Oaxaca is raved about by foodie travellers for its delicious moles. Heralded by culture aficionados for its architecture and botanical gardens. Loved by backpackers for its colourful street art.
We couldn’t help but end up captivated by Oaxaca. It felt like there was always some kind of festival, celebration or cultural event going on in the city. It felt very different compared to the places we visited in the Yucatan. Somehow more authentic.
We stayed in Oaxaca City for three weeks (though we took a trip to Mazunate in the middle). So we have the best run down of things to do in Oaxaca and wonderful day-trips from Oaxaca. Skip to the end if you’re only here to read about the best vegetarian food in Oaxaca.
Ready to travel Oaxaca? We can’t wait to share the best of the city with you in this Oaxaca travel guide:
Best Things To Do in Oaxaca
With three weeks in Oaxaca City, we saw a lot of what this vibrant city has to offer. Early morning strolls through the Zocalo and croissants from Boulenc Bakery. Wandering around the museums and markets in the day and feasting on delicious mole by night.
Templo de Santo Domingo
The first building most travellers see in Oaxaca City is Templo de Santo Domingo. This beautiful church is free to visit. It’s common for locals and travellers to sit and people watch in the plaza outside.
Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca
Right next door to the Templo de Santo Domingo is the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures. The museum is inside the monastery buildings next to the church. It’s a beautiful place to spend the afternoon. The museum is large, so make sure you leave enough time to explore.
Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Gardens
Behind Templo de Santo Domingo, sits the amazing Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Gardens. The garden has plants from all around Oaxaca state. It is a celebration of Oaxaca’s biodiversity. Visits to the garden are by guided tour only. Check the timetable for tours on the door and arrive 10 minutes before the tour starts.
This small but lovely museum features traditional Oaxacan textile crafts. It’s worth a stop by and there’s a coffee shop on sight.
Benito Juarez Market
Travellers rave about the Benito Juarez Market, but to tell the truth it wasn’t our scene. It’s a food market where you can find all kinds of local foods, including mole mixes, Oaxacan bread and cheese. Many also come to eat local market food. The downside for us was that meat is a prominent feature of this market. Inside the market, there’s a strip lined with meat grills sizzling massive slabs of red meat. While this had the mouths of many watering, it turned our stomachs. The smoke fumes are overwhelming. If you don’t appreciate the smell of a BBQ, then this row of fifty grills is not for you. Not wanting to give up, we tried a tlayuda here but we’re pretty certain that the base was deep-fried in lard.
Oaxaca Street Art Walking Tour
Vibrant street art depicting local people and Mexican history cover the walls of Oaxaca City. We found a Oaxaca Street Art Map generously uploaded to Google Maps by some street art connoisseurs. This self-guided street art walking route is a great way to see some different neighbourhoods in Oaxaca. Bear in mind that some of the murals may have been painted over or chipped away as the map isn’t regularly updated.
Day of the Dead
Oaxaca is the best place in Mexico to see Day of the Dead celebrations. From October 31st – November 2nd, the city comes alive to celebrate Dia del Muertos. The festivities spread across multiple days and there’s lots going on in Oaxaca at this time of year. On the first day, we celebrated by heading to the street food stands in the Santo Domingo Plaza. We ate Day of the Dead bread, drank Oaxacan hot chocolate and nibbled some corn on the cob. Unfortunately, we got food poisoning from the corn. Sadly for us, we spent the next few days of celebrations throwing up in our room. On the last day, we managed to hobble out to see the processions, street parties and painted faces. All which looked amazing.
Best Day Trips from Oaxaca
Oaxaca City is a great base for day trips in the Oaxaca region. It is possible to arrange tours in Oaxaca for the day-trips below, but we did them all DIY. Monte Alban and Mitla were easy to get to by bus. We’d recommend doing it that way, as it’s much cheaper than organising a tour in Oaxaca.
