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Oaxaca city (Oaxaca de Juarez) is a cultural mecca of Mexico. And while the city is interesting to explore on your own, there is so much to learn about and visit nearby that can ONLY be done on a guided tour. Here are what I rank to be the absolute 10 BEST tours in Oaxaca and including where to book!
Culture, history, adventure, and food – lots and lots of food! Oaxaca city truly has it all. And after spending more than two weeks in this beautiful city, I really came to appreciate all of the amazing things to do and the huge range of tours on offer.
In fact, there are so many tours in Oaxaca that it’s hard to know what to choose! I mean, most visitors spend 3 to 4 days exploring this city, so that really limits what tours and day trips you can do while in Oaxaca.
Which is why I’m writing this blog.
I’m one of the lucky few who has had the time to join a huge range of tours in Oaxaca. And because of that, I’ve narrowed it down to the top ten, including important info to know before you go, as well as who I think each tour is best suited for.
*Note: While this blog does contain affiliate links, none of my suggestions are sponsored. I paid for all of the tours I did in Oaxaca on my own and did NOT partner with any companies. All of my suggestions are 100% my own opinion meant to help you choose the best tours in Oaxaca for you!
10 BEST Tours (and Day Trips) in Oaxaca
1. Food Tour in Oaxaca City
Oaxaca is known all around the world for food, which is why a food tour is one of the best tours to do in Oaxaca!
On a food tour, you’ll be introduced to some of the most famous local dishes – mole, tamales, chocolat de agua to name a few! But, you’ll also be introduced to dishes that most tourists miss out on!
I personally love food tours when I travel, especially in countries where I don’t fully speak the language. With an English-speaking guide, you’ll be able to understand what everything is made of and fully understand what you’re trying (as opposed to just blindly ordering something random on a menu.)
Also, there are tons of amazing places to eat in Oaxaca. On a food tour in Oaxaca, you’ll be shown to the best of the best! This way, for the duration of your time in Oaxaca, you can return to your favorite restaurants and food stands for meals.
Oaxaca Food Tour Recommendations:
There are many different food tours in Oaxaca to choose from. Personally, I recommend this particular tour for a traditional food tour. It includes trying over 20 different food and drink items and has exceptional reviews! You’ll also get to try some premium mezcal and are guaranteed to leave absolutely stuffed!
2. Mezcal Tasting Tour
The state of Oaxaca produces more mezcal (a strong alcoholic spirit made from cactus) than anywhere else in Mexico – and most of the distilleries are located very close to Oaxaca city! A mezcal tasting tour in Oaxaca is an absolute must for anybody who doesn’t mind getting a little (or a lot) tipsy.
Typically, a mezcal tasting tour from Oaxaca is a day trip that involves driving just outside of the city to visit a distillery. You’ll get a distillery tour and learn how mezcal is made. This is very interesting as mezcal is actually made very differently than tequila or any other spirit I’ve ever learned about.
After the distillery tour, the fun begins, it’s time to taste the mezcal! After sampling a few you’ll realize that not all mezcals are created equally.
Even if you aren’t a big fan of spirits, you can try the cream mezcals which contain about 12% to 18% alcohol and taste like candy!
In terms of choosing a mezcal tour, it really depends on how serious you are about mezcal.
Oaxaca Mezcal Tour Recommendations:
This tour is perfect for those who really want to try a lot of mezcal. It is a full-day experience that visits a few different distilleries and includes lunch. Although a little pricier than other tours, these guys offer a full-service with premium tastings included and have flawless reviews.
Otherwise, consider a combination tour like this one. It stops at one distillery where you will be able to try plenty of different mezcals but also goes to Hierve el Agua (more on that below) as well as Teotitlan del Valle where you’ll experience traditional weaving techniques.
3. Monte Albán Day Trip from Oaxaca
This one is for the history buffs! Monte Alban is hands-down the best archaeological site near Oaxaca and well-worth a visit if you want to see ancient ruins!
These ruins are from both the Zapotec and Mixtec cultures and estimated to be from about 8th century BC. When you visit here, you’ll see large pyramids (temples), tombs, a ball court, and terraces.
Mount Alban is located about 9km from Oaxaca city. It isn’t very far at all and in fact, you can book a shuttle just to get there and back which will save you money in comparison to going on a tour.
However, I always like to have a tour guide when I visit ruins. This way, the guide explains the significance of what you’re seeing. Without a guide, I find I never get enough information and the entire visit is less enjoyable.
Monte Alban Tour Recommendations:
This half-day tour specifically goes to Monte Alban only (many tours combine with other activities which reduces the amount of time you have at Monte Alban.) It includes an English speaking guide, air-conditioned transport, and hotel pick up!
