If you are familiar with Mexico, then you know just how many gorgeous and awesome places there are to visit. The question is, is Oaxaca one of them?
In short, (heck) yes!
But why? Why is Oaxaca worth visiting and why should you visit versus other areas in Mexico you could see?
Having lived on and off as a nomad in Mexico for 3+ years, including a couple of months as a digital nomad in Oaxaca City, I’m going to tell and show you all the many reasons why you should pay Oaxaca City (and the state of Oaxaca in general) a visit.
By the end of this post, you’re going to be hitting “Purchase” on those flight deals—promise!
Read more below to discover Oaxaca and what makes this diverse state in Mexico such a must-visit.
10 Reasons to Visit Oaxaca, Mexico
1. Oaxaca is Mexico’s most diverse state
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Culturally and linguistically, Oaxaca is the most diverse state in the country.
It has sixteen recognized indigenous groups, surpassing even the state of Chiapas which has ten ethnic groups.
What’s more, according to History, the many indigenous and ethnic communities in Oaxaca have subgroups into the hundreds, all with varying dialects and social norms.
If you are a lover of cultures and languages, then Oaxaca will fascinate you.
To learn more about Oaxaca’s native groups, read here.
2. The food in Oaxaca is incréible!
Oaxaca’s gastronomy is one of the most diverse as well, but not just in the state of Mexico—in the world!
The food in Oaxaca—from the street food you’ll find in Oaxaca’s best markets to gourmet dishes in fine-dining restaurants—is simply a must-try.
Eating in Oaxaca becomes an experience, not just a past-time to fill your tummy.
For that reason, you can find lots of food tours in Oaxaca.
When a state has not just one Mexican “mole” recipe, but seven, then you know you’re in a true culinary haven.
In addition to mole, you can (and must) try these other Oaxacan foods:
- Tlayudas (Large, crispy tortilla topped with Oaxacan meat, cheese, and more. It’s often referred to as the “Mexican pizza” — but it’s way better than that!)
- Quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese)
- Memelas (Thick corn tortillas topped with beans and cheese)
- Chapulines (Grasshoppers)
With its wildly diverse flavors, richness, and history, it’s no wonder that Oaxacan gastronomy (and Mexican food as a whole) earned itself a spot on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
You can read more about Mexican gastronomy in this interview here.
3. Oaxaca’s culture and history are rich and ancient
While the capital of Oaxaca, Oaxaca de Júarez (Oaxaca City), was founded in 1529 and subsequently controlled by the Aztecs and ultimately invaded by the Spaniards, the Central Valleys of Oaxaca have been inhabited for thousands of years with the earliest evidence of humans in the prehistoric caves near Mitla dating back to 8,000 B.C.
You can step back in time into this very history with a visit to Monte Albán—an ancient Zapotec capital perched above present-day Oaxaca City.
Other notable archaeological sites to visit in Oaxaca are:
- Casa de la Cacica
Even the colonial historic center of Oaxaca City is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich history.
You will be mesmerized by all the cultural and historical sites there are to see in Oaxaca City and beyond.
4. Oaxaca is the birthplace of mezcal
If you don’t know what mezcal is, you are in for a treat!
Mezcal is a deeply complex and nuanced spirit distilled from cooked agave hearts. And it’s an inseparable aspect of Oaxacan tradition and culture.
While many people call mezcal “tequila’s smoky cousin” that doesn’t quite do mezcal justice.
Yes, mezcal typically has a smoky smell and flavor, but as you’ll learn on a mezcal distillery/farm tour in Oaxaca, it’s much more diverse on the palette than just “smoke.”
If you aren’t familiar with mezcal, definitely check out my guide linked just above to learn more about it and how you can experience an artisanal mezcal tasting tour while visiting Oaxaca.
Mezcal is by far my favorite spirit, not just because of its flavor but in its essence—the way it’s made; the way it’s consumed; the way it’s cherished in Zapotec communities and in Oaxacan culture.
Oaxaca City in particular is chock-full of mezcal bars (mezcalerias) and restaurants serving mezcal shots (the “proper” way to consume it) and delicious mezcal cocktails.
5. There are beautiful beaches in Oaxaca
If you are thinking about visiting Oaxaca beyond the capital city, then the next best place to visit is Oaxaca’s sultry coastline.
Oaxaca is famous for its beaches and backpacker beach towns as much as its archaeological ruins or historic capital city.
That said, you have probably already heard of the Mexican surfing mecca of Puerto Escondido, but there is more to the coastline than that.
For example, Mazunte, the laid-back hippie town of Oaxaca’s coast draws a crowd of eco-conscious yogis and wanderers in search of sunshine and relaxed beach vibes.
San Agustinillo, Zipolite, and Santa Maria Huatulco’s beaches, to name a few, offer even more respite from the city.
