Going Backpacking in Oaxaca
My week in Oaxaca was definitely one of the best during my six weeks in Mexico. It helped that the Day of the Dead festival was on as I went at the end of October, but even without that Oaxaca was awesome. It is one of the most forward-thinking and modern Mexican cities in the country, and definitely somewhere I’d consider living.
The cobbled streets against the colourful houses make for great photos. Trumping motorbikes whizz by, along with the yellow taxis, while old VW Beetles line the pavements. Whether or not they work is a mystery – but at least they look good.
As I walked the streets I couldn’t help but take crafty peeks into the open grated windows to see what the Oaxacan homes are like. By Western standards, the answer would be ‘simple’ – they have all they need without the signs of opulence we have. Some of the houses were centred around a courtyard, often open to a beautiful fountain or tree in the centre, as is the way in Mexico.
Oaxaca is artistic and imaginative. From the street art to the public dance classes to the many, many museums and galleries, it was obvious that Oaxaca is a place of expression.
The main sights
The stunning Santa Domingo Church is at the centre of the city and can be seen from all over. Right behind that you’ll find the the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, a huge place full of artefacts and cool things to see. You can make the most of the cool views over the city here.
For an even better view climb up to the Auditorio, ten minutes out from the main square. You may have to pass some scary dogs and sketchy looking houses but I made it and I’m scared of dogs, so you can too. The view when you get to the top over the houses and parks is incredible.
Oaxaca’s Llano Park is a hive of entertainment. I enjoyed watching a dance class for a good hour, mainly because the heavily moustached male teacher was dressed in Adidas shorts and T-shirt and had heeled black shoes on which he liked to strut about in for his pupils. It was bizarre.
Walk down Tinoco y Palacios Street and you’ll find more cool coffee shops, clothes shops and tattooists than you could hope to visit in a week. A seemingly small shop front in Oaxaca can be like a Dr Who tardis. The shops are huge but I couldn’t help thinking that they should really diversify to stay alive. Surely there are only so many skull heads, saddles and cuddly toys the average person can fit in their home?
Of course, I ended up buying a few skull heads to take back home for my nearest and dearest.
One of my favourite museums was the Stamp Museum, the Museo de la Filatelia. Inside they had thousands of stamps from all over the world presented in imaginative ways, somehow managing to make stamps cool. Maybe it was because you could take a photo of you as a stamp – trip highlight.
Food in Oaxaca
The markets of Oaxaca are incredible – buzzing places full of Mexican goodies. There are two main specialities here: chocalado and mole. Oaxacans have 7 varieties of the delicious mole (mo-lay) sauce, so they kept proudly telling me. I tried the chocolado (hot chocolate) with the pan de muertos (bread of the dead) dipped in and to be honest, I wasn’t taken with it. Call me a philistine but I prefer my chocolate in Cadbury’s Dairy Milk form. Still drank it though, of course.
After almost three weeks of eating tacos every second day in Mexico, I was on the search for something different in Oaxaca. Enter the tosta. It’s basically a Mexican-style sandwich, but in the Oaxaca 20 Novembre Market it was served with some delicious variety of the mole sauce. Unfortunately there is no way that I could describe where it was in among the labyrinthine of stalls, but good luck and you’ll have fun finding it.
As well as the mole Oaxacans are very proud of their unique cuisine in general. Walking around the Zocolo I didn’t even know what I was looking at – a fried banana? Fried crickets? Crisps with lime and hot sauce? Open your mind and you might be surprised.
I visited the Hierve de Agua Waterfall and it is one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever seen. We had to go through all the usual tourist traps – leather factories and the like – before we got to the main event, but it was worth it.
The natural limestone pools look out over valleys and mountains, and just sitting in the pools looking out on it all I congratulated myself on making an excellent choice.
Getting to Oaxaca
Oaxaca is right on the south coast of Mexico and is well known for having the best Day of the Dead celebrations. I flew there from Puerta Vallarta via Mexico City but there’s a good bus network you can use too.
I stayed at the Casa Angel Hostel and would definitely recommend it as a friendly and well located place to spend a few days. Free breakfasts!
I love Oaxaca
Surrounded by the Sierra Mountains Oaxaca City is warm during the day – the perfect temperature for sightseeing, in fact – and considerably colder at night. I needed a hoody, a scarf and my trainers when I was there (October) to stay out on the bar terraces at night.
Oaxaca is exactly the kind of place to enjoy strolling the streets without an agenda and just enjoying what you find. The city is easily laid out in blocks but if you get lost just head to the Zocalo to find your bearings again. Or just ask any of the friendly locals, they’ll be happy to show you the way.