If you want a full-day experience of history, consider this tour which not only goes to Monte Alban but also to Atzompa, Yagul, and Mitla. It is a full-day trip from Oaxaca that takes about 10-hours, but it is a great way to see it all in just one day!
4. Hierve el Agua tour from Oaxaca
To me, this is a must-do tour in Oaxaca! Why? Well, Hierve el Aqua is such a unique place. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it anywhere else in the world.
To be honest, before visiting Hierve el Aqua for myself I had my doubts. I had read a lot about this place, but so much so that I thought it was going to be overly touristy and over-hyped by tour companies trying to capitalize.
But that wasn’t completely true. Sure, Hierve el Agua was full of tourists, but that was only because it was so spectacular!
Made from calcium build-up, Hierve el Agua is a “petrified waterfall”. At first glance, this waterfall appears to be a normal (impressive) waterfall. But when you really look, you’ll realize there is actually no water at all – a really interesting and unique sight to see.
But on top of that, there are semi-natural pools at the lookout point that you can actually swim in! When we were there, it was pretty cold (we visited at sunset) so nobody was swimming. But, during the day it could be a fun place to go for a dip!
The views of the surrounding mountains from the pools are enough to make the trip worth it alone in my opinion.
Just do beware, the drive to Hierve el Aqua from Oaxaca takes about 1.5 hours so there is a decent amount of driving involved.
Recommended Tours from Oaxaca to Hierve el Agua:
This full-day tour is different from the others because of the long amount of time spent at Hierve el Agua. You’ll get 3 whole hours to enjoy this magical place and then, to top it off, you’ll stop for a quick mezcal tasting to break up the journey home!
If you don’t need much time at Hierve el Aqua, then consider booking a combination tour (see below.)
5. Combination Day Trip from Oaxaca
These tours have very mixed reviews online. These reviews made me hesitant to go on one, but I needed to see what these long multi-stop tours are really about for myself. So, I went on one.
In all honesty, I had a lot of fun! Sure, it was a long day starting at 10 am and ending at 8 pm, but it wasn’t boring. There was a bit of driving involved (about 20 minutes between stops and then an hour and a half at the end on the way back) but this gave me time to have a quick nap.
On my tour, and what most combo tours do, is the following itinerary:
- El Tule – A cute town where the world’s widest tree is. You can wander the beautiful gardens and see this massive tree up close. This stop is generally 20-30 minutes max.
- Teotitlan del Valle – This is a village of about 600 people where 90% of the residents make their living weaving carpets using traditional methods (that Oaxaca is famous for). You’ll get a weaving demonstration.
- Mezcal Tasting – Here you’ll go on a 15-minute tour of a mezcal distillery and learn quickly how mezcal is made before sampling some. On my tour, they gave out as many mezcal tastings as you wanted (and many of us left quite tipsy!)
- Lunch – Lunch wasn’t included but we did stop at a large all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant that cost 150 MXN per person. You don’t have to eat here though and can opt just to relax or have a drink.
- Mitla – We toured these ruins for about 45 minutes with an English speaking guide. It was super interesting and although a little rushed, it was a good stop. Mitla is a small archaeological site but the ruins are well-preserved and the detailed carvings are unlike other ruins I’ve seen all around Mexico.
- Hierve el Aqua – We only spent an hour here, but to me, it was enough time as I didn’t want to go swimming.
So ya, it was a jam-packed day! But, really it was a great value tour and the perfect option for anybody with a limited amount of time to spend in Oaxaca. It truly is the only way to see so much in just one day.
Combination Full-day Tour Recommendations:
This combo tour is really competitively priced, includes all of the stops I mentioned above, and has good reviews. I particularly like the order of the stops (in comparison to the tour I actually did) simply because the mezcal tasting is at the end so you don’t end up tipsy before exploring ruins or the waterfall.
*Booking tip: You can usually hustle a better deal on tours like this one once you arrive in Oaxaca, however, you do risk quality. Often, when buying a tour from the streets or small “tour offices” you will get promised the world and end up with none of it. This has happened to us a few times (specifically ending up with only a Spanish-speaking guide when we were promised an English one.) For this reason, we recommend booking online with trusted companies like Viator where you can read other’s reviews AND have the opportunity to leave your own!
6. Guelaguetza Dinner and Show Experience
Guelaguetza is actually a celebration that happens in July is Oaxaca. But if you aren’t in Oaxaca during July, you can still experience Guelaguetza for yourself at one of the dinner shows that are typically on weekly.
