A colourful cultural cocktail which seamlessly fuses the past with the present, the UNESCO-listed Oaxaca City is full of local charm and Spanish elegance. This colonial gem sparkles with gold-encrusted churches, baroque architecture, illuminating museums, animated markets, shady plazas, flamboyant festivals and some of the tastiest food in Mexico.
Surrounded by imposing mountains, the elegant Oaxaca City offers visitors a beguiling mix of attractions and experiences. The Spanish settled here in the 16th century and their legacy is evident throughout the city in the fine colonial architecture, baroque churches, striking cathedral, cobblestone streets and leafy plazas. Particularly impressive is the zocalo (main square), which is the historic centre of the city and UNESCO-listed. The area is closed to traffic, which we think makes it a lovely place to soak up the lively and laidback vibe of the colourful markets or to watch the world go by from a plaza café.
Culturally and historically there is much to see here, including the Palacio de Gobierno (Governor’s Palace) on the south side of the zocalo, whose exterior and interiors are both architecturally striking, full of marble and murals and the Teatro Macedonio Alcala, a stunning French-style theatre built in 1903. The religious architecture is equally magnificent and do ensure you visit the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (Santa Domingo Church). Built by the Dominicans during the late 16th century, its finely carved baroque façade and extraordinarily ornate and golden interior are beautiful. There are also many excellent museums including the Museo Regional de Oaxaca, a showcase of historical treasures including artefacts from the nearby Monte Alban archaeological site and the Rufino Tamayo Museo de Arte Pre Hispanico, for pre-Hispanic art from one of Mexico’s finest artists.
The main market is Central de Abastos, where you can pick up locally made artisan crafts, textiles, wood carvings and Oaxaca pottery, along with some of the gastronomic delights that the city is famous for. Street stalls laden with produce and food will tempt you with dried chillies, rope cheeses and the seven varieties of mole that the region is known for. If gourmet dining is more your scene, the city has many upscale restaurants serving some of Mexico’s finest cuisine and if you feel inspired, there’s even the opportunity to take a cookery class. At night, the hip bars and bohemian cafes thrum with animated life and chatter and if you’re lucky to witness one of the many festivals or calendas (wedding parades) that become community events, do join in.
Oaxaca City also makes a great base for visiting the archaeological ruins of Monte Alban and Mitla. Both sites date back to the Mixtec-Zapotec Empire when Oaxaca was governed from Monte Alban between 500 B.C. and 750 A.D. This important site contains astronomically-aligned pyramids and well-preserved ball courts, while Mitla is famed for its beautiful stone mosaics. Other highlights in the area include El Tule, a 2,000-year old living tree and Hierve El Agua (water that boils), which offers visitors the chance to bathe in mineral pools surrounded by cliffs, which look like huge frozen waterfalls.
Located in central Oaxaca state, Oaxaca City can be easily reached from Mexico City by air, with a flight time of around 45-minutes. We think the city has much to offer those interested in Mexican history and culture, as well as the exciting culinary scene and think a four to five-night stay combines well with three-nights by the beach in Puerto Escondido.