A Practical Guide to Oaxaca, Mexico

Are you considering Oaxaca, Mexico for either a short term vacation or a long term move? Here is a practical guide to Oaxaca, Mexico. We’ll tell about activities, housing, food, cost of living, and many other aspects about visiting or living in Oaxaca. We hope this guide to Oaxaca, Mexico will be helpful.

(If you prefer to watch a video with the same information then click this link).

Activities

Historic Center

Catedral Metroplitana

The most obvious thing to do is to stroll around Oaxaca’s historical center. There are several different churches here. Probably the biggest is right in the main plaza, the Catedral Metropolitana. It was constructed in 1535 and it’s the center piece of Oaxaca. There are plenty of places to sit around the cathedral and just take it all in.

Templo de Santo Domingo

From there you can make your way north on the pedestrian only street and head over to the Templo de Santo Domingo. This is another amazing and absolutely beautiful church.

If you’re here in Oaxaca long term, you might think going back to the historical area over and over would get boring. But it seemed to us like there was always something different happening and something new to see every time we went. For example, there are often weddings that take place on the streets in the area. And they sure know how to celebrate weddings here, with parades and performers the highlight of the wedding celebration.

Jardin Botanico

Also in Oaxaca’s historic area is the beautiful botanic garden. There is quite a lot of desert type vegetation, as you would expect in Mexico, a lot of different types of cactus. One practical piece of information: when we were there the lines to get in were long and the tickets were selling out quickly.

Monte Alban

Monte Alban

We think the most spectacular thing you can do in Oaxaca is to take a trip to Monte Alban. It’s amazing! Visiting is a must even if you’ve been to a million other archeological sights in Mexico. The people who lived in this extensive complex did so for many centuries. It includes pyramids, temples, tombs, underground passageways, plazas, a ball court, terraces, canals, stones carved with hieroglyphic inscriptions, and so much more. The ancient city was built in several phases and went through a series of successions. From about 500 BC to 850 AD it was the political, economic, and ceremonial capital of the Zapotec people. Unlike some of the other archeological sights around Mexico, you can climb to the top of the pyramids. And an extra bonus of coming here is getting the spectacular view of the surrounding valley. You can’t come to Oaxaca and not visit Monte Alban.

We got to the site by taking a bus. The travel agency that runs the bus is called Viajes Turisticos Mitla.

Mitla

Mitla

Just as Monte Alban was in a state of decline, a new site was just beginning at Mitla. This site’s location is down in the valley, unlike Monte Alban which was built on the top of the mountain. Mitla had a very large religious significance when it was flourishing, which was between the year 750 and the year 1500. The condition of the remains are excellent. This is partly because they were constructed to withstand the earthquakes that are common in the area. Once the Spanish arrived they added to the site by building a church. The site is located about 25 miles from Oaxaca, you can take a local bus or book a tour to take you there.

Classes and Workshops

Weaving Workshop

If you’re coming to Oaxaca for a more long term stay, you’re going to need more to do than visiting the tourist sites like the ruins. Fortunately there are plenty of events throughout the year, as well as classes and workshops.

We went to a demonstration on weaving. First we learned how the the yarn is made from pure wool, and also how it is dyed. This really turned out to be so interesting. (I never would have guessed that blue dye would come from pomegranate seeds). Next we saw how the yarn is used to make these rugs and carpets with many intricate designs. The skill of making these carpets gets passed down from generation to generation, and it can take several months or longer to make a full sized rug.

We also went to a workshop where we learned how to make candles. I honestly didn’t think this was going to be too exciting. But the candles they make here are huge. These aren’t little candles for a birthday cake. Candles are a very symbolic part of wedding proposals in the culture here, sort of similar to the symbolism of engagement rings for us. We really enjoyed this experience. Making the candles ourselves was fun, but it was really interesting to see the experts.

Some other experiences we enjoyed were seeing a pottery demonstration where we learned about the process of molding the clay into ceramic pieces. And Emily took a sewing class where she learned how to make a huipil. (A huipil is a traditional Oaxacan garment worn by many of the women here). And finally we visited a mezcal plantation, where we learned how one of Mexico’s most famous alcoholic drinks is derived from the agave plant.

Food

Oaxacan Mole

Oaxaca’s Famous Seven Moles

Every guide to Oaxaca, Mexico will mention the moles. You can try all seven of Oaxaca’s famous moles at a restaurant called Los Pacos. Mole is a type of sauce made from several ingredients and blended together. Here is a little information about each one:

Green Mole: Made with green tomatoes, parsley and oregano.

Yellow Mole: Made with yellow chile and cinnamon.

Chichilo Mole: Made from black chiles.

Almendrado Mole: Made from almonds, cinnamon, bread, and spices.

Estofado Alcaparrado Mole: Made from capers and green tomatoes.

Red Mole: A very tangy mole made from 23 ingredients, a little like a BBQ sauce (but not really, it’s hard to describe).

Black Mole: Made from 26 ingredients including chocolate, chile, nuts, and raisins.

Pick your favorite moles!

Once you’ve tasted each of the 7 moles you can pick the ones you like best for your meal. I picked four. Then pick out the meat of you choice to go with the mole sauces. The cost was around US$15.

La Casa del Tio Guero

Our Favorite Restaurant: Casa del Tio Guero

Our favorite restaurant in Oaxaca? Definitely La Casa Del Tio Guero. We especially recommend this restaurant for those coming here for a long term stay. The reason is that they have three new menu items each day for their special, so there is always something new to try. The price for this daily special is really reasonable. When we were there it was 108 pesos or just over US$5 for the special. It includes a pitcher of the agua fresca for the day, a choice of soup, one of the three entrees, a side and a dessert. We talked to one expat who comes here 3 or 4 times a week. Delicious food and an even more delicious price.

Market Food

Delicious Huaraches!

And finally we enjoy eating in the food stalls in the markets. These are small, family run places. If you can get grandma to cook up delicious huaraches then your stomach will be very happy for the day. (And your wallet too, just one or two dollars each).

Cost Of Living

No guide to Oaxaca, Mexico is complete without talking about the cost of living. Housing is the biggest expense. Our studio apartment was $700 per month. But we rented through Airbnb, which is always more expensive due to the taxes and fees. The price for an apartment similar to ours would have been about half the price if we rented with a long-term lease directly from the owner.

Food costs are usually the second biggest expense. We could have saved on food if we had done more of our own cooking. But why, when eating out is so inexpensive and delicious, right?

Here is a breakdown of our total spending.

Final Thoughts

So what was our final conclusion on Oaxaca? We loved it! This has been our favorite city in Mexico so far. The weather is perfect, the people are friendly, the Oaxacan food is spectacular. But stay tuned for more adventures from Mexico! We still have more articles from Mexico coming soon.

We hope this practical guide to Oaxaca, Mexico has been helpful. If you’ve been to Oaxaca, please leave a comment to compare your experience with ours. I’m sure it would be helpful to others to hear your opinion too.

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