Why You Need to Visit Oaxaca: Mexico’s Cultural and Culinary Gem

Unearth Oaxaca’s treasures from mouthwatering cuisine to artisanal boutiques, and from ancient ruins to spirited arts. Discover why Oaxaca should top your travel list!

why visit oaxaca

Oh, Oaxaca. Where do we even begin?

If you’ve ever found yourself daydreaming about a place where old-world magic dances harmoniously with new-age flair, where every bite of food is a carnival of flavors, and where creativity pulses through cobbled streets – dream no more.

Enter Oaxaca, where culinary delights meet vibrant streets, and where colonial charm meets trendy boutiques.

As we dive deep into why you should visit Oaxaca, get ready to have some major wanderlust and probably some food envy.

Trust us; Oaxaca is not just any travel spot – it’s THE spot. Let’s roll, shall we?

Oaxaca Is a Food Lover’s DREAM

We won’t lie: Food isn’t something that will make or break a trip for us.

However, Oaxacan cuisine is a rare exception.

We often find ourselves telling each other “You know, I could really go for a tlayuda right now”.

Yeah, the food in Oaxaca is THAT amazing. I’m not one to crave certain kinds of cuisine but Oaxacan food just hits differently.

One thing that I love about Oaxacan food is that it isn’t just Mexican food, it’s a whole ‘nother thing in itself.

First and foremost, you have mole: a rich, complex sauce with a depth of flavor that melds chocolate, chilies, and a symphony of spices. It basically embodies the culinary soul of Oaxaca.

Oaxacan mole with pork and vegtables
Mole with pork and vegtables

Then you have tlayudas: large, crispy tortillas topped with refried beans, Oaxacan cheese, lettuce, and a choice of meats. It’s one of the great late-night street foods of Oaxaca (and one of my personal favorite foods of all time).

Oaxacan Tlayuda
Tlayuda with chorizo

And let’s not forget Oaxaca’s most notorious snack, chapulines: seasoned and roasted grasshoppers that offer a crunchy treat with a hint of spice, reflecting the region’s adventurous palate and deep-rooted culinary traditions.

Chapulines in Oaxaca
Chapulines in a Oaxacan street market… yum!

We could go on and on about Oaxacan food, so we’ll spare you the details here.

But if you want to do a deep dive into Oaxacan cuisine, the best place to start is at the Mercado 20 de Noviembre.

And here are some of our favorite restaurants in Oaxaca:

  • 🍽️ Casa Oaxaca – One of the top-rated restaurants in Oaxaca (make reservations in advance)
  • 🍽️ Levadura de Olla – Authentic Oaxacan cuisine in an intimate setting
  • 🍽️ La Terraza De Tita – Cute and spacious terrace restaurant that is perfect for date nights (located on the terrace of the Oaxaca Real Hotel)
  • Boulenc – Artisan pastries and brunch in an open courtyard (we ate brunch here twice on our last trip!)
  • Cafe Los Cuiles – Affordable no-nonsense cafe that serves Mexican dishes
  • 🥐 Panderia La Bamby – Not technically a restaurant, but a bakery that sells bread and pastries at dirt cheap prices. Stock up here for all your morning coffee treats!

Explore Ancient Ruins Away from the Crowds

Everyone has heard of Chichén Itzá and Teotihuacán… but have you heard of Monte Albán and Mitla?

Oaxaca was home to its own Mesoamerican civilizations- the Zapotecs and Mixtecs. And these civilizations built some impressive cities, pyramids and all.

The best part about the ruins in Oaxaca? They’re much less busy than the others in Mexico.

You can even still climb some of the pyramids in Oaxaca – something that’s not allowed in the other, busier archaeological sites in Mexico.

Oaxaca Basically Has Perfect Weather Year-Round

When most people think of Mexico, they think of the hot, humid weather of the Yucatán Peninsula.

And while some areas of Mexico have hot humid weather, Oaxaca’s weather is A LOT more pleasant.

Why is that?

The city of Oaxaca is located in a valley, up at high elevation. So the weather in Oaxaca is quite nice year-round, even in the summertime.

The months of March, April, and May are actually the hottest months in Oaxaca – but even then, the temperatures usually only get to the mid-high 80’s ºF (about 29 to 32 ºC).

During the rest of the year, the temperature doesn’t really go above 80 ºF (27 ºC) in Oaxaca.

In our opinion, the winter months are the best months to visit Oaxaca. Wintertime in Oaxaca is clear, dry, and cool.

Summer is a good season to visit Oaxaca as well but be prepared for some late afternoon thunderstorms.

If you visit Oaxaca in the summer, we recommend doing your sightseeing in the morning and then going back to your accommodation in the mid-afternoon to hang out while the thunderstorms pass by.

🌤️ Wanna nail that perfect weather for your next trip? We’re kinda obsessed with Weatherspark. It’s our go-to for figuring out the sweet spot in the year to hit up a place. Super handy, right?

Handmade Goods in Oaxaca Are Next-Level Amazing

As if Oaxacan cuisine isn’t enough, Oaxaca’s handmade goods are also on a whole ‘nother level.

Oaxaca’s Mercado Benito Juárez is a haven for handmade clothing and crafts – particularly leather goods.

