25 Best Things to Do in Oaxaca, Mexico

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The Mexican state of Oaxaca is full of stunning architecture, agave plants and some of the most delicious food (and mezcal!) in the country. As you plan your trip to this colorful Mexican destination, we’re breaking out the best things to do in Oaxaca City and beyond.

Oaxaca Mexico

With brightly colored buildings, iconic churches and streets dotted with cacti and agave plants, there’s no denying Oaxaca City is breathtaking. 

Beyond its Instagram-worthy capital city, Oaxaca state is a region of Mexico that is incredibly diverse. It’s packed with culture and history, boasts drool-worthy cuisine, and has some pretty epic nature that’s sure to leave you in awe. 

Whether you’re visiting Oaxaca City for a few days or traveling around the state for a bit, there are plenty of ways to fill your time. We’ve rounded up the best things to do in Oaxaca along with some other information that’ll help you plan your trip.

How to pronounce “Oaxaca”: It’s pronounced “wa-ha-kah” for all of you who are scratching your head. Don’t worry – it took us a while too!

Oaxaca Travel Guide

For more tips and advice for planning your trip to Oaxaca, jump to the following sections (or just keep scrolling to see it all!).

Be sure to download our complete packing list for Mexico! It’s packed with good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your Mexico vacation. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?

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Top things to do in Oaxaca

Here are our top recommendations for the very best things to do in Oaxaca…

  1. Take a free walking tour of Oaxaca City
  2. Experience Dia de los Muertos
  3. Discover Hierve el Agua
  4. Indulge in Oaxacan food
  5. Take a Mexican cooking class
  6. Explore the markets
  7. Go trekking in Sierra Norte

Keep reading for more detailed information on each of these things and more ideas of fun things to do in Oaxaca City and beyond. 

1. Take a free walking tour of Oaxaca City

Things to Do in Oaxaca Free Walking Tour

Officially named Oaxaca de Juarez, but often shortened to Oaxaca City or just Oaxaca, this is the cultural hub and largest city in the state. It is likely going to be your homebase for exploring a lot of the unique things to do in Oaxaca on this list. 

Taking a walking tour is a great way to orient yourself on your first day in a new city. 

Our hostel offered a free walking tour, which brought us past all the city’s beautiful churches and through several markets – both the famous and the little known. Our guides shared stories and history of the region, which was a great way to get acquainted with the city.

The tour is run through Oaxaca Free Walking Tour. They offer daily tours in both English and Spanish, several times a day. The meeting point is in front of Teatro Macedonio Alcala in Oaxaca Centro. 

During this 2.5-hour tour you learn about Oaxacan culture, history, food and arts as you stroll through the history city center (deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and discover several hidden gems that tourists often miss. 

2. Experience Dia de los Muertos

Oaxaca City Dia de los Muertos Mexico

If you’ve ever seen the Pixar movie Coco, you’ll understand what we mean when we say visiting Oaxaca during Dia de los Muertos celebrations is magical. (If you haven’t seen the movie, we highly recommend it!)

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead as it translates in English, is a significant cultural celebration in Mexico on November 1st. The celebrations often take place in the week leading up to the holiday and Oaxaca City is the quintessential place to experience it. 

The city comes alive with vibrant colors, intricate altars, and the sweet aroma of marigold flowers, as families honor and remember their departed loved ones. The streets are adorned with papel picado (decorative paper banners), and markets burst with sugar skulls, candles, and traditional foods. 

The highlight is a visit to the cemeteries after dark, where families gather to decorate graves, eat and drink together, creating an atmosphere of both reverence and joy.

3. Discover Hierve el Agua

Things to Do in Oaxaca Free Hierve el Agua

Meaning “the water boils over,” this stunning petrified waterfall was created by a mineral rich spring and is one of only two petrified waterfalls in the world.

There are two cliffs that make up this attraction; the larger of the two is a white rock formation that looks just like water flowing over the edge of a waterfall. The second, smaller cliff has man-made pools that are perfect for swimming or snapping photos for Instagram.

Pack your swimsuit so you can take a refreshing dip in the water (yes the water is cold, not boiling) or make a short hike to a lookout point near the falls.

There are several ways you can get to Hierve el Agua:

Take a colectivo (shared taxi) to Hierve el Agua 

You can find these small maroon and white cars parked on the east side of the baseball stadium (Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos). They pack 6 people inside, and the ride will take up to 2 hours to Mitla, depending on traffic, and it costs 25 MXN per person.

From there you need to take a covered pickup truck (yep you hop in back) to Hierve el Agua, which will take about 1 hour more and costs an additional 40 MXN per person. 

To get back you need to do the reverse. 

Things to Do in Oaxaca Hierve el Agua

Go on a tour to Hierve el Agua

We’re typically not that big of fans of guided tours, but we chose this option since our hostel offered a tour that included a stop at the waterfalls, Mitla ruins, Tule tree, a mezcal distillery, and a stop in a weaving village.

All this cost just 200 MXN per person for the transportation and guide, which is cheaper than it would cost to do it all on your own. It also meant we didn’t need to worry about figuring it out on our own.

There are several operators running similar tours, and you can book them the day before you’d like to take the tour. No need to book far in advance online! While it was a nice day, the highlight was definitely the falls, so if you’re rushed for time, you don’t need to feel badly missing out on Tule or Mitla.

