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35 EXCITING Things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico

35 EXCITING Things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico

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If you’ve ever heard someone say “I could never get bored in Oaxaca,” they weren’t kidding. This Mexican city is rich in culture and things to do. From exploring ancient ruins to indulging in delicious food, there are so many great things to do in this top Mexican destination.

Oaxaca City has many activities at your disposal. You can go on guided day tours from Oaxaca to ancient ruins or archeological sites, or simply just wander through the vibrant streets and explore the city on your own. There are many museums and historical buildings in the city as well, for history buffs visiting Oaxaca is a must!

If you are an admirer of nature, Oaxaca city has many Mexican natural wonders to offer! For the foodies out there, Oaxaca will not disappoint. Not only is the city home to some of the best mole poblano in Mexico, but you can also find many other delicious traditional dishes. Oaxaca is also known for its mezcal, so be sure to try a few different varieties during your stay!

Oaxaca is a city full of things to do, no matter what your interests are. The best part about the city is its size – it is not a big and bustling city, yet it still has plenty to offer to keep you occupied during your stay.

Don’t have time to read the full article? Oaxaca City is such a remarkable place to visit, and some of our favorite things to do here include:

  1. Eat your way around the city on this food tour where you’ll get over 20 different local dishes
  2. Take part in a historical walking tour
  3. Visit local artisan weaving shops in Teotitlan del Valle
  4. Hike around the breath-taking Hierve el Agua on this guided full-day tour
  5. Walk on the pedestrian street Macedonio Alcalà – there’s plenty of art and food to enjoy

Things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico

1. Join a food tour

Homemade tortillas on a food tour in Oaxaca, Mexico
Oaxaca is filled with traditional foods you need to try!

Mexico is known all around the world for its food, which is why a food tour is easily one of the best things to do in Mexico in general, but even more so in Oaxaca! Oaxaca is the ultimate destination for foodies since it’s the gastronomic capital of Mexico! And the best way to experience all of the amazing dishes? On a food tour, of course!

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, so much so that it can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. 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 all of your meals.

There are many different food tours in Oaxaca to choose from. Personally, I recommend this particular tour for a traditional food tour experience. 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, which is definitely worth it, considering you’ll leave with a full tummy and a newfound knowledge of all the best food spots in the city!

If you want something a little bit of a different experience, you can also do a specific market food tour, which is another food tour of Oaxaca that will take you not to the city’s famous restaurants, but to the traditional food markets around Oaxaca. This tour will allow you to see and taste) the traditional food of Oaxaca directly from the source. And best of all, it comes at a great deal of only $50 USD per person.

2. Explore the Zocalo

The main cathedral in the Zocalo in Oaxaca, Mexico
The cathedral in the Zocola in Oaxaca

Exploring the Zocalo (central plaza) is a must if you’re visiting Oaxaca City. It’s known as the cultural center of Oaxaca, where you can see people who want to sit, chat, buy local souvenirs, or just enjoy themselves.

The Zocalo is extremely rich in history as post-colonization, all the religious unification and the evolution of government systems of Oaxaca City began here. The embedded historical roots make Zocalo a great place to start your trip.

I recommend visiting the Zocalo area at least three times. The first is when it’s bright and early. You will find less crowd allowing you to look at the architecture and capture it with your camera.

The second time is during the middle of the day. At this time you will learn the best about the main attractions.
Lastly, around 7 pm in the evening when you can witness the culture and interact with the locals. Sometimes you might even find a show or entertainment going on!

3. Eat Mole

Mole sauce poured over tacos in Oaxaca, Mexico
The Mole sauce is so yum!

If you don’t opt to join a food tour, do yourself a favor and be sure to at least try mole while you’re in Oaxaca. It’s possibly one of the things Oaxaca is most famous for. In fact, the last time I was in Oaxaca I met another traveler who said she came to Oaxaca from the USA simply because she wanted to eat authentic mole!

Mole is a chocolate-based sauce that, contrary to what you might think, does not taste sweet. In fact, it is a savory and spicy sauce served on top of other traditional Mexican dishes such as tamales.

It’s rich and delicious! In fact, my mouth is watering right now as I write this.

There are seven different types of mole. They are differentiated based on their color, flavor, preparation, and amount of protein they contain. The seven moles include: 

  • Mole negro 
  • Amarillo
  • Verde 
  • Coloradito 
  • Rojo 
  • Manchamanteles
  • Chinchilla 

Variations of ingredients, including sesame seeds, chiles, spices, tomatillos, nuts, chocolate, dried fruits, and more, are used to make a variety of moles that you can try on your visit. Some are spicey than others, so be sure to ask before you try if you aren’t up for a little heat.

If you are looking for a perfect restaurant to try out this exclusive dish in Oaxaca, you must visit Los Pecos. They serve some of the best moles and have a great ambiance. With that said, practically every restaurant in Oaxaca will offer mole in some capacity – it’s just that popular!

