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Congrats! You have already decided that Oaxaca City is worth visiting and we totally agree! The state of Oaxaca is one of our favorite places to visit in Mexico and the city of Oaxaca is a great base for exploring the diversity of this southern state.
A state steeped in history, arts, and culture, Oaxaca is the ideal destination in Mexico to experience a little bit of it all. The city itself is home to art galleries, ancient ruins, delectable restaurants, trendy bars and cafes, and a host of other things to do in this charming Mexican town.
We put together an itinerary that outlines the best way to spend one week in Oaxaca.
Is a Week Too Much Time to Spend in Oaxaca?
You may be wondering first if one week in Oaxaca is too much time to spend there. From our personal experience, we spent over three weeks in the state’s capital and were never short of things to do in the city or nearby. Spending a week here is easy and you will likely want to spend another (or two) after just a few days exploring this beautiful city.
How to Spend One Week in Oaxaca (A One Week Oaxaca Itinerary)
Day 1: Familiarize Yourself with the City
Oaxaca is one of those towns that you just want to get out and explore. Walking is one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with a city and in Oaxaca, this is no exception.
The state capital retains a small-town feel with colorful, colonial-style buildings lining the warren of cobblestone streets. The city’s tallest buildings are its many ornate churches which act as reference points as you explore the historic town center. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the city that you will continue to explore over the next week.
Areas to explore include:
- Historical city center: Lively, busy city center filled with shops, galleries, churches, bars, restuarants and more.
- Barrio Xochimilco: The wealthy, upscale neighborhood north of the city and the oldest neighborhood in Oaxaca. This area is home trendy restaurants and cozy cafes and is one of the safest areas in Oaxaca.
One of the things you may be surprised by is the sheer amount of Volkswagen Beetles zooming around this city. Volkswagen has a manufacturing plant in the neighboring city of Puebla and it seems that everyone back in the 70s rushed to Puebla to buy the brand new car on the market. Hundreds of the early model VW bugs still putter about the city. These old classics make for some great photo opportunities. So join the hunt for the most classic bug out there!
Day 2: Join a Walking Tour and Visit the Mercado 20 de Noviembre
Oaxaca Free Walking Tour
On day one in Oaxaca, you already familiarized yourself with Oaxaca but what better way to learn about the culture, arts, and history of a city than with a walking tour. The Oaxaca Free Walking Tour is a walking tour led by locals who are passionate about telling others about their hometown. The operators of the Oaxaca Free Walking Tour offer a morning tour starting at 10:00 am each day and an afternoon tour starting at 4:00 pm each day.
The walking tour starts at the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá and is given in both Spanish and English.
Mercado 20 de Noviembre
Easily one of the most exciting places in Oaxaca to eat lunch is the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. In the northwest corner of the market, tucked away behind all of the overpriced restaurants serving sub-par food is the meat hall (sorry, veggos this one’s not for you). Fresh meat vendors line the hall offering the freshest (well, let’s hope) meat available in Oaxaca.
Select a vendor, choose your meat, and take a seat while they grill it up fresh while you wait. Served with tortillas and salsa, odds are you won’t be leaving this market hungry. A truly unique experience in Oaxaca to be enjoyed and a crowd favorite as one of the best places to eat in Oaxaca.
Day 3: Visit the Ruins of Monte Alban and Gallery Hop in Oaxaca
Just ten minutes outside of town is Monte Alban, one of the earliest cities in Mesoamerica. Dating back to around 500 BC, Monte Alban was an epicenter for almost 1,000 years for the Zapotec indigenous people.
These impressive ruins were some of our favorite ruins during our entire seven months in Mexico. The relative lack of other tourists combined with the stunning backdrop of the Sierra Mountain range make Monte Alban one of the prettiest ruins in Mexico and easily the best ruins in Oaxaca.
Plan to spend a few hours here exploring the different monuments of Monte Alban. Monte Alban is best explored in the morning to avoid tour buses and the strong Mexican sun.
Use your afternoon to relax and explore the artistic side of Oaxaca. Oaxaca has quickly become one of the artistic hubs in the country. With many art galleries to choose from, there is something for everyone. Our top picks:
- Casa Murguia, technically a shopping mall with restaurants, clothing and galleries, the art galleries inside at the time of writing were interesting and unique.
- Voces de Copal has interesting sculptures of various animals found throughout Mexico. Plus, you can sample their mezcal while perusing the gallery.
Day 4: Embark on a Food Tour of Oaxaca or a Cooking Class
One of the best ways to experience a new culture is by its food, and this is no exception in Oaxaca. As one of Mexico’s gastronomic hubs, the culinary scene in Oaxaca is extraordinary and is one of the many reasons that the city draws visitors from all over the world.
The Oaxacan food is unique and different from many of the other regions in Mexico. While you will find Mexican classics like tacos, Oaxaca has its own unique cuisine worth spending a day (or even a week) exploring and enjoying.
