Cabañas ecoturísticas offer a unique opportunity for visitors weary of the tourist rush who desire more contact with local people and Oaxaca’s unique mountain cultures. Many of the participating communities produce fine handicrafts and enjoy scenic, wildlife-rich locations. For modest fees, these local communities furnish guides who lead visitors along scenic trails, past springs, caves, meadows, and mountain vistas, identifying useful plants and animals along the way. Some communities rent mountain bikes and offer instruction in rappelling and rock climbing and other outdoor diversions.
Given the city and valley’s wealth of cultural attractions, and that endless sunshine coast, it can be easy to overlook the natural beauty of Oaxaca’s mountainous regions. Those who take the time to explore the more rugged side of Oaxaca will be amazed and impressed at the state’s seemingly endless expanses of mountainous forests and jungles. Relatively few people take to the hills in Oaxaca; in many regions, you can hike or bike all day and not see a soul other than those you’re traveling with. What adds to the appeal is the diversity of options, ranging from relatively easy roadside cabañas to lodges deep in the hills, reachable only by long days’ hikes or mountain bike rides. You can get a taste of these deep and endless mountains just by taking a drive from Oaxaca City a couple of hours in almost any direction.
The Oaxaca Federal-State Department of Tourism (SEDETUR) first built tourist cabin complexes on the east side of the Valley of Oaxaca during the 1990s. Although five of the original nine are not being used, several more cabañas ecoturísticas have been built, mostly in Northern Oaxaca and the Mixteca, raising the total to about 14 operating complexes. About two dozen Oaxaca communities now invite visitors to stay in their community tourist lodging.
The cabañas are government constructed but locally managed, modern but usually rustic. Each bungalow typically sleeps four, with private hot-water shower-baths and toilet, and perhaps a kitchenette. The following are the locales for the best cabañas ecoturísticas and their highlights.
The Valley of Oaxaca
- Santa Ana del Valle: Master weavers’ shops, museum, lake, scenic views, hikes.
- San Sebastián de las Grutas: Limestone caves, hikes, riverside picnicking, groves of grand old sabino trees.
- Hierve El Agua: Hikes, scenic vistas, mineral springs, frozen stone cascades.
- Apoala: Idyllic village, wild canyon, cave, cascade, springs, camping.
- Yosocuta: Reservoir, boating, fishing, RV and tent camping.
- San Martín Huamelulpan: Ruined city, museum, hikes to other archaeological sites.
- San Miguel Tequixtepec: Museum, hike to hieroglyphic rock paintings, palm weaving, restored 17th-century church.
- Ixtlán de Juárez: Cloud forest, wildlife-viewing, Benito Juárez’s birthplace and museum, limestone cave.
- Santa Catarina Ixtepeji: Hiking trails, campground, colonial-era church.
- Benito Juárez: Cool pine-scented air, camping, panoramic views.
- Cuajimoloyas: Mountain-top village, hiking, rock climbing.
- Llano Grande: Woodland hikes, wildflowers.
- Valle Nacional, Balnearios Monte Flor: Forest picnicking, kayaking, swimming in natural spring.
Two agencies handle reservations for most of the cabañas. The Oaxaca state ecotourism (703 Av. Juárez, tel./fax 951/516-0123) reserves Santa Ana del Valle, Hierve El Agua, Ixtlán de Juárez, Santa Catarina Ixtepeji, Apoala, and Yosundua. They also publish an informative Guía Ecoturística (Ecotourism Guidebook), written in Spanish.
The other reservations agency, Expediciones Sierra Norte (M. Bravo 210, tel./fax 951/514-8271), handles cabaña reservations for the several communities collectively organized as the Pueblos Mancomunados: Benito Juárez, Cuajimoloyas, and Llano Grande, and three neighboring communities, Santa Catarina Lachatao, La Guacamaya, and San Miguel Amatlan.
You can also make the reservations yourself, by phone (in Spanish), or email. Even without a prior reservation, you can nearly always rent a cabaña if you arrive by 5pm or 6pm (especially on non-holiday weekdays).