Experience the best of Mexico, both old and new, in Oaxaca. Once isolated and little visited, this Mexican state is now fulfilling its promise. New superhighways and airline routes have increased access to its capital city, a gateway to an abundance of both colonial history and rich cultural heritage, which includes 16 separate living languages, spoken in dozens of distinct dialects and spread among hundreds of ethnically separate indigenous groups.
A generation ago, the United Nations recognized Oaxaca City’s unique gifts by naming it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city acknowledged the compliment, rebuilding and refurbishing its graceful colonial-era buildings, churches, and monuments, including the venerable Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
But the city is as much about the present as the past. By day, people linger at plaza-front sidewalk cafés beneath shady arches; by night, the same central plaza comes alive with entertainment, from arts and crafts stalls to folkloric dance.
The cultural wealth is even more evident as you move outside the city. The surrounding Valley of Oaxaca is ringed by ancient ruins, including magnificent Mitla and Yagul. On the south side, explore mysterious and revered Zaachila. To the southwest, Monte Albán, Mesoamerica’s first true city, still reigns from its mountaintop throne.
These ghosts of the ancients exist side by side with vibrant native markets, one for practically each day of the week, decorated with stalls offering everything from colorful carpets and pottery to embroidered dresses and alebrijes, Oaxaca’s celebrated wooden animals. More contemporary pleasures can be found on the golden strands of Pacific coastal resorts like Puerto Ángel, the Bahías de Huatulco, and Puerto Escondido.
Wherever you wander in this rich land, you’ll find excitement, lots of friendly folks, relatively low prices, and a host of traditional Mexican delights.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition