A laid-back, blossoming cultural and culinary capital filled with elegant colonial buildings, tree-lined streets, vibrant markets, top museums and artists and artisans galore, Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s most captivating and creative cities. Our guest blogger Ash-lea Gazzola from Break Loose Journal has called Oaxaca her home for over a year now and has fallen head over heels for the city, here are her reasons why and why she thinks you’ll love it too…
Oaxaca City, Mexico and the state it is home to are truly magical. Full of vibrant culture, traditions, art, ancient textile techniques, mezcal, the Pacific coast and of course the amazing culinary scene. But first, let’s get the pronunciation of Oaxaca down, WA-HA-KA, it is a tricky looking word that trips a few people up! During my year spent in Oaxaca City, I have tried to immerse myself into the culture to learn and experience as much as I possibly can. Living abroad is like an intensive course in another country and around every corner, there is something new to see and soak up.
The incredible food scene
When it comes to dining out in Oaxaca City, you can’t miss El Destilado. These guys are a step ahead of every other restaurant in town, I have zero hesitation in saying that. They take Oaxacan cuisine to the next level with their always innovative and evolving tasting menu, showcasing fresh local produce and pairing it with kick-ass beverages. Take a seat at the chef’s table and be delivered plate after plate of incredibly creative dishes by super knowledgeable staff who can answer all of your culinary and mezcal questions. If you are looking for high-quality mezcal (which they bottle themselves), insanely delicious food and great service in a very cool setting, look no further. They have just renovated too, so there are so many exciting things happening in this little powerhouse and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
You can be your own tour guide
There are many types of tours on offer around the city, and if you stroll through the Zócolo I am sure you will be bombarded with flyers. There are a couple which are worth your time though, for example the Chocolate Tours, here are super interesting and delicious. But my favourite tours are the ones I take on my own, there are so many artists workshops, photography exhibits, markets and textile workshops to explore and of course are free! So, pack your bag, put on some comfy shoes and get exploring.
Experiencing ancient Temazcal rituals
Another highly recommended and unforgettable opportunity to get a deep insight into the spiritual side of the Meso-American culture is to visit a Temazcal. A Temazcal in an ancient sweat lodge that has been used throughout time to cleanse warriors after battle and to help women give birth among many other uses. You will be guided through your experience by a Shaman and every detail will be explained so you get the most out of your visit. The Temazcal I have regularly visited during my time here is Cervariam Temazcal , a husband and wife duo with generations of experience and knowledge on the ancient practices.
Exploring Zapotecan Towns
For those wanting to take a peek at Zapotacan culture (Indigenous peoples of Oaxaca) I highly suggest a trip out to Teotitlan De Valle to see the community and their incredible rug weaving techniques. Their rugs and weavings are renowned worldwide for the impressive implication of ancient techniques using natural dyes and serious beauty.
Hierve El Agua
The natural infinity pools at the top of petrified waterfalls called Hierve el Agua. Will blow your mind with their beauty. Both of these places are worth a day trip and are easily accessed by public transport or you can jump on a tour.
Monte Alban Ancient Ruins
So many adventures and so little time. There are tons of attractions close to the city and throughout the state, that it feels impossible to pick the best ones. In my opinion, if you are in the city you can’t pass up the opportunity to visit the ancient ruins of Monte Albán.
Puerto Escondido and the Pacific coast
If you are spending a chunk of time in Oaxaca, take the opportunity to head down to Puerto Escondido, on the Pacific Coast. Puerto Escondido and the surrounding beach towns of Mazunte and Zipolite are little paradises on earth. Puerto Escondido is home to Mexican Pipeline and drags surfers from around the globe to attempt the giant swells that frequent Playa Zicatela. If you enjoy the ocean, yoga, surfing and palm trees, Puerto is a must visit. Shuttle buses run regularly to and from Oaxaca City, leaving multiple times daily from terminals south of the Zócolo and for those wanting to avoid the long travel time of the shuttles you can catch a little plane down there with a 20-minute flight with Aero Tucan or one of the local pilots
The Local Artisans
From all over the 8 regions of Oaxaca there are incredible masters of their arts. From hand created rugs, delicately embroidered hupils (Mexican blouses) woven bags, baskets and everything in between. Families for generations have practised their arts and every little detail has a story and purpose.
The Hardworking People
Every morning walk I would pick up a fresh juice from a mother and son duo at Parque el Llano, my partner would grab an empanada from another lady on the corner of out street every other day and the multiple markets and hardworking fruiters who were up and working before the sun has even risen. The work that goes on behind every street stand is immense and all I have is respect for the people who are out in the daily grind with the biggest smiles on their faces daily.
There are so many more restaurants, bars, attractions, workshops and adventures I could list off in this piece but these are my all-time favourites. Start off with the top picks and then begin working your way through this addictive city one empanada and mezcal at a time.
All words and images by Ash-lea Gazzola from Break Loose Journal. Ash-lea Gazzola is a 26-year-old Australian who has been travelling for the last 2 years and has spent the majority of her time exploring Mexico and Central America and is currently living in Oaxaca City, Mexico where she spends most of her days taking photos, eating delicious food and writing. Also find her work on Instagram, and Facebook.