Oaxaca is big. We learned that when people talk about visiting Oaxaca, it is not only to the city of Oaxaca de Juarez but to the many surrounding towns that all have something interesting to see. If you had only one week to visit Oaxaca, every day would be packed with trips to museums, ruins, artisans, and many more. So it’s a good thing our schedule is flexible and we have two full weeks to spend here. Here are some of the highlights from our first week in this diverse city.
Museum of Oaxacan Cultures and Santo Domingo Church
This is the number one recommended thing to do in Oaxaca. Even for us non-museum lovers, we easily spent over two hours here and could have spent much more. But Jamie was really excited about the museum too and couldn’t hold back his screams. The museum is in a beautifully restored former monastary attached to the Santo Domingo Church. The exhibits take visitors through the entire history of the Oaxacan region from thousands of years ago to the present day. The most famous exhibits are tomb treasures from the archeological site Monte Albán.
We also spent time walking around downtown, although the city itself hasn’t clicked with us the way other cities have. We have eaten a lot of mole here because Oaxaca is famous for its many different types of moles which are sauces based on chilies combined with dozens of other ingredients. They have many types of chili here so each mole is based on a different kind. The moles can range from white in color in mole blanco to the black mole negro and every shade of yellow, red and green in between.
The Oaxacan region has some of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico. The dominant ethnic group is the Zapotecs, who built the capital city of Monte Albán over 2500 years ago. Today it is a beautiful archeological site on top of a hill overlooking the Oaxacan valley. There is something very picturesque and tranquil about this site that makes this one of our favorites.
Since most of Oaxaca’s tourist attractions are outside the city, we needed our van to get around and we didn’t want to deal with setting up and taking down camp every day. Luckily the place we camped the first night, El Rincon de San Agustin, also had rooms for rent and we got a nice studio with soaring ceilings, Mexican tiles, patio, fireplace, kitchen and bath for the equivalent of US$40. This is a real treat for us so we took full advantage and hung out “at home” a lot.
Close to the inn in San Agustin Etla, we found this Asian fusion restaurant, Mia Arroz, that has some of the best food ever. The dishes combine Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai flavors, so a simple pad thai or kung pao chicken may not be what you have had before but will simply taste great. In one week, we ate there three times. We got to know the owner, James, a Canadian who has traveled all over and decided to try settling down in Oaxaca. Seven years ago, with no restaurant experience whatsoever and brand new in the country, he cooked and sold food out of a push cart at the weekly open air market. (Gutsy!) Fast forward to today he has a fully staffed restaurant with a loyal following that is only open 4 days a week, 6 hours a day. Talk about work-life balance!
James heard that we are interested in natural building, sustainable living ideas so he introduced us to Rocío, an inspiring and spirited Mexican woman who lives on an interesting property. The house was built with her own hands fourteen years ago and is made of adobe bricks, recycled glass and other salvaged materials. The land that was once barren has been restored and transformed with lush vegetation. She shows us her compost toilet that dispelled all our fears, a solar shower system that is alarmingly simple, an energy saving outdoor mud stove, among many cool things. It’s great to see someone who is making a difference for herself and the world.
13 Years Ago: