From cobblestone streets in Centro to dramatic street art in the Jalatlaco neighborhood, Oaxaca dazzles visitors with its old world charm, creative arts, and of course, incredible food and nightlife!
Overview – Located in southwestern Mexico, Oaxaca, also known as Oaxaca City or Oaxaca de Juárez after the former President of Mexico, is the capital city of the state of Oaxaca. It is home to two of the most important archeological sites in the country as well, Monte Albán, the former capital of the Zapotec empire, and Mitla.
Along with its fascinating history, Oaxaca is known for its cuisine, including cheese, chocolate, and Mezcal, and its handicrafts from the colorful alelbrijes figures to beautiful textiles. In the nearby village of Teotitlán de Valle for example, you will find numerous family-owned production facilities of gorgeous woven rugs. Deservedly so, Oaxaca is often called both the culinary capital of Mexico as well as that of artisan craft. In addition, Oaxaca is the epicenter of the colorful and traditional Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead celebrations for those near and dear who have passed on to the next life. These celebrations occur annually on November 1st and 2nd, and are a highlight of any trip to Mexico!
In terms of popular places to stay, we highly recommend the Centro neighborhood as close to the main church, Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, as possible.This location will provide easy walking (or transit) options to the best restaurants, bars, and activities in and around Oaxaca. Alternatively, we can also vouch for the Jalatlaco and Reforma neighborhoods, as we spent a good amount of time in each and both are also an easy 10-15 minute walk to the main attractions in Centro.
Things to see and do in and around Oaxaca
When to go – As with travel in most of Mexico, November through April seems to be the sweet spot. And this recommendation applies here in Oaxaca as well. For reference, in November and December when we are here, nights are cool in the 50s, but quickly warm up to the 70’s and low 80’s by afternoon. Also, there is next to no humidity and we have enjoyed clear skies and sunshine every single day! If possible, book well in advance for Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead celebrations which occur annually on November 1st and 2nd.
Getting here – Most likely you will arrive by air to the modern and sparkling clean Oaxaca Airport (OAX). Thankfully, there are nonstop flights to a few U.S. cities, including Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Tijuana (for San Diego). In addition, there is a direct flight from Cancun if you would like to add a food and shopping trip on to a beach holiday in Gay Cancun, Playa, or Tulum without having to connect in Mexico City.
If you are planning a trip to the Oaxaca coast (which we highly recommend), the easiest option is to fly to the small airport in Puerto Escondido (PXM) or Huatulco (HUX). Most flights connect through Mexico City (MEX), however there is an option on a prop plane from Oaxaca (OAX) to both coastal towns with Aerotucán. We know at least a handful or friends and neighbors who have made this trip. In addition, you can rent a car like we did to take the super scenic Hwy. 175 to/from Oaxaca. It takes between 6-8 hours depending on stops.
Finally, the ADO bus and minivan company Lineas Unidas offer service between the beach towns and Oaxaca as well as Mexico City albeit with much longer schedules. We must have passed dozens and dozens of Lineas Unidas minivans on our road trip from Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca, so they are an extremely popular option.
Pro tip – It’s super easy with reasonable prices to hire a taxi directly at the Oaxaca airport. You will see the taxis lined up across the street from the small terminal building. We prepaid as required 300MXP or just under $15USD for our ride to Centro. Taxis are also plentiful and easy to hail on the street in Centro.
Where to stay – For the ultimate in luxury, the Quinta Real Oaxaca is our pick for the best hotel in Centro. With its privileged location, you are mere steps from the main Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán as well as the best restaurants, bars, and shopping in Oaxaca. The hotel itself is housed in an expertly restored 16th century convent and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t worry though! The Quinta Real Oaxaca offers modern amenities in this historic setting, including a stunning lobby, relaxing pool and bar, well-equipped gym, restaurant, and cute gift shop—all among impeccably maintained grounds. They also have a massive and beautiful venue for weddings if that’s in the cards!
If you are looking for an excellent budget option, look no further than Selina Oaxaca. This popular poshtel chain is located in a pink courtyard building directly across from the Quinta Real in the heart of Oaxaca. As typical of Selina properties, you will find plenty of co-working spaces, free WiFi, a bar and restaurant, and a popular rooftop terrace at this location. In terms of room choices, Selina offers private suites on down to shared budget rooms with bunk beds. FYI, given pretty much everything faces the courtyard, you may need earplugs if you are an early or light sleeper. Overall, the location, friendly atmosphere, and excellent value make Selina a strong contender for where to stay in Oaxaca.
Where to eat and drink – If the way to a man’s heart is truly through his stomach, then be prepared to fall in love with Oaxaca! As Mexico’s culinary capital, Oaxaca’s restaurant and bar scene deserves so much more than a cursory highlight. As such, for our in-depth review of the very BEST restaurants and bars in Oaxaca, as well as our related YouTube Video, head over to The Best Restaurants and Bars in Oaxaca post here!
Banking – There are a variety of banks (and ATMs) highly concentrated around the Zócalo in Centro, including BBVA, HSBC, and Santander among others.
Fitness/Gym– Unfortunately, there are few options to work out in Centro, but there is a well-equipped gym by the pool at the luxury Quinta Real Hotel listed above. We also found the popular Calipso Fitness Center in Centro offers day passes.
Wine/Liquor store – A short walk from Centro is Prissa Wines & Liquors in Reforma, the best spot for both purchases in Oaxaca! Alternatively, in Centro, check out La Contra Wine Shop. As a bonus, they have a separate room dedicated to local Mezcals for that perfect gift or to stock your bar at home!
*** To see more of our adventures in and around Oaxaca, check out our Ultimate Guide to Oaxaca, Best Restaurants & Bars in Oaxaca, Best Gay Bars & Clubs in Oaxaca, and day trip to Hierve El Agua YouTube videos and be sure to smash that like button and subscribe! And, of course, follow us on social media @twogayexpats for more gay travel inspiration!