Wandering Around Oaxaca City
Updated: Jan 27
A quick weekend getaway
Nestled within the Sierra Madre Mountains, at about a mile above sea level, is Oaxaca de Juarez or “Oaxaca City.” It is the beautiful and vibrant capital of the State of Oaxaca located in southwestern Mexico
We chose to visit this culturally rich city in January. We found the winter weather to be perfect - - - with highs in the upper 70s during the day and lows in the mid 50s during the evening. (Note: We understand that June to September can be quite wet with up to six inches of rainfall per month, so pack accordingly if you're traveling then.)
In addition to the beautiful weather, there were quite a few other things we really liked about our weekend in Oaxaca. First and foremost was its walkability. In fact, we spent hours each day just walking around and enjoying the sights, smells, and sounds.
The city's tree-lined streets were filled with small cafes, artisan shops, and tranquil parks that allowed us to eat, shop, and relax (and then repeat again). When we did our final calculations at the end of the trip, we saw that we logged-in well over five miles each day!
In addition to the proper shops, we also perused the countless small tables and stands located around the city. They seemed to be selling all manner of apparel - - - hats, belts, purses, shirts, skirts, and pants. You could easily buy a complete outfit in the blink of an eye. And, as we walked about, we didn’t even have to actively shop. There were many industrious individuals who were wandering about hawking their wares directly from their arms.
To give you a flavor of Oaxaca, I’ve organized our wanderings by the neighborhoods we visited.
Zocalo and Cathedral
The Zocalo serves as the nerve-center of the city. The huge plaza is surrounded by stone buildings and dotted with trees and park benches throughout, making it a great place to just sit and people-watch. We saw young couples holding hands while snacking on ice cream cones as well as small children running about and begging their parents for some of the trinkets that were being offered by the many street vendors.
Nearby, we came across the former Governor’s Palace with its historical mural that depicts Oaxaca’s cultural importance to Mexico. It was definitely worth the time we took to pop our heads inside to take a peek.
The Cathedral, whose official name is The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, is just down the street from the Zocalo. It took nearly 200 years to complete this imposing Baroque structure, with construction occurring between 1535 and 1733. The current towers are not the originals. Unfortunately, those were destroyed as a result of an earthquake in the 1930s.
Timeout: Oaxaca is filled with mezcalerias - - - some good, and some not so good (translation: touristy and cheap). In Situ Mezcaleria located at Morelos #511, is one of the good ones. It’s just a short five-minute walk from the Zocalo (and even closer to the Cathedral). We went and enjoyed a small tasting flight. Their informative staff provided us with an overview of the different types of agaves along with the different distillation processes – pottery, copper, and aluminum. The variations in the plants and processes gave each mezcal its own unique flavor.
About a 20-minute walk north of the city center is Oaxaca’s oldest neighborhood, Xochimilco. When we first looked at the map, we were a bit daunted by the 190 freeway we saw that we would need to cross. Never fear, we found that it’s a very manageable four-lane road with clearly marked pedestrian crossings.
In Xochimilco, we found many cute shops that were selling all types of woven textiles, such as shirts, belts, and rugs. In addition to these, there were also plenty of small restaurants to stop for something to eat or drink. We stumbled on Cafeteria El Empedrado and had a great cup of coffee and some yummy breads to hold us over until our dinner later in the evening.
While strolling around Xochimilco’s cobblestone streets, we came across the city’s old aqueduct. This cantera stone structure dates back to the 1700s. It was decommissioned as Oaxaca’s primary water source in the 1940s. Today it stands as a stunning piece of architecture.
This little barrio is also very close to the city center (about a 10 minute walk). Like Xochimilco, it is filled with all sorts of shops and restaurants. But, what really makes Jalatalco stand out is the sheer amount of street art.
Overall, Oaxaca has a vibrant graffiti scene, but in Jalatalco, it seemed like almost every building was splashed with some sort of art. We saw cartoon animals, dancing skeletons, and far-out astronauts, not to mention the many homages to the area’s indigenous peoples. The explosion of color reminded us of the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartegna, Colombia.
El Llano Park
Located just steps to the west of Jalatalco is El Llano. We loved this beautiful park and visited it several times over the long-weekend. At first we were a little perplexed by the statues of lions at each corner. What do lions have to do with Oaxaca????? Maybe they were supposed to represent courage....or justice....or strength? Uh, nope, nope, and nope. After doing a little online research, we found out that the park used to be a zoo in the 1950s. So, basically, the lions were just remnants from days gone by.
We also noticed the statute of Benito Juarez that stood in the middle of El Llano. He was Mexico’s first indigenous president, serving from 1858 until his death in 1872. Fun fact: President Juarez was only 4 feet 6 inches tall. Keep that one tucked away for your next trivia night!
Xoxocotlán International Airport (OAX) serves Oaxaca City. It's about a 30 minute cab ride from the airport to the city center. While most cabs from the airport are safe, be sure and discuss pricing before you jump in and take off.