Oaxaca is probably one of our favorite travel destinations we have been to in the past couple of years, which is definitely saying something since we visited more than 10 countries in this period! But this city offers something really special to travelers and is a must-visit for anybody wanting to experience someplace truly Mexican and authentic.

Oaxaca is by no means a hidden gem. In fact, it’s one of the most visited cities in Mexico, but there’s a reason it’s so popular. This relatively small city offers SO much; it’s kind of amazing how much this one tiny area of Mexico can hold. Plus, it’s considered to have the best food in Mexico!

We spent an entire month in Oaxaca, exploring everything this quaint city has to offer. So, we’d like to say we are pretty knowledgeable when it comes to recommending things to do when visiting this Mexican city. So, without further ado, here are 30+ absolutely incredible things to do in Oaxaca Mexico!

Disclaimer: This blog post includes affiliate links, which means we receive a tiny commission – at no extra cost to you. Don’t worry; this doesn’t affect our recommendations whatsoever. It just helps us keep the lights on.

1. Eat Oaxacan Food!

things to do in oaxaca - eat

One of the main reasons to visit Oaxaca is the food. Oaxaca arguably has some of the best food in Mexico, so it only makes sense that eating is a tourist attraction in and of itself. But if you’ve never tried Oaxacan food, and the only Mexican food you’re familiar with is your standard tacos al pastor and quesadillas, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out what to eat.

Oaxaca food is very different from the standard Mexican food you have probably tried. The cuisine is super diverse, and there are so many different ingredients and flavors that go into the cuisine.

During our stay in Oaxaca, we NEVER repeated a dish (and we ate out pretty much every day!), plus we didn’t have a single taco. Pretty incredible, right?

Best Food to Try in Oaxaca

Oaxaca is home to an incredible diversity of food. The city is particularly known for its seven moles, or sauces. So, you’ll have to try these seven moles:

  • Rojo
  • Amarillo
  • Verde
  • Coloradito
  • Negro
  • Chichilo
  • Manchamantel (our favorite!)

Besides these seven, you’ll find plenty of other moles during your time here. For example, one of our favorite moles was the almendrado or almond mole.

Our advice? Try them all!

Other than moles, here are other Oaxacan dishes that you absolutely have to try:

  • Tlayuda – Mexicos version of a pizza consisting of a large thin tortilla with beans, cheese and various other toppings.
  • Chapulines – Roasted and spiced grasshoppers; don’t knock them till you try them!
  • Memela – A fried or toasted cake of masa topped with various ingredients. (one of our favorite dishes!)
  • Tejate – A delicious maize and cacao drink sold in clay pots.
  • Tamale – A mushed maize stuffed with a filling wrapped in a banana leaf (not corn husk like other parts of Mexico).
  • Esquite/Elote – The former is a cup filled with creamed corn filled with toppings like cheese, chili, and mayo. The latter is grilled.

2. Visit the Local Markets of Oaxaca

things to do in oaxaca - market

One thing we did almost every day for a month without fail was go to a local market. The local markets are not only the best place to not only shop for cheap groceries but also a great spot for souvenir shopping and to eat some delicious food. Depending on the purpose of our visit, we would cycle through the many markets of Oaxaca, as some are known for their food stalls, while others are famous for their shopping.

Markets in Oaxaca

There are plenty of markets to visit in Oaxaca. These are the ones you should check out:

  • 20 De Noviembre
  • Mercado De Merced
  • Mercado Benito Juarez
  • Mercado Central de Abastos

3. Explore the Ruins of Monte Alban

things to do in oaxaca - monte alban

One of the most famous tourist attractions of Oaxaca is Monte Alban. You can easily get to Monte Alban with a bus, taxi, or through an organized tour. The ride shouldn’t take more than 15 to 30 minutes.

Monte Alban is a famous archaeological and UNESCO World Heritage site that was once the capital of the Zapotec people. Here, you can see the remnants of this civilization, including palaces, tombs, and even a ball court. And since Monte Alban is located on a hill, you get the most stunning views of the surrounding area, including Oaxaca City.

Entrance to Monte Alban costs around 100 pesos, and you can easily spend hours here exploring the Zapotec ruins.

4. Visit a Mezcal Palenque

things to do in oaxaca - palenque

Of course, if you are visiting Oaxaca, you absolutely HAVE TO try mezcal! After all, mezcal comes from Oaxaca, and a staggering 90% of mezcal is still produced in this region. So, take advantage of your trip here and head over to a mezcal palenque.

