Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ka) is also known as Oaxaca de Juarez, the capital city of Oaxaca state in Mexico. The city is steeped in history that starts along those cobblestone roads of Centro and into the narrow streets of the city where boutique cafes, restaurants, art galleries, inviting parks, and dimly lit mezcalerias are lurking around just about every corner.
Oaxaca’s unique climate (subtropical highland climate at an over 5,000 ft elevation, just fyi) makes for some amazing food, with some of its cuisine’s key ingredients coming from the nearby Sierra Madre mountains.
In this guide, you’ll find useful travel tips for Oaxaca, like:
- How much should you budget for travel?
- Dos and don’ts
- What are the top experiences and things to do in Oaxaca
- How safe is it?
Ready to get to know more about this fascinating destination? Here are the top 10 things you need to know before visiting Oaxaca, Mexico.
How Hard Is It on the Wallet?
When it comes to GDP per state in Mexico, Oaxaca is on the lower end, ranking 20th overall just above Yucatan and Chiapas. More than a decade ago, Oaxaca was known for being uber cheap for tourists but those days are unfortunately long gone.
While Oaxaca is getting more expensive, it’s still cheaper for tourists than destinations like Mexico City, Cancun, and Puerto Vallarta. So I’m giving it a 2.5/5 when it comes to the affordability scale. Here’s a little breakdown of what to expect when it comes to prices and cost of living in Oaxaca:
Food: Food prices in Oaxaca, as with so many other travel destinations, can really vary. A meal for two on a fancy rooftop restaurant in the heart of Centro will set you back about 500 pesos, and your morning latte will be priced at about 50 pesos.
If you want to cook at home, fruits and veggies in the market will typically be plentiful and priced lower than in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe. Here’s an overview of the latest costs in 2022.
Accommodation: In Oaxaca, you can still snag a hostel bed for 200 pesos per night (plus 16% VAT). A double room in a hotel in the center of town has an average price of 2,000 pesos (100 USD) per night.
If you’re renting monthly (and traveling with an average budget) don’t pay more than 8,000 pesos per month for a one-bedroom apartment. Local prices are still cheaper, but an influx of tourists and expats has led to a rise in housing prices in Oaxaca.
Transportation: Oaxaca de Juarez is pretty much a walking city, so if you’re in and around Centro and have the ability to do so, the best way to get around is on foot. Public buses to get you to different parts of the city cost about 8 pesos (less than 50 cents USD).
If you want to flag down a taxi, fares start at around 40 pesos.
Gas prices are pretty comparable with the rate in the U.S. and Canada, at around 22 pesos (a little over 1 USD) per liter or 1/4 gallon.
How Is It as a Foreigner?
Oaxacans are friendly and outgoing. They are courteous and polite, and expect the same from everyone else. So wander the streets with a good attitude, practice your Spanish, and you’ll be welcomed with open arms.
So many foreigners from all over the world have a great experience here and that’s why they keep returning.
Customs and Culture: Do’s and Don’ts in Oaxaca
Oaxaca de Juarez doesn’t really have any strict cultural etiquette for tourists to abide by compared to other destinations. But if you’re visiting this beautiful city, here are a few important things to keep in mind:
- Don’t join protests
- DO learn and practice your Spanish! Greet strangers on the street with a friendly buenas dias.
- DO accept food when offered by a local in any sort of hospitality situation, as it’s considered impolite not to accept this kind gesture.
- DO try as much mole as possible!
Top Trending Things to Do in Oaxaca
From the top sights in the city to excursions outside of town, here are the top things to do in Oaxaca de Juarez in 2022.
- Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca: These are the botanical gardens located right behind the main cathedral in Oaxaca Centro. Come early to join a guided group tour showcasing some of the region’s most impressive native plants.
- Hierve el Agua: This is that gorgeous pic you’ve probably seen on Instagram of the floating pool. Located just over 40 miles outside of the city, Hierve el Agua is a series of cliffs and rock formations with mineral build up. Tourists can visit the natural and artificial pools on-site that offer gorgeous views of the surrounding valley.
- Monte Alban: Telling the story of the Zapotec, Mixtec, and Olmec empires, Monte Alban is an archeological site just outside of Oaxaca city that consists of a plaza and a series of tombs, palaces, and stone carvings. The site dates back to 500 B.C.E. Get a taxi early in the morning to be there by the time the park gates open at 8 a.m. You won’t find much shade here, so make sure to bring a hat and sunscreen.
