Oaxaca. It was supposed to be a nice spot to settle and relax, to stop and lay down some plans for the coming months. We planned on popping in, enjoying some great food, and getting out. Feeling like home wasn’t part of the deal, it certainly didn’t make leaving any easier. Yet five weeks later, we closed our apartment door behind us for the final time and walked to the bus station as the sun set ahead of us.
Upon our initial arrival, we were greeted with the chaos that is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead; which you can read more on here. And though we had assumed that at-all-hours fireworks were simply part of the festivities, they continued until our final afternoon. Oaxaca doesn’t play around.
Our first week, during the festival, we stayed at a hostel right near the Zocalo – which not only one of the biggest parks, it’s also the heart of the city. The square features massive trees, statues and fountains; flanked by fabulous colonial architecture and wide-open patio restaurants and bars. The square is used for everything from protests to buskers, to open-air movie nights and concerts; and always full of hawkers and food carts come sundown.
Come morning, all is quiet in the Zocalo for a brief period. It’s an excellent time to sit back with a coffee and read or write, or catch some great pre-crowd photos; but wait too long, and the pandemonium returns. When this time comes, it’s time to get out and explore. Oaxaca is famous for it’s blend of centuries-old architecture and vibrant colours. After five weeks we were still discovering new graffiti murals and flamboyantly painted houses and storefronts.
It was within the first few days that we had completely fallen in love with the food scene here. Wether it was the simple breakfast of eggs and salsas, the seemingly unending selection of lunch options at the markets, or the street stalls that served up authentic Oaxacan cuisine late into the night; we were hooked. I’ll not get any more into the food of Oaxaca in this post, as you can check out the food specific post we did on the best food in Oaxaca.
As mentioned earlier, we stayed the first week only a couple blocks from the Zocalo; and although there is no shortage of options in this area, prices are a little steeper. We paid roughly $30(CAD) per night at a fairly spartan hroom, that was nothing to write home about. However, we quickly found an AIRBnB to rent for just under $400 for the entire next month, which worked out to less than half the cost! It required a bit more walking, but nothing drastic. As it was a still less than a 25 minute walk to the Zocalo from our apartment, it was a nice way to be able to check out lesser-visited parts of town.
After a couple of weeks exploring the city proper, we decided it was time to check out some of the other sights around town; the first being Monte Albán. Now I wouldn’t really call this sight out of town as it’s technically just on the outskirts. However, just because it’s close by on a map, I wouldn’t recommend walking, because as the name suggests, it’s on top of a mountain.
The easiest way to get up there is to take a bus, and while many hotels offer tours, the cheapest way we found was to buy the ticket at the tour provider across from Hotel Riviera del Angel, at the intersection of Francisco Javier Mina, and Diaz Ordaz. Round trip bus fare is 55 pesos/person and you’re given a three-hour window to visit the ruins.
Entry to the actual ruin site is 70 pesos/person, with an added fee for professional camera gear or video recorders. We used a DSLR and GoPro, left the tripod behind, and weren’t charged any fee, so I assume the fee is for commercial recording only. The only downside of the ruins from a photography standpoint, is that the hours are from 8:30am to 4:30pm, so you are unable to grab any decent sunrise or sunset lighting.
Treat Yourself to a Mezcal Tasting
Upon our returning downtown from Monte Albán, it was only just after noon. So before anything else, we headed for a quick lunch of roasted chicken in mole negro from Mercado 20 de November, one of the largest food markets in town. With lunch behind us, it’s time for Mezcal. Most people immediately think Tequila when talking about Mexican drinks, but around Oaxaca it’s all about the Mezcal.
It’s hard to throw a stone in the centre of town without hitting a mezcaleria, offering samples, tastings and often a crash course of Mezcal history; however finding the right one can be tricky. Being a tourist-heavy area both the quality of product as well as the prices, vary significantly. Upon a recommendation from our landlady, we visited Cuish’s tasting room.
The young gentleman at the counter was more than happy to spend nearly an hour with us explaining the history of the drink as well as the details of production – both modern and traditional methods. While many mezcalerias charge a fairly steep tasting fee (of fairly large pours mind you), Cuish offered free sample tastings of most of their selection – charging only for full glass pours, or a whole bottle. The lesson on the history and production were quite interesting, however after the tastings, we still weren’t fans of the drink. We bought a small bottle (375ml, for 250 pesos) of what we deemed most-palatable in hopes of acquiring a taste over the coming weeks.
It never happened.