Note: You will have to pay for the entrance to Hierve el Agua (usually 50 pesos per person but our tour charged us extra) and entrance to the Mitla ruins (90 pesos).

Hire a driver or a rental car

If you want to explore at your own pace, consider hiring a private driver (typically 200 pesos per hour) or renting a car and making the drive on your own. The roads aren’t difficult to drive on, and you will have the most freedom. That said, this is the most expensive option.

Hierve el Agua Mexico

Things to know before you go

  • Entrance fee: 50 MXN
    • Parking costs an additional 80 MXN
  • Hours: 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily
  • Facilities: There is a bathroom and changing rooms near the entrance that costs 3 pesos per person. 
  • There are lots of snack stands around this area. If you go on a guided tour, they will stop at a buffet for lunch that costs 150 pesos per person. We opted to grab snacks at the waterfall instead of eating at the buffet, since we didn’t want to stuff ourselves with mediocre food when Oaxaca has some amazing places to eat.

4. Indulge in Oaxacan food

Things to Do in Oaxaca Tlayuda Mexican Food

When we told people in Mexico City we were going to Oaxaca, they all said, “You’re going to love the food!” And they were right! 

Oaxaca is known for having some of the best food in Mexico, which includes regional specialties that aren’t as easy to find anywhere else.

You could easily spend a month in this state and still be left craving more, but if you have a limited amount of time, there are some specific dishes, drinks and snacks you should try.

Oaxacan foods to try

  • Tlayuda: This delicious dish is served on a large crispy tortilla topped with vegetables, meat, and a whole lotta cheese! They are everywhere in Oaxaca so you better try a few of them. 
  • Mole: Oaxaca is known for mole, a sauce typically made with 25-40 different ingredients. While we were in Oaxaca, we got to try green, yellow, and black mole, but there are seven different kinds you can try. 
  • Chapulines (grasshoppers): Imagine sitting at a local bar, sipping on a cerveza, listening to the live music. But instead of bar peanuts, there, sitting in front of you, is a bowl full of seasoned chapulines… aka grasshoppers! Typically you can find these bugs sitting outside of markets with flavors like chili, garlic, or lemon. 
Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexican Food Chapulines Grasshoppers
Chapulines (grasshoppers)
  • Hot (or iced) chocolate: If you’ve got a sweet tooth, be sure to try the hot chocolate in Oaxaca. There are several chocolate shops around town, but we liked Chocolate Mayordomo.
  • Tejate: Served in a painted gourd shell, this drink made from cacao and maize has a chunky whitish layer floating on top. It has a somewhat chalky texture, kind of like a protein drink and tastes faintly of chocolate. Don’t be put off though, it’s actually quite nice and unlike anything you’ve tried before. 
  • Chorizo: While at the market, order a few links of chorizo and they can fire them up on the grill, for a quick and tasty snack. 
  • Local ice cream: The local ice cream is more similar to a sorbet, and comes in all sorts of flavor combinations that you won’t find anywhere else. For a local favorite, try tuna. No, it’s not the fish, it’s made from prickly pear and is quite refreshing! 
  • Elote: Aka Mexican street corn, these steamy cobs get slathered in mayo, sprinkled with chili powder (not too spicy), parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and then drizzled with fresh lime juice.

Looking for another city bursting with Mexican flavor and culture? There are so many fun things to do in Merida, which is located in the Yucatan Peninsula.

5. Take a food tour with a local

If all this talk of food is making your mouth water, consider taking a food tour of Oaxaca City… 

Eating with a local at the markets

Things to Do in Oaxaca Explore the Markets Vendor

Explore three of the most renowned markets in Oaxaca Centro with a local on this unique Airbnb experience. Navigating the bustling lanes, you’ll be guided on how to confidently order some of the local specialties amidst the markets’ vibrant energy. 

One of the highlights will be tasting your host’s Grandmother’s Barbacoa recipe along with other culinary gems, carefully selected to make you feel like a local. 

What you need to know:

  • Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday – Sunday
  • Price: $89 USD per person
  • Meeting location: Jardin Carbajal

What guests are saying: 

“We usually do market and food tours everywhere we travel and this was by far the best one! We tried so many delicious foods, learned so much about Oaxacan culture, and discovered places and foods we would have never discovered on our own.”  – Hannah, January 2024

Oaxacan street food tour (veg- and vegan-friendly)

Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexican Food Street Corn

Discover the authentic flavors of traditional Oaxacan food on this immersive street food tour. You’ll explore vibrant markets, getting an introduction to key ingredients that will feature in your culinary adventure. 

Venturing through the city, you’ll visit diverse stands offering delicious vegetarian or vegan options, each specialty crafted by individuals from indigenous communities, adding a unique taste to the menu. 

This tour not only promises high-quality street food but also provides cultural insights into Oaxacan culinary traditions. With a mix of savory and sweet delights, it’ll commence with a snack, follow with a main course, and conclude with a delectable dessert.

What you need to know:

  • Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 12 – 3 p.m., most days of the week
  • Price: $65 USD per person
  • Meeting location: Cruz de Piedra

What guests are saying: 

“The tour was really great! We got to try lots of different veggie foods that otherwise we would not have. Sara was lovely and friendly and the tour was relaxed, well paced, and we got to learn a little about Oaxaca too. Would definitely recommend :)” – Jovita, December 2023

6. Take a Mexican cooking class

Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexican Cooking Class

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you’ll know we’re obsessed with taking cooking classes along our travels. (In fact, this was the 10th cooking class we’ve taken around the world!) 