A palenque is a mezcal distillery, and the entire region is littered with them, so you definitely have your pick! This is where mezcal is made, and you’ll be able to witness the learn about the entire process, from roasting and crushing to fermenting and distilling.

Learning about mezcal in this manner makes you more appreciative of the sheer effort it takes to create mezcal. Visiting a palenque will also give you the knowledge you’ll need to learn HOW to drink mezcal (and, no, you don’t shot it!).

You can book this full-day tour in order to go to mezcal palenque as well as tick off some other items on this list. This tour takes you to Tule (#28), Mitla (#12), Hierve El Agua (#11), Teotitlán del Valle (#26), as well as a mezcal distillery (#4)!

5. Celebrate Dia de los Muertos

things to do in oaxaca - dia

A super popular period to visit Oaxaca is during Day of the Dead (or Dia de los Muertos) celebrations. This period from late October to early November can get pretty crowded, so you’ll need to book everything in advance! However, if you can get accommodation and flights to Oaxaca, this is the best place in Mexico to celebrate this amazing festival.

During Dia de los Muertos, locals celebrate and honor the departed with candles, parades, offers, art, and music. It’s truly one of the most amazing things to witness! While we didn’t get a chance to see the celebrations, it is the busiest tourist season for Oaxaca.

6. Experience La Guelaguetza

things to do in oaxaca - guelaguetza

Another super fun festival you should experience in Oaxaca is La Guelaguetza! This is one of the biggest indigenous festivals in the entire continent, and you’ll see an explosion of color and music during this time.

La Guelaguetza takes place in Oaxaca every July over two Mondays. During the festival, locals celebrate the region’s diverse food, culture, and art. The costumes and dances performed at this festival showcase the local indigenous customs, and it’s amazing to watch. This festival also has a pretty incredible history spanning 3,000 years!

7. People Watch in Zocalo

things to do in oaxaca - zocalo

One of the first things you should do when you arrive in Oaxaca is head to the center of the city. The Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitución) is always bustling with life. So, slow down, have a seat, and just watch people pass by. While you can simply find a seat in front of the cathedral or on a bench, you can also set up shop at one of the restaurants in the area. Just ask for a table out front!

You’ll find some pretty fun street performers as you hang out around the square (especially if you’re out in the evening), including dancers and magicians. For some reason, clowns also seem to be pretty popular here as well. And don’t forget to step inside the church to take a look.

8. Take a Trip to the Tlacolula Sunday Market

things to do in oaxaca - tlacolula

An awesome day trip you should totally take advantage of during your time in Oaxaca is heading over to Tlacolula Sunday Market. Of course, as you might be able to deduce, this is only really possible on a Sunday.

While many tourists head to the market with the help of a tour, we personally took a colectivo here. We simply boarded a colectivo from Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos, which took us straight to Tlacolula.

Tlacolula Market is an absolute gem! In this huge traditional market, you’ll find everything from produce, baked goods, meats, textiles, live animals, and other souvenirs. But a major reason you should visit is for the food. In particular, this market is a great place to try barbacoa, a stewed meat dish made from goats that is absolutely heavenly!

You’ll find an entire section of the market dedicated to barbacoa; and you really can’t go wrong with any of the vendors.

9. Learn to Cook Oaxacan Food

things to do in oaxaca - cook

One of our favorite activities that we did during our month in Oaxaca was a cooking class. We make it a point to take a cooking class in pretty much every destination we go to, and that’s doubly important when we’re in a food capital like Oaxaca. But of the many cooking classes we’ve attended over our years of travel, this Oaxacan cooking class was our favorite by far!

We booked a cooking class with Quinta Brava, and we couldn’t recommend it more! During the class, we cooked traditional Oaxacan food from start to finish, including heading to the market to buy the ingredients and making tortillas from scratch! The cooking class was incredibly well organized, and the guy who runs it, Miguel, is a professional chef who is very knowledgeable and can help craft a menu to your interest, as well as cater to any dietary restrictions. Plus, the food we cooked was absolutely delicious, if we do say so ourselves!

10. Have a Cocktail (or Two) on a Rooftop

things to do in oaxaca - cocktail

What better way to wind down after a day of exploring the Oaxacan region than heading up to a rooftop bar to enjoy the sunset and the stunning views of the city? You’ll find rooftop bars scattered all across the center of Oaxaca, and you can head to any one of them to drink a delicious mezcal cocktail as you enjoy the nice breeze. And if you’re lucky, you might be able to spot a parade or two marching down the streets!

