My time in Oaxaca was the first time I had ever travelled alone but I was desperate to go and check out this colourful town, especially around the time of Day of the Dead. Despite many people making me feel nervous to go to Mexico alone, I had a great time in Oaxaca without any problems, the people were all friendly and I actually ended up preferring it to Mexico City! The only thing to note is that on my first day, I went out in Western summer clothes (short skirt and crop top) and got alot of looks and attention as they do not dress like this in the south of Mexico so pack some trousers or jeans and you’ll be fine – when I moved to jeans and jumpsuits, I was always left alone. Read on for all of my top picks to do whilst in Oaxaca.
Wander The Colourful Streets
The first thing everyone will do when you first arrive in Oaxaca, is check in to your accommodation, drop your stuff off and head out to explore the colourful streets of Oaxaca. The buildings are painted a rainbow of colours and when I was there for Day of the Dead, there were floral buntings all over the streets and skeleton themed props everywhere around the Centro! The main street is called Calle Macedonio Alcalá going from the Zócalo to Santa Domingo Church so take with plenty of street art to see along the way.
You can also spend some time at the Zócalo; in the day it’s busy with people, market stalls and outside dining but stay for the evening when it comes alive with music and couples salsa-ing in the streets.
Become a Food Connoisseur
As well as the bright streets, Oaxaca is mostly know for the food throughout Mexico and it does not disappoint. I don’t speak much Spanish so some of the tacos I ate from street food vendors, I wasn’t even sure what was in them but they were delicious none the less. Mole is another popular dish throughout Oaxaca, a sauce they have with many ingredients, one of them being chocolate – although this is a bit of an acquired taste, it’s definitely worth trying and there are 7 variations here.
Hotel Sin Nombre (Hotel with No Name) did a great selection Mexican vegan dishes where you sit on the floor and feel very zen whilst you eat and I also ate at La Cocina de Frida within Mercado of Ocotlán, where the chef looks like Frida Khalo where I had enchilladas and tried chapulines (fried grasshoppers, surprisingly delicious) and tejate (made with corn, fermented cacao beans, pixtle , and cacao flowers – kind of tasted like a mix between coffee and hot chocolate but was cold amd sweeter).
Other things I tried whilst in Oaxaca were carnitas, baked plantain with condensed milk, tuna sorbet (the flower from a cactus, not a tuna fish!), memelitas, barquillo de leche, horchata, the fruit water drinks and of course, Oaxacan chocolate. Mercado 20 de Noviembre and Mercado Benito Juárez were the 2 main markets I explored and they are great to try a wide variety of food and get your hands on some sugar skulls for souvenirs too!
Try Authentic Mezcal
Mezcal originates from Oaxaca and you will see bars selling it everywhere but I went to La Casa del Mezcal with a Mexican man I met whilst wandering round a market! I must admit, Mezcal is really really strong and 1 sip was enough for me but when in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do! In the Mezcal bottle, there will also be a little worm at the bottom, and if you’re lucky (or unlucky?) you might get this in with your shot and apparently it tastes like chicken.
One of the best days of my whole stay in Oaxaca was doing a day trip out to Monte Alban; I booked this via airbnb experience and it was a full day tour with many stops and opportunities to get souvenirs.
Stop 1: Oaxacan Pottery in Santa María Atzompa
We started the day with a pottery demonstration at the family run business watching them create a woman holding pots pottery statue. There so many pieces on display such as crosses, skulls, people, moons and flowers and at a reasonable price.
Stop 2: Monte Alban
Onto to Monte Alban to learn about the history of the Aztecs here at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marvel at the flattened pyramids, experience the echo chambers, look at the dancing figures, and learn about the pre-historical football game whilst wandering around. Whilst there, you can also buy some handmade pieces from local Mexican men. It takes a few hours to do it all!
Stop 3: Alebrijes in San Martín Tilcajete
After a spot to eat, we travelled to see the wood carving workshop and walk through the stages of the process. From the initial carving, fixing any errors and refining the wood, to hand painting them with intricate patterns with increasing levels of difficulty. We also go to discover what our spirit animal is at the end! I got myself a little sugar skull keyring from here.
Stop 4: Black Clay Ceramics in San Bartolo Coyotepec
And our final stop was at a black ceramics studio, where we ended the day with a demonstration of making a pot in the traditional way (no electric wheels here) and you are free to look at the pieces and buy any that you want – I got a carved out skull and a naked body mini jug.
Have A Garden Day
On my final day in Oaxaca, I visited the Ethnobotanical Gardens. You have to go on one of their guided tours, and there is only 1 per day in English with a max of 15 people at 11am – I unfortunately missed out on this but decided to do it in Spanish anyway despite not speaking Spanish (there are 2 Spanish tours per day)! The gardens sit behind the Temple of Santo Domingo and you are taken around to see all of the gardens and flora native to Oaxaca. The final stop is an instagrammers dream with a wall of tall cactus to take pictures in front of.
Where To Stay
In Oaxaca, I stayed in Selina Oaxaca. It was my first time stayed in a Selina and the rooms and hostel is decorated really nicely, there is a lovely rooftop where I did my workouts and the wifi is excellent! I must stay, it’s definitely more of a working hostel and I didn’t discover much so a social scene to meet anyone but it was still a lovely stay in a central location.