What to Do in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca errr church. Which church? I don't remember.
Where 
Southern-Central Mexico. Hot tip: Oaxaca is both a city and a state. Confusing, I know.

Why
You want to eat like a king, buy gorgeous textiles for cheap, and experience one of the most vibrant cultures in Mexico.

What To Expect 
Hoards of foreign tourists, men and women from rural Oaxaca and Chiapas hawking their wares, peaceful demonstrators. Oaxaca has a reputation of being more politically active than the rest of the country, which is a huge draw for many.

When To Go 
Oaxaca is the queen of delightful spring-like temperatures. It gets about 311 days of sunshine a year (!!) and boasts a temperate climate year-round with little humidity and light breezes. Light showers are frequent from June to September. This is the ultimate light jacket destination -- a big relief from the scorching temperatures on the Pacific coast (hello, Acalpulco).
The central square. And my boyfriend Miguel.
How To Get There 
Oaxaca has an airport but you have to fly through Mexico City -- you'll pay upwards of $100 USD for a ticket.

Fly direct to Mexico City's airport and take a cab to the TAPO bus terminal. Or hop on the subway (very handy and only about 25 cents) and get off at the San Lazaro station (line B or green/gray) to get to TAPO. A one way ticket from Mexico City to Oaxaca will cost you about $35 USD via ADO and take about five hours. Check Ticket Bus for other companies/prices.

If you're flying into Acapulco to visit that city or the Oaxaca beaches to the south, you can take a bus from Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca City via Estrella Roja. It takes about eight hours and I cannot even stress how much you need to bring Gravol with you. The twisty mountain roads made me want to vomit the whole way there and it is a long-ass trip. Reportedly Aerovega flies from Puerto Escondido for about $100 USD and it's a 30 minute flight.
Classic hot chocolate and pan de yema.
Where To Stay
Love love love the hostel I stayed at -- Paulina Youth Hostel. Painted a fresh white with a garden courtyard, wifi, and breakfast included. This was no yogurt and fruit either -- you get eggs, tortillas, the works. It's centrally located and the dorm rooms are clean and fresh (and a steal at $15 USD per night!) They also have private rooms.

If you want something a bit more upscale, the Hotel Las Mariposas comes highly recommended. I didn't stay here but it appears to have all the Oaxacan charm you could wish for with beautifully decorated rooms, a tranquil courtyard, and friendly staff. And at $45 USD per night for a double room (breakfast and wifi included!) I'd say it's a steal.
Oh hello there scrumptious mole enchiladas. Come to momma!
Where To Eat
Everywhere and everything. Forget the fancy restaurants, head to the market. Mercado 20 de Noviembre is chock full of stalls selling Oaxaca's famous hot chocolate and egg buns (pan de yema). Oaxaca is also uber-famous for its mole, a sauce made with plenty of chili, spices, and chocolate. Plenty of stalls serve up meat and mole dishes. Head to Mayordomo (Mina/20 de Noviembre) to buy chocolate mix or mole to take home -- they also serve a mean cuppa of hot chocolate!

You can also buy fresh meat (carne asada) and have it grilled to your liking. Stock up on fresh tortillas from an old lady with a basket, buy some guac and nopales (cactus), and fix it all up to taste.Or go or for tlayudas, Oaxaca's answer to pizza. You will not go away hungry after eating one of this giant babies!

I don't recall eating anywhere other than the market, so if you want something a bit fancier The New York Times recommends Pitiona or La Biznaga for upscale regional food

What To Do 
Mescal, my friend. This cousin to tequila has a nice clean finish and reportedly doesn't give you a hangover (probably a giant lie, I haven't drank enough to know). You can buy it around Mercado 20 de Noviembre (and taste it first too!) or head to Casa del Mezcal (Flores Magon 209) for a classic Mexican bar experience and cheap shots.

The markets are the big highlight and are scattered everywhere you look. Men and women alike are likely to be taken with the gorgeous textiles. Ask whether the item is hand made (hecho a mano?), if that matters to you, otherwise it's possible it was produced in a factory. Some of the cheapest items are available from women trawling the street with garbage bags full of shirts and scarves. Don't be afraid to haggle.

The architecture of Oaxaca is stunning and you could spend all day just strolling the streets, taking it all in. Stop in at the churches of Santo Domingo and La Soledad as well as the Mueso de las Culturas de Oaxaca for an absorbing history lesson (Spanish only).
Gorgeous Oaxacan embroidered shirt.
Safety Tips
None really. Don't put your wallet in your back pocket or anywhere that's easily grab-able. Don't set your purse down anywhere where you can't see it at all times. Other than that, Oaxaca is safe city where you can easily walk about at night. Just stick to main, lighted streets where there are people. Same as in any city.

My Thoughts
Oaxaca is a really charming city. It's romantic, clean, safe, filled with delicious eats and snug hotels. That said, it's touristy to the max. It makes for a wonderful weekend getaway (oh the food!) but I prefer the relaxed Pacific beaches of Zipolite and Mazunte. That could be because I live in Mexico City and anything city-like right now gives me a rash. Still, fly into MC, go to Oaxaca, and bus it down to Chiapas for a taste of the real, breathtaking Mexico the resort folks never see.

Reading List:
  1. Moon Oaxaca
  2. Rough Guide Mexico 9e

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