What comes to mind when you think of Mexico? The sea colored in different shades of blue, parties, warm sun, tequila, margaritas, perhaps a few Mayan ruins. Surely these are some of the things that Mexico has to offer, but I can’t count with my finger the number of times a foreign friend has told me: “really, you’re from Mexico? I’d love to live by the beach like you!” I always have to explain them that my hometown is a five hour drive away from the nearest beach (and I have to say, this specific beach isn’t *that* great compared to the ones where I’d either need to fly or drive for 20 hours to get there). Mexico is a vast country and it is those who venture outside the Yucatan and Baja California peninsula that really get to experience the place in its full glory. Oaxaca is one of my favorite states and I strongly suggest that, if you have enough time during your stay in Mexico, to reserve a few days to explore it. Here’s why:
It is the art capital of Mexico
Oaxaca City is the home to a myriad of museums, galleries, cafés, weird graffitis on walls and markets filled with delightful textiles and handcrafts. Everywhere you look, you’ll see a new gallery yet to explore. There are majestic cathedrals pretty much in every corner, cultural performances are held in front of main cathedral, the theatre is (most of the times) free of charge, the houses and building are painted in colors you’d never imagine would go well in facades. If you love art, then whatever your poison is, you’ll find it here. Walking amid the narrow streets of the city will make your creative spirit run wild with inspiration and ideas.
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It has a unique archeological site that is neither Mayan nor Aztec
Located only ten kilometers away from Oaxaca City is Monte Albán, a Zapotec archaeological site surrounded by the lush view of different mountain ranges. Aside from the pyramids, the site is filled with carved stones of naked men believed to represent the victims of sacrificial rituals.
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Another archaeological site, located right next to a Spanish cathedral
A few centuries ago, Mesoamerica was conquered by Spain and as a result of that, Latin America in general became a mixture of Prehispanic architecture built by different cultures and European influences architecture. Not everywhere do you get to see this blend of backgrounds as you will in Mitla. A Catholic church surrounded by smaller Zapotec structures and just a minute walk away, the archaeological site of Mitla.
Its unique geology
Hierve el Agua is a set of two gigantic petrified waterfalls with natural pools of water sitting atop them. It is a true gift from nature and unique in its kind with only Pumakkale in Turkey being its competitor with similar qualities.
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The widest tree in the world
El Árbol del Tule is the widest tree in the world with a circumference of 42 meters. It sits in the center of a small village right in front of the main cathedral.
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The wonderfully weird handcrafts
Nowhere in the world will you find a souvenirs as colorful and friendly as alebrijes. Alebrijes are wood carved folk art typical of Oaxaca – they are animal figures with a twist and they come in different bright colors displaying the Mexican flair in all its glory. They date back to 1936, when Linares, a Oaxaca native fell sick and while sleeping, he dreamt of these animals and started creating them using paper maché when his health was back.
Its spectacular mountain views
Oaxaca is the meeting point of three of the most spectacular and largest mountain ranges in Mexico – Sierra Madre Oriental, Sierra Madre del Sur and Sierra Atravesada and just for these views and hiking opportunities alone, Oaxaca is worth visiting.
Aside from Yucatan state, Oaxaca is said to have the best food in Mexico (as if Mexican food alone wasn’t mouth-watering enough!) and a real paradise for foodie travellers. From the famous tamales oaxaqueños in all their forms with mole and chicken, chilli and pork, flor de calabaza (squash) and cheese, and even sweet ones prepared with marmalade, to mole, a dish that is really more of a sauce that is made up for more than twenty different ingredients, to chapulines (for the very brave foodies only), which are fried grasshoppers.
Deserts are also a real treat, with ice cream being popular among locals and sold in every corner – from the most traditional one: leche quemada (burned milk), to those made out of mezcal, a typical Mexican alcoholic drink (eek!).
Because chocolate deserves its own section, I present you Oaxacan chocolate – the best in Mexico and treated as a real art. Oaxaca City is the home to many chocolate houses where you can go in and contemplate the process of its making from cocoa beans. Drinking hot chocolate is a real treat here and make sure to try tejate as well, a typical Oaxacan cold drink found in the 20 de noviembre market. You can also have chocolate with salty food by using it as a sauce (mole) – it does sound awful but it’s actually quite good!
And lets not forget the beaches
Oaxaca really does have everything and its beaches don’t fall far back behind. With bright blues, sandy beaches and colorful beach towns, the Oaxacan beaches will not disappoint you. Puerto Escondido is often the most visited one but there are other great ones such as Huatulco and Mazunte that are worth a visit. Head to the south and road trip your way through all of them!