4. Historical center walking tour

A lady explains something to a group of tourists on an historical walking tour in Oaxaca, Mexico
With a guide, you actually learn about the history!

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.

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. The cost of the tour is $23 USD per person, which is worth it considering you get an in-depth tour of the city and an English-speaking guide.

Related Read: Another amazing state to visit in Mexico is Chiapas. Check out all of the best things to do in Chiapas.

5. Day trip to Teotitlan del Valle

A lady weaves at Teotitlan del Valle
Carpets in Teotitlan del Valle near Oaxaca, Mexico

The list of things to do in Oaxaca City is pretty long, but you can’t miss out on a day trip to Teotitlan Del Valle, a unique and beautiful village. You will witness breathtaking mountains around this village, but it’s most famous for its weaving. You can see every step of rug-making on this trip – it’s so intricate and fascinating!

There are very few shops in the village, but most are artisan weaving shops where you can see weaving techniques. You can actually learn about these techniques from the locals and then give it a try for yourself!

Casa Don Taurino is a great place to learn about traditional weaving techniques. The demonstrations are free, and you can see how they create natural dyes for their rugs. They use species of cactus that only grow in the Oaxacan mountains to create a natural dye for their rugs, which creates a beautiful and unique design. We highly recommend booking a trip to this beautiful village and visiting the Casa Don Taurino shop to learn about these traditional weaving methods.

Those without a rental car can join this organized 3-in-1 tour that visits Teotitlan Del Vale. On top of that, you’ll see two other attractions on this list so it’s perfect for those only staying in Oaxaca for a few days.

6. Hierve el Agua

a tour group relaxes at the top of Hierve el Aqua in Oaxaca
How beautiful is that view?

To me, this is a must-do activity in Oaxaca! Why? Well, Hierve el Aqua is such a unique place. I’ve honestly 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, but 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 and instead the water appearance is created from calcium build-up – 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. You can easily rent a car and visit on your own, or, join an organized tour.

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. Tickets for this tour start at $149 USD per person.

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 to Teotitlan Del Valle to see the weavers. It’s a really highly-rated tour and is only $60 USD per person, so it’s great for those on a budget in Oaxaca or on a time crunch.

7. Check out the street art

Oaxaca Street art Tour
Street art is all over the city!

Oaxaca City is sprawling with street art, which is primarily illegal and voices the revolutionary freedom movement in the city. Artists also use street art as an alternative to protests, using art as means to express their demands. It is also a continuation of a tradition in Mexico long before the need for revolutionary art.  

Many renowned artists such as Jose Guadalupe Posada, Leopoldo Mendez, and Diego Rivera have recognized Oaxaca’s famous street art. This means checking out the street art is not an experience to miss while in Oaxaca City! Some of these art pieces have been around for over 30 years!

You can sign up for this Street Art Bike Tour for just around $50 USD. It consists of a half-day bike tour to view the street art around the city, and it also includes refreshments and bicycles. You will also get the opportunity to explore three city neighborhoods and see the more cultural side of Oaxaca.  

8. Drink local hot chocolate

A man pours a traditional hot chocolate in Oaxaca, Mexico
A man mixes a traditional hot chocolate in Oaxaca, Mexico

Chocolate is one of the gastronomic foods Oaxaca City is known best for. So, enjoying the local hot chocolate is one of the activities in Oaxaca that everyone needs to do while in the city!

Cacao is an important cultural ingredient here in Mexico that is added to many different foods and drinks. Cacao beans have a rich history in Mexico, and they were first used by the Olmec then the Mayans and Aztecs, and continue to be used in many dishes today! The local hot chocolate here is made using water and cacao or corn.

One of the oldest chocolate drinks in the area is “tejate”, which dates back to the indigenous Mixtec and Zapotec tribes of Oaxaca. Nowadays, this drink is still made using traditional recipes that are centuries old!

One of the best places to try tejate is at one of the Chocolate Guelaguetza shops, and there are several of these around the city. Drinking traditional hot chocolate in a Chocolate Guelaguetza shop is one of the most relaxing things to do in Oaxaca.

I thought I had already found the Mexican city with the best hot chocolate while I was exploring Mexico City, but boy was I wrong! Oaxaca definitely takes the cake when it comes to all things chocolate.

Mayordomo is one of the largest producers of chocolate products and hot chocolate in Oaxaca City since the year 1956. They have several sites around the city as they produce the most industrial chocolate in the area, so you’ll surely run across a few Mayordomo chocolate shops while exploring!

9. Visit Templo de Santo Domingo

Templo de Santo Domingo in Oaxaca, Mexico
The church is so beautiful!

