Oaxaca City 101: The Beginner’s Guide to Oaxaca City, Mexico

Mexico, Travel Guides

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By Ryan Gargiulo

Set in the heart of Mexico, Oaxaca City is a beautiful jewel, set on a hill that shines bright enough for locals and foreigners to see. It is considered one of the best places to visit in Mexico.

As one of the biggest cities in Mexico –second only to Mexico City itself – it has always been a destination for tourists but its popularity has surged over the past few years as many people look for alternative holiday spots away from the often saturated Mexico City.

With its ease of access, connectivity, and awe-inspiring pieces of culture like the Monte Alban and the Tule Tree, read and find out everything you need to know before traveling to Oaxaca City, Mexico.

Introduction to Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City is the capital city of “Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca,” which is “The Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca.

Located 280 miles southeast of Mexico City, the city is set in a fruitful valley, elevated about 1,500 miles above sea level.

Hence, its weather is typically quite perfect, as it never gets too hot or cold.

Tourists and indigenous Mexicans come to Oaxaca all year round, seeking a much milder experience of the Mexican heritage and history.

The history of this special city goes back before human beings began recording history, with archeological evidence of people living in the valley as far back as 12,000 BC.

Since that time, Oaxaca has continually taken care of all who have come to her; hosting the Zapotec and the Mixtec cultures for thousands of years.

Signs of its occupation remain to this day, with structures built by the Zapotecs still visible for tourists.

In fact, the plethora of archeological sites and colonial-era structures led to Oaxaca City’s naming as a “World Heritage Site” in 1987 by UNESCO.

Before You Go: Travel Insurance

When planning a trip to Mexico, your first priority should be to make sure you make a small investment towards your health and well being by considering an affordable travel insurance policy for your trip.

This budget-friendly travel insurance policy covers you if your bags are lost or stolen, if your flight is delayed or cancelled, and also covers all medical and injury-related issues as well. 

Let’s face it. No parents, family, or friends want to have to cover the cost of you getting medevaced home from Mexico.

Unfortunately, things do happen.

Especially when you least expect it.

Do yourself a favor and consider purchasing travel insurance coverage for your trip so you can rest assured that you’ll be taken care of in the event of a serious emergency in Mexico.

P.S. You won’t believe how reasonably priced this travel insurance is.

🔎 Why wait? Get a Travel Insurance Quote for your trip today.

How to get to Oaxaca City

Being a city that receives visitors all year round, there’s no reason to worry about how to get to Oaxaca City as it is very easy and convenient.

Depending on your preference, you can travel to Oaxaca by air or by bus with multiple routes.

Just make sure you plan ahead to be sure of what your method of travel will be.

By Air

If you are coming from outside Mexico, the most convenient way to get to Oaxaca City is to book your flights directly to Oaxaca Airport.

Known as Xoxocotlán International Airport, Oaxaca’s small airport is fully functional and can be directly landed into if you are flying with a Mexican air carrier.

Alternatively, you can fly to Mexico City, then get a connecting flight to Oaxaca.

These affordable flights to Oaxaca, Mexico leave twice every other hour, daily.

In seasons with mild traffic, you can even get a ticket going to Oaxaca for less than $45.

You can also get flights from Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca City and make the trip in a little over 30 minutes.

However, tickets from there are more expensive, and can cost as high as $100.

Tip: Begin your flight search by using the Skyscanner engine embedded below.

By Bus

If you are traveling to Oaxaca by bus, you have a few options and routes.

Getting a bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca is fairly easy, and passengers can choose between the first class ADO autobus or the less premium buses that carry passengers all the way to Oaxaca Bus Terminal.

The journey may take 5 to 6 hours, but it is shorter than coming from Huatulco (8 hours) or Puerto Escondido (7 hours).

Best Places to Stay in Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City is very friendly to her visitors, so there are always plenty of places to stay when they visit.

However, when considering getting Oaxaca City accommodations, it is important to pick a place that suits your needs and reasons for being in town.