Best Rooftop Bars in Oaxaca

You can find plenty of rooftop bars in Oaxaca, but these were our absolute favorites:

  • La Mezcalerita
  • Te Amo Oaxaca
  • La Azotea

11. Hike to Hierve El Agua

things to do in oaxaca - hierve el agua

To get to Hierve El Agua, you’ll need to take a tour (unless you rent a car), but the trek is well worth it! Here, you’ll be able to witness one of just two of the world’s petrified waterfalls. While not technically petrified, this waterfall certainly appears to be this way due to the calcified mineral deposits.

The hike to Hierve El Agua is not difficult, but the terrain can be difficult, so wear comfortable shoes! Once you get to the man-made pools of Hierve El Agua, you will need to hike a bit longer in order to get to the viewpoints, but we recommend taking the longer trek for the views. Plus, after hiking, you’ll head back to the pools, where you can dip yourself into the cool water as a reward! So, don’t forget your swimwear!

We recommend this full-day tour to Hierve El Agua, which also takes you to a mezcal distillery afterward.

Alternatively, you can book this full-day tour in order to tick off other items on this list. This tour takes you to Tule (#28), Mitla (#12), Hierve El Agua (#11), Teotitlán del Valle (#26), as well as a mezcal distillery (#4)!

12. Visit the Ruins of Mitla

things to do in oaxaca - mitla

Another day trip from Oaxaca City you must take is to Mitla ruins. Mitla was the religious center of the Zapotecs with a fascinating history. Even if you’ve already spent time in Monte Alban, Mitla merits a visit as it is a unique Mesoamerican site filled with intricate mosaics and geometric designs that you won’t find elsewhere. Mitla is also relatively well-preserved, and you are still able to climb the ruins and see all the incredible details up close.

You can book this full-day tour in order to tick off Mitla as well as other items on this list. This tour takes you to Tule (#28), Mitla (#12), Hierve El Agua (#11), Teotitlán del Valle (#26), as well as a mezcal distillery (#4)!

13. Go On a Free Walking Tour

things to do in oaxaca - walking tour

One of the first things to do when you head to a new destination as a traveler is a free walking tour. This is a great way to get to know Oaxaca City and will provide you with a good base for getting to know the city. Plus, the guides always give the BEST recommendations for restaurants and bars.

If you have already taken a few free walking tours in other cities in Latin America, they can easily blend together. So, if you want something a little different, we HIGHLY recommend a free walking tour of Xochimilco neighborhood. We absolutely loved this tour, and Rodolfo was highly knowledgeable and provided really great information about the impact of tourism on the local community. This is a very eye-opening tour for ethical and responsible tourists.

If you are interested in sustainable tourism, head over to our list of the 20 best sustainable travel companies!

14. Wander the Ethnobotanical Gardens

things to do in oaxaca - botanical gardens

Want to get to know the local flora? Head over to the ethnobotanical gardens of Oaxaca. This botanical garden won’t be like any you’ve likely visited in the past, as the gardens host a variety of cacti. Don’t expect to see your standard flowers here! This is a gorgeous place to stop by during the heat of the day.

Interestingly, unlike other botanical gardens, you can only access this garden with a tour, but this gives you a better understanding of what you are looking at, especially since there is no signage.

15. Try Oaxacan Chocolate

things to do in oaxaca - chocolate

It’s no surprise that Oaxaca is known for its chocolate. After all, some of their traditional moles are made with chocolate as one of their many ingredients! So, besides eating up a storm, you should also head to one of the city’s many cafes and try Oaxacan chocolate – specifically, hot chocolate. Oaxacan hot chocolate is traditionally spiced with cinnamon and made with water, but most places will make it with milk as well.

We recommend heading to Mama Pacha Chocolate or Texier Chocolateria to try Oaxacan chocolate!

16. Marvel at the Street Art

things to do in oaxaca - street art

You’ll find street art everywhere in Mexico, and Oaxaca is no exception. In fact, the city hosts some of the most stunning and emotional street murals we’ve seen during our stay in Mexico! To marvel at the street art, head to Jalatlaco and Xochimilco. Both are absolutely stunning areas of Oaxaca with plenty to see in terms of murals. Plus, if you’re feeling peckish after a couple of hours of walking around, both barrios have some great eateries and cafes as well.