Templo de Santo Domingo is a church and former monastery located in the Oaxaca de Juarez area of Oaxaca City. This church has a curved façade, and the inside is decorated with 3D gilt designs around painted figures, making it one of the most spectacular churches in the city. During evening mass, the church has a magical glow created by candlelight.

This church was mainly built between 1570 and 1608 and was originally part of the Dominican monastery. There were many fine artists from various places, including Puebla, who were involved in the design and construction of the church. The most elaborate of images located at the church is the Capilla de la Virgen del Rosario from the eighteenth century. This painting can be found inside, on the south side of the church.

A stroll through this church is one of the many free things to do in Oaxaca City and it is worth taking the time to have a look around this breathtaking church! The church can be visited daily, between 7 am to 1 pm or 3 pm to 8 pm. The church is not open during the Mass service, so be sure to plan your visit around that time if you’d like to see the inside of the church.

10. Learn at Museo de las Culturas

The inside of the Museo de las Culturas, Oaxaca, Mexico
The museum itself is a work of art.

One of the most historic and glorious landmarks of the country, ‘Museo de la Culturas de Oaxaca’, is situated in the heart of Oaxaca City in the adjoining buildings of the Templo de Santo Domingo.

Formerly known as ‘the Regional Museum Of Oaxaca,’ this museum is housed in a previous Convent called the’ Santo Domingo de Guzman’ and offers a variety of attractions for visitors and patrons of art and architecture. 

This building depicts the grandeur of the colonial era with a ground floor and an upper floor. In addition to exhibit rooms, there is a historical Botanical garden, Templo de Santo Domingo, the Fray Francisco de Burgoa Library, and Néstor Sánchez Newspaper Archive of Oaxaca.

There are 14 exhibits and 9 thematic halls in total at this museum.

  • Halls I to IV have artifacts and findings from the prehistoric period. Some even date back 10000 years.
  • V to VIII carry exhibits from the colonial period.
  • IX to XIII conveys Oaxaca’s past and present.
  • Hall XIV is dedicated to Santo Domingo Monastery.

In 1932, Alfonso Caso discovered the valuable treasures from the Zapotec tomb 7, which belonged to a Mixtec King. Caso was buried along with his sacrificed slaves and prizes such as silver, turquoise, coral, jade, Amber, Pearls, crystal goblets, gold, and a turquoise-encrusted skull. These exhibits are displayed in room III.

You can even participate in interactive activities presented in one of its nine thematic rooms to make your visit more memorable. Experience the Oaxacan culture through an overview of their ceramics, goldsmithing, saddlery, and cooking activities.

The museum is open from 10 am to 3 pm Tuesday to Friday and costs 70 MXN or around $4 USD.

11. Celebrate Day of the Dead

Celebrating Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico
Me in my costume!

In Oaxaca, Mexico, participating in the Day of the Dead celebrations is a bucket-list experience! During this annual celebration, which takes place from October 31st to November 2nd, family and friends come together to remember their loved ones who have passed away. It is customary for the living to pay their respects to their deceased relatives during this time by visiting cemeteries and leaving offerings.

The most important part of the celebration is visiting the graves of deceased relatives, where they lay flowers, candles, and food on their grave markers. It is customary for food offerings to be items that the deceased relatives enjoyed when they were alive.

During the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, you will also see a lot of people dressed up in traditional clothing, as well as face painting. Many people wear skulls on their clothes as a way to represent the dead. Although it may sound like a morbid event, it really isn’t and is rather a fun celebration of those who were once with us. There are parades, parties, shows, and plenty of laughs shared between locals and tourists.

If you want to participate in the Day of the Dead celebrations, you should head to one of the graveyards in Oaxaca City. The two most popular ones are the Panteon de San Sebastian and the Panteon de Santa Maria, where you can join in on the festivities and pay your respects to your loved ones.

You can even join this Day of the Dead experience, where you will gain first-hand knowledge of a tradition that dates back more than 3,000 years when people used to worship the gods of Death and Life, respectively, known as The Mictlantecuhtli and The Mictecacihuatl. You’ll see a mix of tradition, worship, celebration, magic, and history on this tour as you learn about why the dead are celebrated during this holiday, and get to know the colorful altars and offerings from your English-speaking guide.

This is a great way to get to know the culture and traditions of Mexico, and it’s also an opportunity to learn about the history of the country. If you want to participate in something unique and memorable, then this is the perfect activity for you. Tickets for this 2-hour Day of the Dead tour start at $138 USD.

12. Enjoy the many festivals

A Christmas tree stands in front of the Templo de Santo Domingo in Oaxaca, Mexico
Christmas in Oaxaca is so much fun!

Although Day of the Dead may be the most famous celebration in Oaxaca, the city has countless exuberant festivals to offer all year round! The most commonly known ones are Holy Week, the Guelaguetza in July, the Night of the Radishes, and Christmas in December. If you are looking to visit the city around one of these festivals, you will need to make hotel bookings well in advance because people worldwide flock to Oaxaca to enjoy these majestic festivals!