First off, the craftsmanship. It’s like every stall and every vendor is competing in an unspoken contest of “Who Can Make the Coolest Stuff?”

And the leather goods? We’re talking bags, belts, wallets, shoes – pieces that make you stop in your tracks and think, “Wait, all of this is made by hand?!”

But it’s not just about the shopping (though trust us, your suitcase is gonna get a bit heavier). It’s the energy of the place. The hustle, the chatter, and the scent of fresh leather.

It’s sensory overload in the best way possible.

Mezcal Will Be Your New Favorite Drink

Admittedly, we aren’t big drinkers. But as the saying goes: When in Oaxaca…

You gotta try some mezcal!

Oaxaca and mezcal are basically synonymous with each other. And since about 90% of all mezcal comes from Oaxaca it’s easy to see why.

But if you’ve never tried mezcal, you might be wondering: What’s the big deal with mezcal anyway?

Let us explain.

Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant.

Mezcal differs from tequila in that mezcal is made by roasting agave piñas underground, rather than steaming them. This gives mezcal its highly complex, rich, smoky flavor.

And we’re not exaggerating when we say that there are TONS of different types of mezcals.

From the types of agaves used, to the roasting, fermenting, and aging processes, the flavors of mezcal vary so widely that it’s likely that you’ll find a flavor that you enjoy.

We went on a mezcal tour in Oaxaca and found that we prefer añejo (aged) mezcals the most. So go ahead and try all the mezcals that you can get your hands on – you’re bound to find one that you enjoy!

Oaxaca’s Colonial Architecture Is Absolutely Stunning

As if there weren’t enough cool things to do in Oaxaca, simply walking around the city is an activity in itself.

With a backdrop of cobblestone streets and the distant hum of local life, strolling around Oaxaca feels less like sightseeing and more like time traveling.

Take the Santo Domingo Church, for instance. It’s not just any church; its Baroque facade seems to be the tale of a completely different era of history.

And it’s not just the churches in Oaxaca that are from a different era. Every street is lined with historic buildings that contain stories from centuries past.

Colonial-era buildgs in the streets of Oaxaca

Those rustic facades and those old-school balconies aren’t just there for the ‘gram; they’ve seen things. Imagine the celebrations, the dramas, the everyday life that the buildings have witnessed. It’s kind of wild to think about.

What’s even more wild is that a lot of these historic buildings have gotten modern makeovers on the inside.

Think hip cafes, chic boutiques, and swanky restaurants, all tucked inside walls that have been around for centuries.

Interior of Tizne restaurant and art gallery in Oaxaca

It’s old meets new in the coolest possible way.

Oaxaca Is Home to Vibrant Culture and Arts

Oaxaca’s culture? Think of it like the best kind of cocktail: a mix of the classic with a splash of the contemporary.

In the morning we found ourselves wandering through an age-old Zapotec village, getting lost in traditions that stretch back centuries.

By lunch, we made it back to the city to take a stroll down its streets to see artists displaying their works.

Girl looking at art in the streets of Oaxaca

But then, by evening, we found ourselves in a trendy rooftop bar in Oaxaca City, sipping on craft mezcal cocktails and swaying to beats from an underground techno music DJ.

It’s this blend of old-world charm and modern-day swag that makes Oaxaca pop.

From chic art galleries showcasing contemporary Oaxacan artists to urban cafes where digital nomads tap away on their MacBooks amidst murals of folklore legends, Oaxaca is buzzing.

It’s got that sweet spot where tradition meets modernity, making it not just a destination, but, you know, THE place to be.

It’s not just about being “cool” (though, let’s be real, Oaxaca is pretty darn cool). It’s about feeling that fusion of eras, and thinking, “Wow, this place has got it going on.”

You’re Bound to Find Something in Oaxaca’s Boutique Stores

We’re not the type to max out our credit cards on every trip. But in Oaxaca? Man, those boutique stores had us reaching for our wallets more times than we’d like to admit.

These aren’t your typical, touristy “boutiques” that are selling the same mass-produced clothing that every other store is selling.

These boutiques are like little hidden gems. Each one felt like we were walking into an artisan’s secret stash.

One minute Chloe was ogling over some seriously stylish handcrafted earrings, the next I was getting lost in the patterns of some crazy cool textiles.

Handcrafted bead earrings from a boutique in Oaxaca

The attention to detail is just… wow. Makes you want to buy stuff not because you need it, but because it’s like owning a little piece of someone’s passion.

Even if shopping ain’t your thing, just wandering these boutiques feels like an adventure. The colors, the vibes, the sheer creativity – it’s like Oaxaca in microcosm.

So, heads up: Oaxaca’s boutique stores? Dangerous territory if you’re trying to save money. But totally worth the splurge.

What’s Next?

Oaxaca is more than just a travel destination; it’s a vibe, an experience, a sensation that’s hard to put into words.

Oaxaca is best experienced at a slower, relaxed pace – we recommend spending at least 5-7 days there so you can take your time to soak it all in.

If you have any questions, comments, or your own experiences about Oaxaca, feel free to drop them in the comments below!

Until next time! 🐸

Trey Lewis is an outdoor enthusiast. Whether its hiking knife-edge ridges or just fishing by the river, Trey isn't afraid to get dirty in search of the next adventure.

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