We love Mexican cuisine and have been itching to learn how to make some of the staples ourselves, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a cooking class in Oaxaca.

The first stop of our cooking class was at a local market, where the instructor bought some local ingredients for the dishes we’d be making and let us try a few things that we probably would otherwise pass up.

Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexican Cooking Class

We then returned to his family’s home where we learned how to cook dishes like zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and honey, fresh green mole, enchiladas with a scratch-made salsa verde, and the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted. 

Oh, and we also made tortillas from scratch, which is a lot harder than it may sound!

We enjoyed wine, margaritas and conversation while eating the food we had prepared.

Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexican Cooking Class

There are many cooking classes in Oaxaca, but we booked a class with La Cocina Oaxaquena and were happy with it. They can accommodate vegetarians and provide recipes of all the food you cook at the end of the class.

7. Explore the markets

Things to Do in Oaxaca Explore the Markets Vegetables

Like many parts of Latin America, Oaxaca City has lots of local markets, each of which has its own unique draw. A great way to get to know the city on a deeper level is to peruse the markets and interact with the locals. 

Benito Juarez Market

Probably the most well-known market in Oaxaca City, you’ll find souvenirs and some small snacks in this large, covered market. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

November 20 Market

This market (known as Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Spanish)  is one block south of Mercado Benito Juarez and is full of food stalls and various hand-crafted gifts like shoes, table runners and other embroidered fabric. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Things to Do in Oaxaca Explore the Markets Organic Market
Things to Do in Oaxaca Explore the Markets Organic Market Strawberries

Organic Harvest Market

Open on 8 a.m. – 6 p.m (closed Mondays and Tuesdays), this market is a shaded oasis. Order an agua fresca (fresh flavored water), and a treat like blackberry cheesecake while you enjoy live music and relax.

8. Go trekking in Sierra Norte

Pueblos Mancomunados Sierra Norte Oaxaca Mexico

Oaxaca is split into regions, one of them being Sierra Norte. Set high in the mountains in this region lie 8 communities that make up the Pueblos Mancomunados. They are self-governing and have different customs and laws than the rest of Mexico.

The communities have a focus on ecotourism and offer people the chance to trek between them with local guides. Plus, trekkers get to stay in the villages in beautiful cabins, complete with wood burning fireplaces.

This trek was definitely the highlight of our time in Oaxaca and was so different from anything else we experienced in the city or even in Mexico in general. Read more about our experience trekking in the Sierra Norte Oaxaca, and how the money goes directly to the people in them.

9. Get lost in ancient ruins

The Oaxaca Valley is steeped in history, serving as the cradle of the ancient Zapotec civilization, and home to one of the earliest complex societies in Mesoamerica. The remarkable artifacts of this advanced civilization endure today, as protected ruins in sites like Mitla, Yagul, San Jose El Mogote, and, most notably, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Monte Alban.

If you are pressed for time, it’s best to select just one or two sites for exploration. Our suggestion is to begin with a smaller and less-visited site, such as Milta, before immersing yourself in the prominent attraction of Monte Alban. 

Monte Albán

Easily one of the most impressive ruins and best things to do in Oaxaca City, Monte Alban (which means ‘White Mountain’) has stood for thousands of years. 

Originally inhabited by the Olmecs when it was founded in the 6th century BCE, its zenith occurred during the reign of the Zapotecs when the city’s population swelled to over 18,000. 

Although ongoing excavations uncover more of its secrets, the significance of the imposing structures, subterranean passages, and artwork from that era is readily apparent.

Surrounded by mountains on all sides, it’s easy to see why visiting Mount Alban is such a popular attraction in Oaxaca. 

How to get there: Located just 25 minutes outside downtown Oaxaca City, you can persuade a taxi driver to take you to Monte Alban. You should negotiate the price but expect to pay around 150 pesos or more, one way. There will be taxis lined up to take you back into the city when you’re done, but know that the price may be higher on the way back. 

Entrance Fee: 95 pesos (~$5 USD)


Milta ruins Oaxaca Mexico

Smaller and not quite as impressive as Monte Alban, Mitla served as a religious and cultural hub for the Zapotecs. Despite much of Mitla being dismantled by the Spanish, the carvings are well preserved and there are some incredible intricate details. 

Plus, it is part of many Hierve el Agua tours, and is easily accessible from Oaxaca City.

How to get there: Probably your most comfortable option for getting to Milta from Oaxaca is by taxi. Most Oaxacan taxi drivers will take you to Mitla for the right price, just be sure to negotiate so you don’t get ripped off. 

Entrance Fee: 90 pesos (~$5 USD)

10. Visit a traditional weaving village

Things to Do in Oaxaca Traditional Weaving Village

Among other marvels, the Oaxaca Valley is dotted with dozens of artisan villages. Each village has its own specialty, from rugs to pottery to alebrijes—imaginatively painted wooden animal sculptures.

Using natural dyes and the fibers of sheep wool, weaving is a traditional craft of the Oaxacan people. The town of Teotitlan del Valle is just 28 kilometers from Oaxaca City and is home to a community of people who have been weaving their whole lives, often starting at the age of five.

Weaving village Oaxaca Mexico

A stop in this village is included in many of the tours to Hierve el Agua, but it is possible to take a colectivo here on your own as well. 

Stop in any shop and they will explain the weaving process to you and show you how they dye the wool different colors using things found in nature, like bugs, flowers and moss.

You can also purchase textiles from these shops, but know that they aren’t cheap. Some of the smaller weavings were around 1,000 pesos ($50 USD), which is fairly priced considering the amount of work that goes into them.

11. Marvel at the Tule Tree

El Tule Oaxaca Mexico

Situated in the town of Santa María del Tule, just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from downtown Oaxaca de Juarez, stands the world’s widest tree. 

Known as the Tule Tree, this Montezuma cypress—Mexico’s national tree—is estimated to be between 1,500 and 3,000 years old, boasting an impressive diameter of about 14 meters (46 feet)! You’ll have to see it to believe it!

El Tule Oaxaca Mexico

While the Tule Tree doesn’t require much time to appreciate, it’s recommended to pair a visit with other things to do in Oaxaca on this list. Consider joining a full-day guided tour that not only showcases this natural wonder but also takes you to explore Mitla and Hierve el Agua.

12. Participate in a temazcal ceremony

Things to do in Oaxaca Temazcal

If you want to have a spiritual experience that’s rooted in ancient Mayan culture, you might be interested in a temezcal ritual.

This Mayan cleansing ritual has been practiced for centuries to heal a variety of ailments including tight muscles, bad blood circulation and it helps remove toxins from your body.

Unfortunately, Ceviarem Temazcal Oaxaca was all booked up during our time in Oaxaca, but we heard wonderful things. Read about our temezcal experience here and decide if it’s for you.

13. Admire the architecture and cathedrals

Oaxaca has no shortage of stunning architecture and colors to make any photographer dreamy-eyed.

There’s no way you’ll miss the Santo Domingo church (Templo de Santo Domingo), situated in the center of town. Named after Santo Domingo de Guzman this is a shining example of New Spanish Baroque architecture that dates back to 1551.

Things to Do in Oaxaca Cathedral Inside

It is nice to photograph, wander inside or to just hang out in front of beneath the shade of a tree. In the afternoon and evening hours, street vendors set up in the area and the square in front of the church comes alive.

If you head down to the Zócalo, you can relax in the park facing the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. It’s a nice place to people-watch and relax in the evening. 

14. Stroll through Oaxaca Ethonobotanical Garden

Things to Do in Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden

We’ve heard that the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden is lovely, but when we rolled up expecting to just pay a small entrance fee and wander around, we were turned away. Apparently, you can only enter with a guided tour

From what we’ve read online, it is worthwhile if you have the time! You’ll learn about the local ecosystem and gain insight into how the people in the region are connected with their land.

English tours are only held Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 11 a.m. and run for 2 hours. Cost is 100 pesos per person. Spanish tours are cheaper, at 50 pesos per person, and run daily Monday to Saturday at 10 a.m, 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.

15. Shop the Sunday market in Tlacolula

Things to Do in Oaxaca Sunday Market Tlacolula

If you happen to be in Oaxaca on a Sunday and want to have an authentic off the beaten path experience, follow these instructions: Head to the baseball stadium and look for a colectivo (small maroon and white car that is a shared taxi) with the name Tlacolula on the windshield.

If you don’t see any, ask around: “Donde esta el colectivo a Tlacolula?” Where is the colectivo to Tlacolula?

Things to Do in Oaxaca Collectivo

This trip will be about 45 minutes depending on traffic, and will bring you to the nearby village of Tlacolula where they hold the largest indigenous market in Latin America on Sundays.

Covering over 1.5 miles, this market is a great place to people watch, try some street food and buy fresh produce.

Things to Do in Oaxaca Sunday Market Tlacolula
Things to Do in Oaxaca Sunday Market Tlacolula Guitar player

Just make sure you actually get to the covered market itself (Mercado Municipal Martín González). You’ll see people wearing the traditional clothes of their villages and you’ll see families spending the day together. It’s a really unique experience if you’re willing to make the effort. 

16. Search for street art in Oaxaca City

Things to Do in Oaxaca Street Art

Throughout this colorful city, you will see murals around every corner. There are some duds, but most are pretty good with great detail.

Unfortunately, we did not find a street art tour, but this blog does a good job describing where some of the good murals are located. Stroll through the street and take pictures of your favorites. 

Street art Oaxaca Mexico
Street art Oaxaca Mexico

While you are looking for street art, keep your eye peeled for vintage VW Bugs scooting around the city. We have never seen so many in one city.

17. Taste mezcal

Things to Do in Oaxaca Try Mezcal

You’ll find mezcalerias – Mezcal bars – on just about every block in Oaxaca. This popular liquor was invented in Oaxaca. Made from the same agave plant as tequila, mezcal is much more widely consumed by Mexicans.

So what exactly is the difference between tequila and mezcal? Our friends over at Food Fun Travel go over everything you’d wanna know about the two spirits in article and podcast form. Click through that link to give it a read/listen and impress everyone you meet in Oaxaca with your newfound knowledge!

If you drink alcohol, be sure to taste this famous drink while in Oaxaca, since some of the most famous varieties come from this region.

