Thousands of tall cacti stood erect on the hills like goosebumps, welcoming us to the state of Oaxaca. In places, there were thick blankets of pale, fluffy grass, almost as if the hills were sporting fur jackets.
As we drove into the historic centre of Oaxaca city, the vibe resembled that of both, a beach town and a quiet spot in the mountains. Many of the handicrafts we had admired at Museo de Arte Popular and at little shops all over Mexico City, come from Oaxaca. The culture and cuisine of the state were a real highlight for us. In this post, I’ll be sharing a few of our favourite Oaxacan experiences.
Making of the Alebrijes, San Antonio Arrazola
These whimsical animal sculptures are carved out of wood and painted by hand with bright acrylic paint. The crazy mix of colours reminds me of how as a child, I insisted on using every crayon in the box to colour my animal drawings.
Rug Weaving, Teotitlán del Valle
I was traveling from India with a rug-shaped hole in my bag. I just had to bring one back from Oaxaca! These rugs are woven on the handloom with woollen yarn dyed in beautiful, earthy colours; more subtle compared to the alebrijes. But each one feels like a hearty Mexican celebration.
Mezcal Distillery, Santiago Matatlán
After being introduced to tequila’s lesser-known cousin at Mezcal tasting bars across Oaxaca city, one of our new friends took us to 5th Generation, a family-owned Mezcal distillery. Elsa, the owner, walked us through the slow, non-mechanized process of how they make their beloved alcohol in their backyard.
Tips for Oaxaca –
– There are frequent buses through the day from Mexico City to Oaxaca, for which tickets can be bought at the bus terminal. We relied almost entirely on ADO buses for inter-state travel, as we found them to be the most comfortable for long journeys.
– We visited Oaxaca in the last week of January, and the weather was perfect. The days were warm and sunny, and the evenings called for just a light jacket or stole.
– We stayed at Hotel Parador de Alcala, a lovely property with super helpful staff and a great location. It is a two-minute walk from the Santo Domingo Church.
– There’s a beautiful ethnobotanical garden behind the church. You could go up to the first floor of the museum for a panoramic view of the gardens, or take a two-hour long tour of the gardens if you’d like to learn about the flora of the region.
– We booked a hotel cab to take us to the handicraft villages, mezcal workshop, and archeological sites. Our driver, Abraham, deserves a special mention for going out of his way to help us meet some lovely local artists, and for sharing tons of information about the history of the Zapotecs.
– Visit the Benito Juarez Market to buy fresh Oaxacan cheese, hot chocolate, and chillies. There’s lots of vendors cooking local delicacies here too!
– Los Amantes Mezcalería for a mezcal-tasting session, followed by Mezcal cocktails at the beautiful terrace at Praga across the street! They have really nice live music in the evening, and this is where I was first introduced to the smokey Mezcal-tamarindo cocktail.
– Los Danzantes does amazing modern Mexican food, experimenting with local ingredients. We had some fantastic vegetarian food and dessert here. Be sure to get a reservation at least a couple of days in advance!