Oaxaca has been on my radar as a must-visit spot since I moved to Mexico last year. The city is known for its incredible food and numerous sub-cultures and I’ve been daydreaming about getting to know both for over a year. One week in Oaxaca is a great amount of time to eat lots of food and explore a small portion of the local cultures. If you have no self-control like me a week might be all your stomach and liver can take (have I mentioned this is the home of mezcal, too?).
A One Week Oaxaca Itinerary
Where to Stay in Oaxaca
Long-time readers will know I’m a loyal Airbnb user, so I definitely recommend checking out what’s on offer there first. It’s by far the cheapest option and allows you to experience the city a bit more like a local than if you were staying at a hotel.
I stayed at this Airbnb which was absolutely perfect. It has a huge balcony and is only a short walk to all of the downtown attractions. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, you can sign up through this link to get up to $40 off your first booking.
Other great local B&Bs that I looked into and that have great reviews are:
Getting To and From the Airport
If you’re flying into Oaxaca there’s pretty much only one way to get into the downtown if you don’t hire a car – a shared taxi. Once you come through the terminal and enter the baggage claim area you’ll see a place next to the car rentals that says TAXI. Here you get in line and prepay for a ticket into the city center. They will drop you off at any hotel or B&B in the city center for 80 pesos per person.
Getting back to the airport is slightly more complex. If you’re staying at a hotel, just let them know that you want to book onto a colectivo back to the airport and they’ll be able to call and book it for you. If you are staying in an Airbnb or other self-catered accommodation, you’ll have to head to the zocalo to book it a day ahead of time. Head to the office, which is just across from the cathedral, and has a little brown sign that says “Transportación Terrestre Aeropuerto” to book. It’s the same price and they’ll pick you up from your accommodation.
Day One – Get to Know the City
Depending on what time you arrive, you’ll want to get to your accommodation and drop your bags off so you can start to explore and eat. I arrived into Oaxaca around 1:3o so the first thing I did was go for lunch.
I headed to the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. There are so many different places where you can have Oaxacan classics. I chose Comedor Betty’s where I sat down with my boyfriend and ordered a huge tlayuda with Oaxacan cecina and a plate of Oaxacan Chorizo with rice, beans, and homemade tortillas. The spices they use on the Oaxacan-style meats is salty and spicy and incredibly delicious.
After that, I headed to the market across the road, Mercado Benito Juarez. Here you can find fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, coffee, mole paste, shoes, hats, and just about anything else you can imagine. I spent a lot of time walking through the market tasting moles and Oaxacan cheeses and drinking freshly made juice and iced hot chocolates.
I was incredibly full at this point, so I decided to head to the Zocalo to sit and people watch. The square is a short walk from the market and the street there is lined with more shops. You can pick up bracelets, sculptures, earrings, and shoes. But hold off, it’s only the first day, you can always come back to pick something up!
In the Zocalo (the main square), you can go into the cathedral, sit and people watch, eat more street food, sit in a cafe and eat more chocolate, or simply stroll around and check out more souvenir stalls.
For evening drinks, head to La Santisima for locally brewed craft beer and tapas made with homemade bread, charcuterie, and cheese. This place is doing it right and the customer service is crazy good.
Depending on your budget you can either head to one of the many wonderful restaurants in the area, or do as the locals do and dig into a street burger. No matter where you go in the city, the only street food you’ll find after dark are hamburgers, hot dogs, and corn. Embrace it and dry the different burgers. My favorites were around Santo Domingo and the Zocalo.
Day Two – Tour Monte Alban
There are tons of tour companies around the city that will take you on a tour of Monte Alban and a few surrounding villages. They’ll pick you up around 9 am, so you’ll want to make sure you have breakfast before hand. Eat a big breakfast, because Mexicans don’t stop for lunch until around 2 pm.
The tour takes you to the incredible historic ruins of Monte Alban as well as a wood carving village, a black clay village, and Cuilapan de Guerrero, a 16th-century Dominican monastery.
The day is long and you don’t get back to the city center until about 7 pm. From there you’ll want to drop off all of your souvenirs that you didn’t intend on buying before heading for dinner.