The sidewalks are filled with food stalls during these festivals, allowing you to relish authentic Mexican cuisine. Try out the famous buñuelos, which is a crisp and sweet snack. They’re super light and fluffy and taste very similar to donuts! You can also find a variety of tamales, which is a dish made of corn dough that is steamed in a banana leaf.

During Festival de los Vinos, or the Wine Festival, you can learn about the different types of wines produced in Oaxaca. The city is home to many vineyards, and this is the perfect opportunity to sample some of the best wines that Mexico has to offer. This festival takes place in February, so if you’re visiting then make sure to check it out.

13. Enjoy a rooftop meal

A rooftop meal at La Azotea Restaurante Oaxaca
Photo credit: La Azotea Restaurante
Gozobi Restaurant Oaxaca
Photo credit: Gozobi Restaurant

Restaurant with a view? Yes, please! If you want to incorporate some sightseeing while enjoying a delicious meal, then you can pick out one of the many rooftop restaurants in Oaxaca that offer views of historic churches and the city.  

One of the best rooftop restaurants in the city is Casa Oaxaca. You can sit in either the main room, an exquisite bar, or the rooftop area. While your meal may be pretty costly, the food quality and the view of the historic city center will make up for it. The restaurant is headed by the talented Chef Alejandro Ruiz, who prepares superb dishes, and you will remember the taste long after you visit the city.  

Other restaurants include GozobiMezzaluna, and La Azotea 360. The former restaurant primarily offers Italian cuisine, and their specialties are pizzas! If you need a break from Mexican cuisine, this is the place to go! La Azotea 360 also serves Italian cuisine but has a range of other options. These restaurants, unlike Casa Oaxaca, are pretty affordable and budget-friendly.  

14. Cooking class

A mole dish served after a cooking class in Oaxaca, Mexico
The best part is eating what you cooked afterward!

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 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 making 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!

15. Monte Alban

view of a ruin at Monte Alban with mountains in the background
Such a neat place!

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.

Monte 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 some money, in comparison to going on a full 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.

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, 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! This tour costs $200 USD but you’ll have to pay the admission prices on top of that.

16. Mezcal tour

Mezcal Tasting Tour, Oaxaca
It’s very easy to get drunk on a Mezcal tasting tour

The state of Oaxaca produces more mezcal (a strong alcoholic spirit made from cactus, it’s commonly mistaken for tequila) 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.

This Mezcal Journey 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 the remote villages of Mitla and Matatlán where you’ll get to walk through the agave fields while learning some information about it.

Next up is a visit to an artisan mezcal distillery where you’ll see the drink-making process firsthand and at the end get unlimited tastings of a wide variety of mezcal. Oh, and that isn’t all! Your group will then share a traditional Oaxacan meal together at a local restaurant.

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.

17. Eat authentic Mexican at Los Danzantes Oaxaca

A pasta dish at Los Danzantes Oaxaca
Photo credit: Los Danzantes Oaxaca
Los Danzantes Oaxaca-2
Photo credit: Los Danzantes Oaxaca

With its beautiful decor and delectable cuisine, Los Danzantes Oaxaca is a magical place to visit in Oaxaca for those who like fine dining. The restaurant is located in an old converted monastery, and the ambiance is simply divine. The food here is some of the best in Oaxaca, and you’ll definitely want to try their famous mole poblano!

The only reason I went to Los Danzantes was that a friend recommended it to me, and I was not disappointed in the least.

There was nothing lacking in terms of flavor or presentation, and the service was impeccable. This restaurant comes highly recommended for anyone looking to enjoy a nice dinner in a beautiful setting. You must visit Los Danzantes if you want to get a true taste of Mexican cuisine in its purest form.

They have recreated all the classic flavors of traditional Mexican cuisine using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, so you can enjoy the authentic experience of a Mexican family kitchen. Their menu is designed to appeal to a wide range of palates, with vegetarian options as well as dishes that are suitable for vegans and those with gluten intolerances clearly marked. It’s clear that they have put a lot of thought into making their restaurant accessible to everyone.

If you’re looking for things to do in Oaxaca, make sure you add grabbing a bite to eat at Los Danzantes to your list!

18. Visit Mitla

Exploring the ancient ruins of Mitla, Oaxaca
Crawling through the underground tombs of Mitla

Mitla is an important archeological site near Oaxaca city, Mexico and this is an important site in terms of Zapotec culture. The Mitla site is located about 44 kilometers (27 miles) from the city of Oaxaca at the upper end of the Tlacolula Valley.

A long time before the era of Christianity, Mitla was established as a sacred site for burial and it was probably used by the Zapotecs, who were dominant until around 900 AD. Mitla is a well-preserved archeological site within a dry and cold climate. The site dates back over 10,000 years!