Where to try mezcal in Oaxaca City

Things to Do in Oaxaca Guitar Player Mezcal

There’s no shortage of mezcalerias to try, but for a quaint “hole in the wall” experience, pop into the tiny shop called Los Amantes Mezcalería near Santo Domingo church.

You can choose from a couple different tastings, the least expensive of which gives you a 1.5-ounce sample of 3 different mezcals for 200 pesos. You can split this between two people and enjoy the quirky décor, ask questions about the liquors and agave plants and enjoy live music as you’re serenaded by a mustached man wearing a cowboy hat.

Just across the street is the popular Praga Coffee Bar, and on many nights there is live music on the first floor. But head directly upstairs for an artisan cocktail made with mezcal and one of the best views of the Santa Domingo church.

An inventive combination like agave-maracuya (passion fruit) or honey-jamaica (hibiscus) will only set you back around 86 pesos ($4.39 USD). On cold nights they even give you blankets to keep warm.

Note: Many of the tours to Hierve de Agua include a stop at a mezcal distillery so you can understand the process. You will also be able to try some of their mezcal and can purchase some if you wish. You can even have the opportunity to try the mezcal worm if you’re feeling adventurous!

If you’re really into mezcal, some others to try are: Cuish Mezcalería, Cortijo La Mezcaleria, or Expendio Tradición.

Good to know: If you’re vegetarian, avoid the orange slices. The stuff that looks like chili powder that they’re dipped in is actually ground up mezcal worms mixed with salt. It is actually quite nice and has a salty, smoky flavor, but if you don’t eat meat/insects you might want to avoid this!

18. Grab a drink at a rooftop bar

Things to Do in Oaxaca Prague Bar Cocktails

If you need a break from exploring, Oaxaca City has plenty of cute rooftop bars to sip a cocktail at with amazing views. 

Here are some of our favorites:

  • Praga Coffee Bar: We already mentioned this one above as one of our favorite places to sip mezcal and view Santo Domingo church. 
  • Amá Terraza: A chic rooftop setting and an extensive mezcal selection.
  • Casa Oaxaca: As one of the best restaurants in Oaxaca, this rooftop setting is an ideal place for indulging in a fancy meal or creative cocktail.
  • Selva Oaxaca Cocktail Bar: A trendy cocktail bar serving innovative concoctions with a focus on regional ingredients and mixology flair.
  • Gozobi: Nestled above the city streets, Gozobi offers a relaxed and vibrant rooftop atmosphere with a diverse menu of cocktails.
  • Los Amantes: A romantic setting with its cozy ambiance and stunning vistas, they are best known for their mezcal selection. 

19. Learn about chocolate

Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexican Food Frozen Hot Chocolate

Mexico is said to be the birthplace of chocolate, and if you love the stuff as much as we do, be sure to stop in a chocolate shop. They sell chocolate, of course, but they often have information on the process that goes into creating your favorite sweet treat.

Sit down and stay a while and enjoy a hot chocolate that’s made in front of you with the traditional wooden stir stick, called a molinillo.

Oaxaca is a great place to try hot chocolate. There are several chocolate shops around town, but we sat down at Chocolate Mayordomo and ordered 2 very different chocolatey drinks. 

One was cold and refreshing in the heat, and the other was the traditional hot chocolate that is frothed in front of you using a molinillo. While the chocolate was sweeter than I typically prefer, it was still nice to try!

20. Learn about Oaxacan culture at Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca

As the most culturally diverse state in Mexico, Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca (Oaxaca Cultural Museum) is a testament to that diversity. On display you’ll see artifacts spanning various periods and cultures, highlighting individual societies and, notably, the impact of Spanish colonialism.

Situated adjacent to the Templo de Santo Domingo, the museum occupies what was once the monastery, turning the building itself into a museum artifact!

Note: All signs in the museum are in Spanish. So you’ll have to either brush up on your language, or rely on Google Translate. 

21. Celebrate the Guelaguetza Festival

Guelaguetza Festival Oaxaca (Mexico News Daily)
Image source: Mexico News Daily

The Guelaguetza, or Los Lunes del Cerro (Mondays on the Hill) in Spanish, is an annual indigenous cultural event held in the city of Oaxaca and neighboring villages. As one of the largest folk festivals in North America, each July the streets of Oaxaca City boil over in celebration. 

The festival showcases traditional costumed dances performed by gender-separated groups, featuring parades of indigenous walking bands, authentic cuisine, and regional handmade crafts, including pre-Hispanic-style textiles. Each costume, known as traje, and dance hold local indigenous historical and cultural significance. 

While the event has drawn an increasing number of tourists, its primary importance lies in its profound cultural significance for the indigenous peoples of the state, playing a crucial role in the preservation of these rich cultures.

The event takes place over 2 Mondays each July. 

22. Venture to San Jose del Pacifico

Located approximately three hours south of Oaxaca de Juarez, nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains, is the quaint village of San Jose del Pacifico. This mountain town is renowned for its dense pine forests, a vibrant hippie community, and…magic mushrooms. 

The latter is likely the primary attraction of San Jose del Pacifico, where Shamans can lead interested visitors through this experience. However, San Jose has much more to offer, ranging from hiking adventures to experiencing a temazcal.

