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Oaxaca: A Festive Fusion of Flavors and Traditions

by | Jan 20, 2024 | Oaxaca, Traveling

Exploring Oaxaca A Vibrant Journey of Food, Culture, and Festivities

After two and a half weeks in Mexico City, I had a brief three-day mid-January jaunt to Oaxaca. It was nothing short of enchanting! While the city’s vibrant streets and rich culture provided an unforgettable experience within this brief period, it became clear that a longer stay would be necessary to fully explore the destinations beyond the city. For this trip, I spent the entire time wandering the colorful streets of Oaxaca and tasting the delicious foods.

Oaxaca, a city known for its vibrant colors, rich culture, and mouth-watering cuisine, has been a dream destination of mine for a while. My recent trip to this beautiful city was magical. From the bustling markets to the lively street festivities, every corner of Oaxaca offered a new adventure. Here’s a glimpse into my unforgettable three-day experience in this enchanting city.

When I first arrived, I stepped out of my little apartment to find a small city filled with vibrant color and charm. On the way to lunch, there were not only colorfully painted buildings but huge puppets and people in costumes out celebrating something. This was in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

Day 1 Wandering Through the Heart of Oaxaca

A Colorful Start

My first day in Oaxaca was all about soaking in the city’s vibrant atmosphere. I wandered around, taking in the colorful streets and the lively energy that seemed to permeate every corner. One of my first stops was a museum showcasing the works of Oaxacan painters. The art was stunning and offered a deep insight into the local culture and history.

A Culinary Delight

Lunchtime was a much-anticipated event. I learned about the restaurant, Almú from another traveler and had to check it out! The restaurant was completely outdoors,  kitchen included. Everything was cooked over an open fire and served at the casual and communal picnic tables. I chose the mole negro which came with rice and tortillas and then for dessert, I opted for the plantain roasted over the fire. Delicious!

Unexpected Adventures

After lunch, I stumbled upon a free walking tour and decided to join in. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the city and meet fellow travelers from the US. Later in the evening, my hunger struck again, and I found a great spot for tacos. Dinner for under $5? You can’t beat that!

Evening Festivities

The night in Oaxaca City Centro is always lively. I walked around, immersed in the dancing and various street activities. Every night felt like a celebration, and I was thrilled to be part of it.

Day 2 Markets and Mole

Morning Explorations

After a refreshing cup of coffee, I headed to the botanical garden, only to find out that it was open for guided tours only. Missing it by an hour, I decided to explore Mercado Benito Juárez instead. This market was a sensory overload with its array of souvenirs, fresh produce, meats, and even grasshoppers.

A Feast of Moles

The guide from the walking tour the previous day enthusiastically recommended a restaurant where they allow you to sample all seven distinctive moles from the state of Oaxaca before selecting up to three as part of a meal. Intrigued, I decided to venture out on the 35-minute stroll from the city’s center to try this. I tasted all seven and then decided on a trio of moles – the rich Coloradito, a vibrant green variation, and an intriguing mole accented with capers. Each of the seven options offered a unique taste experience, making it a difficult choice but I was happy with the three I picked.

Sweet Surprises

In the afternoon, I accidentally found a chocolate and mole shop where I could watch them make mole negro while sipping a cold chocolate drink. Later, I visited a rooftop bar, but couldn’t get a drink—a slight disappointment but the view made up for it. Wandering back, I saw a parade and ended the night with a huge tostada from a friendly street vendor. Another delicious $5 dinner!

Day 3 Gardens and Goodbyes

Botanical Wonders

Determined to visit the botanical garden, I arrived early and took the Spanish tour since the English one was full. The garden was a breathtaking display of cacti and other beautiful plants. This visit to the garden was exceptional and I can only imagine it would be even better if I was able to understand the tour guide and learn about the cacti. 

Flavors and Farewells

Lunch was a chicken and mole tamal as big as my forearm, paired with a green drink. The city’s rooftop bars redeemed themselves with excellent service this time around. The evening, once again, was filled with festive activities that made me realize how much I would miss Oaxaca.

Conclusion

Oaxaca is a city that captivates with its rich cultural heritage, delectable cuisine, and vibrant festivities. Every day in this city is a celebration of life, making it a must-visit for travel enthusiasts, foodies, and culture explorers. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in a unique and unforgettable experience, Oaxaca should be your next destination.

Colorful circular canopy of streamers in different colors hanging against a bright blue sky in Oaxaca, Mexico with buildings at the bottom edges.
A colorful street in Oaxaca with colorful buildings and flowers
A bowl of chicken mole and rice on a table at a restaurant called Almu in Oaxaca

I spent the next two days exploring the city, including catching up with a free English-speaking walking tour and a visit to the Botanical Gardens. I ended up taking the Spanish tour at the gardens because otherwise, I would not get to see it. I could not understand the guide but I was happy to get to go. For those planning a visit, I recommend arriving early. The Gardens operate on a strictly guided-tour basis, without reservations, and with a limited English tour schedule—at the time of my visit, just one per day, which I, unfortunately, missed.

When the sun sets, Oaxaca truly comes to life in a celebration of lights, music, and dance. The Zócalo, vibrant at any time, transforms into a bustling epicenter of joy each night. Here, both locals and visitors alike gather to sway to the rhythms of DJ sets or live bands, their melodies echoing off the ancient buildings. It’s not uncommon to find oneself swept up in the energy of spontaneous parades, often marking a birthday, quinceañera, or another significant life event, adding to the festive atmosphere that characterizes Oaxaca after dark.

Agave plants in front of the stone building at the Botanical Gardens in Oaxaca
A person holding up a cocktial at a rooftop bar in Oaxaca
A view from a rooftop bar in Oaxaca overlooking the city with the sun setting

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