Best of Oaxaca, the most diverse state of Mexico

In Oaxaca we wanted to stay for a bit longer, and not just rushing through the state. Hence we decided to make the crossing trip within 5 days. If you check the map, you will realise, this is still insane, not to mention the driving conditions, that also made our road trip longer than expected. Oaxaca is bordered by the states of Guerrero to the west, Puebla to the northwest, Veracruz to the north, and Chiapas to the east. To the south, Oaxaca has a significant coastline on the Pacific Ocean. Our goal was definitely to reach the Ocean coast after diving in the diverse culture that the capital could offer us. So let’s see the best of Oaxaca, what we experienced during our trip!

What to see in Oaxaca state

Oaxaca de Juárez, the capital of the state

The capital is vivid, with a lot of street sellers with their plastic pavilions around. As we heard from our hotel owner it’s a serious problem right now, in relation with Covid-19, lots of people lost their jobs and more and more turned to street selling, hence everyday more and more plastic tents are appearing around the center. It is a problem:

  • since they are using the parking places on the streets, therefore it is very challenging to park all around the city center,
  • plus sometimes they are also blocking some traffic lanes, making the traffic unbearable during the rush hours,
  • and on top it doesn’t really look nice and they are disturbing the view on the beautiful colourful houses.

The hotel that we booked in the capital had its private parking. If you are interested – scroll down to check our hotel choice. Regardless the hotel is located in the very city center, we had parking.

Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the most beautiful church

The good thing in Mexico is that you never need to pay to enter any church as a visitor. Most of them are also open during all the day long, so whenever you are around you can admire their architecture as well regardless your beliefs. Of course, we have seen nicer and less beautiful churches during our journey in Mexico, but the most outstanding was definitely the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán in the capital. Not especially how it looks from the outside, but inside it’s so rich in terms of decoration, nice compositions of golden, white and shiny elements, all around the walls and the ceiling, so we were really amazed.

Monte Albán, and it’s non-sense organization

Monte Albán is one of the most well-preserved archeological sites of Mexico. This we knew as well, hence we didn’t want to miss its visit, since we were already in Oaxaca. It is located in the suburbs of the capital, so let’s say it is easy to reach. Our hotel owner also told us that the best to go there for the early morning hours. We checked on the website, it says it opens at 10:00, but since a local is telling to you to go there on time, we listened to him of course.

Learn from our experience!

We arrived at 8:00, and it was already a long queue of vehicles parking and waiting in front of the entrance. This is when we learned that the gate indeed opens at 10:00, but they let in only a limited number of cars (80 cars all together / day) hence it’s better to arrive earlier as later you will miss your chance. There are no more parking places inside the territory of the site, this is why people were already queueing since early morning. We also joined the long queue and realized that we are in the middle of nowhere, with no bars, no shops, zero access to any bathrooms around.

We were in the middle of the mountains, at least 100-200 tourists waiting at least 2 hours to get in every morning and no one in Mexico realised the clear business opportunity to open here a bar, a bodega, a taco truck or just let the street sellers come here to sell their goods???

But if we would have known this upfront we could have also organized our day differently. The visit doesn’t take longer than a 1-2 hours, and if you arrive e.g. around 12:00, there won’t be any queue anymore, and you can easily get in without waiting there hours. Not to mention that there are buses and taxis as well available, and for the pedestrians there is no limitation at all, you can enter whenever you want, regardless the amount of people.

BTO Tips
  • Arrive without a car anytime during the day – take a local bus, taxi!
  • If you arrive with your car be prepared for the long queue in the morning hours, and be aware that there are zero options around to buy anything or use a bathroom! So pack your coffee, sandwich, whatever you fancy with you!
  • The best is to arrive around 12:00 with your own car and get in comfortably. Inside you have cafeteria, bar and bathrooms available.

If you didn’t give it up and once you are inside the site doesn’t disappoint you further, actually on the contrary! It is one of the best conserved ruins that you can visit all around Mexico. The monumental center of Monte Albán is the Main Plaza, which measures approximately 300 meters by 200 meters. You can walk around the whole square, climb up and down on the biggest pyramids, that are not allowed at many other sites. Also, they have a Juego de Pelota (Mesoamerican ballgame) field.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla

San Pablo de Mitla is a town and also a municipality in Mexico which is most famous for being the site of the Mitla archeological ruins. The ruins are not easy to find – the entrance is hidden behind the street market with no clear signs nowhere, but you cannot buy entrance ticket at the entrance – insane but you need to go and look for another store at another market and hopefully you can get tickets. By the time we found out where to buy tickets the last entry to the ruins were closed. I mean, this is completely ridiculous and totally non-sense. We wanted to get, wanted to buy the tickets, and it was impossible. So we decided to look around, and actually if you walk outside around the fences of the site, you will be able to observe the ruins, which are indeed beautiful.

The town is also known for its handcrafted textiles, especially embroidered pieces and mezcal.

BTO Tip

  • Go to the mercado if you want to eat some nice and super tasty street food, otherwise it is impossible to find any place to eat in the town.

