Looking for the best day trips from Oaxaca? Branching out in every direction from Oaxaca City’s center are picturesque villages frozen in time, unbelievable natural wonders and ancient archaeological sites, satisfyingly overwhelming market scenes, and artisanal mastery you’d never dream existed.
Keep reading for not only the 8 best day trip excursions from Oaxaca, but for how to get there and what to tack onto your itinerary when you do.
Getting to Oaxaca
Getting to Oaxaca is rather painless, no matter whether you travel by bus, plane, or car. This is because Oaxaca City is well connected to the rest of Mexico, both by highway and by air, including direct flights from several US cities.
By Plane: Oaxaca International Airport (OAX), located just 20-30 minutes from the city center, receives several direct flights from US destinations like Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles, as well as non-stop domestic flights from destinations like Mexico City, Cancun, Tijuana, Guadalajara, and Monterrey.
By Car: If you’re traveling to Oaxaca by car, it’s about a 5½ hour drive from Mexico City on high-speed toll roads. You’ll just follow Highway 150D the entire way, passing through the outskirts of Puebla City en route.
By Bus: Mexico in general is a very bus-friendly destination with routes connecting most major cities to one other. Oaxaca is no exception. If you’re traveling from Mexico City, the first-class buses leaving from the TAPO (east) bus station follow the toll road and usually make it to Oaxaca City within 6 to 7 hours of departure. ADO is a popular and safe option between the two cities. There are also buses that run to Oaxaca City from Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, Puebla, and San Cristobal de las Casas.
Check out these guides to Oaxaca if you are planning to explore this city before heading off on day trips:
Getting Around the Oaxaca Countryside
The city itself is walkable, but if you’re looking to escape the cobblestone streets for a day trip into the Oaxaca countryside, you’ll need more than your two legs of course.
There are several car rental agencies in Oaxaca, including Economy, Europcar, Hertz, Alamo, and Only Rent a Car. Renting a car definitely grants you the most freedom and is certainly recommended if your budget allows for it.
However, using public transportation or booking a few tours to visit the city outskirts isn’t a bad option either. Neither will break the bank. In fact, some tours work out to be cheaper than if you attempted to do it yourself and public transportation to all of Oaxaca’s best day trip destinations is never more than a few bucks.
Weighing the pros and cons between booking a tour versus doing it yourself on public transportation? A tour is certainly the easiest of the options and often strings together several Oaxaca excursions into one action-packed day. That and it usually includes the guide for that insider information you’re going to wish you had while wandering ancient ruins like Monte Albán and Mitla.
But if you don’t like being pinned down to an itinerary and schedule, public transportation is the way to go. Colectivos (shared taxis), as well as buses, go to most of the spots on this Oaxaca day trips list or, at the very least, they will drop you near enough that you can walk or hop in a moto-taxi the rest of the way. Just pay attention to the time, as many colectivos stop operating after a certain hour.
Best Oaxaca Day Trips
These are the eight best day trips and excursions within reach of Oaxaca City.
1. Monte Albán
Monte Albán is easily one of the best day trips from Oaxaca City, if not for its historical significance than for its spectacular views of Oaxaca’s central valley and its close proximity to the city center. Founded by the Zapotec people in 500 BC, the now timeworn (but largely intact and hieroglyphic-adorned) pyramids, plazas, canals, ball courts, and tombs still stand for you to explore, admire, and yes, even climb.
As the grand seat of the Zapotec civilization for nearly 13 centuries, Monte Albán is considered to be one of the most important ruins in this part of Mexico. The four miles of hill-crowning courts and constructions were at their height of use around the same time as Mexico City’s Teotihuacan. It was the most influential members of Zapotec society that got to call this privileged hilltop city home, until the site was abandoned in 850 AD and later re-inhabited by the Mixtecs.
Though extensive at roughly four miles from end to end, the grounds of Monte Albán can be explored in roughly two hours, with or without a guide. The site is open daily from 8am to 4:30pm but it is recommended to go early as they do limit entry to just 400 people per day. Don’t miss the on-site museum on the way out. It’s included in your entry ticket, but closes slightly earlier than the ruins do.
