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City: Oaxaca / Country: Mexico / World Region: Central America

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      04.05.2009 16:41
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      Chocolate is in the air, and I like it.

      There are many good, sensible reasons to visit Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ca, not oh-axe...a car). I went, however, as a spur of the moment thing. Mexico City had shut down in an attempt to eradicate swine flu, and though I appreciated the 10 days paid leave we had been given at work, the lack of stuff to do in the city was driving me a little bit crazy. So, I booked a flight and 2 days later jumped on a plane to Oaxaca.

      Oaxaca city is a one hour plane ride or about a 6 hour bus journey from Mexico City, and the difference in price between the two seemed minimal, so I flew. Plus, the idea of an hour of recycled air was still more appealing than 6 hours full of poor people coughing and spluttering all over me. The airport is about 5 miles south of the city, and the two main transport options are collectivos (door to door, shared minibuses) or taxis. The collectivos have two price zones, but for some reason I was charged the price for the nearer zone (44 pesos) despite traveling to the further one. Coming back to the airport, I jumped in a regular taxi which cost be 70 pesos - an official airport taxi would have charged me 200 pesos for the same trip.

      I was staying in a hostel in the centre which I will review separately, but there is no shortage of options in the town, to suit all budgets. As a large tourist centre, you can find Oaxaca on most of the international hotel booking websites. My first stop was the tourist office for a map and some advice, but unfortunately it was shut, so I ended up at a private tour office instead. There are a number of tours available to places of interest in the state of Oaxaca, and I booked one to travel the next day. I asked here for a map and was directed to a small pod in the centre of the Alameda, where the tourist info team had apparently relocated to. Here I got a small map which managed to give the impression that Oaxaca city is a large place. It's not, and you can easily explore it on foot in less than a day and a half.

      Like many Mexican cities, Oaxaca is based around a central square, or Zócalo. This is bordered by the cathedral to the north, and various restaurants to the east and west. It has a bandstand in its middle, and lots of benches to sit on and enjoy the sunshine. On my first full day of exploring, I started here to admire the cathedral which is not all that old, having been rebuilt in the 1700s following a series of earthquakes. Mexico City was struck by an earthquake last week, but Oaxaca's ground remained nice and still while I was there. From here if you walk along Independencia for maybe 10 minutes you'll reach the Basilica de la Soledad, a much more impressive church. It has an interesting façade, which looks like a folding altarpiece, and inside there is a stunning statue of the Virgin of Solitude (Oaxaca's patron saint) which, encrusted as it is with 600 diamonds and topped with a 2kg gold crown, would not look out of place in a jewelry shop. A few blocks from here is another church, Iglesia de San Felipe Neri, where former president Benito Juárez married. It is purported to have a stunning altar inside, but the whole place was shut up when I visited.

      Having 'done' some of the many, many churches in the city, my next stop was a museum, the Rufino Tamayo located one block up from the church, on Morelos. Rufino Tamayo also has a museum named after him in Mexico City, but the two could not be more different. The Mexico City one is dedicated to art - both his, and others' - but the Oaxaca one is essentially a collection of pre-Columbian statues and models, collected by the artist during his life and then bequeathed to the city after his death. The museum is small, but also cheap (35 pesos / 25 pesos for concessions) and has toilets. These things are important in my book.

      I wanted my next stop to be Benito Juárez's house, but it was shut because of the potential pandemic. Ditto the Museum of Contemporary Art. There seemed to be a very random approach to what was and wasn't open in the city where the first case of the flu was reported, but which is also some 450km from the current crisis centre. Additionally, many people here were wearing those useless masks (suitable only for ironic Facebook / Dooyoo profile pictures) but many were not. All the restaurants here were open (while all the ones in Mexico City have been ordered shut).

      In lieu of a house call or a bit of art, I instead headed north a few blocks to snap some shots of the Aqueduct, which is very old and very low, and reminded me a bit of the sort of structure you might find in Postman Pat's Greendale. I also hiked up to the Mirador or lookout point. It's about 15 minutes out of town to the north west, and culminates with a flight of evil stairs, but is worth it for some stunning views of the city.

      I thought I would try my luck at the Santo Domingo complex but while the church was open, a wedding was taking place so I didn't get to nosy around inside. The rest of the area was shut - again, thanks to the little piggies, so I could not explore the botanical garden nor the museum. That said, I peeked through the gates at the former and it looked more dust and dirt with the odd cactus, rather than what you'd normally call a garden.

      Having failed to spend my money on entrance fees, I decided it was time to do some shopping. Oaxaca is known for its chocolate - dark, chunky tablets they use to make hot chocolate, and tubs of Mole, a sort of savoury /sweet sauce you use with enchiladas and chicken and so on. I was looking for the latter as a gift for a friend (and FYI, 11 months into my Mexican stay, I'm still annoyed they make the stuff with chicken broth, thus rendering it unsuitable for my vegetarian tastes). I ended up on Mina, 3 blocks south of the Zócalo, and was in heaven, because the street literally smells of chocolate. Practically every shop on there sells the stuff, and they must pump it into the air like supermarkets send out whiffs of freshly baked bread, because it was unbelievable. I quite forgot what I was looking for as I just swooned up and down.