Guelaguetza is a demonstration of traditional indigenous groups through music, dance, and costume. In the state of Oaxaca, approximately 50% of the population is indigenous spread across 16 different groups or cultures (with the Zapotec and Mixtec having the largest populations.)
Attending a Guelaguetza show is a cultural experience unique to Oaxaca. On this tour, you will not only watch a 3-hour performance but also be given a buffet dinner (which includes a huge selection of food!)
Recommended tour for the Guelaguetza dinner and show:
There is only one place that puts on this dinner and show. You can buy tickets (including transport to the venue) online in advance. You should book in advance as shows are only scheduled about once every week and often sell out!
7. Artisanal Goods Half-day Tour
As I mentioned above, in Oaxaca there are many indigenous groups. They each have their own language, traditions, and culture. They also make their own crafts and goods to sell.
The most common village people visit is Teotitlan del Valle, which is a stop on almost all of the combo tours. However, there are many other villages you can also visit and get a little bit off the tourist trail.
Besides woven carpets, you can also see how textiles, wooden carvings, and black clay pottery is made.
For an in-depth carpet weaving experience in Teotitlan del Valle, this is the best tour. On this tour, you’ll actually get an in-depth lesson on weaving methods as well as see how they make and dye the yarn. You’ll get to try weaving for yourself too!
Another great tour option is this half-day artisan tour. It visits three unique villages (none of them are Teotitlan del Valle) and you’ll get to learn about what they traditionally make in that village. Visiting these lesser-touristic villages is a unique experience and one I highly recommend!
8. Historical Center Walking Tour
One of the first tours you should do in Oaxaca is a walking tour of the historical center. This way, you can learn about all of the best things to do and see around in the area and decide where you want to come back to (museums, cathedrals, restaurants, etc.)
These tours also offer a lot of insight into the history of Oaxaca, as well as the day to day lives of the people today.
Oaxaca Walking Tour Recommendations:
This Free Walking tour is perfect for anyone on a budget. I did it, and although not the best tour I’ve ever done, it wasn’t too bad considering it was free. All you have to do is tip your guide at the end! This tour went for just over 2 hours and operates every day at 10 am. They meet in front of the cathedral in the main square.
If you have the budget, then I recommend booking this guided walking tour. Since it is a paid tour, the tour is much more in-depth and offers really valuable information. It has some really great reviews as well.
9. Cooking Class
The only thing better than eating Oaxacan food is eating Oaxacan food that YOU cooked!
Cooking classes are one of the most popular tours and things to do in Oaxaca. And for good reason, once you know how to cook this incredibly unique and tasty food, and you can make it for yourself over and over again when you get home (talk about impressing your friends at a dinner party!)
Cooking class tours in Oaxaca typically teach you how to make a couple of different dishes (and sauces) that you eat afterward. Some tours also involve a trip to the market to select your own ingredients and some also include mezcal tasting!
My Recommended Cooking Classes in Oaxaca:
Best Overall – This cooking class goes for approximately 3.5 hours. It is in a small group of maximum 10 people and includes a trip to the market as well as a drink with your cooked meal and hotel pick up. This is the best-rated cooking class in Oaxaca.
Best for vegetarians – If you don’t eat meat, don’t worry, there’s a cooking class for you too! This cooking class also includes a trip to the markets and makes a salad, main dish, as well as dessert. It is also much cheaper than a traditional cooking class.
Best for those on a budget – This cooking class is much cheaper than most of the ones offered in Oaxaca. It focuses mainly on the use of corn to make tortillas as well as many specialty sauces. The reviews are incredible and it too starts with a visit to the local market.
Best for those with a sweet tooth – Oaxaca is world-famous for chocolate. This particular cooking class is all about making chocolate in the traditional way including grinding the beans!
10. Street Art Tour
I had to finish this list with some a little unique, a little artsy! Most people don’t know that Oaxaca has some incredible street art spread throughout the city.
Not only is the street art interesting to look at, but it’s even more interesting when you learn the story behind each piece. Much of the street art around the city represents a political view or a piece of history.
Understanding the street art in Oaxaca is one of the best ways to understand the people of the city and its culture.
My Recommended Oaxaca Street Art Tour:
This tour has rave reviews. It is actually a bicycling tour that will take you through three different neighborhoods to enjoy street art that most tourists never get the chance to see!
Oaxaca is truly a beautiful city to visit in Mexico. It’s filled with history, culture, and a completely different atmosphere than other Mexican cities. A visit to Oaxaca shouldn’t be taken for granted and in my opinion, is the best place in the country to join cultural tours.
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