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What To Do in Oaxaca – 11 Of The Best Things To See And Do

Oaxaca (pronounced wa-Ha-ca) is a vibrant, culinary rich, authentic Mexican colonial city that you should plan to include on your next visit to Mexico, if you haven’t already.

After travelling from Mexico City to Puebla we were excited to visit Oaxaca.  We had heard so much about its history, colourful streets, great rooftop dining and the ruins of Monte Alban from other travellers we just could not wait to visit.  Oaxaca did not disappoint us, and we will definitely return to enjoy the city’s hospitality and its gastronomic delights. We know you will too! It is just that special city that you will visit time and time again.

Mexico travel Planning Group

Some of Oaxaca highlights are:

  • Benito Juarez Market
  • Mercado 20 de Novembrie market
  • Santo Domingo Church
  • Museo de Las Culturas de Oaxaca
  • Cathedral of Oaxaca
  • The Zocalo
  • Hierve el agua
  • Mezcal tasting
  • Monte Alban tour
  • Visit Calle Alcala pedestrian street
  • Enjoy Rooftop dining



Colourful architecture of Oaxaca
Wander the colourful streets of Oaxaca

The first thing you should do on arrival is to head to the Zocalo, find yourself a restaurant, order a beer and people watch. It is an easy city to walk around, so you will not need to hire a car unless you want to visit sites outside the city such as Monte Alban, which you can visit on a tour.

We love to share with you our top 11 things to see and do in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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Where is Oaxaca Mexico

Oaxaca Mexico Map
Map of Oaxaca in Mexico

The state of Oaxaca is located in the southeastern area of Mexico and its capital is Oaxaca de Juarez.

The city of Oaxaca is located 463 km from Mexico City and 339 km from Puebla, a popular tourist destination for travellers and a stopover on the way from Mexico City. During our time spent in Mexico we have visited many pretty colonial cities such as Morelia, Tepoztlan, San Miguel de AllendeGuanajuato and Guadalajara.

How to get to Oaxaca from Mexico City 

ADO Oaxaca Buses run from Mexico City to Oaxaca – the journey takes approximately 6 hours 40 minutes.

ADO Buses run from Puebla to Oaxaca – the journey takes approximately 4 hours 40 minutes.

Best Things To Do in Oaxaca

Some of the best places to go in Oaxaca are:

1.  Benito Juarez Market

Oaxaca markets
Visit the Market of Oaxaca

The Benito Juarez Market in Centro Oaxaca is full of local produce, meat, fish and flowers as well as the famous chocolate used for Mole sauce. The smell of the chocolate was intense. At the other end of the market, there is a BBQ area where you could choose your own meat and have it cooked to your liking.

The Benito Juarez Market is the oldest market in Oaxaca being established in 1893. The market takes up the whole block and can be accessed by 20 de Noviembre, Flores Magon, Las Casas, and Aldama.

Address: Las Casas S/N, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro,

Opening Hours: 10.00 am to 8.00 pm

How long should you spend there: At least a couple of hours

2.  Visit The Mercado 20 de Noviembre

markets of Oaxaca
Wander the markets of Oaxaca

The Mercado 20 de Noviembre is famous for its meat to purchase and its grilled meats from “meat alley” or Pasillo de Arnes Asadas. It is close to the Benito Juarez market, one in front of the other.  Apart from meat you can also purchase Mole (a sauce made from chiles, chocolate, onion, garlic and nuts), empanadas, vegetables, cheese, local Mexican dishes, fruit, pottery, handicrafts and more.

Address: 20 de Noviembre 512, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro,

Opening Hours: 07.00 am to 9.00 pm

How long should you spend there: around 1 – 2 hours

3.  Santo Domingo Church Oaxaca

Templo de Santo Domingo
Templo de Santo Domingo

The Santo Domingo Church is a great example of Mexican Baroque architecture.  The church started construction in 1575 and was completed later in the same century and consecrated in 1611.

The Church is also home to the Ethnobotanical Garden that was designed by Francisco Toledo, an Oaxacan artist, opened in 1998.  The 2.32 acres showcases the region’s history via plants.

Know Before You Go :Visits are by guided tour only. Tours in Spanish happen Monday through Saturday; English tours are on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; French tours are on Tuesday evenings; and German tours are on Wednesday evenings. Tours typically cost 100 pesos per person, though are free for children under 12 years old.

How to get to the Santo Domingo Church

Address: Calle Macedonio Alcalá s/n, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro,

The Church is located in Calle Alcala which is the pedestrian street six blocks from the Zocalo, allow 10 minutes to walk.

Opening Hours:

Templo de Santo Domingo is open to visitors from 07.00 am to 1.00 pm and 4.00 pm to 7.30 pm from Monday through to Saturday. Sunday hours are the same except it closes at 7.00 pm.

4.  Museo de Las Culturas de Oaxaca

Located at Gurrion at Alcala, Plaza Santo Domingo, is the Museo de Las Culturas de Oaxaca.  The Museum houses treasure from Monte Alban and has great views over the Botanical Gardens and the restored library is well worth a visit. It is one of the region’s best museums.