Monte Alban is large pre-Columbian archaeological site. It’s a half hour bus ride from Oaxaca. The pyramids were carved out of the mountain and were inhabited by different peoples for over 1500 years. The site is known for its unique dimensions and artistic style. Monte Alban is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Hierve el Agua
Hierve el Agua is the most mesmerising scene I’ve ever seen. These natural rock formations resemble waterfalls. These rock formations were created by fresh water springs that are over-saturated with calcium carbonate. Small natural pools of water have formed on top of the cliffs. Take a trip to Hierve el Agua and you can soak in the cool pools overlooking the stunning rock formations and lush green valley below. It is truly out of this world. To get to Hierve el Agua, you need to take a bus to Mitla. Then connect to a weird open-back truck in Mitla to get the rest of the way (up the mountain roads).
Mitla is an archeological site in Oaxaca. We stopped off at Mitla on the way back from Hierve el Agua, as this is the town where the buses connect. The ruins are really quite beautiful and worth taking the time to wander around. The local women outside cook up some of the best courgette flower quesadillas in Mexico.
Árbol del Tule
Árbol del Tule (or Tule Tree) is a good half-day trip if you have only a little time. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve already seen everything else in Oaxaca. The tree is the widest in the world and it is quite impressive. The town itself is small and can easily be seen within an hour. We took a collectivo (shared taxi) to Santa María del Tule to see the tree.
Best Restaurants in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is Mexico’s capital of cuisine and it’s not hard to see why. When you arrive, you’ll be surrounded by aromas of traditional mole and a plethora of different corn-based snacks. Oaxaca is quite simply a foodie traveller’s heaven. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan traveller like us, don’t be deterred. Oaxaca has some amazing vegetarian restaurants and traditional dishes to try.
Breakfast & Brunch Restaurants in Oaxaca
Itanoni – traditional Mexican corn-based breakfast
For the best breakfast in Oaxaca, head to Itanoni. This authentic Mexican breakfast place uses organic corn and traditional cooking methods. They cook tacos, tetelas, memelitas and quesadillas. You can try different colours of corn here, including yellow, white and black corn. Itanoni is a little out of town and is a locals place, though it’s not uncommon for tourists to stop here to eat. The menu is in Spanish only. There are many vegetarian options (often filled with cream and/or cheese). Vegan options such as black beans, avocado and mushrooms are available.
Xiguela Cafe – healthy cafe, perfect for brunch
We stayed in a budget Airbnb on the same road as this cafe and what a lucky day that was. I fell in love with getting banana smoothies and oatmeal cookies for breakfast to go. And ciabattas and salads at lunchtime. This cafe is run by a friendly extended family. It has a healthy, vegetarian and vegan-friendly menu. They make the best smoothies in Oaxaca – and blend them with water and ice, rather than milk. I can highly recommend the French toast, wholegrain ciabatta with tofu and pesto, and pear salad.
Boulenc – petite French bakery
For the best pastries and croissants in Oaxaca, go to Boulenc. A little more pricey than some of the other options, but totally worth it to put those proper crusty French bread and flaky croissant cravings at bay. There is a short menu with toasted sandwiches, including a delicious cheese and broccoli sandwich, and shakshuka.
Pan:AM – another good bakery
Another popular bakery in Oaxaca is Pan:AM. The pastries here aren’t as good as Boulenc (sorry!) but you can get hearty sweet breakfast options like waffles and French toast. There’s a colourful courtyard out the back which is shaded by trees. This place is a great atmosphere for bigger groups or families with kids.
Cafe Los Cuiles – budget breakfast cafe
The most budget-friendly breakfast option in Oaxaca. Cafe los Cuiles is not a place to write home about, but if you’re in need of some cheap eats then this place will serve you well. Reliable breakfast options include porridge with banana, Mexican eggs and beans and chilaquiles. The espresso here is good. This cafe is open basically all the time.
