Travelers worldwide have long flocked to popular vacation spots in Mexico like Cabo San Lucas and Cancun. Now with more flight options and international connections, the southern state of Oaxaca is rapidly gaining traction as a more authentic, must-see destination.
The Oaxacan coastline boasts miles and miles of picturesque beaches to soak up the sun. At the same time, the vibrant capital city is steeped in art, history, cuisine, and culture. To top it off, the landscape and climate of Oaxaca are incredibly diverse. Visitors will find everything from steamy tropical jungle to dense and temperate pine forests sitting at an altitude of nearly 2500 meters within the same small state. There is truly something for everyone to enjoy!
The Magic Of Oaxaca
There are over 16 different officially recognized indigenous languages actively spoken in the state of Oaxaca. Along with their language, each of these distinct ethnic groups has also maintained their own unique identity and traditions. This has been further fostered by the geographic fragmentation resulting from the rugged terrain. Oaxaca is traversed by 3 mountain ranges, creating communities that are tight-knit yet unique from one another.
Oaxacan people are warm and welcoming. While visiting Oaxaca City, make a point to take a day trip to at least one of these indigenous villages for a real cultural experience. Don't pass up the opportunity to purchase beautiful, hand-crafted arts and textiles.
- San Martin Tilcajete: this community is an epicenter for traditional alebrije design. Skilled artisans carve the figures out of sacred wood and then paint them with colorful Zapotec designs.
- Teotitlán del Valle: head here for the most amazing loom-woven textiles, direct from the source. The native families in this region have been passing their intricate weaving and design skills down for centuries.
For Everything Bad, Mezcal And For Everything Good As Well
The English translation of the popular saying in Oaxaca (para todo mal, mezcal y para todo bien, tambien) reflects the affinity for the staple spirit of the region. Mezcal is synonymous with Oaxacan culture, with more than 70% of all mezcal being produced in the state.
Like tequila, mezcal is derived from the agave plant. It undergoes a unique distillation process that is still carried out using traditional methods, however, rather than mass-production, so it is a more sustainable spirit. The growing popularity of mezcal in the international culinary scene is providing a great economic boost to local palenques in what is one of the poorest states in Mexico. Although mezcal can officially originate from a handful of Mexican states, Oaxacan mezcal is unanimously regarded as the best. It is a must-try while traveling in Oaxaca!
There are many educational tours and guided tastings available where travelers can learn all about the production process and meet the local ‘mezcaleros’. Otherwise, simply sample the goods at just about any bar or restaurant. Here's a quick crash course to get started though:
- Mezcal is for sipping, not shooting.
- The accompanying orange slices are meant to clear the palette between sips (not used as a chaser).
- For the uninitiated, mezcal blanco (rather than reposado or añejo) may provide a smoother, lighter introduction.
Not Just Another Day At The Beach
The coastal towns dotting the Oaxacan coastline have some pretty special characteristics that set them apart from other beach vacation destinations. There are no shopping malls or fast-food chains, and eco-friendly/ boutique accommodation is preferred to obtrusive resorts or high-rise hotels.
Get Up Close And Personal With Baby Sea Turtles
The coast of Oaxaca is internationally recognized for sea turtles and is one of the top five nesting areas in the world! Several of the species inhabiting Mexico’s pacific coast even arrive for a yearly ‘arribada’ on beaches surrounding the seaside towns of Mazunte and Puerto Angel. During this spectacular occurrence, tens of thousands of sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs at the same time.
This entire stretch of coastline has implemented dedicated sea turtle conservation efforts and sanctuaries, such as the Palmarito Sea Turtle Rescue. Both government and non-government organizations work closely with local communities to focus on surveillance, hatching productivity, data collection, ecosystem protection, and public education.
In Puerto Escondido, you can visit the conservation co-op Vive Mar and help release baby sea turtle hatchlings into the sea.
- Cost: 100 peso donation (around $5 USD) per person to release a hatchling
- Location: Bacocho Beach, in front of the main (and only) public beach access
- Hours: 5 pm daily, Monday - Saturday
The Mexican Pipeline
Zicatela beach aka ‘The Mexican Pipeline’ is located in the coastal enclave of Puerto Escondido and is home to some of the biggest waves in the world. Even if you aren’t an expert surfer, you can still soak up the beach vibes and enjoy the show! During the swell season (May - September), surfers descend on Zicatela from around the world to test their skills. Grab a coffee and arrive at the beach early while the offshore winds are the strongest to see the best tube-riding action.
** Please note: Zicatela is ONLY for expert surfers. Anyone wishing to rent a board or take a surf lesson should head to a more suitable nearby beach like La Punta or Carrizalillo. **
Getting To Oaxaca
There are three major airports in Oaxaca (Oaxaca City, Huatulco, and Puerto Escondido). Oaxaca and Huatulco service more direct international routes, while most flights arriving into PXM come via Mexico City. For those who are Overlanding or exploring more of Mexico, numerous first-class bus lines provide a comfortable and relatively inexpensive travel option.
The state of Oaxaca offers something for all tastes, interests, and budgets. Just be sure to come with a sense of adventure. Buen viaje!