Oaxaca City is an enchanting cultural and historic destination in Mexico. It is a city of delicious cuisine, natural wonders, UNESCO sites, vibrant streets, colorful buildings, mezcal making, and Spanish colonial architecture! Which is why it is listed as a Pueblo Magico and why the entire city center is considered a World Heritage Site! You will undoubtedly fall in love with this magical city!
If you’re ready to start planning a trip to Oaxaca, then here is a list of The 12 Best Things to Do in Oaxaca City, Mexico!
The 12 Best Things to Do in Oaxaca City, Mexico
1. EXPLORE MONTE ALBÁN
Monte Albán is an archeological UNESCO site and it has been around since the 6th century BCE. Here you can explore ancient pyramids, terraces, canals, and other ruins. To stand on these ruin and imagine what it must have been like all those years ago is unreal! This was definitely one of my favorite things to do in Oaxaca!
TIPS FOR VISITING: I just have two words – SUN BLOCK! Omg does the sun hit different in Mexico! Monte Alban does not have many shaded areas so make sure to protect yourself; wear SPF and a hat!
2. HIKE TO HIERVE EL AGUA
Hierve El Agua is a set of natural rock formations that resemble a cascade. The site consists of two tall cliffs where fresh water springs and create natural pools. However, the water is oversaturated with mineral, so it causes the water to turn into rock as it trickles down each cliff, which is why it looks like a petrified waterfall, creating a spectacular natural wonder! You cannot visit Oaxaca without seeing this beauty!
TIPS FOR VISITING: This location is one hour outside of Oaxaca center so you’ll have to rent a car or find a bus tour. If you rent a car, make sure you go through a town called Xaaga. The GPS will want to take you through a different route, but that road is currently closed (as of March 2022).
3. SEE THE TEMPLO DE SANTO DOMINGO
Santo Domingo is a beautiful church in the center of Oaxaca that has been around since 1552. Two different cultures that initially collided, came together to create this magnificent work of art – Dominican friars and native workers. The architecture, intricate ornate walls and ceilings, and courtyards are absolutely mesmerizing! You won’t want to miss this spot!
TIPS FOR VISITING: arrive early in the morning for minimal crowds and the prettiest lighting.
Read Next: Grutas Tolantongo Mexico
4. EXPLORE THE STREET MARKETS
Head over to the vibrant and bustling covered markets, or mercados, to shop for produce, street food, baked goods, crafts and textiles. The three most popular markets in the city center are: Mercado Benito Juarez, Mercado 20 de Noviembre, and Mercado de Artesanias. You can find traditional clothing, mezcal stands, local crafts, fresh fruit, chocolate, every single ingredient that goes into mole making, and more! There is no better way to understand this city than to explore the markets and experience all the colors, smells and flavors of Oaxaca, all at once.
5. STROLL DOWN THE ANDADOR TURISTICO
If you want to go on a walk and find a little bit of everything, then head over to the Andador Truristico! This is a colorful and walkable lane where you can find boutique shops, art galleries, restaurants, local craft markets, rooftops restaurants, parades, bars and nightlife, street food, cute cafés, and more! It literally has it all! Plus, the beautiful mountains that sit at a distance at the end of the lane make for a perfect backdrop and perfect photo-op!
6. TAKE A WALK AROUND EL ZOCALO
El Zocalo is a public bustling square in the center of Oaxaca. It is surrounded by vendors, restaurants, and historic buildings, and it’s all shaded by beautiful trees. Make sure you stop by, grab a snack, stroll around the plaza, watch the street performers, and admire the pretty architecture!
Visiting other cities in Mexico? Check out this guide next: The Ultimate Guide to Riding The Jose Cuervo Express Train to Tequila, Mexico
7. WANDER THE JARDIN ETNOBOTANICO
If you want to be amazed by some incredible displays of cactus and other plants native to Oaxaca, then head over to the Jardin Etnobotanico. This garden is absolutely stunning and has the prettiest photo spots, which is why it’s also a wedding venue! Plus, their tour is actually super fun and interesting! I learned tons about Oaxaca and it’s history!
TIPS FOR VISITING: Make sure you arrive early because tour time slots do fill up, and you NEED a tour guide to enter. Also, make sure you take the tour in the language you understand best because you don’t want to miss out on these fun facts. Trust me!
8. SEE PLAZA DE LA DANZA
Plaza de la Danza is yet another jaw-dropping square and church where they often perform cultural dances, host community gatherings, or is simply used as a local hang out spot. You can find a plaza filled with ice cream shops and a view overlooking part of the city. It’s the perfect casual activity!
9. EAT ALL THE FOOD AT LOCAL CAFÉS + RESTAURANTS
Oaxaca is the culinary heart of Mexico, which means you cannot visit without taking a deep-dive into the Oaxacan cuisine! Make sure to enjoy their world-known mole, delicious tlayudas, traditional hot chocolate, and local mezcal!
You’ll have to visit as many restaurants and cafes as you can! Here are some of my favorites: Hierba Dulce (vegan with traditional dishes and flavors), Don Juanito, Pitiona (rooftop brunch and cocktails with a view), Restaurante Asador La Azotea, Cafe Brujula, and Boulenc.
10. TAKE A COOKING CLASS
Speaking of food, Oaxaca carries one of the richest pre-hispanic culinary traditions in Mexico! From ancient ingredients to age-old cooking techniques, you do not want to skip the opportunity to learn about Oaxaca’s world-known gastronomy! Take a cooking class and learn how to make traditional Oaxacan mole!
11. VISIT MITLA
Mitla is a small town about an hour away from Oaxaca. The town is very quaint and usually quiet, but they have some beautiful Zapotec archeological ruins. The Mitla ruins are unique because of their elaborate and intricate mosaic designs and finely cut and polished stone pieces. There is no other site in Mexico that has this decorative work!
TIPS FOR VISITING: If you head over to Hierve El Agua, then you can visit Mitla on your way there or on your way back to Oaxaca. You’ll only need about 2 hours here. Also, make sure you check the business hours since they often change and are sometimes unusual.
12. TAKE A PEEK INSIDE MUSEO DE LAS CULTURAS
This gorgeous building houses archeological artifacts, ancient books, and artistic exhibits. A relaxed stroll through the museum will take you in chronological order from ancient times to modern-day Oaxaca! Many tourists and visitors skip this and later regret it! Don’t do the same!
BONUS: WEDDING PARADES, CALENDAS AND MOJIGANGAS
If you stay long enough, then you’ll most likely run into a few public wedding parades with music, cultural dances, and large papier-mache puppets, called mojigangas. This is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced, so if you spot one, stop what you’re doing and join the party!
TIPS FOR FINDING A PARADE: these usually happen during the weekend and can often be found near the main squares and churches of the city.