      Something else Oaxaca has a lot of is markets. I don't tend to like Mexican markets (they are cramped, crowded and smelly, livestock is a common feature, plus I don't like bargaining - my name is not duncantorr) but these ones were slightly nicer not least because they had stalls facing out onto the street so you didn't have to venture inside. Oaxaca has some amazing Artesanias who create everything from wooden figures to black pottery to metal work. I no longer buy stuff that has a place name plastered all over it, but I do like the odd souvenir that can remind me of a trip in a rather more subtle way. Since I love butterflies, a display at a stall on one corner caught my eye. They had collections of metal butterflies painted all sorts of pretty colours. Here they favour ¿Que precio tiene? instead of the usual ¿Cuánto cuesta? and the reply was 50 pesos. This seemed reasonable so I picked a colour and then spent ages deciding which size I wanted (only slightly confused that the large and small seemed to be the same price). I picked one out and had a Duh! moment as the woman pulled down the whole set of 3 and began wrapping them up for me. Clearly thinking with my British brain not my Mexican one, it hadn't occurred to me that 50 pesos would be the cost of a set, and an extortionate amount for just one of the flutter byes.

      An unusual thing about Oaxaca centre is that it does not have many chain shops or restaurants. There are lots of clothes shops, but not the usual names. There is no Starbucks (though they have dozens of another chain, The Italian Coffee Company) and though they have fast food chains, these are rather tucked away. Most worrying of all, they do not have any Oxxos or 7elevens, or Circle Ks. Considering I have 2 Oxxos on the very block I live on in Mexico City, this is somewhat unusual. I did ask one of the tour guides why, but he thought I was talking about Ox...

      There for 3 and a half days, I ate a mixture of hostel breakfasts, restaurant meals and picnics, catered by the plentiful no-name bakeries in the city. My first night I ate on the east side of the Zócalo at Primavera, next door to the massive Jardin. For some reason, these two places were noticeably cheaper than the places opposite them on the west side. I had lunch one day at La Crepe, up on Alcala, which is located above an excellent bookshop which boasts new and used books in Spanish and English, providing the best selection of the latter I've seen since arriving in the country. La Crepe is an adorable place, and clearly overlooked since I was the only customer. Their menu is bizarre (crepes are accompanied by garlic bread) but since those are two of my favourite foods, I was happy. I tried a crepe with sugar and...lime, a Mexican take on the classic, and it was delicious. I also ate one night at a pizza joint opposite the Basilica de la Soledad, which was the cheapest place ever (pasta cost 25 pesos) and worth a mention. As with many cities, the further you got from the centre, the more the prices fell, but even leaving the central square for a place a few seconds away would save you some pesos. I had one breakfast out, at a place near the closed Contemporary Art museum, and I got a 'package' for 50 pesos, including coffee or tea, juice and amazing fluffy waffles with fruit, peaks of whipped cream, butter and syrup. The same thing would have cost be about 65 - 80 pesos two blocks away.

      Being a city in the south of an already hot country, Oaxaca also boasts a number of ice cream places. The Michocana on the west side of the Zócalo has some inventive flavours (like mint chocolate and coconut combined, or mixtures made with Mexcal, the local drink) and was cheap at 11 pesos per scoop. Just north of here was a branch of Gelato, a local chain, which was more expensive (19 pesos) and not good. I tried their Nutella which is a rarity here, but they did not do it well. On another occasion from another branch I actually threw away the cheesecake cone I'd bought since it tasted funny - my only food poisoning in Mexico has been from ice cream, and though the odds are still slim (one bad ice cream out of an estimated 3 or 4 a week for 11 months) I'm slightly paranoid.

      Even when places are shut, Oaxaca is still a very enjoyable place to visit. It is a really attractive town, and you could spend a good few hours just wandering the streets looking at the architecture. Currently some startling red blossomed trees are in bloom and these give the quite muted coloured city a stunning burst of colour. Throw in streets which seep chocolate out of every crevice, and the many live musical performances which take place in the central plazas most evenings, and you have a real treat for the senses.

