Things You’ll Love About Oaxaca, Mexico
Oaxaca (pronounced “Wah-HAH-kah”), one of Mexico’s most beautiful states, is the perfect place to experience true Mexican culture. Best known for its indigenous peoples and cultures, the ancient, high-altitude state is located in the southwestern part of Mexico and there are a bunch of reasons why this architectural gem is easy to love.
Oaxaca is a beautiful mix of fantastic museums, magical festivals, colourful handicrafts, pre-Columbian ruins, baroque churches encrusted with gold, and miles and miles of Pacific beaches. Here are some things you’ll love about Oaxaca:
The city has plenty ruins to see, from astronomically aligned pyramids to well-preserved ball courts that are visible above the city. Oaxaca has an extant museum and site that are located a few minutes from Oaxaca City (a namesake city within the state). Mitla is known for its elaborately carved walls, Dainzú has pyramids that glow at sunset, Yagül is signed by 10,000-year-old pictograms, and Zaachila has underground tombs, which are best visited on Thursdays on the town’s massive market day.
The indigenous culture
Arguably one of Mexico’s most culturally diverse and indigenous regions, about 17 languages are still spoken here. The state is filled with traditional costumes and handicrafts. Some communities in the mountains north of the state participate in tourism projects, offering basic lodging, often including meals and tours, in beautiful environs. Although one can organise visits privately, it is always easier to plan ahead and go through arranged tours that work closely with some villages.
Oaxaca is a taste sensation. Geared towards foodies, the state is packed with inexpensive markets and elegant five-star restaurants serving some of the tastiest food in the world. It is also known for its legendary, complex sauces that usually contain dozens of ingredients (including chocolate) and can take up to several days to make. Sample their spicy hot chocolate, mezcal (a rare, potent liquor made only in Oaxaca), tlayudas (thin pizzas), toasted chapulines (grasshoppers) or asado (barbecue) grilled in smoky market stalls.
It doesn’t matter how long you stay for, you will be tempted to purchase folk art. Oaxaca has many stores that offer a kaleidoscopic selection of quality souvenirs. Beautiful wall hangings and wool rugs can be found in Teotitlándel Valle. San Martin Tilcajete and San Antonio Arrazola offer brightly coloured Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures called alebrijes. You can find traditional green-glazed earthenware in Atzompa, while San BartoloCoyotepec specialises in gleaming black pottery.
There are at least 20 historic churches in Oaxaca. Even if you’re an atheist, make time to visit the Santo Domingo de Guzmán, which was built in 1570 and has a psychedelic swirl of gold gilt interior and priceless artefacts. There is also the Cathedral, built in 1733, and the Basílica de la Soledad, built in 1690, with their massive carved stone facades. Several churches were also built by the Dominicans in the valleys surrounding the city, using bricks gotten from pre-Columbian temples, like San Pedro y Pablo Etla, Cuilapam de Guerrero, and San Juan Bautista Coixtlahuaca.
If there’s another thing Oaxaca is famous for, it’s the outrageous festivals it hosts. The Guelaguetza, or Mondays on the Hill, is celebrated throughout July and is a good time to see its exhibitions of Oaxaca’s traditional dances. The biggest one is the Day of the Dead, known as Día del losMuertos, which is officially celebrated on November 2nd, even though the festivities start halfway through October and has beautiful altars erected all around town. Visiting the state during Christmas time is a ball as some festivities like the Night of the Radishes, which is the world’s foremost radish-carving competition, run from the middle of December to January 6. If you want to visit Oaxaca during the festive periods, make sure to book your hotel well ahead of time.