On our recent trip we decided to go to a different place, a new place for us, and somehow Oaxaca appeared on our map. Without thinking twice, we bought the tickets and set sail on our adventure to beautiful Oaxaca.
Located 460km (286 miles) southeast of Mexico City, Oaxaca de Juarez is the capital of the Oaxaca State. It’s the fifth largest state and the tenth most populated in Mexico.
The name Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ka) comes from the nahuatl “Huāxyacac” meaning the place of the Huaje trees. The lives of the oaxaqueños are still influenced by the Zapotec indigenous people and the Mixtec culture established hundreds of years ago.
It is the Mexican state with more municipalities, numbering 570 in which 418 are governed by what we say in Mexico: “usos y costumbres,” meaning traditions and customs, not political parties.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived in the City of Oaxaca was its art and vibrant colors everywhere we looked. The people there are warm and very nice. We felt the welcoming of this ancient territory right away.
Once we arrived at our Airbnb, we asked the owner if she knew a good place to have dinner and she suggested “El Barrio de Jalatlaco,” and off we go.
Jalatlaco is a small neighborhood close to Oaxaca’s El Centro. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city. The temple of San Matías Jalatlaco is right in the center of this beautiful city. According to a survey done by the British “Time Out” magazine in 2019, Jalatlaco is considered one of the 50 coolest neighborhoods in the world and we could easily see why. The small cobblestone streets, the murals and street art in every corner, the coffee shops, family restaurants, ice cream parlors. It is just spectacular. “Empezamos con el pie derecho,” we started with the right foot as we say in Mexico when we start our vacations.
Interestingly, we didn’t make any plans for any of our days in Oaxaca, quite unusual for us, but for some reason we were open to anything the city had to offer and it turned out to be the best plan.
Staying in a place close to the downtown area, it’s easy to walk to all the museums, plazas, parks, markets, restaurants, coffee shops, galleries, clothes shops and more.
For us it didn’t matter which street we chose to walk, we always found interesting places to go in and more interesting people to talk to. As we say, every shop, bar, restaurant, gallery and museum are like a universe in itself where you immerse, then you walk out of the place just to find another universe.
For example, there are collective stores where many artists and artisans belong to a community and they have a gallery with many showrooms to show their different pieces of art, clothes, rugs, clay art, “alebrijes” that they all create. You could be there for hours, like us, and couldn’t see all the art. It was overwhelming in the best way.
Later, we visited the two main archeological sites of the region. The first one we visited is the most important of all the sites in Oaxaca: Monte Albán. It’s just 25 minutes away by car from downtown. It was one of the most important cities in Mesoamerica. Founded in 500 BC on top of a mountain in the center of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, it was the capital of the Zapotec Reign from the beginning of our era until 800 AD. At its time of greatest development, Monte Albán had about 35,000 inhabitants, who lived mostly on the terraced slopes of the mountain dedicated to agriculture. They had great communication with the Teotihuacan people. It is definitely a must see when you go to Oaxaca.
The other one we visited is called “Mitla,” an hour away from the city. The town as well as the ruins are just amazing. This site was the main ceremonial center after Monte Albán. The word Mitla or Mictlán comes from the Nahuatl and it means “Place of the Dead” or “Underworld.” In Zapotec language it is called “Lyobaa,” which means “Place of the Burials.” In Mexica the word evolved to Mitlan, “place of the dead” and in Spanish it was simply Mitla. There are no words to describe the vibe and the energy of this place.
Lucky us, while we were in the ruins, we witnessed a funeral procession. In the first row we saw the musicians leading the procession playing funeral music followed by the relatives carrying the coffin and the rest of the family and friends at the end. We were just mind-blown.
Another unbelievably wonderful place we visited was Santa María del Tule the town with the most incredible tree we have ever seen. The Ahuehuete tree, called “El Tule,” is more than two thousand years old. It holds the world record for the tree with the widest trunk in the world. It is literally a living forest in one enormous majestic tree. Our jaws dropped standing next to El Tule. It is possible to see a large number of figures of animals and beings in its bark, trunk and branches. The easiest to see are the lion’s head, the elephant, the crocodile, the deer’s head, but like we said there are many more.
There are a lot more things to talk about Oaxaca, such as its well-known gastronomy, its city markets, its distinctive neighborhoods, the petrified waterfalls Hierve El Agua, “The Guelaguetza,” which is the biggest and most important fiesta in the State of Oaxaca, but they will be topics for our next blog.
We hope you enjoyed our adventure to beautiful Oaxaca. Look for more next time.