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        05.05.2002 16:19
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        Oaxaca city is the capital of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is popular for it's strong indian culture, and it's markets. The Oaxacans are desendents of the Zapotec and Miztec indians, and there is said to be 16 other distinct indian groups living in the region. Many of the people of Oaxaca still carry out their indian customs. There are alot of indian handicrafts made in Oaxaca, and you can see women in their traditional dress selling crafts, and other goods everywhere in Oaxaca. These indian women take advantage of the fact that the city is popular with tourists. They make a great deal of their income as a result of the foreigners. I remember when I was eating lunch in a mercado(indoor market) and this one indian woman was selling some hand-made beads. I said no to her at first, but when she came to my table five more times, thinking mabey I didn't notice that that was the same person, I was impressed with her persistance and decided to take her up on her offer. I laughed to myself when one of the indian merchents got angry and spit on the ground when the food stand owner told her to go away. I gatherd that these indian merchents were serious. The city of Oaxaca is warm, and has a veary pleasent atmosphere. Like most Mexican cities or towns, Oaxaca's city center sports some lovely Spanish colonial architecture with it's old colonial churches as it's focus. Check out the many handicraft markets and mercados, you will find alot of good stuff like, street performers playing their regional music in exchange for a few pesos, indian women sitting on along the walls of the mercado selling handicrafts, beads, food, or even insects. You can also find some good sweets in Oaxaca. Santa Maria De Tule Six miles from Oaxaca is the tiny village of Santa Maria De Tule. Santa Maria which sports a craft market and a lovely white church, is famous for it's gigantic 2,000-year-old
        tree, which is 50 meters tall is believed to be the widest in North and South America. Santa Maria has a veary peaceful atmosphere, and is veary pleasent. Mitla Mitla is a small town, not far from Oaxaca, where you might see things such as, indian women walking with baskets balenced on there heads, and an old mysterious catholic shrine that looks like a church atop a hill, that is used by the faithfull. In the center you will find a pretty old colonial church built by the same stones as the old Zapotec ruins right next to it. In the inside of the church, the interior is all decked out with flowers and candles at the altar, which looks great. The court yard is interesting, with great architecture for the walls and gates. There are many people selling indian crafts outside the church. Mitla is most popular with tourists, because of it's Zapotec history, and ruins. You will find some interesting pre-colombian architecture here. The Zapotec people lived, and worshiped their gods on these sites. The Zapotec structures sit right along-side colonial and village houses for an interesting combonation. Mitla was one of my favorite towns that I visited in Oaxaca, and no person traveling to Oaxaca city should miss out on this town, for it's Zapotec history and it's great quiet,peacefull atmosphere. Conclusion Many travelers to Oaxaca loved it, and wanted to return. There is alot to see in Oaxaca state, from pre-colombian ruins to modern Oaxaca life. you will love the people and the atmosphere.

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          12.02.2001 09:36
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          Oaxaca has some of the finest markets in Mexico. Never have I experienced such a variety of smells, colours, sounds and different products. Having accidentally come accross this city while on my travels in South America, I fell in love with this place. From the friendly local grandmas who sell edible grasshoppers to the moody Oaxaca cheese smellers, you will not go away from this town without a lasting impression. Undoubtedly, it will eb a very good impression. Oaxaca is famous for Oaxaca cheese which is a must try. Monte Alban, a historical site on the outskirts, and Mole, a chocolate based sauce, are enough to make you want to come back to mexico and this city again and again A tip: If you go to Oaxaca, try the real chocolate milkshake at a local factory shop, it will be the best you ever taste!!!

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            31.10.2000 02:11

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            Oaxaca as a town is pleasant but not really special – I prefer Taxco which has a more dramatic setting. However it does have pleasant street and buildings from the colonial era and quite an interesting local market. It is a tourist center because of nearby site rather than for its own sake. The most visited are Monte Alban with its Zapotec tombs and Mitla - Mixtec ruins. The latter has unique geometrical wall decorations rather than the figures more commonly seen in Mexican sites but the former has a nicer setting. If you are in Oaxaca you can find things to do but it is not a city I would divert to visit. The archeological sites are interesting but there are others which are better eg around Mexico City or in the Yucatan, especially if you are limited for time in Mexico.

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            27.09.2000 18:09

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            Oaxaca is a small city in the most southern state of Mexico. The atmosphere is a long way away from the Americanisation of most Mexican resorts, and you’re more likely to feel in Spain than the US! The central piazza ebbs and flows with slow and sleepy locals, and it’s a joy to sit outside one of the restaurants and immerse yourself in it. Nearby you can get to the ancient ruins of Monte Alban, which has good guided tours. Beware the coach journey to the beach! We went to Puerto Escondido, the “Mexican Pipeline” that surfers dream of, and it took 12 hours! Best advice is to spend double and fly in a little Cessna over the Sierra Madre mountains. From Puerto Escondido you can explore beautiful lagoons, extensive coastline and nice little villages. Just beware of the Pepsi Max brigade and their surfboards.

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          The Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca or simply Oaxaca, named for its largest city, is one of the 31 states of Mexico, located in the southern part of the country, west of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Oaxaca borders the states of Guerrero to the west, Puebla to the northwest, Veracruz to the north, and Chiapas to the east and the Pacific Ocean in the south. Oaxaca, the historic home of the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples, is distinct from all other Mexican states in that it contains more speakers of indigenous languages than any other state.