Months after visiting, the magic of Oaxaca City is still with me. There’s just something about this incredible city that lingers in your memory – be it the foodie scene, the mezcal, the artisan goods, the...
Some of the plants are so rare and impressive (such an enormous cactus that is thought to be over 100 years old) that the gardens can only be viewed during morning guided tours of up to 25 people.
The first time I arrived in Oaxaca de Juárez (or Oaxaca City as it is more commonly known), I audibly gasped. Located in a broad valley edged by impressive mountains, there is something instantly enchanting about this iconic Mexican city.
With a population of only 750,000 residents, it can feel like Oaxaca's global reputation is much larger than its actual size. However, you'll understand quite how much it packs into this mid-sized city once you visit. Exceptional restaurants and shopping. Multiple ancient ruins and natural wonders. Colourful houses and streets. Bustling markets. Incredible history. The list is endless.
I honestly think it would be hard for anyone not to have their heart captured by Oaxaca City. It's also the capital of a pretty fantastic state, with the nudie beach Zipolite, the conscious enclave Mazunte, the magic mushroom mountain San Jose del Pacifico and the Mexican surf capital of Puerto Escondido all within Oaxaca State.
Best places to stay in Oaxaca City
I stayed at a wonderful Airbnb in the Xochimilco district, which I highly recommend. Someone told me that when making Coco, Disney's Pixar had used this barrio as one of the inspirations for the fictional town it is set in. As Xochimilco is an incredibly charming, vibrant residential area just on the edge of the touristy district, that doesn't surprise me. It's also a beautiful area to walk around as the locals love to dress the streets up for festivities.
Oaxaca City is a very popular tourist spot, so the main barrio of Centro is filled with beautiful boutique hotels, so there are plenty of places to take your pick from. However, anywhere south of Mercardo 20 de Noviembre (a popular food market) can be a little grotty and reportedly slightly more dangerous to walk around at night, so best to stay somewhere above this.
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What's it like being queer in Oaxaca City?
While Oaxaca isn't necessarily a queer hub, I felt more of an LGBT+ presence here than in the much larger city of Puebla. I spotted the occasional couple on the street and also came across more queer people on dating apps.
That's how I met local drag queen, Incendia, who invited me along to one of their shows. There are only a couple of gay bars in Oaxaca City (Club Privado 502, Jorge Blue and Pipiris Antro Bar). Still, this show was held in a straight rock venue, Txalaparta Bar, which gave it an interesting vibe. I'd recommend checking out the Sereza Collective and some of their performers while visiting for some party options that may be less mainstream/sceney than the gay bars listed above.
As a queer person, something you should know about before visiting Oaxaca is that the local Zapotec people traditionally have a third category of gender, called muxes (pronounced 'moo-shays'). Like many colonized countries, they originally viewed gender as more nuanced than a binary, and here one example of this has survived from pre-Colombian times. The name muxe is derived from mujer (the Spanish word for woman) and refers to people who are AMAB and are femme-presenting in some way. Every November, the town of Juchitán in the state of Oaxaca holds a grand ball for local muxes.
What's it like being gluten-free and/or vegan in Oaxaca City?
Despite its small size, Oaxaca is becoming a major foodie hotspot in Mexico, which is excellent news for veggie and gluten-free folks. The best food I had on my trip here was Hierba Dulce, a completely plant-based restaurant with multiple gluten-free options. The staff were very well informed about their food, even specifying which mole dishes did or did not have gluten in them, which I appreciated. Don't miss the nopales (cactus) salad, served with delicious blue corn tortillas.
Other notable vegan-friendly places I visited included the hippy-ish Calabacitas Tiernas, which has a separate selection of vegan dishes, and La Matatena Pizzeria, which offers vegan cheese on its pizzas. Both of these restaurants are gluten-free, too, including the pizza bases.
Unfortunately, I struggled to find any shops that sold gluten-free bread, but I did find cafes with bagels, waffles, and pancakes that I could eat, so I wasn't too bothered. Most breakfast dishes are served with corn tortillas, but it's always good to check that they are made from maiz (corn) and not harina de trigo (wheat flour).
You can find all of these places on my map below :)