary beauty.
No doubt, Oaxaca is a haven and an endless inspiration for photographers and artists – and really, for everyone else, too.
3. The fantastic street food
If you have a few hundred pesos, then you have enough to feast like royalty in the streets of Oaxaca.
As you walk the city streets, you will encounter countless street food stands and carts selling all kinds of Oaxacan delicacies.
I recommend you endeavor to try them all!
One of the greatest parts about Oaxaca is its to-die-for street food, so please don’t make the mistake of only dining in Oaxaca’s famed, well-respected restaurants.
BOOK THIS TOUR: Authentic Oaxaca Street Food Tour (Eat Like a Local)
A few of my favorite Oaxacan street foods include:
- TAMALES OAXAQUEÑOS: These babies are different than the typical tamales you’ve had at home. Just imagine corn masa, stuffed with mole negro and tender, shredded chicken, all steamed to perfection inside of a flavorful, moisture-locking banana leaf. There may not be anything better in this world.
- TLAYUDAS: Like Mexican pizzas, tlayudas are huge, crunchy corn tortillas topped with refried black beans, quesillo, tomato, avocado, and your choice of grilled meats: tasajo, chorizo, or cecina. Be careful, because tlayudas highly addictive!
- MEMELAS: Usually eaten as antojitos (little snacks), memelas are thick corn tortillas, toasted on a hot comal, and then stacked with all kinds of toppings. I prefer tinga, chorizo con papas, or mole negro!
- EMPANADAS OAXAQUEÑOS: Completely unlike the South American minced-meat empanadas you’re thinking of, Oaxacan empanadas more resemble American quesadillas. You will find vendors throughout the city cooking fresh tortillas over a hot comal, and layering on different ingredients like mole amarillo, chicken, quesillo, and/or flor de calabaza, before folding them in half.
- TETELAS: But wait, here’s yet another delicious tortilla-based street food! Tetelas are thin corn tortillas which are folded into triangles and stuffed with various ingredients. The most common variation of tetelas includes a filling of refried beans, queso fresco, and crema.
4. The absence of mass tourism
When I first visited Oaxaca in 2016, I’d estimate that I encountered a maximum of 20 other travelers per day. Oaxaca is not like Cancún or Cabo, where you barely feel like you’ve left the States because all you see are tourists, tourist traps, and resorts.
Even though Oaxaca has grown in popularity over the past few years (it’s, by no means, a secret anymore!), Oaxaca is still a very authentic destination.
Thankfully, the Oaxacan people – regardless of their specific indigenous roots – hold firmly to their own traditions, beliefs, and ways of life, but also embrace what it is to be Mexican. For this reason, only more serious travelers visit Oaxaca. This is not Cabo San Lucas! Only the travelers who are interested in what Oaxaca does best – food, crafts, and culture – visit this beautiful city.
The fact that there aren’t many other travelers visiting Oaxaca means that you’re going to get an all-around authentic experience. You’ll have the opportunity to explore freely and partake in the adventures that are daily activities for the Oaxacan people.
5. The many indigenous cultures
One of the most special aspects of Oaxaca is its deep and varied indigenous roots. Just to give you an idea, throughout the state of Oaxaca, there are 16 different indigenous languages spoken, most of which include many different dialects.
The most prominently spoken indigenous languages are Náhuatl, Zapoteca, Mixteca, and Mazateca, and more than likely, you will hear them as you walk through the streets of Oaxaca!
One of the highlights of my first trip to Oaxaca City was this tour of Teotitlán del Valle, a Zapotec community, where I learned how the locals have been creating natural dyes and intricately weaving rugs and other masterpieces for centuries. Their work is incredible – but more on that later!
The indigenous cultures of Oaxaca permeate every part of life. The food, the pottery, the mezcal, the textiles, everything.
All of these cultures seamlessly converge to become one, and that’s why culture of Oaxaca is so interesting, rich, and beautiful.