It is easy to get to the Mitla site and it can be reached by bus from Oaxaca City from the bus terminal (2nd class) or along Highway 190 (Boulevard Jose Vasconcelos). The journey will take about an hour and cost about twenty pesos, or $1 USD. This attraction in Oaxaca is very easy to get to from the city and the transport options are fairly cheap.

Another great way to explore the Mitla site is by joining one of the tours that visit this area. It is possible to join this half-day tour which will give you a detailed visit to the site and give you a good overview of the site whilst visiting.

The tour costs $35 USD and includes a 4-5 hour excursion through Mitla, where you’ll enjoy both a visit to a local rug-making workshop as well as have some free time to explore Mitla on your own. This tour is awesome because you don’t have to worry about transport at all since they pick up and drop you off right at your hotel in Oaxaca.

19. Wander the markets Mercado Benito Juárez

Bags of fresh produce at the markets Mercado Benito Juárez in Oaxaca, mexico
There is so much to try!

Visit Mercado Benito Juarez to experience how the locals shop in Oaxaca. If you appreciate delectable cuisines, the hustle and bustle of the food market, and the mouthwatering aroma of sizzling food wafting through the air, a trip to this colorful bazaar is a must!

Mercado Bento Juarez is the commercial hub of the whole region, and also the central marketplace in Villa Milpa Alta. Whether you want to enjoy a traditional hearty meal or buy local produce, this place is the one-stop source in Oaxaca City.

Here, you can shop for traditional handicrafts, bountiful fruits, baskets of chapulines, mole paste, and exotic spices under the Oaxacan sky. Consume freshly cooked Mexican tortillas, empanadas, and quesadillas at the food stalls cooked by locals. There is also a comfortable seating area where you can sit and enjoy your meal.

Along with food and fresh produce, this market in Oaxaca city proudly sells items like pottery, silver jewelry, leather products, handicrafts, flowers, pinatas, and sombreros. So if you’re looking for some unique souvenirs to take home for your friends or family, you can check that off your to-do list here as well.

You can mill the pavements of this lively market in Oaxaca City by yourself, or opt for a guided tour, but you truly can’t go wrong either way.

This tour will help you become immersed in the culture of Oaxaca City and your guide will take you to some of the best local vendors in the Mercado Benito Juárez to try things such as grasshoppers, a delicious cocoa drink, and traditional Oaxacan sweets. The best part is that it only costs $55 USD.

20. Eat street food from the food carts

The food carts in Oaxaca, Mexico
The food carts in the Zocalo!

While restaurant meals are not to be missed, the same goes for street food. The most authentic food is always found at food carts (small street food stalls)! It is prepared by locals so it always has that special home-cooked flavor, and is usually more affordable than any restaurant food. There is also the added benefit of buying it on the go, in between activities, and while you are exploring the city.

You can get a market breakfast that includes two fried eggs, onions, and an Oaxacan version of sour cream that is so much more cream than sour, all perfectly blended together in a clay pot. There are also many tacos, hamburgers, and sweet options sprawled all over the city!

Oaxaca is a mecca for food lovers, so make sure to try as many things as you can while you are here. But don’t get caught up in tasting foods from home that you already know, be adventurous and try something new! Be sure to try things like tlayudas (a type of Mexican pizza), tamales, elotes (corn on the cob), and of course, tacos! And don’t forget to wash it all down with some delicious Mexican beer or agua fresca.

Some things are just too good to pass up, and street food in Oaxaca is definitely one of them. Many of these food carts appear later in the evening and are out until late. They are the perfect option to eat after an adventurous night out! I always find myself grabbing a hamburger on my way back to the hotel after enjoying a few beers out on the town.

21. PARTY!

A group of people party in Oaxaca, Mexico
There’s always lots of fun happening in Oaxaca!

What’s a holiday without some dancing? Oaxaca offers multiple clubs where you can dance the night away with your friends and get a chance to socialize with locals. Whether it is live rock music or sizzling salsa dancing, Oaxaca has it all!

Txalaparta is a popular spot to immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant nightlife. It is located just five minutes from Zocalo. Most nights, the club offers live music, hookah spots, quality nachos, and craft beers. You can easily find an Uber in the area where the club is located- what more can you ask for?

La Tentacion is another fantastic bar to enjoy Oaxaca’s nightlife. It is a popular choice for locals. So if you are looking for a bit of salsa dancing in a relaxed, informal setting, La Tentacion should be your pick. The club also offers plenty of promotions for snacks and drinks, so make sure to take advantage of that.

22. Painting experience

a hand painted Alebrije in Oaxaca, Mexico
A hand-painted Alebrije in Oaxaca, Mexico

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.

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 $55 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!

