Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
If you’re looking to take a well-rounded trip to Mexico that offers a little bit of everything, Oaxaca is an excellent destination choice. This city in southern Mexico is a cultural hub with amazing food, historical attractions, and natural wonders. It’s fun to check out Oaxaca festivals, visit churches and museums, see ancient ruins, and sample the local cuisine and drinks when you plan a trip here. These are the top things to do in Oaxaca to help you plan your trip.
The architecture of Oaxaca is simply stunning and incredibly photogenic. Take some time when you first arrive in town to wander around the streets and admire the colorful buildings and styles. This is a great way to get your bearings and explore hidden gems in Oaxaca that you didn’t even plan for. You’ll also see some impressive street art while walking around. You can take this one step further by joining a free walking tour that starts in front of the Oaxaca Cathedral and lasts for a couple of hours.
This cultural museum is the next great place to continue on with your exploration of Oaxaca. The museum grounds are beautiful, and there are so many fascinating exhibits to check out inside. One must-visit part of the museum is the Treasure of Tomb 7, which has precious jewelry and stones that were discovered in a tomb in Monte Alban. Other highlights are The Manors, Contact and Conquest, and the interactive rooms.
Oaxaca has a strong chocolate and cacao culture, so make sure to incorporate some chocolate indulgence into your Oaxaca trip. Cacao is sold at the outdoor markets and is an important part of the traditional diet of the Mexican people in this region. Chocolate drinks are consumed in the region on a normal daily basis and also for ceremonies and special events. Definitely try an Oaxacan-style chocolate drink with artisanal chocolate, cardamom, star anise, vanilla bean, cacao nibs, and egg yolk bread. Other local foods to try include tlayuda, which is a crispy tortilla with lots of toppings, and locally-made mole sauce.
Traditional Mexican clothes are colorful and wonderfully fun to wear and shop for. For traditional textiles, local recommendations include Huizache, Mercado de Artesanias, and Joyas de Oaxaca. The shops you’ll accidentally stumble into may also offer festive handbags, shoes, jewelry, rugs, and souvenir items to take back home to friends and family.
Oaxaca is filled with busy and colorful markets that are fun to wander around and explore. Just south of the Zócalo is a great place to explore the 20 de Noviembre Market and the Benito Juarez Market. The Mercado Democracia is a food hall-style market that is a favorite place among foodies, while, the Tlacolula de Matamoros market is a very large market that is one of the most well-established ones in this part of Mexico. Take in all the sights, smells, and sounds here as you browse flowers, crafts, and delicious things to eat.
Another iconic landmark in Oaxaca is the Templo de Santo Domingo, which is an impressive church that is worthy of visiting regardless of your religious beliefs. The interior of the church is intricately beautiful, and the structure is over 400 years old and filled with history. There are lots of other lovely churches to visit in town as well, including the grand cathedral at the Zócalo and the baroque church of Basilica de la Soledad.
If you have time to get outside of the city for part of a day during your trip to Oaxaca, then definitely plan to check out Hierve de Agua. This natural site is famous for its petrified waterfall and is truly a sight to see. It’s just a quick walk from the parking area down a path to the waterfall, and you may even be able to go swimming in the natural waters here. The best way to get here is with your own car. But consider taking a guided tour to make the journey out to Hierve el Agua easier and more informative and educational. This is a great way to get out into nature near Oaxaca and be surrounded by awesome rock formations while on a hike.
Mezcal is a traditional drink in Oaxaca and a must-try if you enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage. Mezcal is somewhat like tequila but has a complex taste and is made from a different type of agave plant. It has a smoky and unique flavor and is typically sipped at room temperature. There are mezcal distilleries just outside of Oaxaca that you can visit to learn more about how the beverage is made and to sample it right from the source.
Spend some time learning about the ancient ruins in the Oaxaca area to learn about the region’s history and the people who live here. The Milta lived in the area for many years, leaving behind ruins that you can still visit today. Another cool area to see is the Monte Alban Pyramids, which are very close to Oaxaca and once served as a political hub for the Zapotec people. Monte Alban is an impressive archaeological site where you can actually climb on the pyramids and get lovely views of the surrounding landscapes.
There is a famous tree in the Oaxaca area called El Árbol del Tule that is in the Santa Maria del Tule village. It is in front of a church and one of the widest and oldest trees in the entire world. You can stop by to see it when you’re heading outside of town to check out the historical ruins or the Hierve de Agua.