An easy way to taste all that Oaxaca has to offer is by joining an Oaxaca food tour or Oaxacan cooking class.
Me Encanta Oaxaca
A food tour of Oaxaca with Me Encanta Oaxaca is the absolute best way to experience the local food of Oaxaca. Run by the charming duo Betsy & Javiar, the passion of these two locals is to share their vast and expansive knowledge of the Oaxaca food learned growing up in the markets at their family market stalls.
The food tour visits three markets, gives you the opportunity to taste over 20 different Oaxacan foods and to learn the gastronomic history of the Oaxacan cuisine. Besty and Javier are professional, fun-loving, and passionate about what they do which shows on the food tour. And if you don’t trust me, just check out their glowing reviews on Tripadvisor!
Cooking Class with Quinta Brava
Another great way to truly experience all Oaxaca’s finest is hands-on and a cooking class is one of the best ways to do this. Learn how to make your very own Oaxacan meals and impress your friends and family back home with a private cooking class with Quinta Brava. Unlike other cooking classes, the cooking class with Quinta Brava is not a group class which means you will have a hands-on, one-on-one experince. Miguel and his team make the experience one that you will be sure to cherish over the years.
Day Trips From Oaxaca
Not only is the city of Oaxaca stunning, but Oaxaca is a great base for exploring some of the nearby attractions of the state of Oaxaca. Whether you choose to rent a car for a few days, join a tour group, or even navigate your way using public transportation, take the time to explore the area outside of Oaxaca City.
Day 5: Tour the Mezcal Producers of Santa Catarina Minas
Few tourists get far outside downtown Oaxaca to find out where all that mezcal is coming from and just how it’s produced. As a result, those who make the trek are treated to eager artisans who relish the opportunity to show off their crafts and wares.
A handful of boutique distilleries are found in and around the town of Santa Catarina Minas. These tiny distilleries create mezcal using traditional methods. Moreover, tours and samples are often free or tip-based and the passionate distillers have an incredible wealth of information to share. Distillery Lalocura was a particular highlight of ours.
Day 6: Explore the Nearby Tree of Tule and Yagul
Explore the Ancient Ruins of Yagul
The archaeological site, Yagul, is approximately 45 minutes east of Oaxaca. Yagul is protected by the federal government protects as it was declared as one of the four Mexican Natural Monuments in 1998.
A particular highlight for us was the Palace of the Six Patios, a maze of passageways to six different patios. Don’t get lost from your party or it might be difficult to find them again!
Another highlight, the place was completely empty. Unlike Monte Alban which swarms with tourists starting from about 11:00 onward, hardly any other tourists were around on Sunday we visited. If you are in Oaxaca on the weekend and looking to get out of the city, pick these ruins over other activities in the area to avoid crowds.
Visit the Tree of Tule
While technically not in Oaxaca city proper if you are looking for what to do in Oaxaca then visiting the Tree of Tule is a must. It is not every day that you can visit the widest tree in the world! It might not sound special, but after having visited both the Tree of Tule and the giant sequoias in California trust me this enormous tree is impressive.
Pro-tip: If you are overlanding, check out Overland Oasis. A great place to stay especially for those needing to give some attention to their rig. Calvin can help with almost all repairs or if he cannot do it, he knows someone who can. Tell them Kelli and Eddie sent you!
Day 7: Head Home (or Continue Exploring)
After a full seven days of discovering Oaxaca, we hope you have truly experienced the most Oaxaca has to offer. Oaxaca is home to a burgeoning art scene, a world-class gastronomic culture, a lively atmosphere, and above all is steeped in a remarkable history.
If you love Oaxaca as much as we do, consider extending your journey with a trip to San Jose del Pacifico or even further to the stunning coastline of Oaxaca.
San Jose del Pacifico
This mountain town deserves more than one day, but we included it anyway. Just three hours from Oaxaca lies the city of San Jose del Pacifico. You won’t find much here, just a few restaurants, stores, and hotels. But what you will find is breathtaking sunsets, nature in abundance and relaxation.
Find out more on San Jose del Pacifico in our article Overlanding San Jose del Pacifico: Shrooms, Saunas, Sunsets and S’ghetti.
The Best Cafes in Oaxaca
If you are looking for what to do in Oaxaca then indulging in the coffee culture that is so prevalent throughout the city is a must. Coffee is an essential part of a morning routine. Everyone has their favorite cafe at home, so why not in Oaxaca? We have sat in the seats, drank the coffee, and tested the wifi at many of the cafes in downtown Oaxaca.
For Coffee: Filemon | Coffee Producers
Located in Barrio Xochimilco and slightly off the beaten path, the coffee at Filemon is the best we found in the city. Par for the course here, you can have your morning brew prepared any way you like here. Whether it’s Aeropress, Chemex, espresso, you name it, they have it. The seating is limited here, but they offer to-go cups for those looking for a quick hit before setting off to explore Xochimilco.
