This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.
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 the absolute 14 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 a month in this beautiful city, I really came to appreciate all of the amazing things to do in Oaxaca 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 Oaxaca, 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 have 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!
The BEST Tours in Oaxaca
1. Food Tour in Oaxaca City
Oaxaca is known all around the world for food, which is why a food tour is easily 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!
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 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. There are some seriously good restaurants in Oaxaca you need to try!
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 24 different food and drink items and has exceptional reviews! You’ll get to eat at the best places where the locals do. This tour is also only about $70 USD!
However, if you want something a little bit different, you can also do a specific market food tour which comes at a great deal of only $50 USD.
Related Read: Are you a foodie? Be sure to make your way to Puerto Vallarta, a city on the pacific coast that’s known for food! There are lots of incredible restaurants in Puerto Vallarta that you’ll love!
2. Mezcal 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 learn about mezcal. Your tour guide will pick you up in Oaxaca city before bringing you to a remote village where mezcal is produced. You will learn and participate in the production of mezcal both in the traditional and modern methods. Of course, you’ll also get to try more than 30 different mezcals!
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. It is a good tour for those who want to try mezcal without spending an entire day learning about it.
Related Read: Did you know tequila was named after the town in Mexico where it came from? Check out our ultimate guide to visiting Tequila, Jalisco!
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 are estimated to be from about the 8th century BC. When you visit here, you’ll see large pyramids (temples), tombs, a ball court, and terraces.
Mounte Alban is located about 9 km (5.6 mi) 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! At only $36 USD, it’s a steal!
If you want a full-day experience of history, consider this tour which not only goes to Monte Alban but also to Atzompa, Cuilapam, and Coyotepec. It is a full-day trip from Oaxaca that takes about 8 hours, but it is a great way to see it all in just one day! This tour costs only $48 USD and all admission prices are included.
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 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, so much so that I thought it was going to be overly touristy and overhyped 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. It also will get you to Hierve el Aqua before all of the other tourists arrive and you’ll enjoy a guided hike. The guide is super knowledgeable and lunch is even included! On the way back to Oaxaca you’ll stop for a mezcal tasting.
If you don’t need much time at Hierve el Aqua, then consider booking this tour. You will spend 2-hours at Hierve el Aqua before heading to a mezcal tasting and then Teotitlan Del Valle to see the weavers. It’s a really highly-rated tour.
5. Combination Full-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 Oaxaca 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 ($8 USD) 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 the ruins or the waterfall.
Booking Tip: In all honesty, 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 others’ reviews AND have the opportunity to leave your own!
The above combo tour I mentioned does visit Mitla, but if you don’t want to do a full-day tour with all of the additional stops, you can actually book a tour that only visits Mitla.
In Oaxaca, Mitla is the second most important archeological site. Mitla was a religious center for the Zapotecs. The ruins at Mitla are said to be 10,000 years old! Most of them are in great condition and when you visit, you can even enter some tunnels.
Our recommended Milta tour from Oaxaca:
This half-day tour to Mitla is great because it is only $35 USD and includes a highly knowledgeable English-speaking guide. It’s only a half-day tour at around 4 hours long.
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 typical tourist trail.
Besides woven carpets, you can also see how textiles, wooden carvings, and black clay pottery are made.
This particular tour allows you to spend a day at a Zapotec Village with a local. You will help them make tortillas, enjoy lunch, as well as try artisanal chocolate and mezcal. This village is about an hour away from Oaxaca city, so it is a super unique experience!
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 full-day artisan tour. It visits three unique villages and you’ll get to learn about what they traditionally make in that village including the beautiful black pottery the region is known for. You’ll also head to a cultural market where you can shop for unique artisan goods.
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 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. The group size is also limited so you are sure to have a more personal experience.
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 in Oaxaca and for good reason. Once you know how to cook this incredibly unique and tasty food, 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 private cook class – If you want to have a private cooking class experience where you can learn from the chef, this tour is perfect! You’ll spend 4 hours with the chef and make a starter, main, and dessert. Drinks are also included!
10. Street Art Tour
I had to finish this list with something a little unique, and 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!
11. 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!