23. Learn to surf in Puerto Escondido

Puerto Escondido sunset in Oaxaca, Mexico

Puerto Escondido stands out as a key tourist destination on the Oaxacan coast with a laid back vibe and excellent surfing. This coastal gem primarily attracts surfers, backpackers, and Mexican families seeking a relaxed atmosphere. 

The main allure of Puerto Escondido lies in its pristine beaches; Zicatela Beach takes the spotlight, hosting prominent surfing competitions, while other beaches offer gentler waves for a more leisurely experience. 

If learning to surf is a goal of yours, you’ll want to make a stop in Puerto Escondido during your Oaxaca travels. 

24. Santiago Apoala Waterfall

Santiago Apoala Waterfall Oaxaca 2 (GYG)
Image source: Get Your Guide

Nestled in the heart of Oaxaca’s lush landscapes, Santiago Apoala Waterfall captivates visitors with its cascading beauty. Surrounded by dense forests and rolling hills, the waterfall offers a picturesque setting with a turquoise pool at its base, perfect for cooling off in the Mexican heat. 

Situated about 2 hours outside of Oaxaca City, the best way to get to Santiago Apoala is by car. You can rent a car in the city and make the drive yourself, just know the journey involves navigating a lot of winding roads.

Important note: Before exploring the waterfall, town, or doing any hiking, you must stop by the town’s Eco-tourism Office (Oficinas del Centro Ecoturístico Apoala Yutsa Toon) to register as a visitor and pay a small fee of about 50 pesos. The office is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

If you don’t want to drive yourself, another option is hopping on a day tour from Oaxaca.


25. Take a boat and snorkeling tour in Huatulco National Park

Huatulco Bay snorkeling tour Oaxaca (GYG)
Image source: Get Your Guide

Situated along the stunning coastline of Oaxaca, Mexico, Huatulco National Park is the state’s first protected natural area. The UNESCO-listed biosphere reserve also has a Conservation and Management Program contributing to the protection of the space. 

A great way to experience the biodiversity of the region is on a snorkeling tour. Read up on snorkeling in Huatulco before you go! If you’re lucky, you’ll spot dolphins, rays and sea turtles along the way.

Is Oaxaca safe?

Things to Do in Oaxaca City Street Colorful Buildings

Absolutely! We felt 100% safe the entire time we were in Oaxaca City. We interacted with some of the kindest people here and never questioned our safety at all. We met several young women traveling solo and even saw families with children.

All that said, it’s a good idea to always be aware of your surroundings and use common sense because bad things can happen anywhere in the world – even in your hometown!

Related Reading: Travel Safety Tips you Need to Know

How many days do you need in Oaxaca?

The ideal number of days to spend in Oaxaca, Mexico can vary depending on your interests and the activities you want to experience. 

A typical visit to Oaxaca City usually ranges from 3 to 5 days if you’re just passing through while exploring other parts of Mexico. However, if you want to explore more in depth, you could easily spend a week here.

Best time to visit Oaxaca

Oaxaca City Mexic

The best time to visit Oaxaca City, Mexico, is during the dry season from November to May for pleasant weather and outdoor exploration. 

October and December are great for cultural events like Día de los Muertos and Christmas festivities. Just keep in mind accommodation books up far in advance! (If you are planning to visit over Dia de los Muertos, you should have your accommodation booked by August!)

July is ideal for food enthusiasts due to the Guelaguetza Festival celebrating Oaxacan cuisine and culture. 

As a year-round destination, the best time to visit Oaxaca City ultimately depends on your interests, whether it’s sightseeing, cultural experiences, or culinary adventures.

How to get to Oaxaca City

Oaxaca Mexico

One of the easiest ways to get around Mexico is by driving a rental car. You get to explore on your own, it’s safe, and crazy cheap. We wrote all about our experience, plus where to find the best deals in our guide to getting a rental car in Mexico.  

However, if you’re coming from another country or region, you may want to consider flying into Oaxaca International Airport (OAX). You can find cheap domestic flights from other major airports in Mexico (like Mexico City or Cancun). And there are direct international flights into Oaxaca as well. 

If you’re traveling Mexico on a budget, we’ve found the best way to get around is by bus. 

The ADO bus service connects all of the major cities and travel destinations south/east of Mexico City. It’s very affordable and actually quite comfortable with air conditioning and power outlets. The best part is you can purchase your tickets directly from the station on your day of travel.

Transportation in Oaxaca

Things to Do in Oaxaca Vintage VW Bugs

Oaxaca City is very walkable if you are staying in the center. However, you may find it helpful to take taxis for longer distances or need to figure out transportation to get around the state. 

Public buses

Mexico is well-connected by public bus, even for shorter distances within the state of Oaxaca. The ADO bus service is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways for getting around Mexico. 

The buses are comfortable coaches with reclining seats, A/C and oftentimes onboard wifi. 

Lucky for you, we’ve traveled by ADO a lot in Mexico and put together a complete guide to using the ADO bus service

While ADO services many of the larger cities and destinations in Oaxaca, there are plenty of second class bus terminals that run shorter routes between the smaller towns. The best way to find out more is to visit the bus terminal in your area to find out about routes and pricing. 


Colectivos are Mexico’s version of a shared taxi bus. These run all over the country in short distances and are by far the most affordable method of public transportation in the country. 

If you are going a short distance, like from downtown Oaxaca to just outside the city for example, a colectivo is a great way to get there for a much more reasonable price than a taxi cab. You may have to make a few stops along the way though, and it’s certainly not the most efficient route. 

