The Ultimate Oaxaca Bucket List: 21 Things To Do

The city of Oaxaca is my favorite in all of Mexico. With a good mix of culture, fun, and adventure, it is probably among the most balanced of all of the major Mexican cities. Oaxaca is a big city, but it never feels all that big. It maintains a small town vibe, with mostly everything within walking distance. The best part of Oaxaca was the diverse amount of things to do. I tried to keep this short and sweet without the annoying filler that most blog posts like this include. So no, you won’t find any bullshit like “~walk through the town~” or “~eat food~” that assumes that you weren’t already going to do that shit anyway.

Table of Contents

The Best Things To Do in Oaxaca City

Visit Templo de Santo Domingo (and the neighboring Cultural Museum)

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Oaxaca’s Templo de Santo Domingo is one of the most incredible churches I have seen in my life. Housed in the 16th century church’s interior are thousands of decorations, each one intricately done with impeccable detail. It is hard to miss, considering it is one of the most central and iconic locations in all of Oaxaca. On the inside of the church, one can gaze in wonder forever at the beautiful frescoes and baroque architecture. There are tiny details everywhere you look. Just outside the church, you’ll find the hustle of Oaxaca at its finest, a bustling plaza where all sorts of alleyways and side roads intersect.

Explore Oaxaca’s Zocalo

Like most big cities in Mexico, the hub of Oaxaca is in the Zocalo, or central plaza. This is the main square of Oaxaca de Juarez, located right in the heart of the historic center. The zocalo is a great place to admire Oaxaca’s colonial architecture and take in the pure, unfiltered hustle and bustle of the city. At night, the Zocalo truly comes to life as mariachis and salsa dancers take to the plaza. Street food vendors pop up, offering tasty elotes, esquites, tacos, tlayudas, and much more. It is also the site of many cultural events and festivals. There’s always something going on here, so be sure to spend some time here.

Hike up to Auditorio Guelaguetza for Sunset

If you’re staying anywhere near the touristic center of Oaxaca, you probably noticed a big white tent looking thing up on the hill. It is a stadium and while the stadium itself isn’t really worth going to unless there’s a show, getting up on that hill gives you an incredible view of Oaxaca. It gives you the scope of how vast the city actually is, with neighborhoods lining the beautiful hillsides of Oaxaca.

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Along the way, you’ll stumble into some tunnels that have some beautiful displays of street art. The murals line the stairs, the walls, the tunnels, and are everywhere you look. It’s well worth hiking up to the stadium just to see the art. Combine that with one of the best views in Oaxaca and it’s very much worth the sore legs.

Visit the Countless Art Galleries and Art Museums

One thing that amazed me about Oaxaca was its devotion to the arts. There are so many art galleries, street art displays, and museums dedicated to just art. You could spend days exploring the streets of Oaxaca just browsing through the street art. All over downtown historic Oaxaca are art galleries and art museums. Artisanal markets and local craftsmen selling their wares at markets rounds out Oaxaca as a perfect place to indulge in the arts.

Go Street Art Spotting at Oaxaca’s Reforma Neighborhood

The Reforma neighborhood is a residential and commercial area located in the northern part of Oaxaca City, Mexico. It’s known for its modern architecture, upscale shopping centers, and restaurants. However, the highlight for me is the abundance of street art all throughout the barrio. It’s a very artsy neighborhood, and has its fair share of several museums. The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo features contemporary art from local and international artists, and is well worth stopping by.

The Best Day Trips from Oaxaca

Take a Tour of a Mezcal Distillery

Oaxaca is widely considered to be the mezcal capital of the world, making it one of the premier party destinations in Mexico. For those of you who aren’t familiar with mezcal, you are in for a treat. There are a number of mezcal bars and artisanal mezcal distilleries located all over Oaxaca and the surrounding area. It’s pretty easy to end up muy borracho in Oaxaca. Seriously, no trip to Oaxaca is complete without taking a tour of a local distillery and learning about the production process. It is truly incredible to see how it goes from just a young agave plant to – whatever, I’m sure you really don’t care about the details. Let’s cut to the good stuff. There is an all you can drink mezcal tasting following probably every mezcal distillery tour so yeah, go to one.


Whether you are actually interested in the process (which is undeniably fascinating) or just want to drink some of Mexico’s finest liquors, a mezcal distillery tour in Oaxaca is a can’t miss event. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a tour agency offering mezcal distillery tours. Many day tours often tack a mezcal distillery visit to the end of the itinerary. However, it’s possible to do one on your own by taking a colectivo to one of the pueblos and walking right in. That gives you as much time as you’d like to tour the grounds and taste as much mezcal as you could possibly want.

See the t h i c c est tree in the world in Tule

This was one of the stops on an extremely random tour that I went on and I thought it would just be pretty stupid. However, the tree is stupid t h i c c. I can’t remember the exact numbers but it weighs a ridiculous 600,000 tons or something. It is seriously immense. You will be in awe at the size of this lad. It is an absolute unit. No other tree I’ve seen has even come close to the numbers this one pulls.