17. Brush Up on Your Spanish

things to do in oaxaca - spanish

If you plan to stay in Oaxaca for at least a week, take advantage and take a Spanish class! Oaxaca is one of the best places to learn Spanish, as the accent is clear and is not as slangy as Mexican City Spanish, for example. Some of the biggest Spanish learning centers include the Spanish Immersion School and the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca.

Plus, you’ll be really immersed in the language during your stay, as you’ll need to use Spanish in order to get around, make reservations for dinner, haggle prices at the markets, get a haircut (see picture above!), and take public transportation. But don’t worry if you can’t speak any Spanish at all; this is where Google Translate comes in handy!

18. Watch a Professional Baseball Game

Are you a big fan of sports events? Well, you’re in luck if you happen to be in Oaxaca during the Mexican baseball season (which generally begins in April). To watch the Oaxacan baseball team, the Guerreros, at their home stadium, Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos, you can easily buy tickets on their website for 20 to 150 pesos, depending on where you sit.

19. Go Hiking

things to do in oaxaca - hiking

If you want to get out and into nature, the Oaxaca region actually has some pretty nice hikes – perfect for a morning, day, or weekend out! Most of these are about an hour out from the city, so you’ll need to organize some kind of transport to get to them, either via colectivo, taxi, or rental car.

You are spoilt for choice in terms of where to go, but some of the more popular hiking spots in Oaxaca are:

  • Le Cumbre Ixtepeji
  • San Pablo Cuatro Venados
  • El Picacho
  • San Jose del Pacifico (head over to #30 to learn more about this area!)

20. Experience a Temazcal Ceremony

A unique experience that you HAVE to experience in Oaxaca is a temazcal ceremony. Temazcal is an ancient self-care ritual dating back centuries. Each temazcal ceremony is unique and different, but one thing is for certain: You will leave having cleansed your mind and body. A shaman will lead you through the ritual, with the entire ceremony lasting anywhere from 1 to 3 hours.

Ceviarem is probably one of the best temazcals in Oaxaca, but San Jose del Pacifico (#30 on this list) is one of the main places in the Oaxaca region for this.

21. Take an Off-the-Beaten Path Tour with Fundacion en Via

things to do in oaxaca - fundacion en via

We HIGHLY recommend a tour with En Via for all tourists visiting Oaxaca. Fundacion en Via is a non-profit organization striving to empower women in the Oaxaca region. Their tour, which runs twice a week, takes you to small communities outside of the city, where you’ll meet hard-working women who are part of the En Via program. You’ll learn all about these women’s businesses and experiences, from women who make tortillas to store owners and more! And the best part is that the profits from this tour are poured back into this program so you know there’ll be more women like them in the future.

It’s a very empowering tour that we recommend supporting! A great choice for an ethical traveler.

22. Check Out Local Art Galleries

things to do in oaxaca - art galleries

As Mexico’s cultural capital, it’s no surprise that Oaxaca hosts some amazing art galleries that warrant a visit. Of course, you’ll find art all over the city in terms of street art and artisanal crafts, but if you want, you can head into the local art galleries as well.

Here are some of the Oaxacan art galleries we recommend checking out:

  • Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO)
  • Museo Rufino Tamayo
  • Museo de los Pintores Oaxaquenos
  • Centro Fotográfico Álvarez Bravo
  • Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca

Besides the above listed galleries, you’ll find plenty of small boutique galleries as you roam about the city.

23. Do a Mezcal Tasting

things to do in oaxaca - mezcal tasting

It’s impossible to make a good list of the things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico without mentioning mezcal. After all, this is probably one of the most famous exports of Oaxaca! While mezcal may not be as famous as its cousin, tequila, it is a liquor on the rise, and it’s easy to see why. The complexity of this liquor makes it perfect to do a mezcal tasting on several occasions during your stay. We tried to do at least one mezcal tasting a week!

During these mezcal tastings, you’ll not only try different types of mezcals but also learn about the mezcal-making process.

Best Places to Try Mezcal in Oaxaca

There are many places to try mezcal in Oaxaca, but after trying quite a few bars during our time in Oaxaca, these are the best places for trying mezcal (if you’d rather not drink straight mezcal, these places also serve great mezcal cocktails):

  • La Mezcalerita
  • Mezcaleria In Situ
  • Sabina Sabe
  • La Mezcaloteca

24. Check Out Oaxaca’s Black Pottery

things to do in oaxaca - black pottery

One of the coolest souvenirs you can get in Oaxaca is a piece of black pottery. The state boasts a few different types of ancestral pottery traditions, but by far, the black clay pottery is the most popular, as it is incredibly unique. In addition to its unique glazed black look, it’s pretty impressive that this barro negro pottery has a history dating back 2,500 years!