How much time should I allow to visit? Allow at least 2 hours.

Open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 am to 6:30 pm.
General admission $ 80 MXN
Sundays free admission

5.  Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption in Oaxaca 

Cathedral of Oaxaca
Cathedral of Oaxaca

Located at Alameda de Leon the Cathedral is impressive.  Construction started in 1535 and was consecrated in 1733.

Earthquakes caused damages during the 16th and 18th centuries.  After several reconstructions, the Cathedral was reconstructed in 1702 and finished in 1733. The interior has been crafted in the Neoclassical style.

Address: Av. de la Independencia 700, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez


6.  The Zocalo

The Zocalo Oaxaca
The Zocalo

The Zocalo,the heart of Oaxaca, is a fun place to visit and to wander around during the day and night.  Need to escape from the midday sun? Head to the Zocalo. Whilst there you will be entertained by bands and buskers, balloon and ice-cream sellers and children having fun running around whilst their parents sit and catch up on the day’s local gossip.  One of our favourite past times was sitting with a cold beer in the afternoon before dinner.

The square is one of the World Cultural Heritage sites by UNESCO.

7.  Visit Calle Alcala pedestrian street

Calle Alcala was one of the first streets in Oaxaca. In 1985 it was closed to vehicles. You can visit restaurants, cafes, shops and museums as you wander down the length.

The street runs from Templo de Santo Domingo north to the Cathedral.

8.  Enjoy Roof Top Dining

Rooftop dining
Rooftop dining in Oaxaca

One of the best surprises of Oaxaca was their rooftop dining venues.  There was nothing better at the end of a hot day, than to enjoy an amazing sunset with a cocktail in hand from the rooftop of many of the restaurants.

Wondering what the best rooftop restaurants are in Oaxaca?

Mezquite for the best views of Templo de Santo Domingo, located at Calle de Manuel Garcia Vigil 601. Cuisine: Mexican, Latin, Vegetarian and Vegan Options and a Bar.

Casa Crespo located at Allende 107 also with views over Templo de Santo Domingo. Not only a popular restaurant but Casa Crespo also offers cooking classes and has a chocolate shop on the premises.

Casa Oaxaca – voted the top restaurant in Oaxaca  for local cuisine, Mexican, Latin, Contemporary, Fusion and Vegetarian options are available.

Address: Located at Calle la Constitucion 104A. Best time to visit is after 8.00 pm when the candles come out creating that special vibe and atmosphere with views over Oaxaca.

Gozobi Restaurant and Bar at Calle de Manuel  Garcia Vigil 504 Oaxaca – good value Mexican cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner with views.

Mezzaluna at Calle Ignacio Allende 113 for the best pizza and pasta in town with stunning views.

La Olla – head to the 3rd floor for views over Oaxaca for local Mexican dishes.  Open from 8 am to 10 pm. Brunch is a speciality.

Address: Calle Reforma 402

9.  Mezcal Tasting

Mezcal tasting
Mezcal – image credit Angel Chavez Pixabay

Oaxaca is known as the capital of Mezcal in Mexico.

Some of the best places for Mescal tasting are:

Mezcaloteca at Reforma #56

Los Amantes at Ignacio Allende 107

In Situ Mezcaleria at Jose Maria Moretos 511


10. Hierve el agua

Hierve el agua
Visit and swim at Hierve el agua – pixabay image by So-crate

40 miles south east of Oaxaca is Hierve el agua.  Hierve el agua is a petrified waterfall. When you first see Hierve el agua it seems like you are looking at a frozen waterfall.

What is a petrified waterfall?

A petrified waterfall is when mineral deposits form over thousands of years.  The water which is mineral-laden spills over a cliff and trickles down the rock face and forms stalactite structures.

You can visit Hierve el agua on a tour that also includes a visit to:

  • The giant tree – The Tule Tree
  • Mitla (a Zapotec archaeological site) famous for mosaics that date back to the Mesoamerican times
  • Hierve el agua – swimming
  • Mezcal tasting


11.  Monte Alban Tour

Monte Alban was founded 500 years BC and flourished until 750AD.  It was the capital of the Zapotecs. Monte Alban means ‘white mountain’. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Your visit will include the Ball Court, the Great Plaza, the Palace and the Southern Platform with various other structures. The pre-Columbian site is definitely worth a visit and a tour is recommended with a guide. You can catch local buses to the site but we recommend a tour with a guide to get the most of visiting the site. The site is located 10km southwest of Oaxaca.

Opening times: 8.00 am to 5.00 pm daily. Sundays are busy as Mexicans can visit for free.

Top travel tips: make sure you have plenty of water, use sunscreen, wear a hat and comfortable shoes.


The best time to visit Monte Alban is during winter when the temperatures are lower. You can expect rain showers during summer.

You can pre-book your Monte Alban tour here.