How Safe Is It?
Traveling in Oaxaca is generally safe for tourists. Over the past few years however, there have been more reports of petty crimes and muggings. To stay safe, it’s not recommended to walk around the large public markets flashing any expensive belongings, as this can easily make you a target. Oaxaca rates much higher on the safety scale compared to other parts of Mexico.
I personally felt safe as a solo female traveler in Oaxaca and had no issues as I took normal precautions as one would in any city.
Travel Insurance Tips for Your Trip:
Getting a travel insurance package is always a good idea when going on any type of trip. If you’re heading out soon, you can get yourself covered (and, at a super low cost!) with the right health insurance just in case you get sick or if your travel stuff gets stolen or lost at some point during your travels to Oaxaca.
Local Eats and Drink in Oaxaca
Now, here’s where the fun really begins. After being featured in so many Netflix shows like Street Food: Latin America (remember Dona Vale?) and Somebody Feed Phil, more tourists than ever before are booking flights to Oaxaca to try some of Mexico’s best food.
From moles to memelas and mezcal and more, you could eat your way ’round Oaxaca five times over and still be coming back for more. Here are some of the highlights:
- Tlayudas: This is probably one of the main foods you can find that’s unique to Oaxaca. A tlayuda is a large, crispy and crunchy tortilla topped with everything from meat, cheese (in Oaxaca, it’s quesillo), and fried veggies. The base sauce is typically a refried beans and lard.
- Memelas: Memelas are smaller and thicker corn tortillas that can be found at street food stands and mercados throughout Oaxaca. The tortilla is first spread with lard before being topped with a mole sauce, cheese, avocados, beans, and meat if you desire. Seriously delicious.
- Mezcal: Oaxaca’s libation of choice (that seems to be trending just about everywhere else, too), made from agave plants from the nearby valley. While this is a trendy drink, be mindful of where mezcal comes from and how it’s made.
- Chapulines: Toasted grasshoppers that are seasoned with chili, salt, and lime. You’ll find bowls of these popular crunchy snacks just about everywhere in Oaxaca, and they might even make an appearance in your cocktail (if you order it, of course).
- Cocoa: Oaxaca is a big producer of cocoa and coffee beans. At a local market or restaurant, ask for a hot chocolate Oaxaqueño served with pan de muerto (yolk bread).
For more info, here’s my list of some of the best places to eat in Oaxaca where tourists can sample great food and drink.
What Are the Top Apps to Use in Oaxaca?
These apps will come in handy for your next trip to Oaxaca.
- Rappi: Mexico’s top food delivery app. While going out to eat in Oaxaca is a big part of the foodie experience, these app might come in handy on a rainy day.
- WhatsApp: Use this app for messaging and connecting with local businesses and traveler groups to help you better explore the city.
- Duolingo: You can practice your Spanish using this fun language game app on your flight!
- DiDi: Uber doesn’t work in Oaxaca, so the go-to ride share app is DiDi. But, most tourists prefer taxis (just ask them to turn on the meter) to get around the city.
How’s the WiFi?
You can get by using the WiFi in Oaxaca. The average speed is 6 Mbps, and most hotels, cafes, and restaurants will have free WiFi for guests.
If you are working remotely while visiting Oaxaca, there are a few co-working spaces available in the city.
What Are the Best Cultural Experiences?
One of the best ways to experience Oaxaca is through its food, and one of the best ways to do that is by taking a cooking class during your visit.
Luis, the owner and operator of NomadCook, runs a few boutique cooking classes in Oaxaca. His passion for food and culture is infectious, and he puts his philosophy into practice with his cooking classes. Whether you want to learn how to make vegan moles or tortillas from scratch, there’s a class for you.
Another top cultural experience in Oaxaca is to take a street food tour. Get to know the city like a local with this tour led by local experts, you’ll show you some of the best dishes of the city and teach you about their history.
How Long Can I Stay?
Mexico’s visa-free program for tourists applies to passport holders from 67 nations, which include the United States, Canada, and the U.K. You can check out the official government visa page for the latest info.
Typically, incoming tourists will get a 180 days in Mexico which will be written on their FMM (immigration) card that they have to fill out and get stamped upon arrival.
So, there you have it – an intro guide to traveling to Oaxaca. From the delicious food to incredible sights, there are so many reasons to love this city and why it’s such a unique destination in Mexico.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com