48 Hours in Oaxaca: The Ultimate Itinerary

Santo Domingo Church and former convent

TripSavvy / Angelina Pilarnos

Oaxaca City is bursting with colorful art and architecture, vibrant cultural traditions, and amazing food. A weekend is barely enough time to scratch the surface of this colonial city in Southern Mexico, but it will give you just enough of a taste to make you want to return at the earliest opportunity. To help you make the most of your visit, we’ve compiled the spots to check out in the town right now. Here’s how to spend an unforgettable 48 hours in Oaxaca.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Nana Vida Hotel Oaxaca

Courtesy of Nana Vida Oaxaca

10 a.m.: Upon arrival at Oaxaca International Airport (OAX), hire an authorized taxi to the city center. Check in at Nana Vida Hotel Boutique. Conveniently located in the heart of Oaxaca City, this recently restored building has comfortable rooms and carefully curated design elements throughout. The spacious and leafy patio is the perfect spot for a morning coffee or evening mezcal while you share experiences with other guests.

11 a.m.: Once you've settled into your room, begin your trip by wandering around the historical city center to get your bearings. Take a moment to step inside Santo Domingo church—it’s impressive from the outside, but the lavishly decorated Baroque interior is stunning. Afterwards, do some window shopping at the galleries and boutiques along the cobblestoned Macedonio Alcalá pedestrian street. Stop at Oro de Monte Alban to admire the jewelry, or Voces de Copal for the elaborately carved and painted wooden figures. Pass through the Zócalo, Oaxaca’s main square and the heart of the city, and make your way over to the Municipal Palace on the south side. Here, you will see a mural painted by Arturo García Bustos, one of Frida Kahlo’s students.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Monte Alban Archaeological Site in Oaxaca, Mexico
Craig Lovell / Getty Images

1 p.m.: Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the 20 de Noviembre market to sample some traditional Oaxacan food for brunch. Get a hot chocolate with pan de yema (yolk bread), or sample tejate, a drink that dates back to ancient times and is made from cacao, corn, the seed of mamey sapote (a local fruit), and a dried flower. Try some enchiladas slathered with black mole, or a tlayuda—a huge tortilla filled with black bean paste and Oaxaca cheese.

2:30 p.m.: When you’ve had your fill of Oaxacan food, dive into the city's past by taking a tourist bus or a taxi to Monte Albán. Located on a mountaintop overlooking the valley, this major archaeological site was the capital of Zapotec civilization from 200 to 800 C.E. Spend a couple of hours wandering the ruins and enjoying the views. You can arrange for a guided tour beforehand, or hire a guide at the entrance to explain this ancient city to you. Make sure to visit the small site museum before you head back to Oaxaca.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Los Danzantes Restaurant in Oaxaca

Courtesy of Los Danzantes

7 p.m.: Make your way to Los Danzantes for dinner. Located in an open courtyard protected by huge sailcloth awnings, this restaurant serves farm-to-table dishes inspired by traditional Oaxacan food, but with a contemporary twist. Save room for the chocolate cascade for dessert (you won't regret it).

9 p.m.: After dinner, enjoy the lively street scene of Oaxaca by night. Take a stroll down Alcalá street to the Zócalo; you’ll see a multitude of vendors selling handcrafted items and musical performers entertaining passers-by. When you’re ready for a drink, make your way to the rooftop terrace of Hotel Los Amantes for mezcal cocktails and panoramic views of Oaxaca. Still not ready to call it a night? Head to Candela night club and dance the night away to Latin rhythms. (And if your moves need some instruction, there’s a salsa lesson at 10 p.m. before the band starts at 11 p.m.).

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Tule tree, the worlds largest tree by circumference, Oaxaca, Mexico

Christian Kober / robertharding / Getty Images

9 a.m.: Even if you partied hard last night, there’s no time for sleeping in! It won’t be difficult to pull yourself out of bed with the enticement of hot coffee and a fresh-from-the-oven pastry at Pan AM. But if you want something more filling, an omelette or chilaquiles are sure to hit the spot.

10 a.m.: Head east of Oaxaca city to the municipality of Santa María el Tule, home to the tree with the greatest girth in the world. According to the Guinness Book of Records, “If 10 medium-sized cars were placed end-to-end in a circle this would be about the same size as the girth of this tree.” Definitely a sight not to be missed! 

11 a.m.: After you’ve spent sufficient time gaping at the tree, travel another 10 miles east to the town of Teotitlán del Valle, famous for its Zapotec wool rugs. Visit the home studio of a local family (we recommend Vida Nueva, an all-women's cooperative), to see how these works of art are made, from carding and dyeing the wool to weaving. If you must have one to take back with you, most of the weavers now accept credit cards.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Carlos Alberto Martínez González / Getty Images

1 p.m.: For lunch, stop at Rancho Zapata just outside the town of Mitla. Conveniently located off the highway, they have an extensive menu with Oaxacan specialities and international fare.

2 p.m.: Continue east to Hierve el Agua. The name of the place means “the water boils,” and refers to how the water bubbles up from a mineral spring (although the water is in fact cold). This is a spectacular site: a calcified waterfall on the side of a mountain, with two natural infinity pools at the top. Hike part of the way down for great views of the “falls," set against a dramatic backdrop of mountains and sky. If it’s a hot day, take a refreshing dip in the mineral water pool before you leave.

5 p.m.: On the way back toward Oaxaca, stop at a mezcal distillery (called "palenque") to see how the local spirit is produced. Unlike tequila, which is made with only one type of agave, mezcal can be made with a variety of different kinds. Many factors affect the flavor profile of mezcal, from the terroir to the particular manner of production employed. You’ll be able to gain a better understanding of the complexity of the drink after learning about how it’s made, and, of course, sampling a few.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman, Oaxaca at Night

kevin yulianto / Getty Images

7 p.m.: For your final evening in Oaxaca, treat yourself to dinner at Casa Oaxaca. With the Sierra Madre mountain range in the distance, the rooftop terrace is the perfect spot from which to appreciate the city at twilight. The attentive waiters will prepare a salsa table-side, for you to enjoy with a crisp tostada and a cocktail before your main course.

10 p.m. Now that you’ve seen how it's made, you're ready to visit the cathedral of mezcal, In Situ, run by mezcal guru Ulises Torrentera. They have the most extensive selection anywhere, so you’re sure to find one you love. The agave distillate isn’t the only drink the city has to offer, though. If you’re interested in craft beer, head to nano brewery La Santísima Flor de Lúpulo. Wine lovers, on the other hand, will enjoy the laid back atmosphere, tapas, and wine selection at Tastavins.

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