More Top Things To Do in Oaxaca


Day Trips From Oaxaca

Apart from the two ‘must-see’ tours of Monte Alban and Hierve el agua day trips there are a few more that you should consider.

A visit to the town of Ocotlan de Morelos which includes:

  • Santo Tomas Jalieza to visit a small community dedicated to the art of Waist Loom, a pre-Hispanic textile technique.
  • San Martin Tilcajete, a small township bursting with colorful crafts and handmade trinkets
You can book this tour here

A visit to Zaachila and Cuilapan (description of the tour from our partner Get Your Guide)

“Zaachila archaeological zone is located in the town of Zaachila. It was founded by the Zapotec, and existed as the last Zapotec capital in the 14th and 15th centuries. Located in the center is a pyramid with 2 pre-Hispanic tombs; one is richly decorated and the treasures found in the other are on exhibit in the National Anthropological and Historical Museum in Mexico City. Much of the site, however, has modern-day structures on top of it, preventing further excavation. Meanwhile, the present-day town is known as Villa de Zaachila, and is famous for its open-air market every Thursday. After visiting the indigenous present and past, continue to Cuilapan de Guerrero to see the colonial past. This town is best known for its open-air chapel. The 16th century Dominican monastery located here could have been the largest complex of its kind in the New World if it had ever been finished. Enjoy walking through the colorful but quiet streets to get a taste of what Cuilapan is like today.”

You can book this tour here

Where To Stay in Oaxaca

Some of the best hotels in Oaxaca are:

Suites Parador Santo Domingo at Macedonio Alcala 804 Centro Historico. Located 200m from Templo de Santo Domingo has two swimming pools, free parking, free wi-fi and family rooms.

Hotel Posada del Centro at Avenida Independencia 403 Colonia Centro. This colourful 3-star hotel features traditional Mexican decor located a 5-minute walk from the Zocalo. Free parking and free w-fi and family rooms are offered.

Parador del Dominico at Pino Suarez 410 is centrally located.  The restaurant offers traditional Mexican cuisine from 7.00 am to 2.00 pm. Guests can relax on the terrace. Free parking and free wi-fi are also offered.

Hotel Marques del Valle at Portal de Claveria Centro is well located in the main square next to the Cathedral. The hotel’s on-site El Portal Del Marques restaurant and bar serves Oaxacan, Mexican and international cuisine

Are you searching for budget accommodation?

We stayed in a private room in Hostel Azul Cielo, a popular choice for couples and families. Solo travellers can stay in dorms or private rooms.  It was easy to walk from the Hostel to all the sights of Oaxaca.  A supermarket was close by if you want to cook your meals in the hostel kitchen. It was very comfortable, good wifi available and a tour desk that arranged for our Monte Alban tour and our onward travel to Puerto Escondido.

Check the latest deals and availability here

More options on where to stay in Oaxaca



Where To Eat in Oaxaca – Bars and Cafes in Oaxaca

For great coffee and muffins head to Macedonio Alcala at Av. de la Independencia 900, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárezand Cafe Brujula at Calle Macadonia Alcala 104.

Catedral Restaurante & Bar at Calle Manuel Garcia Vigil 105

Los Danzantes at Calle Macedonio Alcala #403-4 for Mexican fusion cusine.

Origen at Callejon Hidalgo #820 – for a unique dining experience with the freshest of local ingredients.

FAQ’s on Visiting Oaxaca

Is Oaxaca in Mexico safe to visit?

When we visited we felt very safe wandering around Oaxaca, the Zocalo and through the markets.

When is the best time to visit Oaxaca?

June is the wettest month, the hottest month is May and the coldest month is January.

How many days should I allow to visit Oaxaca?

We stayed for 5 days/4 nights – you could easily see it all on 4 days/3 nights but I would not rush your visit.

Is there an Airport in Oaxaca?

Aeropuerto Oaxaca (Oaxaca Xoxocotlan Airport) is located 5 miles south of the city.

Flight Deals to Oaxaca

Find the cheapest flights with Skyscanner who then directs you to the airline’s website with no extra fees to pay.

Bus Travel Around Mexico

We have travelled all over Mexico by ADO buses.  For the latest ticket prices and schedules click here.

Travel Insurance

We use World Nomad travel insurance when we travel.


Travel Guides on Oaxaca and Mexico



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We hope you have enjoyed our Oaxaca Travel Guide.  If you have any questions on visiting Oaxaca or travel in Mexico in general feel free to reach out to us.  We have spent many months travelling Mexico and it is one of our favourite countries. We have released our e-book on our Mexico travel guide.

Where should you go next? If you want a beach vacation why not head to Zihuatanejo? If you want a mix of beach and Mayan ruins we can recommend a visit to the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Thanks for stopping by and welcome to To Travel Too – Australia’s top Baby Boomer lifestyle and travel blog, with an international worldwide audience in mind, run by the married couple, freelance writers and full-time travellers Jane and Duncan Dempster-Smith. Come with us as we explore the world. Our two mantras that we live by are 'chase time not money' and 'age is no barrier when it comes to travel'.

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