After Monte Albán, the next best Oaxaca day trip is to the archaeological site of Mitla to view its world-famous mosaics and unique blend of Zapotec and Mixtec architecture.
The quadrangle-shaped buildings, painted friezes, and geometric mosaics of Mitla are located about 27 miles southeast of Oaxaca, just beyond the town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla.
Much younger than its geo-political counterpart of Monte Albán, Mitla wasn’t at its height until about two or three centuries before the arrival of the Spanish in the 1520s. Its main use was as a religious center for the Zapotec, populated mainly by high priests who conducted human sacrifices there. After all, Mitla was considered by the Zapotec to be the gateway between the world of the living and the dead.
Its architecture and mosaics are unparalleled in Mexico and the main reason many visitors flock to this site on a day trip from Oaxaca.
It’s also conveniently located near several other interesting attractions including Yagul, another ancient Zapotec archeological site known for its views, mosaics, and off-the-beaten-path vibes, and Iglesia de San Pablo, located just next to the entrance to the Mitla ruins.
This three-domed Spanish-built church was constructed in 1544 right on top of a Zapotec temple.
3. Teotitlan del Valle
Whatever you do, do not miss venturing into the Oaxaca countryside to Teotitlan del Valle, a picturesque Zapotec village that still clings to its centuries-old language and traditions. Its biggest claim to fame are its ornately woven rugs and textiles.
Nearly every family in town has an open door workshop for you to wander inside and watch the magic happen on their massive pedal loom. If you’re lucky, they may even demonstrate how they dye the wool using natural materials like indigo, cochineal, and marigolds.
This is a Oaxaca day trip that should be at the top of your list if you appreciate watching life unfold much like it did centuries before. It will feel like you’re witnessing what a traditional Zapotec town was like when Monte Albán and Mitla were at their height.
While you’re in town, you should also check out the Community Museum and the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo Church and sample some of Oaxaca’s best tejate at the local market or wherever you spot the frothy maize and cacao ancestral beverage.
You can also pair this Oaxaca day trip with a visit to Santa Maria del Tule to view the world’s widest tree. It’s located conveniently en route to Teotitlan del Valle.
4. San Antonio Arrazola
San Antonio Arrazola is the birthplace of the fantastical copal-carved creatures, called alebrijes, now associated with Oaxacan folk art. The town sits on the skirts of Monte Albán, meaning it’s yet another very doable and quick day trip from Oaxaca City.
Though the whimsical concept of an alebrije is actually not originally from San Antonio Arrazola, it was Arrazola local Manuel Jiménez who inspired the resurgence of the fever dream-induced folk art on a different medium than the paper mache canvas used by its original creator, Mexico City artist Pedro Linares.
All over San Antonio Arrazola, you’ll find shelves and workshops full of vibrantly-detailed and copal-carved two-headed dogs, winged jaguars, serpents with feet, or whatever else the curve of the copal inspires in the artist carving and painting it into form. All you need to do is get yourself there and let the day plan itself as you hop from workshop to workshop.
If you still haven’t had enough of this strange art, San Martin Tilcajete is another renowned destination for alebrije-making in Oaxaca. It too is an easy day trip into the Oaxaca countryside and many of the workshops allow you to step inside for a free guided tour of the entire alebrije process.
5. San Bartolo Coyotepec
Keeping with the theme of Oaxacan art and the quaint countryside towns that bring it to life, add San Bartolo Coyotepec to the list of Oaxaca excursions you can’t miss. Known for its barro negro, or black clay pottery, San Bartolo Coyotepec is a destination for potters and ceramics lovers thanks to the late Doña Rosa.
The tradition of black clay pottery is one that actually dates back to the days of the Zapotec, but until Doña Rosa came along, the pottery was mainly used for utilitarian purposes and was anything but sought after the world over. In the 1950s, Doña Rosa uncovered a new technique that turned the previously lackluster gray finish to a shiny and dark black by using a quartz stone to sand and polish the pieces before throwing it in the wood-fired kiln.
Her innovation caught on and today workshops that sell and demonstrate the barro negro-making process have popped up all over San Bartolo Coyotepec, where the black clay is naturally found. Just keep in mind, the cost of the shiny black finish is that these pieces are purely decorative.
If you want a piece that can actually store your food and beverages, stick to the unpolished gray-toned pieces made the Zapotec way.
If the black clay pottery has intrigued you and you have time for another day trip into the Oaxaca countryside, I recommend heading to Santa Maria Atzompa next, a village at the foot of Monte Albán that is known for its gorgeous green-glazed pottery.
6. Mezcal Country
More than 70% of Mexico’s mezcal (a distilled agave spirit) is grown and produced in Oaxaca. For this reason alone, a day trip into the heart of Oaxaca’s mezcal country is a must. Many of the family-run palenques and distilleries are open for drop-ins, while others may require a reservation in advance.
Of Oaxaca’s mezcal towns, Santiago Matatlán and Santa Catarina Minas are the most accessible for a day trip from Oaxaca City. Both could be considered the “cradle of mezcal,” with dozens of families who have been in the business for centuries.
A tour of a proper palenque typically involves a wander through the agave fields, a step-by-step breakdown of the ancestral mezcal production process, and finally a multi-varietal tasting at the end.
If for whatever reason you can’t squeeze in this highly recommended Oaxaca excursion, many of the mezcalerías and shops in Oaxaca City offer formal tastings, complete with full explanations of how each mezcal is made and the type of agave it comes from.
For even more ideas on how to experience Oaxaca’s mezcal culture, check out this mezcal guide to Oaxaca.
7. Tlacolula Sunday Market
With so many traditional villages dotting the countryside around Oaxaca City, you can bet that there are quite a few day trip-worthy local markets to check out. Of the bunch, Tlacolula’s Sunday Market is by far the biggest and most popular of the market days. It’s also an easy and direct day trip from Oaxaca City by colectivo (shared taxi) or local bus.
Every Sunday, the typically quiet town of Tlacolula de Matamoros comes alive. Locals from the surrounding valley villages cart in their goods, which means you can expect to find things like pottery, baskets, mezcal, and textiles from places like Teotitlan del Valle, Santiago Matatlan, and San Bartolo Coyotepec all in one place.
The maze of what feels like thousands of stalls, both indoor and out, is full of life.
You’ll spot shoppers walking through the market holding chickens by their feet, others chowing down on barbacoa (stewed goat) at the lunch stalls or bartering for fruit, veggies, and bread from vendors donning various styles of local indigenous dress. It’s a whirlwind of activity, color, smell, and sound everywhere you look.
If you can’t make it to Tlacolula’s Sunday Market, there are a few other markets that take place on different days of the week. Etla’s market is every Wednesday, Zaachila’s market is every Thursday, and Ocotlán’s market is every Friday.
8. Hierve el Agua
Last but not least, Hierve el Agua is a quintessential Oaxaca day trip. Recently reopened, these petrified falls and sun-warmed mineral pools just beyond the town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla are spectacular to say the least. Pack your sunblock, swimsuit, and hiking boots for a satisfying day of wandering vista-laden trails and soaking in natural springs on the cliff’s edge.
The location of Hierve el Agua can not be beat and the various views and angles of the “frozen” falls along the trails will have your jaw on the ground. These mind-blowing rock formations and pools formed thousands of years ago as a result of the calcium carbonate-rich spring water that trickled over the cliff’s edge and deposited itself on the rocks much like stalactites do in caves.
Besides Turkey’s Pamukkale, Hierve el Agua is the only other petrified fall in the world. Hence why it’s deservedly on this list of best Oaxaca day trips. The best way to access Hierve el Agua is via Mitla. There, you’ll find trucks that will take you up to the falls in less than an hour.