23. Check out the world’s widest tree in Tule

The Tule Tree, Mexico
It’s a big tree!

In the outskirts of Oaxaca City is the world’s widest tree, El Arbol del Tule. It is over 2000 years old and is amongst the oldest trees in the world. If you are bored of street art, you can go to the city’s outskirts, either by bike or car, to visit this tree. You will also see the historical towns and visit the nearby handicrafts and food market.  

You can either take a private car to visit the ancient tree or choose a guided tour.

If you’d prefer your travel arranged for you and the chance to be transported in an air-conditioned vehicle, this full-day tour will take you to the tree as well as to explore the nearby artisan village of Teotilan del Valle. You’ll also get to learn about the ancient Zapotecs in the villages of Mitla and Tlacoula before ending the day sampling mezcal at a traditional distillery. Tickets for this tour start at $51 USD and include hotel pick-up and drop-off, as well as a professional bilingual tour guide.

Another good tour is this biking tour. The biking tour costs below $65 USD and should be your pick if you are looking for adventure, and certainly a way to get some exercise in.  

24. Walk the pedestrian-only street Macedonio Alcalà

pedestrian-only street Macedonio Alcalà
It’s so a beautiful street to walk!

Walking along this pedestrian-only street is another popular activity to do while in Oaxaca City, especially if you are looking for an active tourist attraction. This iconic street is lined with endless shops, restaurants, and cafes. You can find anything you need on this street, from traditional Mexican souvenirs to handcrafted jewelry. This street is also home to some of the best street food in Oaxaca City!

You can easily explore this pedestrian-only street by yourself and immerse yourself in the rich Mexican culture this street has to offer while strolling along its sidewalks. You can get to Macedonio Alcalà by following the foot traffic north of the Zocalo, the city center. Continue walking along with the traffic until you reach this street. It will not take long to reach Macedonio Alcalà from Zocalo, and you will get to immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of the city on your way there!

25. Drink coffee, coffee, and more coffee!

Most of Oaxaca’s coffee is actually obtained locally. It is produced in nearby mountainous regions of the Sierra Norte, the Sierra Sur, and the Mixteca. Thanks to the tremendous variety in production means, you will be able to try out many distinct and local coffee flavors. Some well-known coffee shops in the city include Caracol Púrpura, Muss Café, and Filemón.

Caracol Púrpura is home to one of Oaxaca’s best espressos: full-bodied, smokey, bitter, yet so addictive! It is located at the top of the steep, cobbled Calle del Punto behind the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. If you like to have something sweet with your coffee, the shop also makes its own chocolate bars. They have multiple flavors, including almond, sea salt, cardamom, and chili.

Filemon is located opposite the Biblioteca Infantil in the heart of Xochimilco. Some say this is the most picturesque and peaceful neighborhood in the city. Filemón is a small coffee shop in the area that grows its coffee and is extremely particular about its quality. You will get to drink the freshest and most premium quality coffee in this cafe!

26. The Botanic Gardens

Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca
it’s a classic Mexican garden with lots of cacti!

The Botanic Gardens in Oaxaca are called Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca. The gardens are located behind Oaxaca’s most prominent landmark, the Santo Domingo Cultural Center. A fun fact about the botanical gardens is that they were part of the Santo Domingo monastery grounds, occupied by the Mexican army for over 120 years.  

In 1994, when the garrison relocated, the government was keen to build a luxury hotel and car park over the grounds. However, a Toledo-led group lobbied for the garden alternative and won. Consequently, the gardens officially opened to the public in 1998, and they’ve remained ever since.  

The breathtaking garden houses a wide range of flora and fauna local to the city. Since Oaxaca is the most biodiverse region in Mexico, you can find countless flora and fauna in the garden. There is also a rescue area in the gardens, where plants from other sites are bought. These include agaves and cacti that have been saved from development projects all over the city.  

27. Museum of Contemporary Art

This 17th-century mansion-turned-museum is the perfect place to be if you appreciate art, culture, and history. It is commonly referred to as “La Casa de Cortés”, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Oaxaca City. The museum houses an impressive collection of Pre-Hispanic and colonial-era artifacts, as well as a library with over 20,000 books!

The Oaxacan Museum of Contemporary Art was established in 1992 and was the brainchild of Oaxacan painter Fransico Toledo. Currently, there are 13 exhibition rooms in the museum, of which three are dedicated to permanent exhibitions by Oaxacan artists. The remaining exhibition halls are for temporary exhibits, which change every few months.

The front of the museum building has the family seal of the Lazo de la Vega and Pinelo families, who were the home’s original inhabitants. The government then later acquired the building in 1986, where it housed a different museum before finally transforming into the Oaxacan Museum of Contemporary Art.

One of the things that make this museum so special is its location. It is situated in the heart of the historic center of Oaxaca City, and is surrounded by other popular tourist attractions. This makes it the perfect place to start your exploration of Oaxaca City!