Renting a car

Renting a car in Mexico is much cheaper than it would be in the United States. Plus it’s a great way to get around at your own pace and explore more off-the-beaten-path destinations.

We’ve rented a car many times in Mexico and found driving there to be easy as well as the roads are easy to navigate. 

If you are interested, we put together a complete guide to getting a car rental in Mexico. This guide will go over everything you should expect from a rental car, where to get the best rates and tips for saving-money and driving in Mexico.


Taxis are always an option for transportation within cities/towns or between destinations that are nearby. The price of taxis, however, is high in Mexico. 

Often places have set-rates that are non-negotiable. And even without a set price, drivers are notorious for overcharging tourists and not turning on the meter. 

Usually airport taxis have set rates that are much higher than the typical mileage rate. That said, there is no arguing. The airport taxi rates are published at the airport and they will not budge. It’s important to understand the rates in your area if you plan to rely on taxis. 

Also, don’t expect taxis in Mexico to accept credit card payments—most don’t have this ability and only take cash.


The only rideshare app available in Oaxaca City is DiDi. It works just like Uber would, and is usually quite affordable for getting around town.

Where to eat in Oaxaca City

Things to Do in Oaxaca Calabacitas Tiernas

There is no shortage of restaurants to choose from in Oaxaca City. From traditional Mexican eateries to world-class cuisine, Oaxaca is renowned for its impressive foodie scene. And part of the fun is just wandering around with your nose as your guide.

But if you want some tips for some of the best places to eat in Oaxaca City, keep reading… We’re sharing some great vegetarian options too!

  • 20 de Noviembre Market: You won’t be able to beat the prices or the freshness anywhere in the city. 
  • Casa Oaxaca: Renowned restaurant providing an upscale dining experience with a focus on contemporary Oaxacan cuisine and stylish ambiance.
  • Levadura de Olla Restaurante: A fusion of Mexican and Mediterranean influences in a cozy, art-filled space.
  • Boulenc: Beloved bakery and cafe with mouthwatering bread, pastries, and gourmet coffee in the heart of Oaxaca.
  • Los Danzantes: A culinary gem celebrated for its inventive Mexican dishes, mezcal collection, and charming courtyard setting.
  • Criollo: Award-winning restaurant delivering a refined Oaxacan dining experience, highlighting local ingredients and traditional recipes. (From chef Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol.)
  • Expendio Tradición: Showcasing traditional Oaxacan flavors through artisanal mezcal and delectable dishes.
  • Tacos del Carmen: A local favorite street food spot known for its mouthwatering tacos.
  • Ancestral Cocina Tradicional: A hidden gem north of downtown, serving authentic, home-style Oaxacan cuisine, capturing the essence of regional flavors and culinary traditions.
  • La Gran Torta: Small mom and pop shop known for serving Pozoles – yummy traditional Mexican stew. They serve large portions at cheap prices. 
  • Calabacitas Tiernas: If you’re craving a good meal, veggie or not, this cute vegetarian restaurant has an open air courtyard and serves large portions with a specialty in Mexican fusion.   
  • PAN:AM: Brunch please! This has been one of the best breakfast spots we found throughout our time in Mexico. Everything that came out of the kitchen looked delicious, so you really can go wrong. 

Where to stay in Oaxaca City

Oaxaca rooftop yoga
Rooftop yoga at Casa Angel

If you’re coming to Oaxaca for the first time and planning to stay in the city, you’ll likely find Centro to be the most convenient location. There’s a wide variety of types of accommodation – from social hostels to budget-friendly boutique hotels to full-on luxurious resorts. 

Budget hostel: Casa Angel Youth Hostel

With deluxe private rooms as well as dorms, a lovely rooftop terrace (perfect for morning yoga!), a communal kitchen and incredibly friendly and helpful staff, Casa Angel is a perfect choice for accommodation in Oaxaca City.

Mid-range budget option: City Centro Oaxaca

Beautifully decorated and centrally located, this 4-star hotel has an amazing bar, wonderful views from the rooftop terrace and a fitness center. Perfect for a couple looking to explore the city. 

Splurge hotel: Quinta Real Oaxaca

This 5-star hotel has large modern rooms with an old Oaxacan charm. Enjoy the large garden, pool and free wifi. This is a great hotel for a family or if you’re in Oaxaca on business. 

What to pack for visiting Oaxaca

Oaxaca City Mexico

It’ll be much easier to travel around Oaxaca, Mexico without a ton of bulky luggage. We recommend to always pack light! This will save you a lot of hassle.

Here are some Oaxaca-specific items we’d recommend packing:

  • bug balm (solids are the way to go)
  • reef safe sunscreen
  • insulated water bottle (we love our Hydro Flasks)
  • medications (like Ibuprofen, Imodium, Dramamine or Pepto-Bismol)
  • Chaco sandals (we’d recommend these instead of hiking boots as they are less bulky and are good for walking through water)

Be sure to download our complete packing list for Mexico! It’s packed with good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your Mexico vacation. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?

Our experience in Oaxaca

Watch our epic video of our 2 week trip in Mexico to get some inspiration and wanderlust.

Note: Turn off Ad Blocker to watch Mexico Video

Round up of the best things to do in Oaxaca

Here’s a recap of all the best things to do in Oaxaca so you can see everything in one place.

