Oaxaca Travel Guide: Top Things to Do and See

Roman Lopez, Unsplash
December 30
Written by Carlos Rivera

Discover the best things to do in Oaxaca and the top places to visit. Plan your trip with this comprehensive travel guide.

Experience the rich culture and history of Oaxaca as you explore its stunning architecture, churches, museums, and plazas. Wander through its charming cobblestone streets and browse the vibrant markets where you'll find traditional crafts and local products.

Oaxaca is also a culinary paradise, known for its delicious tlayudas, mole, and mezcal. The city hosts numerous festivals, such as the Guelaguetza, featuring traditional dances and live music.

Immerse yourself in Oaxaca's natural beauty with a visit to Hierve el Agua, a petrified waterfall, or El Árbol del Tule, an ancient tree that is over 2,000 years old.

1. Monte Albán

Historical Monuments and Architecture$$$
black and gray concrete building under white clouds during daytime
Monte Albán / Gabriel Tovar, Unsplash

Monte Albán is an incredible archaeological site located in Oaxaca, Mexico. It was the ancient capital of the Zapotec civilization and is considered one of the archaeological gems of America. Surrounded by mountains and valleys, this place offers breathtaking panoramic views that will transport you back in time.

When visiting Monte Albán, you will be amazed by its pyramids, plazas, and temples that showcase the greatness of the Zapotec civilization. You can explore different structures, such as the Great Plaza and the Ballgame Court, while learning about their historical and cultural significance.

If you are a history and archaeology enthusiast, you cannot miss a visit to Monte Albán. It is a treasure that will allow you to immerse yourself in the past and discover the cultural richness of Oaxaca.

2. Hierve el Agua

Natural Spaces and Parks
a very tall rock with a sky in the background
Hierve el Agua / Abraham De La Cruz, Unsplash

Hierve el Agua is one of the top attractions to do in Oaxaca. This place will captivate you with its natural beauty and stunning petrified waterfalls. These unique formations were created by the accumulation of minerals over thousands of years, creating an impressive natural sight.

In addition to the waterfalls, Hierve el Agua has beautiful turquoise pools where you can enjoy a relaxing swim. The contrast between the rocky formations and the crystal-clear water creates a dreamlike landscape that you can't miss.

If you're looking to connect with nature and enjoy breathtaking scenery, Hierve el Agua is the perfect place. Don't forget to bring your swimsuit and camera to capture unforgettable moments.

3. Zocalo de Oaxaca

History and Cultural Heritage$$$

Zocalo de Oaxaca, also known as Plaza de la Constitución, is the historical and cultural heart of the city. Surrounded by stunning colonial buildings, this iconic square is a meeting point for locals and visitors alike.

At Zocalo de Oaxaca, you can admire the colonial architecture, visit the Oaxaca Cathedral and Santo Domingo Temple, and marvel at the Government Palace. Additionally, you will find a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and traditional markets.

One of the most popular experiences at Zocalo de Oaxaca is enjoying the cultural events and festivals that frequently take place in this square, such as concerts, art exhibitions, and folk dances.

4. Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude

History and Cultural Heritage

The Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude is one of the top things to do in Oaxaca. Built in the 18th century, this impressive church is a symbol of religious devotion and the cultural heritage of the state. Located in the historic center of Oaxaca, the Basilica is a standout example of Mexican baroque architecture.

Inside, you can admire beautiful religious artworks, including sculptures, altarpieces, and paintings. The main altar is especially impressive, with its ornamental details and the image of Our Lady of Solitude, the patroness of Oaxaca.

Don't miss the chance to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude during your stay in Oaxaca. In addition to its religious and cultural value, the temple offers a panoramic view of the city from its small tower, a perfect spot for taking photos and admiring the landscape!

5. Santo Domingo Church

Historical Monuments and Architecture

Santo Domingo Church is one of Oaxaca's most prominent tourist attractions, renowned for its impressive architecture and rich history.

