Oaxaca: Don’t Miss This (Part 1)
Travelling to Oaxaca? I have listed my favourite things to do here, designed to show you Oaxaca de Juarez and its surrounds, but also to give you enough time to take things slowly and just wander through the central city and to soak up everyday life here. I don’t really eat out a lot in my volunteer life here, so this list of recommendations does not include restaurants. You should however drink margaritas on as many rooftop terraces as you can find during the long evenings here.
Oaxaca is a very safe city, and it is easy to find your own way around and just take the time to walk and discover it yourself, which is I think, the best way to travel.
Museums & Art Galleries
Oaxaca punches well above its weight for museums – textiles, ceramics, and has a lot of very cool art galleries – including one solely dedicated to photography, with continually changing exhibitions. Good for viewing on days/afternoons when it’s too hot to wander the streets, and then of course, after your fill of art and history, many museums and galleries have a café on site so you can reflect before heading back out.
Again, too many to list – from handcrafts to food and everything else. In my opinion, the best ones are 20 de Noviembre, Mercado de Artesanias, Sanchez Pascuas and Benito Juarez in the central city, but don’t go past the artisan co-operatives as well. These markets are good to wander around on days when you don’t want anything structured, and you just want to shop, eat, or catalogue things to buy for later.
There are numerous cooking classes offered in Oaxaca. When my friends were here, we chose to go to el Sabor Zapoteco in Teotitlán, the community known for it’s weaving, about 30 minutes by car (They will pick you up from your lodging in Oaxaca). You can see my review of the cooking class here. Definitely recommended, and different to other cooking classes in that it is run by a local Zapotec woman, Reyna Mendoza, using traditional techniques and equipment like metates and comals. Reyna will take you to the local produce market which is, I think, a better market than the ones in Oaxaca.
Fundación En Vía
This is where I volunteer. Fundación En Vía provides interest-free micro-loans to women living in communities surrounding Oaxaca city so they can grow or start a successful income generating business. Twice a week – Thursday (1pm-6.30pm) and Saturday (9am–3.30pm), they take tours out to visit some of their borrowers so you get to see micro-finance in action.
Your 650 peso tour fee goes 100% to provide the loan in a unique responsible tourism based sustainable model. As a lot of the women are also artisans, so there are amazing things for sale as well, although En Vía stress buying is purely optional. However the women, like any good business owners, have their goods displayed (tapetes, Mexican shirts, aprons, leather work, tortillas) so you can buy directly from them if you see something you like. I think it’s always nice to buy directly from the person who made the item – the their story is something you think about every time
Take the earliest van/transport you can find as Monte Alban is constructed on top of a mountain (big hill) and has no shade. Bring along a hat and water. I have visited twice now, once just wandering around reading the information signs at the bases of the structures, and once with a local guide. Definitely use a guide – you can hire one on-site (they need a special permit) as getting told the secrets and stories of the site is so much better than trying to piece it together yourself. Factor on leaving around 12pm, before you get burnt/dehydrated in the strong afternoon sun.
Stay tuned for part 2 of Oaxaca must sees!