24 hours in Oaxaca

In Mexico's southwest, dynamic Oaxaca is pumping with cultural tradition and spectacular cuisine.

An architectural gem, Oaxaca is a mix of rich indigenous culture and Spanish colonialism. Pre-Columbian ruins attract millions of tourists every year, while the city's abundance of buzzing market squares captivate with chaotic charm.

Unofficially dubbed the gastronomic capital of Mexico, Oaxaca's cuisine is attracting attention from foodies worldwide.

Recently hit by Mexico's devastating earthquake, the people of Oaxaca are fighting to restore their state to its former beauty. However, Oaxaca still remains open, its spirit well-and-truly alive, and travellers are encouraged to visit, the state needing extra support from tourism at such a difficult time. 

From food to festivals, here's Oaxaca in 24 hours. 

Getting there

Oaxaca International Airport (OAX) is a 30-minute drive south from the vibrant city hub. Limited international flights make Mexico City the best airport to fly in to; first-class buses take seven hours to reach Oaxaca from Mexico City, while domestic flights take a little over an hour. For a real culture hit, book a room at Casa Carmen, located only a stone's throw from Oaxaca's grand Templo de Santo Domingo. A marvel in its own right, the boutique hotel's four habitaciones are designed by famed local artist Amador Montes, with statement tiling and outdoor (concealed) bathrooms, showcasing the artist's distinct talent. If you're wanting something a little less mod, Quinta Real Oaxaca makes for an enchanting historical stay, built in 1576 it was originally the Convent of Santa Catalina.

9AM

Open from 7am, a visit to Mercado Benito Juarez Maza will give your morning an instant wake-up. Two blocks south of the central Park Zócalo, the marketplace is crowded with Oaxacan delicacies and loud locals. Grab a breakfast empanada and dare to sample the city's specialties; spicy chapulines (grasshoppers), and Mexican mole paste. A street further south and you'll reach the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, a must-visit for chocolate lovers - be sure to try Oaxaca's famous hot chocolate.

Dried chillies at the Oaxacan markets

10AM

Stroll back toward Zócalo, and take in the lively buzz of the town's main plaza. Built between 1570 and 1608 by the city's Dominican monastery, Templo de Santa Domingo is one of Oaxaca's most august buildings, its towering baroque facade as impressive as its opulent interiors. Occupied by military troops during the Mexican Revolution, the complex harbours an intricate system of courtyards and a large sanctuary. Head next door to view the extensive exhibition rooms at the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca before visiting the Jardin Etnobotanico. Instigated by Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo, the garden boasts an incredible collection of native plants. If you happen to visit on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, sign up for one of the guided tours and learn the surprising cultural significance of the indigenous flora.

12PM

Ten kilometres outside of downtown Oaxaca is the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Monte Albán. Accessible by local bus or tour buses (you can purchase a ticket at the green 'Tours' sign opposite the cathedral), the magnificent Zapotec stone formations will leave you speechless.  

Monte Albán

3PM

Head back to the city centre and cure rumbling stomachs with a private cooking class. Run by local restaurant owner Pilar Cabrera, Casa de los Sabores offers travellers a unique exploration of traditional Oaxacan cuisine. Try your hand at original avocado salsa, tempura chilies and Oaxacan chocolate sorbet.

5PM

A visit to Oaxaca wouldn't be complete without a mezcal tasting. Hit up the dark and moody La Mezcaloteca, where passionate Mexico City expats serve up a mezcal medley in traditional gourd cups. 

9PM

Make the most of your trip to Oaxaca and travel to the city during the region's party-centric Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead Festival). Celebrated late October until early November, the elaborate festivities honour the departed. Houses empty and skeleton face-painted locals pour out onto the streets. Elaborately decorated altars are erected and families hold late-night vigils in cemeteries. Abercrombie & Kent's Mexico's Day of the Dead Festival tour offers an authentic opportunity to experience the cultural phenomenon. The 10-day journey will allow you to revel in the exhilarating Oaxaca city, with exclusive tours and Day of the Dead rituals. Spend the night admiring the colourful costumes and sampling traditional foods - pan de muerto rolls are a must. Avoid booking early morning flights; this fiesta will continue all night.

Day of the Dead festival

9AM

Before heading back to the airport, treat yourself to brunch - Oaxaca style. Head to Casa Oaxaca Café for a cup of the region's distinctly rich brew where you'll be able to soak up the very last of your visit underneath the restaurant's lush tree canopy. Our pick? The grilled tasajo and quesillo (thinly sliced beef and Oaxacan string cheese with a spicy salsa) and a champurrado (traditional maize and chocolate drink) to go.

This article was presented by Abercrombie & Kent


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