Mazunte, the hippy paradise

Well, to reach Mazunte from Oaxaca capital is already challenging you 100%. The never-ending curvy road through the mountains will exhaust you and it will be less and less believable that at some point you will be able to step in the Pacific Ocean. But yes, it is possible, but honestly if we should do it again, we would just simply fly. You can fly from Oaxaca capital to the coast, to Puerto Escondido on very reasonable prices.

The town of Mazunte is a little beach town on Mexico’s Pacific Coast and is actually one of the country’s Pueblo Mágicos (Magical Towns). It’s got a welcoming vibe and you quickly come to understand that it’s the kind of town where people prefer the hippy lifestyle, being shirtless & shoeless during all day, with variety of music bars & stoned waiters around.

Here, like no one ever heard of any pandemic and related any limitations. You cannot find here a single person wearing a mask, or any hand sanitisers.

The town was not our favourite, it felt like a fake hippy paradise, from where all real hippies already left long time ago, and now it is actually more like the spring break location of U.S. college students, who are trying to be or at least pretend to be super cool. And in the end it is all a bit ridiculous and thanks to them super overpriced. But nevertheless, the Pacific Ocean and its beach is incredibly beautiful, but luckily it is accessible from many other towns and villages too!

Puerto Angel, the calmer alternative

If you had enough of Mazunte, this neighbouring fishermen village offers you a completely different vibe and a calmer atmosphere to enjoy the Pacific, don’t miss it out.

Along with San Agustinillo and Playa Zipolite are known as the “Riviera Oaxaqueña“. It is located 9 km south of city of Pochutla and approximately 80 kilometers east of Puerto Escondido. Despite tourism development since the 1960s, the town is still mostly a fishing village, located on a small bay surrounded by rocky hills that lead into the Sierra Madre del Sur. It was founded in the mid-19th century as a port for the region’s coffee and lumber industries but since then other means of shipping these products has replaced it.

Playa Bamba, one the most beautiful lonely beach on the Pacific Ocean

Maybe we shouldn’t share this secret beach as one day it will be also crowded by tourists… but it was really a Besides the Obvious discovery, where we could enjoy the beach – Playa Bamba – only for ourselves, not a single person around, and the closest bar was made out of couple temporary wooden elements, broken chairs and some hammocks, where we have seen two more people all together all afternoon. They served chilled Coronas & actually we didn’t need anything more.

Salina Cruz & its “Ley Seca”

Well, about Salina Cruz we have not much to say, maybe the best is just simply avoid it. But since this town was on our way and looked as a perfect stop-over spot, we decided to stay and also noticed a very interesting thing: in the name of Covid-19, they introduced a law “Ley Seca – Dry Law” which forbids to sell alcohol in all stores & bars and the restaurants can sell food only for take away. There was not much fun around there as you can imagine. As the first thing in the morning we left immediately.

The land of the Mezcal

Agave fields are a common sight in the semi-desert areas of Oaxaca state. And wherever you go within the state, from the capital to the Pacific, you will find mezcal sellers, factories, bars on your way. It is definitely worth to stop by and try couple of versions. Usually, if you buy a bottle, before that you will have the chance to taste many variants for free.

Aside from its geographical distinction, tequila is differentiated from mezcal in that it is made only from blue agave and the beverages are prepared in different ways. Whether distilled drinks were produced in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest is unknown. The Spaniards were introduced to native fermented drinks such as pulque, made from the maguey plant. Soon, the conquistadors began experimenting with the agave plant to find a way to make a distillable fermented mash. The result was mezcal. Today, mezcal is still made from the heart of the agave plant, called the piña, in much the same way as it was 200 years ago. In Mexico, mezcal is generally consumed straight and has a strong smoky flavour. Though other types of mezcal are not as popular as tequila (made specifically from the blue agave in selected regions of the country – not in Oaxaca state).

How to get around in Oaxaca state

To drive through Oaxaca, especially from the capital to the Pacific coast you don’t have many options, and all of them are extremely long, curvy roads as you need to overcome on a mountain range. We have chosen the shortest one from Oaxaca capital to Mazunte, and it took at least 6-7 hours on a road that has zero straight parts, just curves and curves after each other, that many that we felt in a PC game simulator in the end. And regardless both of us are experienced drivers, we were extremely exhausted and tired after this etap.

BTO Tips

  • There are no petrol stations in the mountains, you might be able to buy petrol directly from some private sellers, with no control on the quality or on the prices, so be prepared and fuel fully your car before starting the mountain roads. You won’t make it with half tank.
  • Be prepared about the road conditions, read our survival guide to Mexican roads!

Where to stay in Oaxaca state

We were able to book amazing accommodations, & hotels all around Oaxaca state. Starting with Oaxaca de Juárez, we spent two nights in the heart of the city with a private rooftop terrace, from where we could admire the mountains surrounding the city. Feel free to book your room directly here to Hotel Alma de Oaxaca.

Hotel Alma de Oaxaca

Casa Mazunte Tierra Viva

After the capital we spent a night in Mazunte, the hippy paradise. Where we also found a cozy hotel – Bungalows Mazunte Tierra Viva – run by an Argentine family. The location was excellent, 2 minutes walk from the main beach of Mazunte.

If we haven’t convinced you yet, or you are looking for more options, take a look at below selection:

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