For most families, La Noria is a good place for fun and relaxation, while young couples seeking nightlife fun may be better served by staying in Santo Domingo.

Wherever you choose to stay, there are hostels, Airbnb, and hotel options to choose from.

Oaxaca City Mexico Streets
Houses in Oaxaca


While there are many options for accommodation, we typically recommend that you get one of many Oaxaca City rentals from Airbnb, as they are very easy to get and affordable as well.

Simply go to their website ahead of time, set up your budget, and choose the Airbnb Oaxaca City option that suits you best.

Get a discount of up to $37 on your first Airbnb stay by clicking here.

🔎 If this is your first time using Airbnb, we recommend you read our Insider’s Guide to Saving Money on Airbnb Apartments.


For backpackers and people traveling alone, the hostels Oaxaca City offers are affordable and of great quality.

Some hostels include free Wi-Fi and cooked meals every day, while some create a more natural environment with lots of plants and animals around their spaces.


Oaxaca City hotels are beautifully designed, showing off the architectural prowess of the people.

Many of them are filled with beautiful artesanías and serve meals that the Zapotec gods would have salivated over.

You can find rooms for as low as $14 per night, meaning they are affordable as well.


Things to do in Oaxaca City

The great thing about Oaxaca City is that even though it is not very big, it has a lot of things for visitors to do.

From archeological sites to museums and bars, here are some things you can do in Oaxaca City:

Monte Alban, Oaxaca

Monte Alban Archeological Site

The Monte Alban site is Oaxaca City’s strongest connection to their Zapotec ancestors.

Located nearby Oaxaca City, the archeological site is located on a flattened mountaintop and gives visitors a panoramic view of the valley that surrounds it.

Arbol del Tule

Also located near Oaxaca City is Arbol del Tule (or simply “The Tule Tree”).

This tree is the largest of the many large and ancient Montezuma Cypress trees within Oaxaca and is the most famous tree in all of Mexico.

Not only do people flock from all over to see it, but residents have a party to celebrate the tree every second Monday of October.

Mitla_ Oaxaca
Arcgological Site, Mitla

Mitla Archeological Site

Also located in Oaxaca is the Mitla Archeological Site, an ancient town that evidence shows were inhabited by the Zapotecs and by the Mixtecs.

Mitla is the second most important archeological zone in Oaxaca, coming in after the Monte Alban Archeological Site

Yagul Archaeological Site

The Yagul site is one of the younger archeological sites, at least when compared to Monte Alban.

Translated to “Old Tree”, Yagul really developed after Monte Alban deteriorated, and was a functional city-state until the Spanish colonialists arrived.

Being one of the most preserved sites, Yagul is also the most studied, piquing the interest of archeological scholars from all over the globe.

Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán Oaxaca City Mexico
Santo Domingo Temple, Oaxaca

Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman

The Church of Santo Domingo is the most beautiful and most popular of Oaxaca City’s churches and is not only a place of worship but also a place for tourists to look around in awe.

Completed in 1731, it holds a complex and expansive system of rooms, courtyards, and a large sanctuary that tourists can explore to their heart’s content.

Visit Museums

While many of Oaxaca City’s archeological sites remain intact, many of the ancient and movable pieces can be found in a perfectly preserved state in Oaxaca’s museums.

Museo de las Culturas

Oaxaca City’s regional museum is located in a monastery that directly connects to the Church of Santo Domingo.

Known to be one of Mexico’s best museums, pieces of history from the times of the Spanish colonialists to the Mixtec and Zapotec settlements can be found here.

Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MACA) is Oaxaca’s solid attempt to fuse contemporary art with traditional, local art.

Featuring pieces from artists all over Mexico, it houses permanent displays of art by some of Oaxaca City’s most famous painters like Rodolfo Morales and Francisco Toledo.

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

Visit and Hike Hierve el Agua

Hike Hierve el Agua is a set of sacred rocks in Oaxaca City.