Built in the 16th century, the church combines Baroque and Neoclassical elements, creating an impressive example of Mexican colonial architecture.

Inside the church, you'll find beautiful gold altars, stunning frescoes, and a collection of sacred art that reflects the religious devotion of the region.

6. Guelaguetza Festival of Oaxaca

Entertainment and Pop Culture

The Guelaguetza Festival is one of the most important celebrations in Oaxaca, known as the cultural capital of Mexico. Each year, thousands of people from all over the world gather to enjoy this unique spectacle that celebrates the diversity and cultural richness of the state.

Known as 'Mondays on the Hill', the Guelaguetza Festival brings together indigenous communities from all over the region to showcase their traditions through various dances and folk music. During the two Mondays of July, the Fortín Hill becomes a stage full of color, sounds, and emotions, where you can appreciate the ancestral roots of Oaxaca.

From the Danza de la Pluma, which tells the story of the Spanish conquest, to the Jarabe del Valle, which highlights the joy and vitality of Oaxacan culture, the Guelaguetza Festival offers an unforgettable experience full of tradition, history, and folklore.

7. Oaxaca Historic Center

History and Cultural Heritage$$$

Things to do in Oaxaca: The Oaxaca Historic Center is a true cultural treasure filled with history and beauty. Here you will find stunning colonial churches, such as the Oaxaca Cathedral and the Santo Domingo Church, famous for their baroque architecture. You can also visit the Oaxaca Museum of Contemporary Art, where works by important Mexican artists are exhibited.

Culture and traditions: Oaxaca is known for its rich craft tradition, and in the Historic Center you can find markets like the Benito Juárez Market, where you can delight in colorful textiles, ceramics, and other handicrafts. Don't miss the incredible Guelaguetza spectacle, a festival that celebrates Oaxaca's cultural diversity through music, dance, and traditional costumes.

Gastronomy: In the Oaxaca Historic Center, you will find a wide variety of restaurants and food stalls where you can try the region's typical dishes, such as Oaxacan mole and tamales. Don't forget to visit the 20 de Noviembre Market, famous for its traditional Oaxacan food stalls.

8. The Tree of Tule

Natural Spaces and Parks

The Tree of Tule is one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Oaxaca. With a diameter of approximately 14 meters, this majestic tree is located in the municipality of Santa Maria del Tule and is considered one of the largest trees in the world. Its age is estimated to be over 2000 years, making it a true natural treasure.

The Tree of Tule is famous for its impressive size and its immense trunk that seems to embrace the entire main square of the town. It is a symbol of life and resilience, and has witnessed centuries of history in the Oaxaca region.

If you are visiting Oaxaca, you cannot miss the opportunity to visit this incredible tree. Take your time to enjoy its grandeur and learn about its history and significance for the local community. Become part of Oaxaca's history!

9. Oaxacan Cuisine

Food and Markets

Discover the rich and diverse cuisine of Oaxaca, considered one of the most authentic in Mexico. Oaxacan dishes are a fusion of pre-Hispanic and Spanish ingredients, resulting from the cultural heritage of its ancient civilizations.

From the classic and delicious tamales, the famous tlayudas, to the exquisite moles, Oaxacan cuisine will surprise you with its diversity of flavors and preparation techniques.

Local markets and restaurants are the perfect places to taste authentic Oaxacan cuisine, where you can enjoy a combination of fresh ingredients such as corn, chocolate, chilies, and aromatic herbs. It's a culinary experience you can't miss!

10. Mitla Archaeological Site

History and Cultural Heritage

Explore the millenary history of Oaxaca at the impressive Mitla Archaeological Site.

Located in the Oaxaca Valley, Mitla was one of the most important cities of the ancient Zapotec culture. Its breathtaking ruins and well-preserved architecture will transport you back in time and allow you to marvel at the greatness of this civilization.

The highlight of Mitla is its intricate stone mosaic design, showcasing the skill and ingenuity of the ancient builders. Each piece is unique and tells a story, creating an archaeological treasure that is a must-visit for anyone in Oaxaca.