Stop #3 on my six-week Mexico trip was the city of Oaxaca, widely known as the foodie capital of the country. Now if anyone is obsessed with food, it’s me, so you can bet I was pretty excited for Oaxaca.
On the day that I arrived in the city, I didn’t get to my hostel until early evening. Naturally, the first thing I did after checking in was to figure out where I was going to eat dinner. I ended up walking to a primarily vegetarian restaurant called Calabacitas Tiernas and ordering a pizza with a side salad.
Well, my first meal in Mexico’s foodie capital did not disappoint. It was too dark to take a good picture, but this pizza was finger-lickin’ good.
I got up early the next day to take a day trip to the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua. The night that I arrived, I had met a Danish guy at my hostel who wanted to go too, so we agreed to meet at 7:30 the next morning and head to the bus station together.
Hierve el Agua turned out to be my favourite place in Mexico so far. Before I even left for my trip, I had been looking forward to seeing its gorgeous mineral pools and petrified waterfalls more than anything else in the country. The place completely lived up to my high expectations (and maybe even surpassed them). The scenery there is absolutely incredible. I didn’t have the foresight to bring my bathing suit to the area, but there was no way I was missing out on the opportunity to get a photo of myself standing in the mineral pool, gazing out across the lush green valley and distant mountains. So I took off my shoes and in I went, romper and all, thinking with excited anticipation of the jealousy I would incite among my followers when I posted these pictures on Instagram.
After our little photo shoot at the mineral pool, the Danish guy and I hiked the trail that leads down below the petrified falls and then back up again in a loop. I highly recommend doing the hike in full. You get different vantage points on the falls, and the mountain views are to die for.
In order to get to Hierve el Agua by public transportation, the first thing you have to do is get yourself to the second-class bus station in Oaxaca. From there you take a bus to the town of Mitla. The ride costs only 20 pesos and takes about 90 minutes. As soon as the bus drops you off in Mitla, you will see a covered pick-up truck with “Hierve el Agua” written across the top of it. This truck will take you the rest of the way to your destination, but be aware that it will not leave until it’s full, so you might have to wait a long time. The Danish guy and I left Oaxaca on the bus at 7:45 a.m. and arrived in Mitla at 9:15, but we had to wait 45 minutes for enough passengers to show up that the truck would leave. After the 45 minutes, the driver gave us the option of continuing to wait for one more person, or paying an extra 10 pesos each. Needless to say, we all agreed to pay the extra money, bringing the cost of the ride from 50 pesos to 60 pesos each. We left around 10:00 and arrived at Hierve el Agua at about 11:00.
Now, some people might think the best seats in the truck would be the ones inside, but I think sitting on one of the benches in the back of the truck is a much better option. Honestly, getting to Hierve el Agua in the back of one of those pick-up trucks is half the fun. You’ll ride down an incredibly bumpy dirt road while holding on to the bar above you for dear life as you bounce around in your seat. You’ll definitely pass the occasional caravan of donkeys being led down the road. And the views from the back of the truck as it winds its way uphill are amazing.
Here’s a little video I took on the ride:
As I mentioned, we arrived at Hierve el Agua at 11 a.m. We were ready to leave by 1:00, but once again we had to wait 45 minutes for the truck to fill up. On the way back to Oaxaca from Mitla, we decided to stop at Arbol del Tule, which is the widest tree in the world. Honestly, the tree is cool, but it’s not worth going out of your way to see. We only stopped there because we had to pass by it on our way back to Oaxaca anyway.
My third day in Oaxaca was kind of a lazy day. I didn’t really have any plans, so I figured I would just wander through the streets of the city a bit. My wanderings first took me to the Templo de Santo Domingo church to admire its beautiful, gold-bedecked interior.
After the Templo de Santo Domingo, I visited two bustling markets located right across the street from each other: the Mercado Benito Juarez and Mercado 20 de Noviembre. I had a tasty enmoleada with mole negro for lunch at one of the markets, then washed it down with a cup of sweet, refreshing horchata. So far Mexico’s foodie capital was living up to its reputation.
After my meal, I wandered through the streets a little more but didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to see, so I went back to my hostel to work on this blog and study a little Korean.
The next day, I decided to hunt down some of the cool street art that I knew was hiding somewhere in the city. I took a screenshot of the street art map that I found on this website, and set out on my quest to find Oaxaca’s most beautifully decorated buildings.
Here are some of the cool artworks that the map led me to:
For dinner that night, I ate at the market again. I ordered a 40-peso vegetarian tlayuda that was almost as big as me. I honestly don’t even know how you’re supposed to eat these things, but somehow I got it into my belly via a combination of picking it apart with my hands and cutting it with a knife and fork.
The next day I managed to be a little more productive and venture a short distance outside the city. I took a shuttle bus to Monte Alban, a pre-Columbian pyramid complex about 9km from the centre of Oaxaca. I had a great time exploring the sprawling complex of ancient ruins. What makes the place so impressive are the incredible views over the Oaxacan countryside. The pyramids at Monte Alban are much smaller than the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon at Teotihuacan (near Mexico City), but the amazing views more than make up for that. I enjoyed both sites a lot, but I would have to say that in my humble opinion, Monte Alban has the edge over Teotihuacan.
So how did I get to Monte Alban? It was super easy, actually. I took a shuttle bus from Hotel Rivera del Angel for 60 pesos round-trip. Buses leave once every hour, and the trip only takes about 20 minutes. I took the 10:30 a.m. bus and arrived at the ruins just before 11:00. I was ready to head back to the city shortly after 1:00, but I had to wait until 2:00 for the bus to leave.
When I got back to the city, of course I set out to find something yummy for lunch. I ended up at a vegetarian restaurant called Trigo Verde, where I ordered their 65-peso menu of the day. It included guayaba juice, whole wheat bread, cactus soup, and an entree of rice, salad, and a chile relleno. Very tasty and great value!
On my last day in Oaxaca, I spent some time at the Museo de las Culturas. Now, as I have said many times before, I’m not a museum person at all. However, I had heard that this particular one was good even for people who don’t like museums, partly due to the great views of the adjacent Ethnobotanical Garden from the large windows. The views were indeed quite nice, but honestly they were the only worthwhile part of the whole museum, in my opinion. First of all, none of the artifacts on display looked particularly interesting to me. Secondly, like every other museum in Mexico I’ve been to, all the explanations of the items on display were in Spanish only. So even if I were interested in understanding what I was looking at (which I can assure you I was not), I would not have been able to do so.
After being bored out of my mind at the museum, I decided to — you guessed it! — grab some food as a pick-me-up. I walked to a restaurant called Cabuche, where I had a nice bowl of black bean soup with sliced plantains.
After my meal, I did something that I enjoyed a lot more than the museum. I walked up to the Auditorio Guelaguetza, which basically looks like a big white tent sitting on a hill overlooking the city. There’s a viewpoint just next to the auditorium that provides absolutely fantastic views over Oaxaca. I stood gazing at the beautiful city for quite some time, and could hardly believe there was no one else up there enjoying the sight with me. However, I was perfectly content to have the view all to myself!
All in all, Oaxaca is a great city that absolutely deserves a place on everybody’s Mexico itinerary. I think its reputation as the country’s foodie capital is well-deserved, as I had plenty of excellent meals there. However, I think five days was a little too long to spend in Oaxaca. I wish I had shaved off one or two days from my visit and devoted them to another city instead. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I know plenty of people would vehemently disagree with me. At any rate, I had a good time in Oaxaca, but by the end of my last day, I was more than ready to move on to my next destination: San Cristobal de las Casas!