What to do in Oaxaca, Mexico: 5 things you can’t miss
3 weeks in Mexico gave me enough time to discover the beauty of different states. Quintana Roo impressed me with the turquoise water, wonderful beaches and the quantity of activities to try all over the state. Chiapas was the biggest surprise of the whole trip – the power of nature in this place was simply stunning. My next destination was Oaxaca, a heart of Zapotec culture. When it comes to Mexican pre-Columbian civilizations, most of us think about Maya and Aztecs, but Zapotec played a huge role in Mexican history as well. How much do you know about their influence and how good do you know Oaxaca state? Find below 5 things you can’t miss while visiting Oaxaca!
Follow Zapotec steps – Monte Albán
The first place to visit in Oaxaca is without doubt Monte Albán. It’s not only a UNESCO heritage, but also one of the oldest archeological zones in Central America. This capital of Zapotec is visible from anywhere in the central part of the Valley of Oaxaca. The impressive ruins are located at 1.940 m above sea level and the view from the top makes this place impossible to forget. You will really feel like on the top of the world! Don’t overlook this Zapotec site because it’s equally beautiful as Chichen Itza or Palenque. Just imagine a place that’s been inhabited for 13,000 years! Monte Albán is located only 9 km from Oaxaca City, so it’s really easy to get there from the Zocalo square of state capital. Remember that the site is large and requires a lot of walking to see the majority of sections!
Together with Monte Albán, Mitla played very important role in the history of Zapotec culture. At the fall of Monte Albán, Mitla was one of the cities in which the political and religious power of the Zapotec of the Central Valleys was concentrated until the arrival of the Spanish. The Mixtec civilization took control of Mitla later, although the area remained populated by the Zapotec. Mitla is characterized by the only ones in Mexico buildings adorned with fretwork mosaics and by the cruciform tombs that have been found under the palaces, in which great characters and priests were surely buried. If you visit Mexico, a country that celebrates death like no other in the world, you can’t miss Mitla. Its name comes from Mictlan, a word of Nahuatl origin that literally means “place of the dead”.
When you think of Mexican drinks, the first thing that comes to your mind is surely tequila. But Mexico has much more to offer! I personally don’t like any strong alcohols, so even the best tequila in the world doesn’t taste good to me. Not to mention michelada (I admire Edwin for drinking and enjoying it!). But if you are not afraid of strong flavors, make some space in your schedule to visit a real factory of mezcal. The most famous version of mezcal comes with a worm inside the bottle, but as I’m not a fan of worms in any form, I politely said ‚thank you’. Apart from the traditional mezcal, you can also buy some fruit liqueurs based on Mezcal and without worm 🙂
Meet one of the oldest trees in the world
Before you get to the capital of state, you should make a stop in Santa María del Tule and meet the famous Tree of Tule – a 2,000-year-old Montezuma cypress tree, which is one of the oldest, largest and widest trees in the world. El Árbol del Tule was placed on UNESCO list in 2001 and is reported to have the stoutest trunk of any tree in the world. Its old trunk and branches are filled with interesting shapes like jaguars, elephants or lions. Santa María del Tule is a perfect one-day escape destination. Once you are there, don’t forget to make a wish in front of The Fountain of Dreams!
Walk colonial streets of Oaxaca de Juárez
Oaxaca de Juárez is the capital of the state and the obligatory stop while exploring Oaxaca. When I visited the city, the streets were still filled with skeletons after Día de los Muertos. This holiday is celebrated throughout all Mexico at the beginning of November. The families tide and decorate graves at cemeteries and a common symbol of the holiday is the skull. The famous Catrina figures fill city streets together with millions of skeleton masks. It’s something truly unforgettable. I didn’t have a chance to visit Mexico exactly during the celebration because I arrived one week after it all ended, that’s why I promised myself to come back for Día de los Muertos and see it with my own eyes. But going back to Oaxaca de Juárez, this city is a unique mix of traditional and modern influences. Take a walk down Calle Macedonio Alcala from Santo Domingo temple to Zocalo and admire the the colonial architecture. Visit local artisanal shops, cafés and one of many museums all over the city. And the most important, feel the spirit of pre-Hispanic past of Oaxaca on every single corner!
For me it was these curious contradictions between modernity and history that make Oaxaca state stand out as one of the best destinations in Mexico. Colonial influences together with archeological ruins and delicious cuisine make this place really special and one of a kind. There’s plenty of other spots to visit in Oaxaca that I didn’t have a chance to know, for example Hierve El Agua or Cuilapam Convent. I consider them one reason more to come back! How about you? Would you like to go and explore Oaxaca after reading this article? 🙂