One of the most important cultural hubs in Mexico, the state of Oaxaca is absolutely brimming with beautiful art and delicious food, and its eponymous capital city sits pretty as its vibrant centerpiece. The problem with visiting Oaxaca de Juárez (just over an hour flight from CDMX) for a relatively short amount of time is not finding things to do, but rather narrowing down the intimidating number of options. Within the span of a few days, we found ourselves exploring boutique stores, ceramic studios, rooftop restaurants, mezcal palanques in the countryside and Zapotec ruins. While there’s no distilling the magic of Oaxaca down to one short list, here are some essentials when visiting the stunning city.
Travelers to Oaxaca are often aware before their visit that the state is one of the most important locations for artisans in all of Mexico. It’s famed for textiles, and a burgeoning class of multimedia studios like Rrres have helped solidify Oaxaca as an artistic powerhouse. Founded by Dominican-born Javier Reyes, Rrres produces everything from punchy, graphic woven rugs to wall hangings, tall sculptural palm baskets and hand-formed clay vessels—all created in partnership with local artisans. Their studio is located on a cobblestone street in the colorful barrio of Jalataclo, with viewing appointments available upon request.
Levadura de Olla
Not many restaurants have a designated heirloom tomato room, but then again, there’s only one Levadura de Olla and one chef Thalía Barrios. At Levadura de Olla, tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colors sit staring up at framed photos (also of tomatoes), waiting to be hand-picked by the kitchen staff for use in the restaurant’s delicious dishes. The rest of the space is even more dreamy, with a large open-air courtyard and unique local ceramics used both for decoration and serving. The menu is vegetable-forward with many dishes calling upon ancient cooking techniques and family recipes, so you really can’t go wrong, but we recommend starting your meal with the guacamole con chapulines (grasshoppers) and a refreshing cup of agua de maiz (a traditional corn beverage).
The term “bed and breakfast” might conjure up images of quaint private residences, but Grana B&B lays that stereotype to rest. Located on a bustling square on the west side of Oaxaca de Juárez, you can instead find Grana in a spacious, converted 18th century mansion. A communal kitchen off the main lobby features emerald green tiles and local ceramic artwork, and the building’s skylit center courtyard is perhaps the main attraction—stocked to the brim with plants and dotted with a fountain and bistro tables. Unique details make this B&B memorable, from ceramic Japanese soaking tubs to a courtyard wall covered in tea lights and hanging nopales (cactus paddles). Come golden hour, you can’t beat watching the sun dip below the horizon from atop Grana’s rooftop with a beer in hand.
Selva Cocktail Bar
Oaxaca is a mezcal enthusiast’s paradise, with small palanques dotted across the state’s diverse landscape. In Oaxaca de Juárez, there are spirit shops and mezcalerías—bars that specializes in artisanal mezcal—on almost every block. If you’re in search of a quality mezcal drink, Selva is where you should head. A stylish cocktail den on the second floor of Los Danzantes restaurant, the bar (whose name means “jungle”) features a glorious balcony where guests can sip a drink crafted using ingredients typically used in Oaxacan healing practices.
The items stocked by Marchanta are lovely, as is the shopping experience. Colorful floor tiles and light pink plaster walls create a stunning backdrop to a carefully curated selection of clothing, accessories and home goods. Nearly everything found at Marchanta has been created by Mexican designers, from purses and straw fans by Lordag & Sondag to linen tops hand embroidered by Temoaya artisans. Other shops—just a few minutes’ walk away—worth a visit include Tienda Q, Kiyo Cafe and Colectivo 1050.
Not within Oaxaca de Juárez, the small village of Teotitlán del Valle is about an hour’s drive away. Surrounded by mountains, the picturesque municipality is known for its plethora of skilled weavers and textile artists, and people visit from near and far to source their rugs, which are dyed with natural materials like plants and insects. It’s also home to Doña Viviana Alávez, who has been hand-making candles there for over 60 years since she was a child. Doña Viviana is largely credited for reviving the region’s storied candle-making industry, making her home studio, Casa Viviana, a true piece of living history. Behind a modest facade one finds a yard with a gorgeous textile loom, honey-colored blocks of beeswax and large candlesticks cooling on a spinning rack—some standing taller than Doña Viviana herself. If you’re rightfully worried about fitting one into your carry on, she has plenty of smaller options available, including gorgeous floral designs using natural colorants.
Hero image courtesy of Grana B&B