Venerated since the times of the Mixtecs, this ancient spot features warm pools and a brilliant waterfall.

Tourists often go hiking in the area and take time to soak in the warm clear waters.

Explore Art Galleries

Oaxaca is well known to be colorful and full of artistic expression, so it is no surprise that there are art galleries available for exploration.

From the Arte de Oaxaca to the Centro Fotográfico Álvarez Bravo, tourists can feast their eyes on the beautiful pieces of art that were birthed in Oaxaca.

Oaxacan Marquet
Oaxaca’s Tipical Dress

Visit the Oaxaca City Artisan Market (Mercado de Artesanias)

If you are impressed by the level of proficient artisan work in Oaxaca, then you will want to take a piece of that art home with you.

When you take a break from exploring all the historical sites in town, visit Mercado de Artesanias, an indoor market dedicated to works of textile.

Here you can find beautifully handmade tunics, shawls, blouses, tablecloths, and many more expertly fabricated items, all for great prices.

Visit a Mezcaleria and try some Mezcal

Mezcal is a unique alcoholic drink that is mostly distilled in Oaxaca (although it is distilled elsewhere).

Bars dedicated to serving the drink are called Mezcaleria and can be found all over the city.

From posh bars where it is made into fancy cocktails, to more local spots where the Mezcal is served straight and in simple glasses, a Mezcaleria is always fun to hang out in and share a drink with friends or with a stranger.

Must Try Cuisines

The food in Oaxaca City is absolutely delicious and ranks up there with some of the best you can find in Mexico.

However, there are some local treats you just have to try:

Oaxacan Chocolate

Chocolate production in Oaxaca City is done locally and unbelievably well.

Lovers of chocolate will find themselves in a Mexican Willie Wonka heaven as they try chocolate drinks, bars, and treats.

Oaxacan Coffee

Oaxacan coffee stands head and shoulders above all other brews in Mexico.

Find a cafe, order coffee, and sit down to a sip of happiness.

Oaxacan Cheese

Oaxaca cheese is similar to Mozzarella cheese and has a savory, slightly salty flavor.

It is quite the favorite among children.


Also spelled “Clayuda”, Tlayudas is a traditional Oaxaca dish made with thin, toasted tortillas, refried beans, Oaxaca cheese, cabbage, avocado, meat, assiento, and salsa.

Oaxaca City Streets
Oaxaca City’s Streets

Getting Around Oaxaca City

Getting around in Oaxaca City is pretty simple to do and rarely ever takes a lot of time.

Many people travel short distances on foot and take buses elsewhere.

Most buses can get you to most places in Oaxaca City and cost about 7 pesos, going to and from.

The buses are owned by the drivers and managed by a bus driver union.

Passengers looking for more comfort than a bus can hail a taxi.

Among them are collective taxis (Collectivo Taxis Oaxaca), that use predetermined routes and are available as long as there is space in them.

For more privacy than a collective taxi gives, there are standard taxis that can be hailed just as easily.

And for tourists heading to nearby towns, there are suburban vehicles which are similar to the collective taxis but go the longer, out of town distance.

Best Time to Visit Oaxaca City

Typically, the best times to visit Oaxaca are from October 8 to February 18. The rains in Oaxaca City run from May to October.

In those times, not many people visit the city and tourism declines somewhat.

The dry season starts from November and that is when tourists begin flocking in.

Tourists avoiding crowds will skip the months of January, March, and June to visit and choose less busy months like April, July, and September.


Oaxaca City is a beautiful, scenic city that welcomes tourists from all over the world.

It is quite easy to get to, and is also very affordable to have a great time in. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, head up into the Sierra mountains and visit San Jose del Pacifico, a small pueblito known for its temazcals and magic mushrooms!

With so many things to see and do and lots of great people and food, tourists will find themselves wishing they had enough time to enjoy the full experience of staying in and exploring Oaxaca City.

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Oaxaca City Travel Guide Pinterest

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