The museum is open every day except for Tuesdays from 10:30 am to 8 pm. It costs 70 MXN ($3.50 USD) to enter, but the entrance is free on Sundays.

28. Museo Textil de Oaxaca

Museo Textil de Oaxaca
Photo credit: Museo Textil de Oaxaca

The Textile Museum of Oaxaca is a haven for fashion and textile enthusiasts. It offers an overview of textiles not just from Oaxaca, Mexico, but from all over the world! The museum demonstrates the diversity present in the world of textiles and showcases the possibilities and ideas for textile diversification. There are ideas for the different types of designs and textures that can be produced and techniques and creative processes that can also be employed.  

The museum aims to bring together textiles from all around the world in one place. There are around 5000 Oaxacan and international textile pieces kept in this museum. These pieces are of varying designs and craftsmanship and are made by rural and urban artists. Some are over a century old, and some are contemporary pieces that demonstrate modern design.  

Museo Textil de Oaxaca showcases these pieces all year round. If you are ever in the city, you must visit this museum. Walk through the place and marvel at all the fabric produced in this city and beyond. You will be amazed at all the different materials and clothes that exist. If you are a fashion student, this is the perfect place to gain inspiration! 

The best part is that this museum is completely free to visit! Museo Textil de Oaxaca is open every day of the week from 10 am to 8 pm.  

29. Museum of prehispanic art

A piece at the Museum of prehispanic art
An artifact piece at the Museum of pre-hispanic art

Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Hispanic Art was founded in the 1970s and is housed in a restored 18th-century mansion. It contains many items donated by the famous Oaxacan painter Rufino Tamayo. He was inspired by pre-Columbian artwork and collected pieces throughout his life during his travels across Mexico. 

Tamayo selected these pieces based on their artistic value, and not their archaeological value. Consequently, these exhibits are not grouped in chronological or geographical sequence but rather according to overarching creative themes. 

As you walk into the museum, you will be able to immerse yourself in the pre-Hispanic era. The colonial-era building consists of five rooms, each of which has been painted a different color. There are various stone sculptures, ceramics, and figurines from the pre-Hispanic era in each room, with each piece narrating a different story. Each art item has explanations written under it in Spanish and English to cater to tourists. At the end of your tour, do not forget to visit the souvenir shop!  

The museum costs 90 MXN ($4.50 USD) to visit and is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to pm, and 4 pm to 7 pm.

Note: As of October 2022 this museum is closed so be sure to keep checking google as it may be reopened in the future.

30. Enjoy a “free” mezcal tasting

If you haven’t noticed already, Oaxaca is the paradise of mezcal. It is the liquor you find on most cocktail lists here. There are even entire bars, called mezcalerias, which solely serve this type of liquor.

While you can pay to enjoy mezcal at a bar or even join one of the guided mezcal-tasting tours, did you know that you can sample mezcal for FREE too?

That’s right, lining the pedestrian street (Macedonio Alcalà) you’ll find tons of stores selling mezcal. The sales technique for these stores is to provide free samples. So, why not head in and try a few different types? You can sample strong (over 40% alcohol) mezcal or flavored mezcals that taste more like sweet candy.

Beware though, the mezcal is so tasty and the salespeople are good at their jobs, so you’ll probably end up buying a bottle (or five) while you’re there.

31. Go shopping

Shopping in Oaxaca, Mexico
There are lots of colorful dresses, purses, and bags!

Oaxaca City has the best woolen rugs, wood carvings, and ceramics any place has to offer! Head to Casa de las Artesanías de Oaxaca if you want to buy any of these items and are willing to pay a hefty price. They have the best quality in each of these items, and they also have a remarkable variety for you to choose from!

However, if you feel that the prices are too high, you can buy handicrafts from Mujeres Artesanas de las Regiones de Oaxaca. The shop is run by women who manage the business and produce stunning pieces. They also have an endless collection to choose from and create everything from blouses and woven handbags to rugs and tinwork.

If you are looking to shop specifically for crafts, then the Instituto de Artesanias Oaxaqueños (Aripo) is the place. It has the broadest range of arts and collections from all over the city. The institute is located in a colonial building on Garcia Vigil near the old aqueduct. It also has a beautiful central courtyard where you can take pictures and enjoy the rest of your afternoon.

32. Experience the mushroom forest

Who knew that Oaxaca was home to a Mushroom Forest? This unique forest is located on the outskirts of the city in a town called San Jose del Pacifico, and is home to over 200 different types of mushrooms! At the forest, you can take a guided tour, go on a nature hike, or even participate in a healing experience where you’ll learn about the spiritual wellness properties of mushrooms.

The Mushroom Forest in San Jose del Pacifico is the perfect place to pause and reconnect with your spirit. This is a great activity for those looking for things to do in Oaxaca City that are a little more off the beaten path.

