11 amazing things to do in and around Oaxaca

A detailed guide on the best things to do in Oaxaca, including must-see Oaxacan sites and unique activities frequented by fewer tourists.

Santo Domingo, Oaxaca

Framed by mountains and enjoying the title of Mexico’s gastronomic capital, Oaxaca is a must on any traveler’s itinerary. Whether you’re traveling from Mexico City, Guadalajara, or elsewhere, you’ll have plenty of options for arriving there. Let’s take a look at what to do in Oaxaca de Juarez. You just might find yourself booking an extended stay to fit it all in!

Stoll around Santo Domingo 

Feel the pulse of Oaxacan life at the Santo Domingo square. Cafes and vendors line the cobblestone pedestrian areas, and it’s a favorite among street performers. 

If you’re wondering what to do in Oaxaca on Sunday, take a peek inside the Santo Domingo church. Formerly a monastery, the Baroque style architecture is stunning. If you can’t hit it on a Sunday, the church is frequently open for visitors outside of mass times.

Fill up on mole

There’s plenty of unique traditional Oaxaca food aside from mole (I’m looking at you, dried crickets). However, mole is Oaxaca’s pride and joy. It’s no wonder, given that the sauce contains around thirty ingredients.

There are various types of mole you can try with rice and meat or vegetables, but don’t miss out on tasting mole negro. Its main ingredients contain an impressive combination of chili peppers and chocolate. 

Enjoy the Zócalo’s culture

From Merida to Monterrey, if you’ve visited other cities in Mexico you know that all main squares are called the Zócalo.

If you’re wondering what to do in Oaxaca at night, the Zócalo is a fantastic place to soak in Oaxacan culture. You’ll encounter traditional music performances that you can watch as you feast on your mole dish from restaurants surrounding the square.

Souvenir shop on Alcalá Street

Looking for the best shopping in Oaxaca? Head to Alcalá Street. This charming pedestrian-only cobblestone avenue is packed with colorful buildings, charming balconies, and vendors selling irresistible souvenirs. 

While you’re at it, wander down the side roads veering off from Alcalá Street. Oaxaca’s historical center oozes charm at every turn.

Enjoy the views at Monte Alban

Thinking about what not to do in Oaxaca probably hasn’t come to mind. But here’s a tip—don’t miss out on a visit to Monte Alban.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca

Seated on a steep hill above Oaxaca city, Monte Alban is a pre-Columbian archaeological site. The well-manicured complex offers plenty of opportunities for traversing pyramids and wandering through trails. 

Best of all? You won’t have to deal with crowds like at the more popular ruins of Chichén Itzá. 

Get your fill of history

Calling all history buffs! Museums in Oaxaca are plentiful and an excellent opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the city’s culture and history. Some of the best museums include:

Museo de las Culturas: A cultural museum located beside the Santo Domingo Church.

Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca: A contemporary art museum located in one of the oldest buildings in Oaxaca.

Museo Textil de Oaxaca: A Oaxacan crafts and textiles museum offering tours on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Partake in Day of the Dead

Every year from October 31st – November 2nd, Oaxaca joins Mexico in celebrating the Day of the Dead, also known as Día de los Muertos. During this time, locals welcome back the spirits of their deceased loved ones. They adorn the city with marigolds and set up altars brimming with their family and friends’ favorite foods. 

The villages in Oaxaca are an especially beautiful place to experience the Day of the Dead since they offer a less commercialized experience. Make sure to book your accommodation far in advance.

You might be wondering—is Oaxaca safe during Day of the Dead? Yes, it is. In fact, Oaxaca is a safe destination year-round, assuming you take standard safety precautions.

Day trips from Oaxaca

By making the city your home base, you’ll get to explore some of the best places to visit in Oaxaca state. Whether you’re craving Oaxaca nature or mezcal, these destinations will quench your travel needs.

Bask in mountaintop pools at Hierve el Agua

Make sure your packing list for Oaxaca includes a bathing suit; a trip to the beautiful Hierve el Agua will inspire you to bask in its water, which is nestled in white calcium carbonate rock formations. 

From the natural pools, you’ll get to enjoy stunning mountain views while your skin soaks in the water’s minerals. Commonly referred to as the Oaxaca hot springs, Hierve el Agua’s water is invitingly warm, even though it isn’t technically a hot spring.

Taste test Mezcal at a local factory

Mezcal lovers, rejoice! There are several artisanal factories where you can learn about mezcal production. This beloved Oaxaca drink is made from agave plants. That’s right—the plant that produces your trendy sugar syrup has been used by Mexicans to make mezcal for hundreds of years.

Make sure to start your tour on a full stomach; the taste testing involves generous portions. There’s no shortage of mezcal bottles to bring home as souvenirs, either.

Get off the beaten path at the Mitla Ruins

The Mitla Ruins are an excellent complement to your Monte Alban visit. Located less than an hour’s drive from Oaxaca, the Zapotecs built Mitla as a religious center. 

Its bright red walls will surely draw your attention, as will their simplicity. Since Mitla served as a sacred burial site, it doesn’t have excessive décor. Once you’ve finished your Mitla visit, make sure to check out the nearby San Pablo Church.

Visit the world’s widest tree

Visiting Tule is perhaps one of the most unusual things to do in Oaxaca because of its cypress tree. With a circumference of over 137 feet (42 meters), the Tree of Tule is the world’s widest tree. 

You can easily view the Tree of Tule for free through a gate. Otherwise, paying a small entrance fee will allow you to get up close for Instagram-worthy selfies. 

Ready to visit Oaxaca?

Whether you have three days in Oaxaca or thirty, are doing an Oaxaca backpacking trip, or are looking for something more luxurious, Oaxaca offers plenty of things to do that fit a wide range of budgets. As a final piece of advice, bring an extra suitcase with you—your future mole and mezcal purchasing self will thank you.

Posted February 25, 2021
image of blog writer Laura
Laura Olds
Laura Olds of A Piece of Travel is a digital nomad who adds twice as many destinations to her bucket list with each one she checks off. She's a full-time writer and part-time street dog whisperer. In her free time, she enjoys running, yoga, and taste-testing her way through the world.
image of blog writer Laura