*January 2023 Update: The Guelaguetza dinner and show is currently not operating. Keep checking back as they may reopen in the future.
12. Apoala and Turquoise Lagoon Tour
For nature lovers and those who love to swim this Apoala and Turquoise Lagoon Tour is for you!
The Cola de Serpiente, which translates to snake tail, is a waterfall located in the small town of Santiago Apoala. It is around 65 meters tall (213 feet).
On your tour, you will see Apoala, and while in proximity you will also get to see and swim in a bright blue lagoon.
The best thing about this tour is how secluded this waterfall is so you will really be able to take in the beauty of your surroundings with minimal interruptions.
13. Paint Your Alebrije Tour
This ‘Paint your Alebrije’ tour is an activity that teaches you about Mexican culture through art. You get to visit the village of Arrizola by private transport, where artisans will give you information about Alebrije folk art and help you paint your animal figurine, which you can keep as a souvenir of course. This activity takes around 4 hours, and the total cost is $60 USD per person. This activity is offered in English and Spanish.
This is a personalized activity catered to your needs and group size, and all the materials and snacks are provided, so all you have to do is show up and get your Picasso on! Not only is it a unique activity that’s a ton of fun, but you get to keep your work of art as a souvenir!
Like so many other activities in Oaxaca City, painting sessions are a relaxing activity idea and are a popular choice among tourists. If you are an avid painter who wants to learn new painting techniques from an Oaxacan artist or a novice who wants to experience fun painting for a few hours, workshops and classes are available.
14. Cacao Day Experience
Chocolate is famous all over Mexico and in Oaxaca, you can get hands-on with chocolate making and of course, do some tastings as well!
On this Cacao Day Experience Tour, you will get to learn the process of chocolate making by first trying the raw seed. Then you’ll try many different flavors of chocolate from cinnamon, cardamom, chili, traditional, dark, and more. You’ll pick your favorite and learn how to make it with the help of local experts.
Next, you will be heading for the forests of the Sierra Norte Mountains for a 3-hour (in total) hike which to find the wood that is used to make homemade wooden whisks for stirring up batches of Mexican Hot Chocolate (known as “Molinillo” in Spanish).
These whisks are handmade by a family from the Sierra Norte Mountains.
Up here at 3,200 m (10,500 feet) are stunning views and a plethora of pine trees and flowers. This is where the group will stop to enjoy the homemade hot chocolate.
This tour lasts around 8 hours and costs $119 USD per person.
If you want to make your own chocolate without the hike portion this chocolate-making workshop is a great alternative and cheaper at just $84 USD!
You will learn about the different types of chocolate, hand roast the seeds, and then create a drink, a coco-based sandwich, and a piece of chocolate to take home with you. It is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
Where to Stay in Oaxaca, Mexcio
Of course, you’re going to need a place to stay in Oaxaca between all of those tours. Luckily, there are plenty of hotels to choose from in Oaxaca city, and something for types of travelers and budgets!
For those looking for a luxury stay, the Quinta Real Oaxaca hotel is a five-star hotel that is simply beautiful. Inside and out the stylistic decor sets the scene for an upper-class yet relaxed stay. This hotel is not only located right in the middle of the historic center, but it also has a beautiful outdoor pool! On a hot summer day, this is the perfect place to relax and cool off.
For those looking for a great deal, Hotel Parador de Alcala is incredible with everything you could need and more! In fact, it could easily be considered a “luxury” hotel, but since the price for a standard room comes in under $100 USD, it truly is great value for money! It features a rooftop pool and is right in the historic center.
Yabanhi Hostel is a great hostel in the sense that there are dorm beds and common areas available, but they also offer standard double rooms for good prices as well as bungalows that have their own private kitchen! These bungalows are great for those who love to cook.
For more info, read our detailed guide about where to stay in Oaxaca!
Related Read: Check out the best things to do in Oaxaca City!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
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.
Thanks for reading! If you found this blog helpful, be sure to check out the rest of our Mexico blogs including a few related reads below”
Amazing things to do in Puerto Escondido
Best hotels in Puerto Escondido
Best waterfalls in Palenque Mexico