If you can hold out until 9pm, head to Libres Tlayudas for truly authentic street-style tlayudas. Unlike the ones you will get at the market, these tlayudas aren’t flat, they’re folded over like a Mexican calzone. I tried the Oaxacan chorizo and my boyfriend Luke had the cecina. Be sure to try their salsas if you enjoy a bit of spice.
Day Three – EthnoBotanical Gardens
Start the day with an incredible breakfast at Mercado de la Merced. This is one of the most popular spots in the city for an authentic bowl of hot chocolate with pan de yema – a sweet sort of bread that you dip into your hot chocolate. My favorite place here is definitely Fonda Florecita. Try the chilaquiles or entomadas – they’re filling but amazing.
Depending on what day it is, I highly recommend heading to the Ethnobotanical Gardens while you’re in Oaxaca. You can only enter the gardens on a tour and tours in English are only offered Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 11am. Simply show up a few minutes beforehand to get a ticket, which costs 100 pesos (about $5).
The tour will take you around the gardens and the guide will explain all about how and why the garden exists, what used to be there, and what their hopes are for the future of this garden and Oaxaca. It’s really informative and I found it pretty fascinating to learn more about what local Mexicans in Oaxaca think about the government, their agriculture, and their future.
The tour is two hours, so by the time it finishes at 1 o’clock you’ll probably be ready for lunch. Some great options are: the Pasillo de Carnes Asadas (grilled meat passage) at Mercado 20 de Noviembre, La Palapa de Raul (their mole is one of the best!), or La Teca, which is a bit of a walk, so you may want to get a taxi, but it’ll be worth it.
After a nice long lunch, take a walk around the Santo Domingo Cathedral and head into the Museo de las Culturas which is all in the same building. The entry was 60 pesos ($3) as of July 2017. You’ll get to walk around the former monastery and learn more about the history of the state of Oaxaca. For me, the best part was simply seeing the inside of this buildings. It’s incredibly beautiful and historical. All signs and explanations in the museum are in Spanish only.
Day 4 – Tour Milta & Hierve el Agua
If you only do one tour while you’re in Oaxaca (although I recommend doing both), this should be the one. Hierve el Agua is one of the most incredible natural wonders that I’ve ever seen in the flesh. It sort of takes your breath away.
Mitla is an ancient Meso-America city that still stands thanks mostly to the fact that the Spanish saw crosses in the buildings so thought it would be bad luck if they knocked it down. The carvings are incredibly well intact and the different colors, rooms, and tombs that you can still explore are fascinating.
This tour also includes a stop at a mezcal factory which I really enjoyed. I got to sample an absurd amount of mezcal and learn all about the process of making it. I learned way more about agave plants than I ever imagined I would and I really learned to appreciate the drink.
We also stopped at a textile factory in the famous Teotitlán del Valle, the area known best for all of the beautiful rugs and blankets that you’ll find around Oaxaca. It was cool to see the whole process of how they are still using natural dyes and how they make them. We looked at the loom and the rug-making process. I didn’t buy anything here though because the rugs were CRAZY expensive. Like hundreds of dollars expensive. I don’t need a rug that badly. If you do though, they’re really beautiful.
Again this tour is an all day thing and I didn’t get back into the city until about 8:30. I went for late night burgers again because they’re delicious and they only cost $1.50.
Day 5 – Make all the Time for Itanoni
After all these early mornings touring, you might just want to have a bit of a sleep-in. I know I did. I slept in and then headed to perhaps the best breakfast place I’ve ever been to in my life: Itanoni.
This is a true experience. Itanoni uses all different types of corn to make their handmade tortillas. They cook them fresh on a traditional clay stove and all of the different ingredients are perfecto.
I highly recommend trying the tetelas. I have never had anything like them and the mixture of cream and cheese and buttery mushrooms is making my mouth water just thinking about it again. The memelas, de ese, and quesadillas are also excellent. Basically try everything, including their fresh juices and cafe de olla.