TOP CULTURAL TOURS TO BOOK:
Authentic Oaxaca Street Food Tour (Eat Like a Local)
Full-Day Tour of Hierve el Agua, Mitla, Teotitlán del Valle, a Mezcal Distillery & El Tule
Half-Day Tour of Monte Alban Ruins
Flavors of Oaxaca Cooking Class (With Market Tour)
Vegetarian Oaxacan Cooking Class
6. The revolutionary restaurants
Perhaps my favorite reason why you should visit Oaxaca: the revolutionary restaurants.
Oaxaca is home to some of the greatest restaurants in all of Mexico, but you really can’t compare them to the others. Because the food they serve is in a category of its own – so uniquely and simply Oaxacan.
Oaxacan food is the impossibly perfect blend of simple and complex. In fact, it’s the simplicities of Oaxacan cooking (the basic but immensely fresh ingredients, its indigenous roots, and the traditional techniques) that make Oaxacan flavor profiles so complex, so intriguing, and so deeply satisfying. And of course, a lot of inspiration comes from the land – the mountains. In other words, in Oaxaca, you will eat bugs: ants, crickets, ant larvae (OMG, it is good).
If you want to experience the best of Oaxacan cuisine, then you must come hungry to dine at the chefs’ tables who’ve made Oaxaca into the contemporary food capital it is today. (And you must make reservations!)
Of all the fine restaurants in Oaxaca, one reigns supreme: Casa Oaxaca, by the legendary Chef Alejandro Ruiz. If you only have one opportunity to splurge in Oaxaca, this restaurant should be it. With appetizers like chile de agua stuffed with fresh ceviche, and served with a sweet, sour passionfruit sauce and pomegranates, as well as main courses such as pan-fried prawns with capers, flor de calabaza, mushrooms, guajillo, and banana purée, you are in for the ultimate treat.
Other notable restaurants include Los Danzantes, Catedral, and Origen, among others! This guide to the Best Things to Do in Oaxaca includes more recommendations!
7. The bustling markets
Another of the most important reasons to visit Oaxaca is the many colorful, authentic markets that sell everything from fresh produce, typical ingredients (like mole pastes in almost every color of the rainbow, yum!), meat, fish, and made-to-order foods, to vibrant hand-painted alebrijes, leather goods, beautiful blankets and rugs, hand-made ceramics, and traditional garments.
Markets in Oaxaca are like mazes. You could spend hours in the markets, weaving in and out of the different alleys and stalls, looking at all of the different goods, haggling with the vendors, and watching life in Oaxaca unfold.
While in Oaxaca there are five different markets you should explore:
- Mercado 20 de Noviembre: Located in the center of town, this market is all about food. Come here for the various food stalls and pick your favorite. You’ll find all the typical foods, from tlayudas and enfrijoladas, to moles and entomatadas. While there, also make sure to check out the Pasillo de los Tasajos, a smoky passageway full of cooks grilling up meats, making fresh tortillas, and serving them up in baskets with different salsas.
- Mercado de Benito Juarez: A monstrous market, also located in the center of town. This market is completely overwhelming, selling every Oaxacan good you can imagine, and more. Art, ingredients, souvenirs, food, drinks, pets, clothing, traditional crafts, leather shoes – whatever it is, you can find it in this market.
- Mercado de Artesanias: If you’re looking for the perfect hand-made craft to bring home with you, then this is the market to visit. Though this market is intended for tourists, the prices are fair, so you’re sure to find a bright-colored souvenir you’ll love!
- Mercado IV Centenario: This market is lesser known by travelers to Oaxaca because it’s smaller and further from the city center. If you want to dive a bit deeper into Oaxaca’s food culture, then come to this market for more exciting food stalls.
- Mercado de Abastos: This market is also outside of the city center. Visit here, and you won’t find many – if any – other travelers. This is a local market through and through, so if you really want a local, authentic market experience, this is the market to visit! A must-visit!
8. The endless day trip options
Oaxaca City is so fantastic that you’ll feel reluctant to leave it behind for the day, as you go explore the state’s important archaeological sites and ancient ruins. But I promise, what lies outside of the city is just as worthy of your time as the city itself!
