The southern Mexican city of Oaxaca is a cultural powerhouse that rivals any other Latin American destination in terms of history, gastronomy, and colorful manifestations of indigenous culture. Those with a passion for culture will delight in legends of the indigenous Zapotec civilization and the enduring legacy of Spanish colonialism, the latter preserved in majestic UNESCO-designated churches and refined plazas. Oaxaca is not just a feast for the eyes. It’s also known for its ancient mezcal distilling tradition and its highly acclaimed regional cuisine as the birthplace of mole. From bustling markets to lively festivals, there’s never a shortage of things to see, taste, and experience in Oaxaca. Here’s HAP’s guide.
Where to Stay:
Prominent Oaxacan creatives are responsible for the visual enchantments that span Escondido Oaxaca, from uniforms and robes to bedspreads, rugs, and beyond. In fact, the property is custom-designed, with master craftsmen hand-constructing all the sabino wood furniture. The interiors are a warm and inviting blend of recessed stone shelving, elegant archways, and wide doorways that reveal handmade tapestries hanging on the walls.
Located in a 19th-century colonial villa in the heart of downtown, the 20-room outpost of Mexican hotel brand Pug Seal boasts stylish rooms with Art Deco-inspired furniture, handcrafted textiles, and walls adorned with colorful murals by local artist Rafael Uriegas and others.
Where to Eat:
Following the success of Asador Bacanora in Querétaro, the restaurant opened its second outpost inside a century-old colonial-style house in Oaxaca’s Barrio de Jalatlaco. Led by chefs Hugo Domínguez and Gabriel Pomposo, and guided by the renowned Oaxacan chef Manuel Baños, Asador Bacanora continues to redefine contemporary Mexican cuisine by blending regional traditions with the flavors of Oaxacan herbs and ingredients.
The signature restaurant of Casa Oaxaca hotel takes pride in using only the finest local, native, and organic ingredients to create a culinary experience. With a focus on homemade and natural touches, chef Alejandro Ruiz’s dishes are a celebration of Oaxacan cuisine and the culinary traditions of the region. For the more adventurous eater, it’s also a great place to try the local insects, such as dried and salted chapulines (grasshoppers) and hormigas (ants), which are a sustainable and protein-rich addition to any dish.
Led by head baker and co-founder Juan Pablo Hernandez, Boulenc is known for its mouth-watering sourdough pizzas, fancy toasts, and an array of bready delights. With a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere and a cozy bar in the back, Boulenc is the perfect spot to start your day with a croissant or concha or to indulge in a rich shakshuka or a pile of waffles for brunch.
Criollo is Enrique Olvera and Luis Arellano’s countryside Oaxacan food lab. Both chefs are big players in the Mexican culinary scene, and they’ve been working together for years, first at Enrique’s signature restaurant, Pujol, and now at Criollo, where Arellano’s Oaxacan background is on full, delicious display inside a colonial mansion with a spacious courtyard.
Where to Drink:
Named after the legendary Mazatec medicine woman, Maria Sabina, offers a labyrinth of intimate rooms with unique artwork that creates a one-of-a-kind Oaxacan ambiance. As one of the largest libraries of mezcal worldwide, Sabina Sabe mixes up fabulous cocktails and a local food menu. And don’t miss out on the kitchen’s daily-changing taco special, which is sure to be a hit.
This compact bar and bottle shop specializes in artisanal mezcal, Oaxaca’s famous spirit made from agave. Mezcalilleria has dozens of small-batch varieties made from several agave species. Before picking up a bottle to bring home, sidle up to the compact counter space to try a flight of different mezcals to find your favorite.
This buzzy off-the-beaten-path bar delivers everything you need for a fun night out: innovative Oaxaca-inspired cocktails (try the Crem Mol Ngáas), live music, and vibrant decor. Copita after copita, you’ll inevitably mingle—and maybe dance—with the hip locals who descend upon this joint on the weekends.
Selva Oaxaca Cocktail Bar offers a unique and seductive jungle speakeasy vibe, with a cocktail menu built around locally-sourced ingredients. The bar’s polished brass accents and tropical foliage create an immersive atmosphere that transports you to another world. Be sure to try their signature cocktail, the leaf-green Selva, which packs a punch of flavor courtesy of Mexican pepper leaf, chili liqueur, agave syrup, and barrel-aged mezcal.
What to Do:
This contemporary art museum features a range of exhibitions and installations that showcase the best of Mexican and international art. The museum’s sleek and modern design provides the perfect setting for a cultural experience.
If you’re a meat-lover, the Mercado 20 de Noviembre is the place to be in Oaxaca. This bustling market comprises a variety of food stalls where you can sample many Oaxacan specialties, but the real draw is the El Pasillo de las Carnes Asadas. Here, you can select your raw meat of choice and watch as it’s expertly grilled to your specifications. Once your feast is ready, grab a spot at one of the long tables with benches, order some salsa and guacamole to accompany your meal, and buy some tortillas from one of the passing vendors to round out the experience.
If you’re looking for a deeper appreciation of Mexico’s rich textile heritage, be sure to visit the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, located right in the heart of the historic center. This admission-free museum is housed in a beautifully restored palacio and holds an impressive collection of over 5,000 locally sourced artifacts that span centuries of textile-making tradition. In addition to the fascinating exhibits, the museum also offers regular film screenings and workshops, providing visitors with an even greater appreciation of the artistry and craftsmanship involved in this time-honored tradition.
Only 20 minutes from the center of Oaxaca, Monte Albán is a must-see destination for anyone interested in Mesoamerican archaeology. The ancient Zapotec civilization transformed an entire hilltop into a complex of stepped pyramids, palaces, an observatory, and a ball court, making it one of the world’s most impressive archaeological sites. The site also offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the surrounding valley from its UNESCO-listed vantage point. To get there, simply take a taxi and prepare to be amazed by the rich history and stunning natural beauty of this incredible destination.
These botanical gardens feature lots of native plants, including towering cacti that make for the perfect Instagram backdrop.
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