Oaxaca is a culinary centre which feels more like a large town than a bustling city. The region is more than the sum of it’s many varied and unique parts. If you don’t have the time to explore the wider region you will still enjoy a lot of what the area has to offer. Oaxaca has something for everyone.
Central Oaxaca is comprised of easily navigable streets, many small squares, two large markets, shit loads of culture and even more mezcal. An easy way to get a feel for the city is of course, to hit the markets. Wind your way through the narrow aisles and you will find an array of Mezcal, Oaxacan cheese, mamuey, Mezcal, mole pastes, Oaxacan seeds, chillis, Mezcal and even some tasty crickets to wrap your lips around! If you’re not a foodie wander the handbags, souvenir, Oaxacan pottery and fresh flowers sections to keep you interested. Either way, you won’t be able to avoid the Mezcal. Separate to the fresh produce section is another market dedicated to food stalls. Here one can enjoy moles, goat soup, freshly grilled meats, tlayudas, tacos, tamales and elotes locos.
One of the must try dishes in Oaxaca is the Tlayuda – a crisp folded cooked wrap surrounding or topped with Oaxacan cheese, refried beans, meat of your choice, guacamole and salsas. Tlayudas Los Libres is one of the best places to sample this dish. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be swapping white linen tablecloths for plastic seating. You won’t go hungry here, try ordering one at a time between two to begin with – (Tlayudas Los Libres Dona Martha, Calle Libres 212, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., México)
If you’re not sure by now, Oaxaca was a culinary highlight for us. Another way you can sample Mexican food is by attending one of the many cooking schools which range from high end to relatively budget friendly. We chose Augustino’s Oaxaca Cooking Classes. Expect a day full of non PC banter, heavy drinking and great food in some guy’s kitchen. No he doesn’t provide you with print out recipes but this just makes you focus on the food. We cooked five courses over six hours with a full market tour prior. Mezcal and water are very similar in appearance… Don’t come here if you want a prim and proper cooking school. Do come here if you want to learn the love of cooking.
We chose to see the below 5 highlights as part of a package day tour, the price was extremely affordable (200 pesos per person) for our budget. If you choose this option ensure you are aware of what entry fees/ meals are and are not covered. Alternatively you could make your own way to these sites using public transport if you have the time. If possible, we would recommend doing Hierve el Agua independently so that you have more than hour to enjoy the area. If you stay overnight there is basic accommodation but make sure to bring food and water (there are some small stalls available).
El Tupe – a wide as fuck tree (10 peso entry) set in pretty gardens, there is not a lot else to see here other than this but a pleasant stop if passing.
Textile factories – Much of the Oaxacan textiles are still made using traditionally operated machinery and colours derived from organic ingredients. Some of the larger pieces take several months to complete. Because of the passing tour companies prices are naturally hiked up here so you may want to consider waiting until the markets to purchase a rug.
Mezcal distilleries – A stop at a good mezcal distillery offers a good insight into the production of this popular spirit. Mezcal is produced from Maguey which is roasted underground before being crushed, left to ferment and finally distilled. Most companies are happy to provide you with numerous tastings.
Mitla ruins – Mitla is the ruins of a city worshiping the dead (40 pesos per person). These are defined by the beautiful carved patterns on the walls made from perfectly placed stones. No mortar used stumps the modern day visitor.
Hierve el Agua – Hierve el Agua is a petrified waterfall set amongst a gorgeous mountainous vista. Enjoy a soak in the hot pools and consider spending the night in this remote little village.
Cielo Rojo Hostal – Calle Xicoténcatl 121, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico. 140 pesos per person in a 10 bed dorm.
Cielo Rojo Hostal offer a comfortable and social hostel with a relaxed vibe. Breakfast (cereal, yogurt, toast, bananas, tea and coffee) is included in the price and there is a decent kitchen available for use. 5 minute walk from the central square and markets. We enjoyed our stay here and would recommend it.
Getting there from Puebla:
• From central Puebla catch a local bus (6 pesos per person) from Blvrd Héroes del 5 de Mayo to Capu Station – Blvd. Norte #4222, Las Cuartillas, 72050 Puebla, Pue., México.
• CAPU has 2-3 companies that service the Oaxaca route (5 hours. prices from approx 300 pesos depending on class, hourly departures).
• Buses for Oaxaca arrive in two stations depending on the class of bus.
• First class bus station – ADO bus terminal: Calzada Ninos Heroes de Chaputepec. Catch a local bus from here (6 pesos per person) or a taxi (35 pesos). Maps are available inside the terminal from the small tourist kiosk. Get this before you leave.
• Second class bus station – west of the central city. Catch a local bus or taxi from here.
Getting away to Puerto Escondido:
• Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido on Autotransportes (Autotransportes La Solteca, Calle de M.Arista 210, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico), – 209 pesos per person, 6 hours.
• Buy your colectivo ticket 2 days ahead of time, more during peak season.
• Buy dramamine (anti nausea tablets) from a local pharmacy for the 6 hour windy journey. You’d rather be zoned out on anti nausea tablets for 6 hours than puking all over the person in front of you (this actually happened).
Getting away to Puebla:
Buses for Puebla depart from two different stations depending on the class of bus.
∼ First class bus station – ADO: Calzada Ninos Heroes de Chaputepec. Catch a local bus here (6 pesos per person) or a taxi (35 pesos).
∼ Second class bus station – west of the central city. Catch a local bus or taxi from here.
• Buses in Puebla arrive at CAPU station (CAPU station (Blvd. Norte #4222, Las Cuartillas, 72050 Puebla, Pue., México).
• To get from CAPU to central Puebla you can either walk (1-2 hours) or taxi. However the best way is probably by catching a local bus (6 pesos per person).
• Oaxaca has a fair amount to see outside the city. If you are an outdoors person consider spending time researching places such as El Punto.
• The first class bus station has a small tourist kiosk (spanish speaking staff only) who can provide you with a map of Oaxaca.