For Ambiance: Marito & Moglie Cafe
Marito & Moglie is well known among expats living in Oaxaca and there is little wonder why. They offer your standard selection of espresso and Chemex coffees. While their preparation methods may be limited compared to other cafes in town, their coffee is superior to most. High ceilings, exposed brick walls, warm rustic decor, leafy plants, and a sunny terrace, as well as super charming staff, make this a wonderful place to enjoy a coffee and a good book. Marito & Moglie closes at 4 pm.
For Work: Sho’ Cafe
While not the best coffee in town, the space, outfitted with plenty of tables with power outlets, makes it an ideal place to work.
Best Restaurants in Oaxaca
There is no better thing to do in Oaxaca than to eat your way through the charming town. Similar to San Miguel de Allende or Mexico City, the restaurants in Oaxaca are of another caliber. There are upscale, trendy restaurants catering to tourists, local hole-in-the-wall cocinas visited mostly by locals, and of course, your quintessential street food stalls.
So if you are looking for one of the best things to do in Oaxaca, you guessed it. It is eating your way through the city. To help you decide where to start, here is a shortlist of our favorite restaurants in Oaxaca.
For Upscale Dining: Casa Oaxaca
Known as one of the best restaurants in Oaxaca, it is obvious why when you dine here. The food is impeccable, the ambiance subtle and inviting, and the service top-notch. Make sure you request an outdoor seat on the upstairs patio to dine under the stars. The menu is a la carte and reasonably priced. The wine list, the best in Oaxaca. Enjoy this five-star restaurant at less than half the price of similar quality restaurants back home.
For the Best Vegetarian Breakfast: Marito & Mogile Cafe
Marito & Mogile Cafe may be on the list twice, but there is a reason. Their attention to detail is above and beyond the other cafes in the city and you can tell in their breakfast offerings. The avocado on toast rivals those in Australia, the Caprese sandwich includes only the ripest tomatoes and the yogurt bowl looks like a photograph. This cafe is a must for anyone exploring Oaxaca.
Lunch with a Twist: Cabuche
Cabuche is the top pick for a delicious and affordable lunch in Oaxaca. Walking in, Cabuche feels more like a local establishment that has been upgraded only for the gringo scene. The food here is simple but executed perfectly. Think delicious pozole soup, yummy tacos filled with guisos, and outstanding burritos (which is not really a Mexican thing but was born in San Fran). The staff put a lot of TLC into this restaurant and it shows.
Delicious Street Tacos: Taco del Carmen
When locals go to eat places, you know it is a good thing. Just off the main walking street, Tacos del Carmen serves up great tacos for breakfast and lunch in the city. Grab a few tacos, sit down with the locals and enjoy some of the best Oaxacan style tacos in the city.
Best Bars in Oaxaca
Bars like cafes are a dime a dozen in Oaxaca. Locals (and expats) have caught on to the fact that Westerners travel to Oaxaca primarily to dine and drink, and they have capitalized on it. After spending a few weeks in Oaxaca, we’ve narrowed down our favorite bars in Oaxaca for every type of boozer.
For the Mezcal Maven: Mezcalogia
Mezcalogia’s small and intimate space is inviting, the bartenders are helpful and friendly, and the mezcal is delicious. Try one of their locally distilled mezcals or one of their banging cocktails. Go early though as this little watering hole fills up quickly.
For the Beer Buff: Oaxaca Brewing Co.
A relatively new brewery just on the outskirts of town. The beer selection might be limited, but what they do, they do well.
For the Cocktail Connoisseur: Aloha Oaxaca
Don’t have enough time to visit the coast while visiting Oaxaca or perhaps you have been and are missing it already? Get your beach fix at Aloha Oaxaca. Beach vibes, kitsch decor, friendly staff, and delicious but deadly cocktails await you on this island paradise. Finding this treasure, however, is not assured as it is hidden behind a courtyard terrace restaurant. Here’s a hint, it is nearby the Church of Carmen Alto on Calle de Manuel Garcia Virgil.
Where to Stay in Oaxaca
Located in the center of town, it is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. Their attention to detail is impeccable, the service is top-notch and the location is superb. The cafe downstairs also serves some of the best coffee in the city.
- Address: Miguel Hidalgo 911, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico
- Cost: $$$
Located just outside the Barrio of Xochimilco, Casa Maye has everything you need for the weekend and for less than $100 per night. Not right in the center of things, but a short walk from everything. Plus, you can spend a few hours exploring Barrio Xochimilco and dining at some of the secret spots before they are discovered.
- Address: Margarita Maza No. 416 Col. Centro, 68000 Oaxaca City, Mexico
- Cost: $$
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