Some other key experiences include touring a mezcal distillery in nearby Santiago Matatlán, A.K.A the “World Capital Of Mezcal”; hanging out at Hierve el Agua, an amazing natural spectacle; seeing El Tule (the oldest tree in the world!); meandering through the many indigenous markets; visiting Teotitlán del Valle to learn about traditional weaving; and maybe even visiting wildlife reserves to see jaguars!
THESE ARE THE BEST DAY TRIPS TO BOOK!
Full-Day Tour of Hierve el Agua, Mitla, Teotitlán del Valle, a Mezcal Distillery & El Tule
Half-Day Tour of Monte Alban Ruins
P.S. If you’re game for renting a car and going on a self-guided day trip, then check out this guide: How to Take the Best Self-Guided Day Trip from Oaxaca City (Route & Tips!)
9. The incredible arts and crafts
Oaxacans sure have a knack for creating beautiful things.
As you walk by the many inviting galleries, shops, and stands selling all kinds of lively paintings, décor, crafts, trinkets, and artisanal edibles (like chocolate, mezcal, and coffee), you may have a hard time keeping your wallet put away.
With so many lovely hand-crafted goods, you will want to buy everything. I have literally paid $80 to check an extra suitcase to Oaxaca, so that I could fill it with all of the amazing artisanal goods I could get my hands on. I always come prepared, knowing Oaxaca is the place to shop!
Even if you’re not in the mood to buy anything, the art galleries displaying insanely awesome paintings are worth stopping into whenever you see them!
Not to mention, Oaxaca is home to some amazing street art! Make sure to wander the quiet cobblestone streets of Xochimilco and Jalatlaco to find the most intricate murals.
10. The abundance of charming hotels and B&Bs
As you walk down the cobblestone streets of Oaxaca, you will not recognize any big hotel chain names. They simply do not exist in Oaxaca. Instead, what you will find is an abundance of quaint, welcoming, family-run B&Bs and hotels.
It seems that everything in Oaxaca, from the food and the handicrafts, all the way down to the B&Bs and hotels, is traditional and authentic. What more can you ask for?
While in Oaxaca, I’ve stayed at plenty of different, lovely hotels and B&Bs. Some of my favorite places to stay include:
Out of the above, whichever you choose, you are sure to find a charming atmosphere, traditional decór, welcoming staff, and a great location! They are all amazing.
Bonus: The fascinating museums
Between its ancient indigenous roots and the Spanish Conquest, Oaxaca’s history is incredibly rich and spans thousands of years. While in Oaxaca, you must visit the city’s different museums to learn more about the region’s history, its peoples, and its cultures.
My favorite museum in Oaxaca is, of course, the Museo de la Culturas de Oaxaca. Set inside of the monastery of the Templo de Santo Domingo (which is also worth a visit by itself), this museum exhibits loads of ancient indigenous and Spanish artifacts, a library full of ancient books, and art galleries. I’ve been to many museums throughout the world, but this one is one of the best. What a stunner!
Another museum you cannot miss in Oaxaca is the Museo Textil de Oaxaca!
Why Visit Oaxaca?
10 Reasons to Visit Oaxaca City, Mexico
Of the many reasons to visit Oaxaca City, those are my top 10.
Though, honestly, after living there and falling in love with Oaxaca (because it’s impossible not to), I could come up with so many more great reasons to visit Oaxaca.
The history, the food, and the beautiful architecture are just a few of the reasons you’ll never stop raving about your trip to Oaxaca City, Mexico.
I fell head over heels for the city, and I’m literally counting down the days until I return!
PLANNING A TRIP TO MÉXICO? CHECK OUT THESE POSTS!
- 25 Incredible Things to Do in Oaxaca, Mexico
- How to Take the Best Self-Guided Day Trip from Oaxaca City (Route & Tips!)
- 49 Amazing Things to Do in Mexico City: CDMX Bucket List!
- The 10 Best Mexico City Neighborhoods to Explore
- 10 Best Destinations in Mexico for Digital Nomads
- Cholula, Mexico Travel Guide: BEST Things to Do, See & Eat
- Loreto, Mexico: A Top-Secret Destination in Baja California Sur
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Tell me, have you been to Oaxaca City, Mexico before? What did you love about the city? Can you think of any more great reasons to visit Oaxaca?
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