The state of Oaxaca often becomes visitors’ favourite part of Mexico. Why? It’s incredibly diverse, offering colonial cities, stunning landscapes and laidback surf towns. It’s also considerably less touristy than states on the east coast like Quintana Roo.
Now, not to make things confusing but the capital of Oaxaca also has the same name and is known as Oaxaca City or just Oaxaca. Another thing that trips people up is how to pronounce Oaxaca. It’s wah-HAH-kah.
This guide focuses on Oaxaca City, a stunning colonial city that’s overflowing with culture, history, art and delicious traditional dishes.
If you’re visiting Oaxaca City soon, you’ve come to the right place. After reading this guide, you’ll know which area to stay in, where to find the best restaurants and how to get around this cultural city in Mexico.
Also, check out our list of the best activities in Oaxaca City!
Is Oaxaca City worth visting?
Give it a few hours of wandering through its brightly coloured, cobblestone streets and you’ll inevitably fall in love with the city. After you try one of the traditional dishes such as Mole or a Tlayuda, you’ll never want to leave.
Aside from just admiring how pretty the city is, there are plenty of things to do too. The city is full of iconic historical structures, museums and street art.
Outside the city, you’ll find plenty of day trips, including visiting the magnificent rock formations of Hierve el Agua or the interesting Monte Alban ruins.
How long should you spend in Oaxaca City?
It’s easy to slip into a daily routine in a city like Oaxaca, as you go for your breakfast in one of the trendy cafes, before reading your book in the park and finally ending the day in a family-run restaurant.
This way of life is what makes people never want to leave Oaxaca City. But if you’re tight on time, then 3-4 days should be enough to see the main attractions of the city and explore some of the surrounding sites.
Where to stay in Oaxaca City
With how well-known Oaxaca City is and being the capital of the popular Oaxaca state, you’d probably expect Oaxaca City to be pretty big!
In fact, it’s only the 67th biggest city in Mexico by population. It’s actually a relatively condensed city, making it easy to explore.
Essentially whichever neighbourhood you choose to stay in, you won’t be very far from the next one. Even so, we’ve put together our top 3 places to stay in Oaxaca City so that you can choose the perfect one for you:
Location #1: Centro — the centre of the action and attractions
Love to roll out of bed and have all of a city’s iconic attractions on your doorstep? If you just answered yes, then you should probably be staying in Centro.
The Centro area is regarded as the streets that surround Oaxaca’s Zocalo, the city’s main square. Here, you’ll be immersed in the pumping heart of the city, surrounded by landmarks, markets and just the general hustle and bustle of the city.
Accommodation in Centro
The Centro is bursting with hotels, Airbnbs and hostels. You’ll literally find one on every street, so you’re certainly spoilt for choice. Prices can be slightly more expensive because you’re right in the centre of the city, but you can still find a private room for $20 per night.
Location #2: Santo Domingo — the place to party all night long
This small neighbourhood is made up of cobblestone roads, bordered on either side by colourful colonial buildings. It’s also where you’ll find Santo Domingo church, an iconic Oaxaca landmark.
If you’re looking for the shortest walk home after a night out, then Santo Domingo is the place to stay. This area is brimming with the city’s restaurants, bars and clubs. There’s such a variety here that there’s the ideal night out for everyone.
Accommodation in Santo Domingo
You can find a lot of hostels in Santo Domingo because it’s popular amongst backpackers looking to party, but it’s still not short of nice hotel options too. Prices are similar to Centro, starting at around $20 per night.
Location #3: Jalatlaco — brimming with hipster coffee shops and cafes
Hop a few streets east of Santo Domingo and you’ll stumble upon the Jalatlaco neighbourhood.
It’s considered one of the trendiest and coolest areas to stay in Oaxaca City. What makes this area special are the hipster eateries, vibrant street art, cosy cafes and the abundance of colour. It’s a modern bubble in a colonial city rich with history.
Jalatlaco is even more fun during Día de Muertos. There are plenty of colourful altars everywhere and the celebrations continue long into the night.
Because it’s only a small neighbourhood, there are slightly fewer accommodation choices, but prices remain around the same as the rest of the city.
Where to eat in Oaxaca City
Oaxaca is one of the cities in Mexico that has helped to give the country its famous reputation for delicious food.
The city has a number of traditional dishes that are bursting with spices and rich flavours. For example, Oaxacan Mole, a popular local sauce, has over 30 ingredients. The people of Oaxaca take their cooking very seriously!
Oaxaca City is all about cheap eats and street food, but it also has a number of lovely restaurants that have mastered fine dining.