I just looked it up and it is an astonishing 119 feet around. It may not be the tallest, but what it lacks in height it makes up for in girth. Absolute unit. It is called El Arbol del Tule. If you’re in the area, it is quite fascinating to check out.

Be One With the Cacti at Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve

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A couple hours north of Oaxaca City is where the desert meets the mountains. Thousands upon thousands of cacti and other plant life call this reserve home. It can often feel like a surreal experience. Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve is incredibly beautiful to explore and is often overlooked by tourists. My entire time there, I saw 0 international tourists, stumbling into just a group of three Mexicans with their local guide. You can camp in the reserve to catch some of the most unique sunrises and sunsets you’ll see in all of Mexico.

Roam Through the Ruins of Monte Alban

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This ancient city was founded as early as 500 BC and was continuously inhabited for thousands of years. Tucked away in the mountains about 20 minutes away from the center of Oaxaca, Monte Alban is one of the top things you need to do in Oaxaca. Sure, you’ve probably seen your fair share of ruins all throughout Central America but Monte Alban also boasts a killer view of the mountains. Walk towards the edges of the archaeological site and get an incredible panoramic view of Oaxaca de Juarez and the surrounding rural towns and farms.

Stop By The Archaeological Site of Mitla

Admittedly this place is not as cool or as big as Monte Alban. However, Mitla is still worth the stop, being only 40 kilometers outside of Oaxaca City. Next to Monte Alban, it is considered to be the second most important archaeological site in the Oaxaca region. It is especially important to the Zapotec people, just one of the many thriving cultures that still call Mexico home today.

Visit the Otherworldly Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua is one of the most magical places I have ever seen. It is a natural mineral spring located near the town of Mitla, known for its petrified waterfalls, which are formed by mineral deposits that resemble frozen waterfalls. You can even swim in the natural pool while soaking in the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. It is an otherworldly place to explore, from the petrified waterfall to the lunar landscapes at the top and the brightly colored natural infinity pools. You might feel like you’re an entirely different planet while you are there.

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Make sure to allot several hours to Hierve el Agua. Take an hour or two to hike around the area and get all of the incredible angles of the place then laze the rest of the day away in the natural pools that have formed at the top of the waterfall. It is an excellent place to catch the sunrise or the sunset. Although there is no bad time to see it, it does get pretty crowded so it is best to go early in the day or later towards the end of the day. There are cabins and accommodation options so you can spend the night at Hierve el Agua if you wish.

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Pop Over to the Small Village of Teotitlan del Valle

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Teotitlan del Valle is a small village located outside of Oaxaca City, known for its traditional textiles and carpets made by the Zapotec people. It is a great place to buy traditional textiles and learn about the traditional techniques of dying and weaving. There is also a really neat cultural museum that was one of my favorites that I visited in Mexico. While Teotitlan is quite small, it’s well worth a day trip from Oaxaca. If you have time, I’d also recommend hiking up Cerro Picacho just outside the city for some beautiful views.

Get Lost in the Chaos of Tlacolula’s Sunday Market

One of the liveliest markets I’ve been to in Mexico is in the small village of Tlacolula. The Tlacolula Sunday Market, also known as the Mercado de Tlacolula, is a traditional indigenous market that takes place every Sunday in Tlacolula. It is one of the oldest markets in Oaxaca, and it’s a great place to experience the traditional way of life of the Zapotec people.

At the market, you’ll find a wide variety of traditional crafts, textiles, pottery, jewelry, and other hand-made items made by local artisans. The market is also a great place to find traditional foods such as tamales, tlayudas, and other local specialties.

Tlacolula is about an hour away from Oaxaca, and it’s easy to reach by colectivo or by taxi. It’s a small town, so there isn’t much to do outside of the market. However, if you’re looking for sensory overload at its finest, then a visit to Tlacolula’s Sunday market is a must.

The Best Restaurants, Nightlife, and Markets in Oaxaca

Try Some Unique Flavors at the Ice Cream Market

Yeah, you heard right. There is literally a market in Oaxaca that sells only ice cream. Hundreds of flavors of ice cream, including some that you might have never even heard of before. You literally just chill in the plaza with everyone while you all eat your ice cream. There will also likely be a band that stumbles into the plaza at some point because this is Mexico. Absolutely worth going to just for the ice cream.

Feast on Meats at Pasillo de Las Carnes

Within the tightly-packed Mercado 20 de Noviembre, you’ll find Pasillo de las Carnes. This probably isn’t the best place for vegetarians but for anyone looking to indulge in heaps of meat, this is the place to go. You can order a kilo of mixed meats for about $10 and feast. It is just one of the many local markets you can stumble into in Oaxaca.

Feast on Grasshoppers (Chapulines)

There’s plenty to go around, if you couldn’t tell. I don’t know where they get all of these grasshoppers but there is an unfathomable amount of chapulines to feast on. I am beyond surprised with how much I genuinely enjoyed eating this. They were a perfect snack. Traveling with my nutritionist friend, I was also excited to find out that they were probably very healthy. High in protein and low in everything else, apparently.