You’ll be able to find Oaxaca’s black pottery all over the city, but if you want to get them from the source, head over to San Bartolo Coyotepec.

25. Shop for Alebrijes in San Martín Tilcajete

things to do in oaxaca - alebrijes

Another super popular souvenir you should absolutely consider is an alebrije. You’ll recognize alebrijes if you’ve watched Pixar’s tear-jerker film Coco. These are fantastical creatures that are generally a mix of various animals, both real and imaginary. These Mexican spirit animals are each unique and incredibly colorful, and, of course, they make absolutely stunning souvenirs.

While the first alebrijes were created in Mexico City, the state of Oaxaca also has a long history with these wooden carvings.

Just like the pottery, you will find alebrijes all over Oaxaca City, but head over specifically to the Oaxacan towns of San Martin Tilcajete and San Antonio Arrazola to see the artisans at work and for a better price since they can be pretty pricey!

26. Learn about Weaving in Teotitlán del Valle

things to do in oaxaca - weaving

The families in Teotitlán del Valle have practiced the local way of weaving for centuries, weaving Zapotec rugs. They start the process from the very beginning by creating wool in various colors made with all-natural ingredients! The rugs that you can get here are one-of-a-kind, with incredibly bright colors and geometric prints that anybody would be proud to display in their home.

While we have been to a couple of different weaving workshops in the past, we really enjoyed this one in Oaxaca. We were able to interact with the different ingredients the locals use to dye their wool, and we were even allowed a turn at the loom! This tour leaves you with a real appreciation for this intricate art form that is still thriving in this tiny community.

If you want to head to Teotitlán del Valle, we recommend booking this full-day tour, which will also help you tick off other items on this list of things to do in Oaxaca. This tour takes you to Tule (#28), Mitla (#12), Hierve El Agua (#11), Teotitlán del Valle (#26), as well as a mezcal distillery (#4)!

27. Glazed Green Pottery in Santa María Atzompa

things to do in oaxaca - green pottery

While the black pottery definitely stands out as a unique souvenir from Oaxaca, another popular pottery tradition that many travelers like to bring home is the glazed green pottery. You can find glazed green pottery in Santa María Atzompa, where around 90% of residents participate in making this type of pottery.

28. See the Widest Tree in the World

things to do in oaxaca - tree

Pretty close to Oaxaca City, you’ll stumble across the town of Santa Maria del Tule. While the town itself is not much to write home about, this town is famous for one reason alone: it has the widest tree in the world. The tree’s trunk has a circumference of about 140 feet or 42 meters! Take it from us: trying to take a picture with this tree can be a bit of a mission!

While we think heading over to see El Tule is not really worth it on its own, you can book this full-day tour in order to see this tree as well as other items on this list. This tour takes you to Tule (#28), Mitla (#12), Hierve El Agua (#11), Teotitlán del Valle (#26), as well as a mezcal distillery (#4)! This tour is a great way to knock some things off in a single day.

29. Walk Through the Golden Church of Templo de Santo Domingo

things to do in oaxaca - santo domingo

When in Oaxaca City, you’ll need to visit the most famous cathedral of the city: the Templo de Santo Domingo. This stunning church is in the north of town in front of a square and near the botanical gardens. While the Baroque exterior itself is absolutely gorgeous, you won’t be prepared for what you see inside… The interior of the church is basically covered in gold!

Since entrance to this church is free, there’s no excuse for you not to go!

30. Take a Trip to San Jose del Pacifico

things to do in oaxaca - san jose del pacifico

If you want to do something a little different than your standard sightseeing, we recommend heading to San Jose del Pacifico. This tiny town is located around three hours south of the city in the Sierra Madre mountains. There are many reasons to go here, but this trip is particularly famous with hippie travelers because it’s the place to do magic mushrooms. There are shamans throughout this village who can guide you on your psychedelic experience. Of course, temazcals are popular here, too!

Besides doing shrooms, San Jose del Pacifico also boasts some great hiking,

Enjoy Your Time in Oaxaca!

As mentioned, we spent an entire month in Oaxaca, so we’ve been able to craft a pretty extensive list of the 30 best things to do in and around this city. Oaxaca is an incredible travel destination where you’ll be exposed to an incredibly lively culture with traditions lasting thousands of years! We couldn’t recommend it more.

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