Oaxaca Attractions | Things to do in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is a protective guardian of countless legends that make the city irresistible to visitors. The city's historic heritage can be seen throughout the city, as well as in the surrounding area, while the Oaxacan valleys offer a unique variety of exciting outdoor adventures and experiences perfect for adrenaline junkies.
Featuring a large plaza and numerous pyramid-shaped buildings, Monte Alban was founded by the Zapotecs around the year 250 AD on a mountain that rises 1,200 feet above the valley floor. Recent archeological discoveries have revealed that in addition to being a political and religious hub, this mystical place also functioned as a medical school. In its later years and up until the conquest, the city was occupied by the Mixtecs. The original name of the site is unknown, however, the modern name was given by the Spanish due to its similarity to the fortress of Montalban near Toledo, in Spain. The archeological site and the landscape that can be admired from it, really are impressive sights to be seen.
"Guelaguetza" means "exchange" or "cooperation" in the Zapotec language and the event, which is celebrated in July, has become the most important festival of the year in Oaxaca. It is an admirable cultural exchange and a display of good will among the 16 ethnic groups who inhabit the eight regions of the state. The festival has been held here since 1932, but has its roots in a legendary peace treaty between the Mixtec and Zapotec tribes.
During the festival different folkloric groups show off their best dances and colorful regional dress, while offering their products to the audience. To witness this celebration is to delve into the folklore and spirit of Oaxaca, and discover its mix of indigenous roots, definitely an enriching experience.
Santo Domingo Cultural Center
The church and former monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzman features 16th century baroque-style sacred art from the Dominican order of New Spain. Its impressive main altar, covered in gold leaf, is simply breathtaking. It is the largest viceregal building in Mexico and houses the Oaxaca Culture Museum, the Ethnobotanical Garden, and the Fray Francisco de Burgoa Library. Often on Fridays, the central courtyard serves as a stage for different cultural shows and performances.
El Zocalo (Main Plaza)
There's probably no plaza more vibrant and colorful in all of Mexico than the main plaza in Oaxaca. The joyful music here combines with the aromas of the food to create a unique atmosphere. Throughout the plaza you'll see vendors selling balloons, candies, and handicrafts. It is the ideal place to go for a relaxing afternoon spent enjoying a coffee or a beer under the shade of a tree and people watching.
Hierve el Agua
These mineral springs are located about 90 minutes from Oaxaca and over the years have formed impressive limestone structures similar to waterfalls. Due to the high concentration of carbonate the water bubbles and appears to boil, which is where the name comes from. Nevertheless, the temperature very rarely passes the atmospheric temperature, making it safe to swim in the natural wells. You'll also find other activities available, such as hiking, camping, and rappelling.
Located 30 miles from the city, the Mitla archeological site, whose name in Nahuatl means "place of the dead", stands out for its ornate buildings with intricate stone mosaic fretwork covering the walls. It is believed that the site was built by the Zapotec tribe and finished by the Miztecs. An interesting fact about Mitla is that it was still inhabited after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.
Contemporary Art Center
This museum was inaugurated in 1992 and is housed in "Casa de Cortes" (House of Cortez), which was built at the turn of the 18th century, as a place to display the work of plastic artists from the region, Mexico, and around the world. It has fourteen exhibition halls, eight of which feature pieces from famous artists, including Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo. The six remaining halls host prestigious temporary exhibitions.
Oaxaca Textile Museum
Art, color, design, textures, and traditions converge in this museum, which is housed in a former mansion, built in the 18th century, in the historic downtown area of Oaxaca. It showcases the design, techniques and processes involved in the production of textiles in Oaxaca, Mexico, and around the world.
Museo del Palacio (Palace Museum)
Housed in the historic 19th century Palacio de Gobierno building, this museum opened its doors to the public in 2006 and offers a place to enjoy science and creativity, complete with an interactive area. It features temporary displays showcasing the different ethnic groups of Oaxaca.
Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion Cathedral
This iconic place has been ever-present during the city's history. Construction of the site started in 1535 and finished in 1733, though it was inaugurated in 1730, when it was consecrated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The cathedral stands out for its three Baroque-style naves and for its bronze sculpture of the Virgin. In 1933 it was declared a historic monument of the city.
The famous Tule Tree is an obligatory stop on your next visit to Oaxaca. It is located in the town of Santa Maria del Tule, which is less than 10 miles from the state capital. This enormous 120-foot high Montezuma cypress is more than 2,000 years old and boasts a diameter of 165 feet, with an estimated weight of 560 tons.
There are a number of towns close to the city of Oaxaca that are ideal for day trips. Many are famous for their artisanal goods. Visit Etla for cheese, Coyotepec for black clay pottery, Atzompa for green clay pottery, Arrazola for "alebrijes" (brightly colored folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures), Teotitlan for rugs, Tlacolula for mescal, and Ocotlan for knives. You can even visit the workshops where families make these products.
Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes)
The Night of the Radishes is a traditional Oaxacan festival that is celebrated every year on December 23rd, showing off the imagination of the gardeners and flower-growers that create art using oversized radishes and corn husks. The event takes place in the city's main plaza, featuring a wide variety of traditional figures and adornments inspired by Christmas themes, such as the Nativity scene and the arrival of the Three Wise Men.
Day of the Dead
This pre-Colombian celebration has, in modern times, fused different Catholic traditions to become an expression of unique color and joy. It's held at the cemeteries of the city on the first two nights of November. Mexican marigolds, sand-colored rugs, bread called "pan de muerto", mezcal, and songs all form part of the tributes that the local people give to their ancestors and lost loved ones. The offerings are placed on the tombstones, attracting the souls with enticing aromas and thousands of candles. This is a fascinating, mystical event with deep roots in the culture and religion of the area.
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