Oaxaca City, Mexico, the lively capital of the Mexican state that shares its name, was once overlooked by travelers who favored resort towns like Acapulco and Cancun.
The city’s year-round mild climate and relatively remote location — it’s nestled among the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains on Mexico’s Pacific coast — are helping to bring this exotic vacation destination into the spotlight.
Oaxaca City offers a
special blend of history
Pronounced “Wa-Ha-Ca,” the grid-like city has a blend of prehistoric, modern and colonial styles. Much of the city’s feel was influenced by the Spaniards, who conquered the city in 1533.
Baroque architecture is prominent in Oaxaca City and can be found in its zocalo, or city center. The Iglesia del Santo Domingo, built in 1608, is a perfect example of the baroque style. While you’re there, check out the attached museum. Gold artifacts culled from the nearby Monte Alban archaeological site are housed in the church’s Museum of the Cultures of Oaxaca.
More baroque designs can be found at the Catedral de Oaxaca. Built in 1555, this cathedral stands in contrast to the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca — better known by its acronym, MACO. MACO is an example of 18th-century civil architecture.
After touring its historical sites and museums, head over to the Oaxaca Market in the southwestern section of the city. This thriving market features some of the world’s most impressive handicrafts. Pottery, jewelry, leather, wool rugs, masks, embroidered tablecloths and more can be found in this thriving market. Visitors especially love to come here for the alejibres, or hand-carved monsters.
Taste Oaxaca City
While its sights are amazing, Oaxaca City’s restaurant scene will capture your sense of smell. Wafting from the city’s cafes is the smell of a particular blend of spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits — something only found in Oaxaca.
El Naranjo, a highly recommended eatery, offers exotic treats like fish cooked in leaves of hoja santa, an aromatic herb. If you prefer spicy dishes, try the pasilla oaxaqueno, a chile stuffed with string cheese. The specialty here is the mole, a complex sauce made of chiles, nuts and regional herbs. Black mole adds chocolate to the mix.
Travelers love hole-in-the-wall restaurants — they’re authentic and easy on the wallet. In the city of Oaxaca, it might be a bit of hunt to find Dona Elpida, but the quest is well worth the trouble.
Located about 51/2 blocks south of the city center, Dona Elpida is marked with a sign that simply says “Restaurant.” This hidden, family owned eatery is set outside in a garden and offers delicious, cheap lunches.
Pork chops with salsa pipian, a roasted pumpkin seed sauce and pumpkin flower empanadas are just some of Dona Elpida’s delights.
One of the restaurant’s most popular offerings is the comida corrida, a large meal consisting of a basket of bread, an appetizer, soup, rice, a meat or enchilada course, and dessert.
A variety of lodging choices
Oaxaca City has a number of lodging choices, ranging from budget-minded hotels to exquisite properties.
The Hotel Fortin Plaza is one of the city’s classiest operations. Described as a modern hotel with a classical touch, the Fortin Plaza features views of Oaxaca City’s historical center and valley.
Affordable yet pleasant, Hotel Victoria features basic rooms and spacious suites. Many of the rooms come with spectacular views of the Sierra Madre.
From the hotel bar, visitors can see the picturesque city’s lights glimmering below.