About 10 miles (16 km) south of Oaxaca City, Zaachila (pop. 30,000), like Mitla, overlies the ruins of its ancient namesake city, which rose to prominence after the decline of Monte Albán. Although excavations have uncovered many Mixtec-style remains, historical records nevertheless list a number of Zapotec kings (including the greatest, Zaachila Yoo, for whom the town is named) who ruled Zaachila as a virtual Zapotec capital during the 14th and 15th centuries.
Nevertheless, by the eve of the conquest, in the early 16th century, a noble Mixtec minority dominated the Zapotec-speaking inhabitants, whose leaders the Mixtec warriors had sent fleeing for their lives to Tehuántepec.
The big forested hill that rises north of the market plaza is topped by a large, mostly unexplored pyramid. Several unexcavated mounds and courtyards dot the hill’s north and south flanks. The site parking lot and entrance gate to the ruins are adjacent to the colonial church just north of the plaza.
Zaachila’s Thursday market brings in Zapotec-speaking people from the surrounding area.
If you’re in the mood for food, wholesome (make sure you get it served hot) country fare is available at the regiment of fondas in the permanent, roofed section of the market. Alternatively, enjoy lunch at the showplace Restaurant La Capilla (tel. 951/528-6115, 7 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, $5–10). Get there on foot or by asking your moto-taxi driver to let you off at La Capilla (kah-PEE-yah), on the main east–west Oaxaca ingress street, a few blocks west of the market.
By bus, get to Zaachila via Autobuses de Oaxaca, from the camionera central segunda clase in Oaxaca City, or by private tourist bus.
By car from Oaxaca City, head south from downtown to the periférico. Do not continue south via the airport Highway 131–175. Instead, from the periférico a block west of the airport-highway intersection (watch for the Monte Albán sign), follow the four-lane boulevard that angles southwest, away from the periférico, across the Río Atoyac bridge.
Just after crossing the bridge, do not continue straight ahead toward Monte Albán, but take the second left (south) onto the old (scenic route) Zaachila road, which also passes Cuilapan and Arrazola. (Note: The first left fork heads along the no-nonsense new highway, in a straight four-lane bee-line toward Zaachila, bypassing Cuilapan and Arrazola.)
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition