Oaxaca Travel Guide - traveling to Oaxaca Mexico
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Oaxaca Travel Guide | 2022 Tips for Traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico is a state in Southwestern Mexico best known for its low-key beaches and rich cultural traditions.  Its capital, Oaxaca de Juarez (commonly referred to just as Oaxaca or Oaxaca City) is becoming a hotspot for arts and culture tourism, in particular its gastronomy, mezcal production, and Day of the Dead celebration. Start planning your itinerary with this ultimate Oaxaca travel guide!

Located in the Central Valley region of Mexico, 5085 feet (1,550 meters) above sea level, Oaxaca City has temperate weather year round. It’s surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountain range, which descends to the sea at Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast beaches, a perfect getaway any time of year.

Just a 1-hour flight from Mexico City, Oaxaca City’s museums, galleries, culinary scene, and festivals have become a destination for culture and adventure travelers. The colonial center of Oaxaca City and the Monte Alban archaeological zone were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Celebrate annual Dia de los Muertos festival, take a day trip to see ruins or the waterfalls at Hierve el Agua, or visit Oaxaca’s best beaches for surfing and nature experiences.

Want to discover more of Mexico outside its popular resorts?  This guide has everything you need for visiting Oaxaca, Mexico: what to do in Oaxaca City, where to stay, tips for planning or extending a trip to Oaxaca beaches, and so much more.

In this Guide to oaxaca, Mexico

When to Visit | Oaxaca Tours | Where to Stay | Oaxaca City Things to Do | Oaxaca Beaches

Oaxaca Valley - Central Valleys of Oaxaca

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Oaxaca, Mexico Travel Basics

  • Closest Airport: Xoxocotlán International Airport (OAX) in Oaxaca City.  On the coast: HUX in Huatulco and PXM in Puerto Escondido. 
  • Currency: Mexican Peso (MXN or MX$); currently the exchange rate is around 1 USD to 20 MXN
  • Language: Spanish, although English is commonly spoken at resorts and in tourist areas. Additionally, there are many indigenous languages spoken throughout Mexico.
  • Visas: For tourism stays up to 90 days, most travelers do not need a visa. This includes the U.S., Canada, U.K., and many other countries. Find more information here.
  • Time Zone: CDT (GMT-6 or -5 depending on daylight savings) Check current time
  • Electricity: In Mexico, power plugs and sockets are North American type A and B. The standard voltage is 127 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz.

How to Get to Oaxaca Mexico

Fly into Oaxaca International Airport, OAX, 5 miles from the city. It’s about an hour flight from Mexico City, or 4-6 hours by bus.  Or, to get to Oaxaca’s beaches, fly into PXM in Puerto Escondido or HUX in Huatulco.

Oaxaca Travel Guide

When to Visit Oaxaca

Wondering when to visit Oaxaca City and its beaches for the best weather or special events?  Fortunately, Oaxaca has great weather year round: low humidity, mild temperatures, and just afternoon showers during its rainy season.

When to visit: The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) festival Oct. 31- November 2 is a huge draw, so book well in advance for travel throughout the region.  April-May in Oaxaca City has higher temperatures but less rain. Oaxaca’s beaches are perfect for travel year-round.

  • For the best weather: April – May and October – November, which have temperate weather and less rain.  The rainy season is June – September, when it tends to rain in the afternoons.  Oaxaca’s beaches can be visited year-round.
  • For peak season: The months between June and August and late November – January including the Christmas and New Year holidays is peak season, along with Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter) and Dia de Muertos.
  • For events and festivals: the Good Friday Silent Procession, the Guelaguetza Festival is held on the last two Mondays in July (except when the first Monday falls on July 18, the day on which Benito Juárez – then it is postponed one week), October 31 – November 2 for Dia de los Muertos, the Night of the Radishes (Noche de Rábanos) on December 23.

Best Oaxaca Tours

Want to explore the best sights of Oaxaca with experienced local guides? Check out these small group tours and day trips to help you experience the authentic local culture and things to do in Oaxaca.

Day Trips in Oaxaca City and Beaches

Visiting Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City, or Oaxaca de Juarez, is a place to be inspired. It’s full of artisans, galleries, and creative cuisine, with a side of history and culture. You’ll want to spend a week here wandering Oaxaca’s colorful colonial streets and discovering its sights, markets, and museums.

Where to Stay in Oaxaca

Oaxaca City has several neighborhoods with hotels that make a convenient base for your stay. With everything from luxury hotels to boutique stays and budget hostels, you’ll be able to find a place to stay that fits your budget.

If it’s your first trip, I recommend staying in the colonial center, to be close to all the sights.

Oaxaca Travel Guide - traveling to Oaxaca Mexico

Things to Do in Oaxaca City | Oaxaca City Guide

Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman

Oaxaca’s Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman, or Santo Domingo Church, is one of the icons of the city.  The agave plants in the church courtyard make a perfect vignette for photos, and its plaza is always bustling with sellers and activity.  

The church itself is a former monastery, founded by the Dominican order beginning around 1575.  During the revolutionary war period, Sato Domingo served as military barracks.  It was returned to religious use in 1938, and regular services are still held here today.

Don’t miss the church interior, which is intricately adorned with gold, carved stone and woodwork.  Its high altar is gilded with 60,000 sheets of 23.5-karat gold leaf!

Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden

Ethnobotanical Garden

Also part of the Santo Domingo monastery complex, Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden (Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca) sprawls across nearly 2.5 acres of former monastery’s grounds.

This garden was carefully designed by famed Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo to tell the region’s history via its native plants.  The garden explores the relationship between the Oaxacan people and plants throughout history.  

The Ethnobotanical Garden can only be visited with a group tour.  Check the garden’s website for times, or the schedule is also posted at the entrance to confirm the days and times.  

In general, it’s closed on Sundays, and tours are offered in Spanish three times a day (10AM, 12PM and 5PM) and in English on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 11AM.  Check the garden’s website for more information and tours in other languages.  Arrive early if you’re visiting during a busy tourist season, to ensure you get space in the tour.

Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden - Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca

Cultural Center of Oaxaca (Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca)

Located adjoining the Santo Domingo Church, its former monastery has been impressively restored as the Cultural Center of Oaxaca.  The 16th-century colonial building makes a beautiful setting for a museum, with vaulted stone corridors and glassless windows offering  impressive views of the city. 

The museum houses a vast collection of cultural and archaeological treasures dating from the pre-Hispanic era to the present. Plan to visit here after seeing the Ethnobotanical Garden for the best views of its lush landscape.

Andador Turistico of the Calle Macedonio Alcala

Oaxaca’s main pedestrian street connects the Santo Domingo church complex with the zocalo, or main plaza, about 6 blocks south.  The Andador Turistico is lined with shops, bars, restaurants, museums and galleries.  During holidays such as Day of the Dead or Semana Santa, there are parades and events along this street as well. 

Museum of Contemporary Art – MACO

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MACO) merges global contemporary art with traditional, local Mexican art.  As with other museums, it is housed in a historic building.  This colonial mansion dating from the 17th century houses permanent collections of Oaxacan painters including Rufino Tamayo, Rodolfo Morales, and Francisco Toledo (who also designed the Ethnobotanical Garden).

Oaxaca Textile Museum

Oaxaca’s Textile Museum

The Oaxaca Textile Museum displays a fascinating collection of traditional Oaxacan textiles and handicrafts.  The museum’s education programs also highlight textile techniques and designs from around the world as well as local artisans.

Admission is free, so be sure to stop in and see this beautifully-displayed collection and its gift shop, which sells artisan textiles from the local area.  During Dia de los Muertos, the building is adorned with marigolds.

Oaxaca Cathedral and Zocalo

Oaxaca’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is just north of the zocalo.  First built in 1533, it required reconstruction following earthquakes in the 16th and 18th centuries.  The zocalo is the center of activity in the historical center, a square ringed by shops, restaurants with patios, street vendors, musicians and more.

Oaxaca’s markets: Benito Juarez, 20 de Noviembre, and Artensanias

Oaxaca’s markets are a must-see, offering a delicious dive into local culture and foods.

The Mercado Benito Juarez, located about a block from the zocalo, has a mix of many goods.  Expect to find an assortment of “everyday” local goods including embroidered clothing, leather sandals, woven bags and more.  It’s also the place to find local mole seasoning, produce, meats, fish, and balls of Oaxaca’s delicious, buttery cheese. Don’t miss a traditional Oaxacan snack sold here: chapulines, which are fried grasshoppers toasted with seasonings like garlic, lime juice, chili and salt.

Head another block south of Benito Juarez to reach the 20 de Noviembre market.  The star of this market is its food stalls.  Stop here to try tlayudas, an Oaxacan staple; often called an “Oaxacan pizza,” it’s really a big tortilla topped with refried beans, veggies and melted Oaxacan cheese.  At “El Pasillo de las Carnes Asadas” (which translates as “The Grilled Meats Hall”) where you can select a cut of meat and have it prepared to your liking.  For dessert, be sure to try pan dulce (sweet bread) or pan de yema (egg bread) with Oaxacan hot chocolate.

The Mercado de Artesanías features Oaxacan crafts from the surrounding area, including textiles, pottery, chocolate, jewelry, and shoes.  You’ll want to take home an alebrije, which are brightly-painted, fantastical wooden animals traditionally made in the Oaxaca region.  The region is also known for its pottery and weaving.

Basilica de la Soledad

Oaxaca’s Basílica de la Soledad is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Our Lady of Solitude.  Laid out in the shape of a cross, the basilica was completed in 1690.  Its spires and towers were built low to better withstand earthquakes.  

Adjoining the basilica is a lovely shaded courtyard, where you’ll find ice cream sellers with patios clustered around a fountain.

Museo de la Filatelia Oaxaca | Oaxaca Stamp Museum

This unusual museum features minimalist architecture and unique graphic displays of a massive stamp collection.  During Dia de los Muertos, its design is especially striking, when the courtyard is adorned with marigolds.

Mescal Tasting or Tour

Oaxaca is famous for its for mezcal, a smoky spirit from distilled agave related to tequila.  Get to know the region’s craft mezcal production with a tour.

Graffiti Tour

Oaxaca’s art scene spills into the streets with its graffiti!  You can stroll the streets on your own toor book a graffiti tour to see the city’s latest murals, posters and stencils.

Monte Alban Oaxaca ruins

Ruins at Monte Alban and Mitla

Monte Alban is a Zapotec archaeological UNESCO site about ½ hour from Oaxaca City.  This is a must-see day trip!  Book a tour or a guide to fully appreciate the history of the site.  You can climb the platforms for an expansive view of the ruins and its plaza, as well as 365-degree views overlooking the city and valley.

Mitla was a sacred Zapotec burial site by the Zapotec with architecture and designs that show a later Mixtec influence.  It’s famous for elaborate and intricate mosaic and geometric designs that cover tombs, panels, and walls of the complex. These mosaics are made with small, finely cut and polished stone pieces that have been fitted together without the use of mortar. No other site in Mexico has this decorative work.

Hierve el Agua - Oaxaca day trip

Hierve el Agua 

About an hour and a half from Oaxaca City, Hierve el Agua are natural mineral pools and rock formations that resemble cascading waterfalls. The pools are created by fresh water springs, whose water is saturated with calcium carbonate and other minerals.  Day trips  often combined with other area sights including Zapotec ruins at Mitla, the  2,000-year-old Montezuma cypress tree at Tule, and weaving traditions in the Zapotec village of Teotitlan of the Valley

El Árbol del Tule | The Tule Tree

 Located inside a churchyard in the quaint town of Santa Maria del Tule, the Arbol del Tule is the widest tree in the world.  The cypress tree is roughly as old as the nearby ruins at Mitla.

Teotitlan del Valle | Teotitlan of the Valley

Located about 25km from Oaxaca, Teotitlan del Valle is a village that has been known for its weaving since pre-Hispanic times.  Shop from local artisans and visit the cultural center and small museum here.  If you want to bring home a traditional Oaxacan rug, bag, or more, this is the place to shop.

Playa Zicatela Puerto Escondido - Oaxaca Mexico

Oaxaca Travel Guide to the Best Beaches

The Oaxaca Coast, on the Pacific Ocean, is the perfect way to end any trip to Oaxaca City.  To Whether you’re looking to relax at a resort, immerse yourself in nature experiences, or surf some killer waves, there’s a perfect Oaxaca beach for you.

Puerto Escondido Beaches

Puerto Escondido is a port town best known for having of the top 10 surf beaches in the world.  Nearby Laguna Manialtepec offers up nature experiences like kayaking and a bioluminescent lagoon, while Puerto Escondido’s beaches are perfect for a chilled out beach break.

To get here, fly into PXM and grab a taxi to town.  Or better yet, rent a car to explore all the beaches of Puerto Escondido and the Oaxaca Coast.

Where to stay in Puerto Escondido:

Playa Zicatela

One of the top 10 surfing beaches in the world, Playa Zicatela is the spot in Puerto Escondido for experienced surfers.  This long golden beach is lined with hotels, restaurants, and beach bars, so if you’re not a surfer, don’t worry that you’ll still find plenty to do.

Oaxaca beaches - Playa Carrizalillo Puerto Escondido

Playa Carrizallillo

Playa Carrizalillo has the best views of any beach in Puerto Escondido and a calm cove perfect for swimming and paddleboarding.  There are plenty of beach bars here so you can spend an entire day lounging on the beach.  Or head to Villas Carrizalillo and its excellent restaurant for a sunset meal or drinks overlooking the bay.

Playa La Punta

Adjoining Zicatela, Playa la Punta has smaller waves which make it better for less experienced surfers.  It’s also a trendy area, with boutique hotels and low-key restaurants right on the beach.

Playa Bacocho - Oaxaca Mexico beaches

Playa Bacocho & Playa Coral

Puerto Escondido’s Playa Bacocho is an idyllic, quiet beach with a big bonus: a sea turtle conservation group here releases baby turtles at sunset during hatchling season.   Playa Bacocho is perfect for travelers who want to lounge on the beach, relax by the resort pool, or stroll along the long stretch of golden sand.  

A smaller, secluded segment of beach, Playa Coral, is calmer and better for swimming.

Playa Puerto Angelito & Playa Manzanillo

Looking for a family-friendly swimming beach in Puerto Escondido?  Puerto Angelito and Manzanillo are twin beaches in the same bay.  Both are calm, protected coves perfect for swimming, paddleboarding, and snorkeling.  Both are popular with local families and tourists alike.  

In-depth guide ⫸ Find your chill at the best Puerto Escondido beaches

Zipolite Oaxaca Mexico

Playa Zipolite

Playa Zipolite is a bohemian beach famous for being the only clothing optional playa in Mexico.  This Mexican beach town attracts travelers of all types thanks to its chic yet rustic hotels, strong surd, and low-key vibe.  Most people here don’t take advantage of the nude beach option, with the exception of the annual Zipolite Nudist festival, usually in January each year.

To get here, fly into nearby Huatulco and take a bus or taxi, or rent a car.

Where to stay in Zipolite:

  • Posada Mexico: rustic beachfront stay with restaurant and happy-hour drink specials
  • El Alquimista: romantic beach hotel with spa, yoga, pool and excellent beachfront restaurant
Oaxaca beaches - Mazunte

Mazunte and San Augustinillo

Playa Mazunte and Playa San Augustinillo are adjoining beach towns with a similar laid-back vibe.  Mazunte is another excellent Oaxaca surf spot, as well as a nesting site for sea turtles. Add in Mazunte yoga studios, excellent local restaurants, and the fantastic Punta Cometa hike at sunset, and you’ve got one of the coast’s hidden gems.

San Augustinillo, just down the coast, has a little gentler waves, making it a better destination for families.

Where to stay in Mazunte and San Augustinillo:

  • Bungalows Tierra Viva: budget bungalows a 2-minute walk from Rinconcito Beach in Mazunte
  • Casa Cometa: midrange San Augustinillo hotel with pool and spectacular views
  • Zoa Hotel: luxury Mazunte resort with pool, ocean terraces, and excellent restaurant
Oaxaca beaches - Huatulco - Playa Tangolunda

Huatulco

Huatulco is a beach region of Oaxaca made up of 26 km of coastline.  Huatulco has a whopping 36 beaches tucked into nine different bays.  Cruise ships stop here, and many of the developments in Huatulco are large resorts.  Still, it’s possible to have unspoiled beaches all to yourself: some bays have been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, protecting them from development.  

Huatulco is a destination for travelers who want a resort experience with the option of adventurous day trips to hike, snorkel or dive, zipline, and see waterfalls and pristine beaches. 

Where to stay in Huatulco:

  • Hostal Azul y Blanco: budget hostel in Santa Cruz Huatulco a 15-minute walk from the beach
  • Resort Las Brisas Huatulco: upscale beachfront resort with spa, pool, fitness center, and six on-site restaurants
  • Quinta Real Huatulco: resort in Tangolunda Bay with pools, gourmet restaurants, and terraces; some suites have private pools
  • Hotel Casa Bocana: top-rated resort on Conejos Beach, near the ruins and archaeological museum

Ready to Head to Oaxaca?

Fly into Oaxaca City first, and experience the food, culture, nature, and art of this vibrant city. Then hop on a quick flight to Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, or one of Oaxaca’s other beach towns for some serious relaxation.

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