This 3-night healing and wellness retreat at the Mushroom Forest is the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate. You’ll start with a guided tour of the forest, followed by a nature hike and a cooking class.

Then, you’ll enjoy 3 nights of camping in the forest, where you can take part in yoga and meditation classes, enjoy massages, and learn about the healing properties of mushrooms. During your stay, you’ll join your guide and other group members for silent hikes, and wellness and healing workshops in the cloud forest.

The price for this retreat starts at $718 USD per person and includes all meals, accommodations, and activities with an English and Spanish-speaking guide, as well as transportation to and from Oaxaca City.

33. Go on a combination full-day tour

Hierve el Agua tour from Oaxaca
This beautiful place is located just outside of Oaxaca!

The best way to pack in some of Oaxaca’s top sights is on a full-day tour that includes a few of the most famous sights of Oaxaca, bundled into one tour. Opt for a combination tour of the archaeological ruins, a mezcal tasting, and a traditional Oaxacan cooking class, or a tour of an ancient Zapotec site, Monte Alban. This is a great way to get an all-around feel for the history, culture, and food of Oaxaca.

This full-day tour takes in the natural wonders of Hierve el Agua and the mezcal distilleries of Matatlan. You’ll start with a visit to the 2,000-year-old Zapotec ruins before cooling off with a swim in the mineral springs. Then it’s on to Matatlan, the mezcal capital of Mexico, for a tour and tasting at one of the local distilleries. You’ll have plenty of time to explore on your own too, with breakfast, lunch, and snacks included. The price for this tour starts at $148 USD per person.

Or, if you really want to cram in the sights, go on a tour that hits all of the top sights in one day. This Oaxaca tour with Conmigo Tours will take you to see Monte Alban, the archaeological site of Mitla, and the colonial city of Tule. You’ll also get to the Tule tree, the family workshop of San Martin Tilcajete, and enjoy a traditional Oaxacan lunch.

After lunch, you’ll continue on to the Zapotec ruins of Yagul, ancient cave dwellings in Mitla, and finally the handicraft market of Teotitlan del Camino. The price for this tour starts at $215 USD per person. This tour lasts about 9 hours and is a great way to get an overview of all that Oaxaca has to offer in one day.

34. Visit Taller Arte Papel (paper workshop) in Etla´s Valley

This unique site can be found just 30 minutes outside of Oaxaca City in Etla’s Valley. You might be wondering what exactly is there to see at a paper factory. Well, the Taller Arte Papel co-op was founded in 1998 by the Mexican artist Francisco Toledo whose mission behind it was to teach people about the importance of contaminant-free paper.

Over the year, artists in the community have been taught paper-making techniques with paper pulp from local sources such as plants and trees. These creatives have also found ways to manipulate these natural resources into kites, bags, jewelry, and more! It’s truly something you’d have to see to believe exactly what they can do.

To see the process in action you can visit on this private tour from Oaxaca. During the first hour after your arrival, you will learn all about the facility and processes used by the artists and see the finished products in the small galley.

Afterward, you’ll also get to check out the Etla Tianguis Market where all kinds of colorful clothing, trinket, and food stands are set up waiting for you to pick out something unique or to indulge in the local dishes such as Quesillo (string cheese ball) or Tlayudas! Make sure to have some cash on hand for this as lunch is not included.

35. Go horseback riding in nature

If you are a nature lover then you probably won’t want to spend all of your time in the heart of the city. A great way to escape for a few hours is to ride around some scenic trails on horseback.

This Oaxaca horseback riding tour departs from the outskirts of the city and you can either meet there or be picked up from your accommodation. From the meeting point, it’s not that long of a drive to where the horses are at.

You’ll get 2 hours of riding in the open air with plenty of time to admire the scenery and snap photos. If you are coming with little ones there are also ponies available for them to ride on.

This tour costs $199 USD per person and a snack and water are included.

Where to Stay in Oaxaca, Mexcio

quinta real hotel in oaxaca
Personally, staying at a hotel with a pool for me is a must! Photo Credit: Quinta Real Hotel

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!

Renting a Car in Mexico

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie while driving around Mexico
A rental car means freedom to go to the beach whenever you want!

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car. 

I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Cancun in 2023, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically. 

I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend. 

The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too. 

Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit. 

Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper! 

Thanks for reading!

day of the dead in mexico make up
Myself, Bailey, and a friend of ours showing off our Day of the Dead make-up!

No matter what you prefer, Oaxaca can offer it to you! There are countless more things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico. You have to book your flight there, and the rest will fall into place. If you have any questions regarding what to do on your trip to the city, reach out to us!

If you enjoyed this article on things to do in Oaxaca City, you’ll definitely enjoy some of our other Mexico tips and guides, like:

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