  1. Take a free walking tour
  2. Dia de los Muertos
  3. Hierve el Agua
  4. Oaxacan food
  5. Food tour
  6. Mexican cooking class
  7. Local markets
  8. Trekking in Sierra Norte
  9. Ancient ruins
  10. Traditional weaving village
  11. Tule Tree
  12. Temazcal ceremony
  13. Architecture and cathedrals
  14. Oaxaca Ethonobotanical Garden
  15. Sunday market in Tlacolula
  16. Street art
  17. Mezcal
  18. Rooftop bars
  19. Learn about Chocolate
  20. Oaxaca Cultural Museum
  21. Guelaguetza Festival
  22. San Jose del Pacifico
  23. Puerto Escondido
  24. Santiago Apoala Waterfall
  25. Huatulco National Park

Are you planning a trip to Mexico?

We have lots more resources on travel in Mexico and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Ultimate Mexico Travel Guide for all the important travel information, or read some of our favorite articles below.

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13 Best Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexico
13 Top Things to Do in Oaxaca Mexico

Have you ever been to Oaxaca?

Which of these things to do in Oaxaca are you most excited to try? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get back to you!

Comments (23) on “25 Best Things to Do in Oaxaca, Mexico

  1. Rilwan says:

    I was planning to visit Mexico from Dubai, but getting a visa from Dubai to Mexico is very difficult and I was given up my Mexico trip idea. After reading this article, I wanted to go alone and do lot of fun things there. Thank you very much for letting me know this things.

  2. Anna says:

    Excellent Blog post, thank you sooo much! I am grateful for your efforts, this will definitely help my mom and I explore Oaxaca well. Do you offer a printable version?? <3

  3. Sharon Powers says:

    Headed to Oaxaca this weekend for a few weeks of immersion learning. Have booked a hostel, and now i’m curious what the place was that you don’t recommend. Thanks in advance.

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hi Sharon, we don’t like to name and shame on the Internet, but if you want to know send us an email via our Contact US form and we’ll let you know. Thanks!

  4. lucykeme@gmail.com says:

    First time in Oxaca and I will be on my own which terrifies me. I am a 65 yrs old divorced woman that’s not used to travel alone.

  5. Alana.Casciello@gmail.com says:

    Is there is link to "this blog does a good job describing where some of the good murals are located" that you can share with me?

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hi Jackie, you can take a private taxi for about 150 pesos or more. Or you can take a local collectivo (maroon car) waiting outside of the airport will cost anywhere from 60-80 pesos per person. Both options are about 20-30 minute drive for the airport to the city. Hope this helps!

  6. ealexiswittman@gmail.com says:

    Hi, guys! This post has helped me so much as I prepare for my two-week backpacking trip in Oaxaca at the end of this month. It’s a state I’ve wanted to visit since moving to Mexico last year, and I’m pumped to be there during Day of the Dead festivities. I’m also looking forward to some beach time, hiking and…well, I think you’ve convinced me to take a cooking class! Thanks so much for the ClickBus tip. Def going to give that a try.

    Take care & safe travels,

    Alex | http://backpackingbrunette.com/

  7. dvandellen@gowithadvanced.com says:

    So you two obviously love to try new foods when you travel! I am also very excited about this aspect of traveling to Oaxaca. I wanted to see if you had any "rules of thumb" when it comes to trying local food and street food in Mexico. Would you suggest getting immunizations for Typhoid? Just would hate to lose a day of our already short trip… Thanks in advance!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Daryan! We love to eat all the street food we can! We typically look for places that are busy because then you know they are turning out fresh food. As for the typhoid immunization, I would recommend talking to your doctor about it and looking on the CDC website. We are not experts in this and everybody is different. Before heading to South America in 2014 we both took typhoid immunization. Hope that helps! Excited to hear about your trip!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Daryan! We love to eat all the street food we can! We typically look for places that are busy because then you know they are turning out fresh food. As for the typhoid immunization, I would recommend talking to your doctor about it and looking on the CDC website. We are not experts in this and everybody is different. Before heading to South America in 2014 we both took typhoid immunization. Hope that helps! Excited to hear about your trip!

  8. dean.estrella@gmail.com says:

    Hello, thanks for this great blog. Quick question, I know you talk about a couple different hostals in here, but do you know if it is necessary to book in advance or can we arrive and just walk around and find accommodations pretty easy? Not only for Oaxaca city, but for the beaches as well. I’ve only got a short time to travel and don’t want to lock myself into pre-booked dates at different locations. Thanks!!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Great question Dean. To answer your question it depends on what season you will be traveling in. If it is high season, Oaxaca can be a pretty busy place and you would want to book in advance. On low season you could probably get away with it, going door to door. That’s not always my favorite carrying big bags through the streets. Maybe you could book online just days before you arrive to your next destination. That’s what we typically do. Still gives you the flexiblity but you can find the best rated places.

  9. amerlondra23@gmail.com says:

    This makes me so excited, I’m studying abroad in Mexico and although right now I am staying in Mexico City, I’ll be leaving to conduct field research for 3 months in Oaxaca. I’m so happy I came across your guys’ blog!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      That is so exciting Aly. Oaxaca was one of our favorite cities in Mexico! So jealous you will be there for 3 months!

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