One advantage to living in a top tourist destination is getting to see some of the coolest landmarks around. Oaxaca has a long history and much of it can still be seen today. From petrified waterfalls to a now empty convent Oaxaca has something for everyone- regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a history buff. So here are a few places that you should definitely see if you make a trip to Oaxaca! I’ve been to all of these places at least 3 times, some of them many more, and they still take my breath away.
Perhaps the most well known façade in Oaxaca is that of Santo Domingo Church. The outside of the church is a popular photo spot that you have likely already seen if you’ve heard of Oaxaca. But you can also go inside this huge church to see a museum with all kids of interesting history and artifacts. At the back of the ex-convent is an ethnobotanical garden that boasts having samples of plant form every region of Oaxaca. You’ll need to book a tour to see the garden but it is well worth the inconvenience of having to schedule it into a specific time. There is a wall of cacti inside where many influencers and average folks take pictures. But it’s also totally worth it just to see all the amazing types of flora Oaxaca state calls its own. The link to the official website can be found here. You can even plan a wedding or event at this historic location.
Built by the Zapotec people Monte Alban is definitely worth going to see if you haven’t seen other ruins in Mexico or just really like old places! If you have been to Teotihuacan in Mexico City then Monte Alban is a little smaller but perhaps more hands on. There are two larger structures that you can climb. One of these leads to an entire area of smaller structures and the highest point here gives you a 360 view of the city that you will find nowhere else. There are signs as you walk around the ruins which tell you the history of each building you will see. Some give an idea of what the area may have looked like whenever it was still a thriving city. There is also a museum with plenty of interesting artifacts found around the sight. You won’t want to miss taking a look inside to see more detailed trinkets and learn a little more of Monte Alban’s history. Pro Tip: You’ll want to go earlier in the day as Monte Alban literally sits on top of a mountain and there is little shade to protect you from the sun. It’s also less crowded during the morning hours.
Bonus story: these were the first ruins of their kind that I ever saw. I remember it literally taking my breath away and I *may* have gotten a little teary-eyed. Call me sentimental but there is something awe-inspiring about seeing these kinds of structures and knowing they were around well before modern technology.
Santa María del Tule is home to the world’s widest tree. As of 2005 its diameter measures approximately 46 feet. Or so says Wikepedia. Aside from the tree Tule is a quaint little town that makes for a relaxing afternoon as you stroll through the park, pick up some nieves at the local food market, and browse the traditional clothing for sale around town. If you’re in there around lunch or dinnertime El Milenario is the best restaurant in town! It’s a fairly large restaurant and a good place to sit and rest if you’ve spent your day on your feet. I recommend the chile relleno or an empananda but they also offer tlayudas, at least 3 different types of mole, and tacos de barbacao. All of which I can vouch for as holding their own. You really can’t go wrong here. Pro Tip: try agua de horchata con tuna here. It’s one of the few places where you can get the delicious pink cactus fruit added to your agua de horchata!
Mitla: known as the city of death this is where many traditionally believe souls go after one passes to the afterlife. I have heard stories that tell of people going to this city to communicate with a loved one who has died back when the city was still a religious stronghold. The ruins here are smaller than at Monte Alban but have more details that are still visible. You can go inside the ruins here and step into different rooms that are still fully intact. The detail here is pretty amazing and makes up for the longer trip out of the city. There is a nice sized market outside that is a good place to shop clothes and other souvenirs. The prices are pretty good (better than at monte Alban or some places downtown) and you’ll find a wider variety of things like hand towels, curtains, or any fabrics. Pro Tip: If you want to make a day of your trip to Mitla I recommend stopping by Teotitlan on your way back into the city if you aren’t feeling too tired from all that ruin exploring. Also bring lots of water-the air seems to be a bit hotter and drier in this part of the valley.
Honorable Mention: Hierve el agua. As of March 2021 this site has been closed indefinitely due to ongoing land disputes. While it may never reopen to the public I felt like I should mention it for those that may have plans to go here. If it is able to reopen in the future it’s a must-see without a doubt. The petrified waterfalls are a unique view and besides the beaches of Huatulco the pools here were my favorite place to go for a dip on a hot day. Here’s to hoping it can one day be open for all to enjoy again!