This is an updated re-post of an earlier blog entry, because I went for another weekend in Oaxaca in June 2017.
Oaxaca City (and state) is for me one of the most interesting places to visit in Mexico. The mix of cultures, traditions and the food in Oaxaca is stunning. I’ve been a huge fan of several Oaxacan things, mostly food and mezcal, since I moved to Mexico so I was really looking forward to visiting Oaxaca.
We decided to visit Oaxaca City on a weekend in February 2017. It was just a quick visit and we wanted to take the best of out time, so we planned to see the surrounding valleys on Saturday and leave the city and Monte Alban for Sunday. It was quite rushed and I would have preferred to have one extra day, but it was very much worth it and I will be happy to go back and spend some more time in Oaxaca.
Since my first visit was so rushed I wanted to repeat a weekend in Oaxaca and enjoy the city more. Again, I arrived on Friday evening and left on Sunday evening. I had already seen most touristy places on my first visit, so this time I decided to stay only in the city and enjoy the life there.
Oaxaca City is bustling with locals and tourists alike. The zocalo is full of life and the nicest street is Calle Alcalá connecting the zocalo. There are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants.
Another centre of Oaxaca is the Templo de Santo Domingo and the surrounding area.
Just next to the Templo there is also one of the best tourist attractions – the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca. A spectacular museum placed in this old convent where even the building is very interesting. One can easily spend several hours here and it is comparable to the amazing Anthropological museum in Mexico City.
However, the best thing is Oaxaca, in my opinion, are the markets. The main market for buying local products and crafts is the Mercado Benito Juárez. It is really extensive and they sell from fruit and veg to prepared local food, such as moles
cheese and other goodies
and obviously edible insects, such as chapulines (crickets) or gusano de maguey (the worm that lives on an agave plant).
We bought so much food that we barely fit it into our luggage. After all the shopping I recommend going for lunch to the Mercado 20 de noviembre just next door (see details below).
Monte Alban is the main archeological site in Oaxaca City. It is on a hill just above the city and it takes 20 minutes to get there with a car. We took a tourist van organised by an agency on the zocalo ($70 return).
Monte Alban is a large collection of well preserved pyramids and buildings on a plateau. You can walk around to explore the site and even climb-up on several of the structures offering nice views of the site itself and also of the city just below.
I really enjoyed Monte Alban. It is very different from the Maya ruins on Yucatan peninsula or the Aztec ones in central Mexico. Hence I would very much recommend visiting Monte Alban.
Day trip to one of the Oaxaca valleys
Initially we had planned to rent a car and explore the valley towards Mitla on our own. But due to horribly bad customer service of Hertz rent-a-car at the airport we were left without a car. Hence, we were left only to take a tour to explore the valley in a group ($300 per person). We booked it through our hotel and they picked us up at 10am with a 18pax van and a funny guide.
The tour started with a short stop at the Arbol de Tule, which is apparently the biggest tree in the world by girth. It is an impressive tree, but it’s just a tree and in my opinion not that interesting.
The next stop was an artisan mezcal ‘factory’ – El Rey de Matatlan. As a huge fan of mezcal this was the highlight of the day for me. This particular valley is where mezcal originates from, and the village of Matatlan is the epicentre of mezcal. At the factory they explained the production process and gave us a tasting. They are very generous with allowing us to try as many mezcals as we wanted. We could obviously also buy them, but the prices were quite steep. Clearly you need to understand that the process is purely artisan and that some of the maguey varieties are really small so they don’t really produce much mezcal.
After that we continued to the village of Teotitlan, which is famous for textile production. There they explained how they produce textiles and how they use natural products to dye the textiles. Quite interesting presentation although not something I would be necessarily looking for.
Lunch stop was at a buffet restaurant called Donaji. There was a large selection of food, but the food was rather bland. Food was not included in the tour and the buffet was $140, plus drinks.
After lunch we had a quick visit to the ruins of Mitla. They are very small, but quite cute. At this point the guide rushed us through the ruins. Unfortunately, I would have preferred if we had spent less time for lunch and had more time to see the ruins in peace, or even have a quick lunch in the market at Mitla instead.
