Oaxaca is the culinary capital of Mexico. This historical town (designated a UNESCO World Heritage site) is found in the heart of the country, 6 hours drive or a short flight from the country’s capital, Mexico City. Oaxaca is known for its charming colonial buildings and colourful murals, which depict scenes from the region’s history. We spent a few days discovering the food and culture of the area, tasting street food and local specialities and travelling out of the town to nearby sights and natural wonders.
Quinta Real Oaxaca – Quinta Real hotel is found in the centre of Oaxaca historic town. The atmospheric building has a long and intriguing history, built in 1576 as the Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena. We were in a spacious ground floor room, a cool and calm place to rest after a busy day exploring.
Boulenc – The ultimate breakfast spot in Oaxaca. This stylishly rustic bakery has an array of fresh pastries every morning, or if you want something more substantial head to the cafe where they serve a menu of irresistable brunch dishes. We visited twice to get our morning coffee and croissant fix, I can highly recommend pain au chocolat and the hot-cakes (gluten-free pancakes with banana, citrus butter, whipped cream, berry sauce, basil and house granola) from the cafe.
Casa Oaxaca – There are two Casa Oaxaca restaurants in town, both are run by the same company, but I recommend heading to the larger ‘El Restaurante’, not the hotel eatery, as there is more choice and you have beautiful views over the town. Star chef Alejandro Ruiz serves up traditional dishes with a creative twist, we enjoyed the crispy duck tacos, rack of lamb with mole, and the vibrant salsa which the staff make for you at the table.
Pan:Am – This fun, neighbourhood bakery serves all-day brunch and bakes wonderful bread and pastries. We visited one morning for their hearty baked eggs and fresh juice.
Casa Taviche – For a reasonably-priced dinner, head to local restaurant Casa Taviche. The colourful eatery is homely and welcoming and the service is very friendly. At lunchtime it is especially cheap… you can get a three course set lunch for £3. For dinner we had comforting sweetcorn soup and pork ribs with red mole, washed down with homemade lemonade.
Criollo – For a special meal in Oaxaca head to Criollo, by Pujol chef Enrique Olvera, who aims to return to his Mexican roots with this beautiful eatery. There is no a la carte so you have to opt for the tasting menu, 7 courses for £27. The dining space is minimalist and stylish and the food is exciting and delicious, firmly rooted in the traditions of Oaxacan cuisine.
La Mezcaloteca – This unique bar offers in-depth Mezcal tastings and teachings. La Mezcaloteca is dark and intimate, and the staff’s expertise is immediately obvious. Book ahead and sit at the bar for an hour session trying three hand-picked craft mezcals.
Cafe El Volador – Cafe El Volador is a little speciality cafe that serves the best espresso in Oaxaca. Sit at one of the few tables and soak up the atmosphere while getting your caffeine kick.
Sabina Sabe – Head to Sabina Sabe for delicious cocktails, food and a fun evening. We tried a couple of great cocktails – the Trinidad and Pequeño Gigante – and a strong but alluring Mezcal Old Fashioned. Vegetarian Talyudas and Chicarrones were the ideal accompanying snack.
Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca – Located in the centre of town, beside the church of Santo Domingo, this stunning and large garden features plants from Oaxaca state. My favourite was the dramatic alley of cacti. Guests can only visit these beautiful botanic gardens on a guided tour – costing £4 per person. There are English tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am, and they also run daily tours in Spanish.
Alvarez Bravo Photographic Centre – Born and raised in Mexico City, Manuel Alvarez Bravo (1902-2002) was one of Latin America’s most important 20th Century photographers. This small gallery space exhibits the work of promising current Mexican and international photographers. Entry is free.
Museo Textil de Oaxaca – Get an insight into Mexico’s tradition of textiles at this calm and colourful museum. Entry is free, but be sure to take some money to spend in the great shop.
Colectivo 1050 – This collective of artists and artisans produce handmade ceramics to celebrate Oaxacan pottery in a contemporary style. The pretty shop has a wide range of special and unique items.
Tienda Q – A high-end concept store selling Mexican clothes, accessories and homeware. The collection is carefully curated and beautifully presented. Look out for the amazing set of coloured wax candles.
Miku Meko Atelier – Get lost in this emporium of lovely things. The shop was opened by Alelí Hernández as a place for female artisans to work independently and sell in a group space. Pick up a one-off ceramic piece, exceptional textiles or a handmade gift to take home.
Lanii Gifts – Lanii concept shop is best known for its woven bags, but you can find so much more in this stunning tiled boutique. Set up by three friends – Sara, Michelle and Sophia – Lanii promotes Oaxacan crafts through a range of colours, textures, materials and dyes. I wanted everything in this chic store.
Hierve el Agua – These natural pools and waterfalls are a 90-minute drive from Oaxaca. Surrounded by stunning scenery, it is best experienced early in the morning before the crowds arrive. Swim in the natural pools, and don’t miss a hike up to the viewpoint.
Mitla Archaeological site – Mitla (meaning ‘underworld’ in Zapotec) is one of Mexico’s best known ruins. There are five groups of buildings to see, look out for the rare tiled structures and don’t miss the eerie underground tombs. Tickets cost £3 per person, and tours are available for those who want a more in depth understanding of the ruins.
Gracias a Dios Mezcal factory – Santiago Matatlan (an hour East of Oaxaca) is known as the world capital of Mezcal. There of hundreds of distilleries in the area, but I recommend a tour and tasting at Gracias a Dios. This charming artisan maker is one of the smaller factories and has been run by the same family for four generations. They produce a range of handmade, double-distilled mezcals, that you can see being made and then taste. Our favourite was the award-winning Espadin Reposado, which is aged for four months in American Oak and has woody taste not dissimilar to bourbon whiskey.
Atzompa – This tiny town is known for its green glazed pottery and tiles. Just a 20 minute drive from Oaxaca, we bought a collection of 12 miniature dishes for just £4.
Monte Alban – This famous archaeological site is the historic capital city of Oaxaca. Dating back to the 8th century, this important collection of ruins consists of pyramids, plazas, underground passageways and tombs. Wander round and take in the panoramic views.