After you have had a nice lazy brunch, walk it off as you stroll slowly back to the city. I recommend making a detour through Parque El Llano. It’s a nice big park with lots of different food stalls surrounding it and plenty of benches to sit down and enjoy the people watching.
In the evening head for happy hour drinks at Casa Crespo. This rooftop bar is a perfect place to watch the sunset. They have mezcal and bottles of beer and it was by far the cheapest spot for beers that I found in the city (other than just buying a few at the local Oxxo and taking them back to drink on your balcony). The view is stunning up there and looks back at the Santo Domingo church.
Day 6 – Mercado Tlacolula
This is one of the most famous markets in Oaxaca. It only happens on Sundays, so be sure to plan accordingly. Tlacolula is one of the oldest and largest weekly markets in Oaxaca. If you’ve rented a car that’s a great way to get there. Otherwise, you’ll have to catch the bus which leaves from the 2nd class bus terminal next to Central de Abastos. They go pretty frequently – about once every half an hour.
The market is known for having lots of fresh foods and drinks. Be sure to try tejate, atole, fresh tortillas, and enjoy the seemingly endless varieties of corn on offer. In the last few years, the market has become quite popular among tourists, which seems to have left a sour taste in the mouths of the local vendors. Be sure to speak Spanish if you can – even just broken Spanish is better than speaking to people in English. Be polite. If you’re going to take a photo, always ask. As a general courtesy, don’t take a photo unless you plan on buying something.
If you want to try another local craft beer spot before you head home, Tierra Blanca is a great spot. It’s a small bar located inside a restaurant, but the beer is excellent and for craft beer, is very reasonably priced. They do a great olive platter, too.
If you’re looking for somewhere to sample a bit of mezcal, my favorite spot to do that was Los Amantes Mezcalería near the Santo Domingo Church. They had different sample options and their mezcals were incredibly tasty. They also spoke a bit of English in case you have questions or want to know more about the mezcals.
Day 7 – Souvenir Shopping
Okay, you’ve explored all of the markets, you’ve seen the different shops. Now it’s time to do your souvenir shopping.
I loved all of the leather shoes at the Mercado Benito Juarez. You can also pick up different moles and cheeses to take home with you if that’s what you enjoyed most.
I highly recommend popping into Chocolate Mayordomo behind the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. There are a few shop fronts all selling something a little bit different. One is churning fresh chocolate and literally selling that by the bag. Another is selling chocolate once it’s cooled. Another is selling chocolate drinks and powders. All of them are worth smelling and tasting and possibly buying from.
There are vendors all around Santo Domingo Church selling beautifully embroidered shirts and dresses. I found the price to be quite high, but they insisted that all of them were hand-sewn. There are a few cheaper option in the Zocalo, but they couldn’t make the same promises.
Be sure to book your taxi to the airport the day before you leave and make sure you pack all your delicate souvenirs into your hand-luggage!
Things to Know Before You Come to Oaxaca
- Knowing a little bit of Spanish will be helpful and courteous to the locals. Spend a little bit of time before you come either studying on Duolingo or reading up on this Lonely Planet Mexican Spanish Phrasebook . That’s the one I used before I came and it was incredibly helpful in situations like shopping or booking things.
- I also recommend learning about the names of the different foods you want to try. Most of the restaurants in the markets don’t have menus, so they’ll just tell you all of the things that you can have. If you aren’t familiar with the names of the food, it will end up just sounding like gibberish. I wrote a post about all the food I ate here that might help. This post from Beat Nomad is also a really great resource that I used before my trip.
- As always, be sure to get yourself travel insurance before going anywhere. I always use WorldNomads because they cover not only my bod, but my stuff, too – pretty important if you’re traveling with laptops or cameras or anything else you don’t want to have to buy again. WorldNomads lets you personalize your plan so you only pay for where you’re going and what activities you’re doing.
- The Oaxaca airport literally has no food. There is one convenience store and one coffee stand that doesn’t even have milk. Do not go to the airport thinking that you’ll get some food once you arrive.
- You can read all the posts I wrote about visiting Oaxaca here.
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