Lunch & Dinner Restaurants in Oaxaca
Cabuche – prepare to eat the best food in Mexico
Cabuche was our favourite restaurant in Mexico. Yes, we said it and we mean it. This little restaurant with its checked tablecloths looked a bit twee from the outside but as soon as we sat at the table, we knew we’d made a good choice. Up on the wall is a chalk board with the day’s selection of tacos and quesadillas. Soft homemade tortillas stuffed with huitlacoche (mushroom fungus, a Mexican delicacy), green peppers with cheese and prickly pear. The restaurant serves meat but as vegetarian options on the menu and if you ask then they’re more than happy to prepare vegan meals as well. The owner is a very talented Oaxacan chef and all of the food we ate here was delicious.
Google Map: Av. Hidalgo 1017, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Mexico
Calabacitas Tiernas – simple vegetarian food in courtyard setting
Calabacitas Tiernas is a healthy vegetarian restaurant with vegan options too. Whilst we enjoyed the food here, we were never wowed by it. The options are generally quiches, pasta, and veggie burgers. However, the atmosphere is really lovely as the restaurant is located inside a covered courtyard.
Zandunga – mid-range but mind blowing mole
Vegetarians – this is the place to try vegetarian mole in Oaxaca. Prepare your palette for the flavour sensation of mole. Moles are famous Mexican sauces with intense, rich flavours. They come in different colours, but more often than not are served with meat. At Zandunga though, you can get vegetarian enchiladas with mole negro (dark, chocolately mole) and mole rojo (sweeter mole made with chilli peppers). Be warned that the enchiladas are super filling. We opted to share one plate of enchiladas, a salad which came with a delicious hibiscus dressing and a tamale.
Google Map: Garcia Vigil 512-E Centro, Oaxaca 68000, Mexico
La Popular – hipster restaurant with vegetarian tlayuda
A little more pricey than it should be, but you can’t fault the food. I personally thought it was a hidden gem, although Luke didn’t rate it so highly. The menu includes vegetarian tlayudas, pasta arrabbiata, and roasted vegetables. A good spot for drinking local wines.
Rayón Pochote Organic Market – outdoor market with food stalls
Oaxaca has an outdoor market with food stalls set up inside. Many of the stalls are vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Luke chowed down on a veggie burger made from grains and seeds, whilst I enjoyed a green juice and an espresso. The market is only open until 6pm, but you can come by for lunch or grab an early dinner.
Tastavins – small, casual wine bar
Tastavins has a great red wine selection served with tapas. You get a free tapas with every glass of wine you buy and they have a particularly good Spanish omelette too. There’s a short menu which includes salads, pasta, olives and other nibbles.
Google Map: Murguía 300, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Mexico
Best Airbnbs in Oaxaca
If you’re looking for a beautiful B&B in Oaxaca, then check out the options on Airbnb. We noticed that Airbnbs were booked further in advance in Oaxaca than other cities in Mexico. If you’re planning on being in the city during Day of the Dead, you will definitely need to book in advance as this is an extremely popular time to visit Oaxaca.
Budget Accommodation in Oaxaca – We were on a tight budget when we were in Oaxaca and opted for three budget Airbnbs during the time we stayed there. The first was a private apartment with a lovely land lady (but unfortunately we had to move as the wifi was weak). The second was an out of town room in a family house. They were the friendliest family ever and we had so much fun staying with them. However, we decided we wanted to move into the city centre for Day of the Dead and opted for this very cheap room, which was basic but central and had excellent wifi.
Mid-Range B&Bs in Oaxaca – I’ve had a little browse at Airbnbs in Oaxaca since we left and spotted some beautiful looking B&Bs and private apartments. We’ve not stayed in them, but these are some I dream of staying in:
- White-painted private apartment with a garden, balcony and traditional tiling.
- Modern and bright room has a fresh and airy feel
- Peaceful garden room comes with breakfast surrounded by plants
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