Oaxaca de Juarez – Mexico’s Most Colorful City

As I write this I am sitting in a coffee shop that overlooks the zocalo (city square). To my left, the Mexico flag hangs off of the balconies of a church. To my right, vendors of all kinds line the walkway. Balloons, toys, bracelets, and more food than you can ever imagine. Although I’m 2,500 miles from my house I’ve never felt more at home.

To get here, I walked about a dozen blocks to the zocalo. On my way, I wandered through un mercado joined a wedding parade and took easily over 100 photos of the murals that cover the walls of all the brightly painted buildings. However, my journey started long before today.

You could say visiting Mexico was in my blood. My grandparents came to Oaxaca City to study Spanish for six months – long before I was born. They had the travel bug through-and-through and were constantly reliving tales of kind locals and beautiful markets like the ones I have the very pleasure to experience now.

My first week in Oaxaca was like the honeymoon stage of any relationship. The city could do wrong, everything was new and exciting! The people, the culture the food – all perfecto mundo. Oaxaca and I are now past that phase and becoming increasingly comfortable with one another. I see some of its flaws now (hot temperatures and desert climate) but I’m happy to be here. Somehow the city seems to welcome each tourist with a warm and brightly colored embrace.

Everyday there is something new to find dedicated to the arts. New galleries, exhibitions, movies, concerts. You can hardly walk down the street without encountering some form of live music whether it be a musician playing out in the zocalo or a band that’s booked a gig in one of the local cafes.

Two months later and I am set to leave Oaxaca and start the next part of my travels through Mexico. Looking back on my time here, I can’t believe how much I fit in two months living here in the city! In addition to scouring nearly every gallery, museum and market within Oaxaca city, I also explored ten different villages in the surrounding areas.

While working at Hostal Pochon, I was constantly asked for recommendations on where to go and how to get there. Thus, I decided to organize everything I’ve done during my two month stay for my readers to use for their own travel plans in this nifty article.

Activities in Oaxaca:


There are three different tiers of nightlife in Oaxaca. The first tier is the gringa bars or foreigner bars.

The second tier is the local only bars. These are the places that Oaxaquenas will take tourists on dates or nights out.

The third tier is the seedier places, they’re like being in Tijuana without having to be in Tijuana…

Bars and clubs in order from most to least fresa:

  1. Casa Istambul
  2. Sacapalbras
  3. Txalaparta
  4. La Nueva Babel
  5. Mezcalerita
  6. Café Laboe
  7. Casa Crespo
  8. La Tentación
  9. Underground Deep House Bar: go through La Plaza Artesanias de Oaxaca y Café

Mercados in Oaxaca

El Tule

El Tule is the widest tree in the world. Unfortunately, there is a gate surrounding the tree and you cannot hug it – even though it looks quite huggable!

Getting There:

You can take a taxi collectivo from the Benito Juarez Stadium for $25 MXN which will take you directly to the entrance.

Hierve El Agua

Probably the most photographed place surrounding Oaxaca City. Hierve El Agua is a calcified waterfall with an amazing pool at the top overlooking a spectacular landscape of desert mountains.

There is a hike that takes you down to the foot of the waterfalls and allows you to see the massive waterfalls from the bottom.

Getting There:

You can get to Hierve El Agua via taxi collectivo to Mitla for $30 MXN following a truck from Mita to the entrance of the falls for $20 MXN. The entire trip takes approximately three hours from the time you leave your accommodation to your arrival to the falls.

Monte Alban

Monte Alban is one of the UNESCO Heritage Sites in Oaxaca. Monte Alban was a Zapoltepec community that dates back as far as 500 BC.

The hill of Monte Alban is considered a holy hill, it is in the middle of the valley of Oaxaca and gives a perfect 360-degree view of Oaxaca.

Fun Fact: Monte Alban is on the 20 peso bill.

Another Fun Fact: Monte Alban is made on a hand-made plateau that stretches 70 square miles.

A group tour is approximately 700 MXN (regardless of the group size) and is well worth the money. Without the tour you do not understand what the different buildings are or their significance.

Getting There:

You can get to Monte Alban two different ways. The local bus costs $6 MXN and drops you off in Xoxo, a 5 Km walk to the entrance.

You can buy a round-trip bus ticket from Hotel Riviera that takes you to the entrance which costs $50 MXN and runs every hour.




San Martin Tilcajete

San Martin Tilcajete, or San Martin for short, is home of the alebrijes which you can read more about in a previous article I wrote (link).

Getting There:

You can get to San Martin via taxi collectivo which takes approximately 40 minutes and costs $20 MXN.


Mitla is a UNESCO Heritage Site made up of two archeological sites along with a series of prehistoric caves.  What makes this location so special is the time difference between the two locations. The archaeological site is said to be from pre-Hispanic times while the caves are prehistoric.

This location was an obvious hub for hunter and gatherers and later indigenous farmers. The caves are said to be the start of Mesoamerican Civilizations.

Getting There:

Take a taxi collectivo from the Benito Juarez stadium for $30 MXN.

San Bortolo Copoyotepec

San Bortolo Copoyotepec, or San Bortolo for short, is home of the barro negro (black pottery). The mud for the pottery comes from the mountains near this village and is brown when wet but comes out of the kiln black.

I very rarely recommend tours, but I would recommend one when visiting San Bortolo. The tour will take you into the artisan homes and teach you how the pottery is made. Without a tour, you may end up wandering around a village staring at random people’s houses wondering where the galleries are (like I did).

Leaving Oaxaca:

As most people do, eventually you will have to pull yourself away from Oaxaca’s warm embrace. Luckily, there are many small pueblos in the surrounding area that will (welcome) you…

Capulalpam de Mendez

Capulalpam de Mendez (or Capulalpam for short) is a small town of 1,500 people in the Sierra Nortes. It is one of the 111 pueblos magicos throughout Mexico. Although the town is most famously known for their traditional medicine practices, they also practice ecotourism and have wonderful hikes throughout the Sierra Nortes.

To read more about Capulalpam, check out my previous article about my three-day stay in the town.

Getting There:

To get to Capulalpam, take a taxi collectivo from the Benito Juarez stadium to the monument for $10 MXN. Across the street there is a bus that will pick you up at el arbol (the tree) next to the pharmacy and will take you directly to Capulalpam for $40 MXN.

(If you ask anyone directions, they will refer to the monument and the large tree. It sounds vague but the directions are obvious once you get to the location.)

San José del Pacifico

San José del Pacifico, or San José for short, is a common pit stop on the backpacker trail most commonly known for their ample supply of hongos magicos (magic mushrooms). San José was home to the famous shaman Maria Sabina whom artists such as Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin and The Beatles have all come through the small town to (work) with.

In addition to the psychedelic community, San José also offers plenty of opportunity for hiking and temazcals, a traditional medicine practice that first begins with a sauna using mezcal vapor.

Getting There:

Take the ADO bus for San Jose del Pacifico/Pochutla for $130 MXN.

Photo Gallery

3 Comment

  1. Elise Franck says: Reply

    Great pictures! Loving to read the text too.
    Your adventures in Mexico uplift me, because of the cultural beauty, festivals, wedding celebration, outdoors walking, hiking, and historical monuments…

    Happy you’re able to post the articles.

    Enjoy Mexico mágico!

    1. carolynsmurthwaite says: Reply

      Thank you so much! I appreciate all your support and look forward to seeing your comments 🙂

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