Last stop was at Hierve el Agua, the famous petrified waterfall. To be honest, it looks much more impressive on pictures, but nevertheless it’s worth seeing and spending some time there. We had only 1h on the site though. First, we walked down to the pools and took pictures. There is an option to swim in the pools, but I personally I found the water rather stale and full of people, so I didn’t want to swim.
Instead of swimming, we walked to the other waterfall opposite. That’s the one that usually comes on pictures (pic below) but doesn’t have any pools on top any longer. It also provides nice view of the first one.
Finally we headed back to Oaxaca arriving to the city around 18.30. It was a great day tour and with a nice and funny guide. However, I would have preferred if we went to the Hierve el Agua first and ended up at the mezcal factory, to get drunk at the end of the tour.
Food in Oaxaca
The city also has a lively evening restaurant & bar scene, but only early in the evening (as I already explained above). Most of the places are on or around Calle Alcalá and there are some iconic places, such as Casa Oaxaca and Los Danzantes.
Food in Oaxaca is just amazing. Part of the fun is to try different street foods and markets to properly savour the local taste.
Mercado 20 de noviembre: A Oaxacan food institution and a complete must in Oaxaca!!!! There are a large number of small restaurants preparing typical food, such as tlayudas, moles and tamales. We chose one that we liked how the dishes looked like. The food was just delicious.
The typical dishes served are tlayudas (mixta with chorizo, tasajo and cecina):
The bases and meat for tlayudas waiting to be prepared
Black mole with chicken (there are 7 types of Oaxacan mole, but black one is the best)
Tlayudas Libres: This tlayuda institution is open all night. The lady makes the tlayudas outside on a street cart, but they have an inside seating area. The tlayuda here is folded and filled with beans, cheese, avocado and lettuce, and then they put the meat of your choice on top – choice of tasajo, cecina or chorizo (cecina was with chile and was best). Contrary to many CDMX places here the tlayuda is not filled with meat, it only comes on top. A must in Oaxaca!
Tobaziche restaurant: We chose this restaurant as it looked very simple and the selection of food was nice. We (obviously) had another tlayuda here, which was really delicious. The molotes were different from what we expected, they were made from flour tortillas and filled with ricotta-type cheese (I’m used to plantain molotes) and the chicken in sauce was also delicious. It seems to be quite a new place and they are really trying hard.
This is one of the best restaurants in Oaxaca. The food is delicious and if the weather is nice you can also sit on the terrace with nice views of Santo Domingo. The chile de agua with ceviche was an amazing started. Highly recommended!
Parador San Augustin: At first, late at night, the hotel looked very basic and not very interesting. But then the following day it looked much better. The room was huge and there was a nice internal patio where they served the breakfast. The staff were very nice and helpful, they even gave us free breakfast.
Hotel Las Mariosas: Small ecohotel very close to the Templo de San Domingo. The rooms are nice and there is a very nice garden. They also provide a very simple breakfast.
Cooking class at Casa Crespo
Since I love Oaxacan food, I decided to go for a cooking class. I found Casa Crespo online and booked it via email. I decided on the Sunday class which starts at 11am. I was the only student on that day, so I had a private class. We started with deciding on the menu, they leave the choice completely to you. Then we went for a visit to a smaller local market to buy some ingredients. After the market we started to cook.
We cooked several starters; molotes with plantain and panela cheese in hojasanta:
Tortillas, plain, and filled with plantain or flor de calabaza:
Mole de fiesta with 18 ingredients:
Flan de coco for dessert:
And obviously some of typical Oaxaca insects: chapulines (grasshoppers), gusano (worm) and chicatanas (giant ants)
Mezcal tasting at Mezcaloteca
Mezcaloteca is a project where they do mezcal tasting and explanations. You have to book in advance and you can taste between 3 and 5 different mezcals. The emplyees are very knowledgable about mezcals and can answer any of your questions. It is also nice because they have mezcals from all over Mexico, so it’s nice to try some different varieties.
Roof-top at Casa Crespo (Ignacio Allende Street)
A really nice terrace for drinks overlooking the Santo Domingo church.
Mezcalería Los Amantes
A very small mezcalería where you can try different types of Los Amantes mezcals.