Is spending three days in Oaxaca City enough to soak in the all sites, architecture, and gastronomy that Oaxaca has to offer?
Certainly not, but three days is a great amount of time to immerse yourself in some of Oaxaca City’s top things to do and see.
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If you’re unsure of how many days in Oaxaca you need, rest assured that three days is plenty.
With 3 days in Oaxaca City, you have ample time to slurp up its rich gastronomy, marvel at its centuries-old architecture, stroll through its sprawling local markets, and stand in awe as you explore ancient Zapotec ruins.
If you are ready to see the best of Oaxaca City in as little as three days, I’ve got the perfect, detailed itinerary right here.
After spending two months in Oaxaca, and having lived as nomads in Mexico on and off since 2018, I can guarantee you will fall in love with Oaxaca just as much as we did when we first visited.
The Ultimate 3-Day Oaxaca Itinerary
Here is a brief overview of what you can expect to do and see during your 3 days in Oaxaca City.
In my itinerary, you will get to see a bit of everything, including the artsy neighborhoods, the archaeological sites, (some) museums, and, of course, the main local markets to immerse in Oaxaca’s incredible food and textile cultures.
Of course, feel free to customize the below itinerary to find what piques your interest the most!
Bookmark these Oaxaca guides for later:
- 🚶♀️ Best DIY Self-Guided Walking Tours of Oaxaca City
- ✨ The 12 Cutest Boutique Hotels in Oaxaca
- 🗺 How to Spend 4–5 Days in Oaxaca City Itinerary
- 🎒 9 Best Backpacker Hostels in Oaxaca City
Day 1: Discover Oaxaca’s Historic Center
Even though you have three full days in Oaxaca to spare, it’s always best to start in the heart of the city center.
The city center of Oaxaca (also referred to as downtown) is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You will find everything in the center—from gourmet restaurants to local eateries to renovated historic monuments to modern museums and much, much more.
Get familiar with Oaxaca by kickstarting your 3-day itinerary with a tour around the Zócalo (main square).
I recommend you follow my DIY self-guided walking tour of Oaxaca to learn more about each point of interest.
One of the places to visit here is the bustling Alameda de Léon square connected to the main park on its northwest corner.
Here, you’ll find a bustling square adorned with the 16th-century Catedral Metropolitana de Oaxaca.
Two blocks east sits the equally stunning Teatro Macedonio Alcalá. If you take a guided walking tour of Oaxaca, your departure point will be at this beautiful and historic building.
There are tons of interesting activities to do in the center of Oaxaca, such as visiting the San Pablo Cultural Center, the Oaxaqueño Painters Museum, and the free Regional Textiles Museum of Oaxaca.
While the main markets of 20 de Noviembre and Benito Juárez are located about 700m south of the Zócalo, there is the Atemporal design market hidden right around the corner from the pedestrian-only street of the Anador Turistico you should check out.
Inside this market, you can shop for artisanal jewelry and clothes, and treat yourself to fancy ice cream, mezcal, and other treats!
✨ Read more about the must-see markets of Oaxaca here!
The Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán is a must-see on any Oaxaca itinerary.
And during your three days in Oaxaca, you’ll pass by the ornate church and ex-convent aplenty.
Surrounding this sprawling plaza are tons of independent art studios, rooftop bars, boutique stores, mezcal bars (mezcalerías), museums, and more!
The main things to do around Santo Domingo are:
- Tour the Ethnobotanical Garden (with a guide only)
- Visit the on-site cultural and archaeological museum
- Step inside and visit the interior of the ex-convent
I recommend stepping into a few that attract your eye, but don’t linger too long! Plenty more activities await you on your first day in Oaxaca.
While the Templo Santo Domingo is supposed to be open daily, it’s not really. Visiting hours for tourists vary.
You are better off visiting the Jardín Etnobotaníco (Ethnobotanical Garden) for the morning tour and then swinging by the cathedral in the late afternoon.
For the garden tours, you need to join a guided group (for English tours, that’s at 10 am, 11 am, or 12pm and costs $100 MXN pesos).
If you don’t decide to do the ethnobotanical garden tour, you can take advantage of your available time and continue visiting the historic center beyond the temple.
A block north of the temple lies even more points of interest to visit in the vicinity.
- The House-Museum of Benito Juárez
- La Cosecha Organic Market
- Aqueducts (Arches) of Xochimilco
- The oldest neighborhood of Oaxaca, Xochimilco
- Mercado Sánchez Pascuas (local food/produce market as featured in a Netflix episode)
Luckily, all of this can be done on foot.
If you are strapped for time on your very first day in Oaxaca, you can always come back in your spare time on days two and three and complete the above-mentioned activities.
Day 2: Explore Beyond the City
When you have 3 days in Oaxaca City, I recommend spending one of those exploring more of Oaxaca City’s surroundings on a day trip.
Here are a few of the most popular Oaxaca day trips.
- Monte Albán — explore the ruins of this Zapotec archaeological site overlooking Oaxaca City
- Hierve El Agua — wade in spring pools at the top of this popular petrified waterfall
- Tlacolula Sunday Market — stroll through this large, sprawling market featuring everything Oaxaqueño
- Mezcal distillery tour — learn about the entire culture and process behind mezcal on a mezcal tour from Oaxaca (read my review)
- San Antonio Arrazola — journey to the small pueblo where the Oaxaca alebrijes figurines originate
- Mitla & Yagul Caves — visit the town and archaeological site of Mitla and the prehistoric caves of Yagul/Mitla
If you decide to visit Monte Albán, my advice is to go as soon as it opens. This ancient Zapotec capital city and archaeological site is a must-visit.
In fact, for all the day excursions, start early so you can make the most of your afternoon and evening back in Oaxaca City.
Hierve El Agua is by far the most popular choice for day trips, but note that it takes about 1.5 hours to reach one way—even more if you go by bus (from Oaxaca, you’ll have to first shuttle to Mitla).
The easiest way to visit Hierve El Agua from Oaxaca City is with a half-day or full-day guided tour like this top-rated one.
Day 3 in Oaxaca: Street Food, Mezcal, & Markets
For your third and final day in Oaxaca, you may not have a full 12 hours cut out for you to explore, which is why I recommend doing some lighter activities today, such as:
- Eating your way into Oaxaca’s street food culture
- Going on a street art tour of Oaxaca’s Jalatlaco neighborhood
- Ducking inside the local markets of the city
- Finishing the day in a swanky mezcal bar at Mezcalogia
For starters, you don’t need to pay for a guided food tour, but if you are keen to learn more about the culture and history of the gastronomy of Oaxaca, then I would definitely recommend doing just that.
Luckily, the food tours are affordable and they offer so much value.
Recommended Oaxaca Food Tours:
- 🦗 Eat Like A Local Authentic Oaxaca Food Tour
- 🌮 2x Oaxaca Markets Street Food Tours by Locals
- 🌽 Earth, Corn & Fire: The Roots of Oaxacan Cuisine
If you prefer to discover Oaxaca’s street food and markets at your own pace, then start on foot near the Zócalo and head south.
There are a couple of markets down here to visit.
- Mercado 20 de Noviembre
- Benito Juárez
- Mercado de Artesanías
Mercado 20 de Noviembre is the big and sprawling market right across from Benito Juárez Market.
For food, head to Noviembre. For everything else, head to Benito Juárez. At Benito, you can find everything from produce to crafts to souvenirs to crispy crickets, and more!
Alternatively, or additionally (if you have time), visit the old, artsy neighborhood of Jalatlaco.
Jalatlaco is a 10-minute walk east of Templo Santo Domingo, and there is no excuse to miss out on it.
Here, you will be enamored with the colorful street art and quaint cafes, restaurants, and independent art galleries/studios that have taken up residence inside the historic converted buildings.
Aside from the little crown jewel of the neighborhood, the San Mátias Temple, there are lots of cute shops, studios, and cafes.
The best way to visit is with a guided street art tour by bike, but the neighborhood is small enough to get lost on your own. It’s pretty neat to glean your local guide’s insight and stories about all the artists and murals you see, though!
I love Jalatlaco because it is a nice way to wind down and conclude your trip to Oaxaca.
I’m sure you’ll love it so don’t forget to tack it onto your 3-day Oaxaca itinerary!
To top off your stay in Oaxaca, head to one of the mezcal bars around the Santo Domingo Plaza for a final slurp of that smoky goodness before you go home!
If you have any questions at all about what to do and see in Oaxaca in three days, drop me a comment below and I’ll get back to you. ☺️
Bookmark 3 days in Oaxaca guide for later!
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