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Highlights of Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca de Juárez, the capital of Oaxaca state in southern Mexico, is popular for many reasons: the temperate climate with warm, dry sunny days and cool nights, its locally grown coffee, its vibrant art scene, its long independent history, and its distinctive food. All of these things make it a common stop along the gringo trail through Mexico, as well as a popular place for expats to settle. Here are some of the highlights of Oaxaca.

Zócalo

Pictured above, Oaxaca’s central square is the ideal place to orient yourself, to get some perspective of the city and how people live there. More or less playing the part of communal living room for the local people, it’s a point where locals meet to socialise, play, and people-watch. It’s also, of course, full of street vendors selling everything from food (definitely try the deep fried bananas!) to handicrafts to silly, cartoon-shaped helium balloons meant for children, but clearly not only for children.

Street Art

Mexico in general has a long history of public art, especially murals used to spread political messages and share information in resistance to unjust governmental actions, and Oaxaca is no exception. For a relatively small city, it is jam-packed with street art. Much of the art in the central part of town makes use of paper prints plastered to walls, but once you head a bit further out to to the east and west, you’ll notice huge, colourful pieces at almost every street corner.

La Jícara

To satisfy your inner bookworm, this delightful little bookshop in a quiet, residential neighbourhood of Oaxaca has all the books you never knew you needed. Selling a fascinating range of independent publications on topics as diverse as colonialism and feminist theory, to photography and children’s stories, the space also hosts screenings of classic films every Tuesday: the schedule for which films are showing is published on their site. Attached is a restaurant, Calabacitas Tiernas, which offers excellent meat, vegetarian, vegan, and paleo dishes using local, seasonal and organic ingredients, which is also worth checking out.

MACO

While Oaxaca has many free museums worth a visit, if you only have time for one, make sure it is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca. This contemporary art museum has a diverse collection of Mexican art, mostly by artists still currently living and working. Although almost all of the information presented is only in Spanish, it’s still worth visiting to absorb the political message and commentary on social issues presented in many of the pieces, as well as for the colonial architecture and large, quiet rooms that offer an escape from the sometimes hectic streets nearby.

Café Brújula

Of course there are many, many cafés to choose from in Oaxaca, but this one is excellent place to sample both the coffee and chocolate grown in Oaxaca state in liquid form. Though it is popular with tourists, students, and digital nomads, the atmosphere is still laid back and welcoming, with seating set around a pleasant courtyard inside a colonial building. Once you’re fully caffeinated, get lost in the tempting Porrúa bookshop next door!

Have you ever been to Oaxaca? If so, what’d you think? Any suggestions for things to see and do in the city? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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