In short, if beaches are what you seek, Oaxaca has loads of them tucked away in its hidden coves, bays, and towns speckled along the Pacific Coast.
6. Oaxaca City is teeming with textiles, handicrafts, & art
Another reason to visit Oaxaca in one word: Shopping.
Oaxaca is synonymous with textiles and crafts handmade by artisans. Their craft and skill are undeniable and widely desired.
From elaborate textiles to embroidered clothing to clay pots and alebrijes—traditional wood-carved animals that are vibrantly handpainted—you will find myriad souvenirs and custom-made art pieces by indigenous and local artisans across Oaxaca.
7. Oaxaca becomes alive for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead)
Day of the Dead is perhaps Mexico’s most beloved tradition. And in Oaxaca, the fiesta is on full display.
That said, it’s known that Oaxaca is one of the best places in Mexico to experience Día de Muertos.
From the cemeteries to the altars to the makeup to the dances to the shows and parades, it seems every square inch becomes decorated or disguised in a colorful celebration of ancestors and deceased loved ones.
I can only imagine how it must be in Oaxaca where the celebration is even more festive and animated.
8. Nature landscapes in Oaxaca are otherworldly
One of the main draws to Oaxaca, aside from its culture(s) and history, is its natural beauty.
And in addition to Oaxaca’s ethnic diversity, the state is known for being the most biodiverse in Mexico as well, recording the most bird and animal species in the country.
What’s more, from rugged mountains and dry deserts to flowing rivers, ravines, and coastlines, Oaxaca has a beautiful and diverse topography.
In fact, one of the top things to do in Oaxaca is to visit the petrified (“frozen”) waterfall known as Hierve El Agua located nearly an hour outside of Oaxaca City.
The geological wonders don’t stop there, however.
Along the coast, you can find mangroves, lagoons, bays, and beaches home to hundreds of species of plant and animal life; cloud forests 8000m above sea level; and even sand dunes that spill out into the ocean.
You can read more about Oaxaca’s understated natural beauty here.
9. Oaxaca has 5 Magic Towns (Pueblo Mágicos)
Mexico has over one hundred designated Pueblo Mágicos, that is, small towns that have exceptional history, culture, customs, natural gems, and charm.
A visit to Oaxaca means getting to tour at least five of these beautiful Magic Towns, including:
- San Pablo Villa de Mitla
- Capulálpam de Méndez
- Huautla de Jiménez
You can interact with the map above to learn more about the magic towns in Oaxaca.
10. Annual festivals mean Oaxaca is always fun to visit
Seeing as Oaxaca is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse states in Mexico, it is perhaps the number one destination in terms of festivals.
Thanks to the many indigenous groups and sub-groups, Oaxaca’s event calendar always has something going on.
And I don’t mean just Día de Muertos, either.
In fact, one of the biggest festivals to take place in Oaxaca that is a must-experience is called La Guelaguetza.
During this festival—one of the most important in Oaxaca—folklore, dance, gastronomy, and more, come together in vivid harmony.
“This festival is a great ethnic and cultural mosaic that is expressed in multiple languages, dances, songs, dresses and customs of the Oaxacan people. The celebration has acquired world renown and has the participation of the eight folkloric regions of the State: La Costa, La Cañada, La Mixteca, La Sierra Norte, Sierra Sur, Papaloapan, El Istmo, and Los Valles Centrales.”Visit Mexico
Aside from La Guelaguetza which takes place in mid-July each year, Oaxaca also celebrates these holidays:
- Night of Radishes, Noche de los Rabanos (December 23)
- Festival of Mezcal and Ice Cream, Feria de la Nieve y el Mezcal (April)
- Las Calendas
- Las Velas Istmeñas
- Holy Week, Semana Santa (Easter)
So, Is Oaxaca Worth Visiting?
I hope, by now, you are able to answer that question with a resounding “Yes!”
As one of the most fascinating and diverse states in Mexico, Oaxaca—both the city and the state—is definitely a must-visit.
The only thing is, where should you start?
I may be biased, but you should debut your Oaxaca travel adventures in the state’s incredible capital.
From there, you can go on day trips from Oaxaca City to check off your bucket list or rent a car and road trip down to the coast.
Use my other guides to help plan your trip to Oaxaca!
- The 12 Cutest Boutique Hotels in Oaxaca City
- 25 Unmissable Things to Do in Oaxaca City, Mexico
- Living in Oaxaca City as a Digital Nomad
- Where to Drink Tejate in Oaxaca — The Must-Try “Drink of the Gods”
- 8 Best Coffee Shops & Cafes (With Wifi) in Oaxaca City
- Tree of Tule in Oaxaca, Mexico: How to Visit the Widest Tree in the World