You could easily spend months in Oaxaca City just devouring the delicious food, but here are our top 3 restaurants to try:
Libres Tlayudas Doña Martha — try Oaxaca’s version of pizza
A good way to describe what Tlayudas are is by calling them Oaxacan-style pizzas. This traditional dish is made up of a large partially fried tortilla covered in refried beans, asiento (pork fat), lettuce or cabbage, avocado, Oaxaca cheese and your choice of meat. They are as delicious as they sound.
Libres Tlayudas is one of the best places in Oaxaca City to sample one of these! It’s a small and authentic restaurant that is usually filled with locals, boasting a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
El Biche Pobre — a great place to try Mole Negro
El Biche Pobre is a modest, family-run local restaurant where you’ll find delicious dishes made with love. It’s also one of the best places in Oaxaca to try the famous dish, Mole.
Their Mole Negro is a must-try! Served atop chicken with rice and tortillas, mole is a sauce with over 30 ingredients, one of which is chocolate.
Being a local spot, expect to pay local prices here!
Casa Oaxaca — traditional local food with a fine-dining twist
‘Five senses influenced by an extraordinary gastronomic experience’ is how the restaurant describes the experience of eating at Casa Oaxaca.
The chef, Alejandro Ruiz, showcases the diverse flavours of Oaxaca through a number of traditional dishes with iconic twists to them. All of the ingredients are locally sourced, with all of the vegetables and sprouts being grown in their own organic garden. All of this is served in a stunning 18th-century colonial townhouse that comes with an airy bar terrace.
Also read: Top 13 Things to Do in Oaxaca City
How to get around Oaxaca City
Getting around Oaxaca City couldn’t be easier! It’s a city designed for walking.
Walking is most likely going to be your go-to form of transport whilst staying in Oaxaca City. This is ideal because it’s free, a form of exercise and a great way to see the city.
The city has made it easy to walk to most places. Calle Macedonio Alcala is a pedestrianised street that connects two of the main areas in the city, Templo de Santo Domingo and the Zocalo.
You may never need to use a taxi during your time in Oaxaca City because everything is so close together.
If you do end up using one, though, they certainly aren’t that hard to find. There are always plenty roaming the street looking for a passenger. They’re also bright yellow, making them very hard to miss! Many of them will give you a little honk to indicate that they’re free.
A taxi ride to most places within town will cost between 40 MXN ($2.30) and 60 MXN ($3.40). None of the taxis is metred so make sure to agree on the price before getting in.
Taxis can be a good way to reach some of the activities a bit further from Oaxaca City. For example, a taxi to Hierve el Agua will cost you around 600 MXN ($34.50).
If you’re looking to save money on transport, colectivo can be a great way to get to your destination.
The colectivos in Oaxaca City are maroon and white cars that usually have their destination on a big sign on their windshield.
Getting a colectivo is easy, you just flag them down off the street and use them to go in the direction you want to go. They are a faster option than the bus and a cheaper option than a taxi. A typical fare will cost you around 15 MXN ($0.80).
Getting the bus in Oaxaca City is not an easy task, so you may just want to avoid this form of transport!
There is virtually no information available on any of the bus routes or times. Even some of the locals will just give you a shrug if you need information. Your best strategy is to either ask your hotel or turn up at a bus stop and hope for the best.
One positive of the buses? They are super cheap and will only cost you 7 MXN ($0.40).
With Oaxaca City as the capital of the glorious Oaxaca State, renting a car may be a great option if you’re looking to explore the surrounding areas.
You can travel at your own pace and not rely on public transport, which isn’t the most reliable in Oaxaca. Having a car means you could drive to Puerto Escondido and spend a few days exploring this popular surfing town as part of your visit to Oaxaca City. Car rental prices start at $18/day if you search via Kayak.
Top tip: Don’t forget to check out 10 tips that will help you save money when renting a car.
How to get to Oaxaca City
|Leaving from||Duration||Prices from||See details|
|Mexico City||2hrs 10m-7.5 hours||from 562 MXN ($32.00)||Mexico City to Oaxaca|
|Puebla||5 hours||810 MXN ($46.50)||Puebla to Oaxaca|
|Puerto Escondido||30 minutes-10.5 hours||from 250 MXN ($14.00)||Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca|
|San Cristobal||5.5 hours-12hrs 50m||from 1,210 MXN ($69.00)||San Cristobal de las Casas to Oaxaca|
Now that you’ve finished reading this guide, you’re almost ready for your adventure in Oaxaca City. The next step is to create your personalised itinerary with our top picks of things to do in Oaxaca City. Simply choose your favourite activities and places to visit, and you’re all set to make lasting memories in Oaxaca City.
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