Oaxaca de Juarez, also known as simply Oaxaca (pronounced wah-HAH-ka), is the capital of the state of Oaxaca, located in southern Mexico. A colonial city exploding with color and traditional folk culture, Oaxaca is a party for the senses, encompassing ancient history, a strong indigenous presence, Spanish colonial and gothic architecture, colorful streets, a thriving art and craft scene, and culinary delights unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
The Ruins of Monte Alban
Monte Alban, the former capital city of the Zapotecs, an indigenous tribe, is a popular pre-historic archeological site and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1987. Visitors can walk through, explore and even climb on the ruins. For nature lovers, the Ethnobotanical Garden at the Temple of Santo Domingo gives a glimpse into the wild biological diversity that characterizes the region.
El Mercado de la Comida
The cultural richness of Oaxaca makes it a prime destination for tourists and travelers looking to experience “traditional Mexico,” and the blend of pre-historic and Spanish influence typical of a colonial city. At the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, also known as El Mercado de la Comida (the food market), you’ll not only find handicrafts like wooden bookmarks, figurines and textiles, you’ll also encounter one of the best places to get a taste of the regional cuisine. Food stands offer everything from locally produced chocolate to Oaxacan cheese, from mole to tlayudas. At the entrances you’ll find vendors selling chapulines, or fried crickets. Pick up a bag for a traditional Oaxacan treat.
Only collected during certain times of year, chapulines are toasted grasshoppers that are a popular snack from May to early autumn.
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Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca
Check out the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca cultural center for a glimpse into the city’s modern art scene. The permanent collection features works by Oaxacan artist Rufino Tamayo as well as circulating exhibits. In the Plaza de la Consitución, the central Zócalo, you’ll find vendors, musicians, families with children, and a prime spot to relax and take in the unique culture of Oaxaca.
As Jalisco is the home of Tequila, the state of Oaxaca is the nation’s key producer of mescal. Made from the agave plant, mescal is known for it’s wild, earthy, even smoky taste. Served with lime or orange wedges and sal de gusano (worm salt), a mescal tasting is well worth the visitor’s time. Local mescal distilleries even provide tours and explanations of the process, and if you’re in Oaxaca during the month of July, don’t miss the Festival de Mezcal.
Taking place during Mondays in July, the Guelaguetza festival is designed to be a cultural offering, celebrating the seven indigenous cultures of the area with music, folk dance, colorful traditional dress, regional cuisine and giant paper mache puppets. Dating back to pre-historic times, the Guelaguetza is now one of Oaxaca’a main yearly events and an entertaining way to experience the diversity of the local indigenous cultures.
When in Oaxaca, take a break from the tacos and investigate the local mole scene. Known as the “land of seven moles,” Oaxaca offers a rich culinary experience through the combination of this legendary sauce with slow cooked meats. Often comprised of a mix of over twenty ingredients, mole features chili peppers, nuts, spices and even chocolate. The seven varieties typical of the region include negro, amarillo, almendrado, coloradito, rojo, verde, and manchamantel.
Dining in Oaxaca, Mexico
Outside of mole, there are lots of snacks and foods to taste in Oaxaca, try stopping at one of the food stalls in the food market for an inexpensive sampling of Oaxaca’s traditional moles, or plan to have dinner at Restaurante Los Pacos (Mariano Abasolo 121). Priced reasonably, Los Pacos presents the local cuisine with ambiance and flair. Try the three mole sampler to get a taste of some of Oaxaca’s finest moles.
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With the rugged biological diversity, the pleasant climate, delicious food and rich cultural influences, the traveler to Oaxaca can be prepared for charm and enchantment, warm hospitality and culinary experiences that will not soon be forgotten.