Visit Oaxaca’s Artisan Market

This is a really cool experience to do in Oaxaca for a number of reasons. It gives you a glimpse of Mexico beyond the ignorant “tacos and tequila” tourist. It also makes for among the best and most authentic shopping experiences you can have in Mexico. One of the most interesting things about Mexico are the hundreds of different indigenous tribes, languages, and cultures it has. Many of those tribes excel at certain things. The Raramuri for example, can run hundreds of miles without stopping. For something less intense, the Zapotec just outside of Oaxaca are expert weavers and artisans. A great village to visit to get a firsthand look at the work of these artisans is Teotitlan del Valle. There are dozens of cultures to learn about in Mexico and I advise trying to immerse yourself in as many of them as possible.


Oaxaca is a mad cool place, and I didn’t even cover a lot of the stuff that you could do within the town itself. Some of the churches are among the most magnificent I have ever seen in my life. Strolling around the city is exciting and always filled with adventure. Seriously, if you’ve been to any Mexican town, you know just how much they love their music and dancing. Walk around anywhere and you are bound to stumble into a show.

Try Some Local Oaxacan Mole

Oaxaca is considered the “land of the moles,” and there are many different types of mole sauce to try, including mole negro, mole coloradito, and mole verde. Mole is traditionally served with chicken, pork, or beef and it’s usually accompanied by rice and tortillas. There is no better place to try mole than Oaxaca, and you’ll find plenty of local restaurants in Oaxaca to satisfy your craving for mole.

Have a Jumbo Tlayuda at Tlayudas La Chinita

These are large, crispy tortillas, similar to a tostada, often filled with beans, cheese, and meat. They are a popular street food in Oaxaca and are often served as a snack or a light meal. Not the ones at Tlayudas La Chinita, though. There’s a reason this street food stand was featured on Netflix’s Street Food series. These tlayudas are gigantic, giving you an insane bang for your buck at 70 pesos ($3.50) for one with the works. Mine lasted me three whole meals. For delicious local eats, make sure to stop by here.

Grab Some Baked Goods From Boulenc

Oaxaca is the food capital of Mexico, but it excels at far more than just Mexican food. Boulenc is a French bakery with some incredible pastries. Walking past it every day to get back to my hostel was simply too much temptation for me to resist. Grabbing a croissant or slice of pizza was part of my daily routine. If you’ve got room in your stomach for a tasty treat, be sure to pop in to Boulenc.

Dance the Night Away at Txalaparta

You’ll find that Oaxaca has quite a lively nightlife scene. One of my favorite places to dance the night away is Txalaparta, home to multiple dance floors either playing live music or Latin hits. Drinks are reasonably priced, and I’d argue it’s the best place in Oaxaca to party.

Best Hostels in Oaxaca, Mexico

If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by buying me a beer! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.

Where to go after Oaxaca

The mountains, cloud shows, and magic mushrooms of San Jose del Pacifico.

playa carrizalillo

The lush beaches of the stunning Puerto Escondido.

playa cometa mazunte

The quiet coastal village of Mazunte, Mexico.

san cristobal de las casas travel guide

The beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas, tucked away in the mountains and jungles of Chiapas.

My Complete Mexico Itinerary

Be sure to check out my complete Mexico backpacking itinerary, a jam-packed 68-page guide covering 30 of my favorite destinations in magical Mexico.

Buy Me A Beer!

If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by buying me a beer! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.

25 thoughts on “The Ultimate Oaxaca Bucket List: 21 Things To Do

  1. Mexico is still in my bucket list and glad you have shared the top things to do. The ice cream market sounds interesting, especially if we visit in the summer.

  2. This looks like it would be such a beautiful experience. I have never been to Mexico but goodness does it look so awesome.

  3. Thank you very much for a great article about Oaxaca! Need to visit when next time in Mexico ❤ Hierve el Agua has been on our list but we didn’t know about Monte Alban and Tehuacan Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve.

  4. Such interesting shares about things to do and see in Oaxaca, I would not miss seeing the El Arbol del Tule tree if I am ever in the location as it looks absolutely magical and stunning!

  5. I am a beach person at heart. I love to be outdoors in warm weather enjoying the sun and blue skies and Puerto Escondido seems like the perfect place for my next travel. The view is BREATHTAKING as well as calming. <3 Thank you for this list.

  6. Wow, you really make Oaxaca look amazing! A good friend of mine just moved down there and I’ve been wondering what the appeal might be. Now I get it. And now I need to plan a trip to visit her! Thanks!

  7. So many great things to love about this place. Truly a bucket list material. Will def visit here.

  8. OMG that Paseo de las Carnes is incredible. I love the Santo Domingo cathedral. What a great destination to visit.

  9. I’ve absolutely saved that to my pinterest board. This is a great list-stunning! Thank you:)

  10. These spots look like such cool places to explore! Mexico has so many amazing things to see, food to try and culture to discover.

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