Intriguing history, fantastic cuisine, authentic mezcals, and captivating culture…all of these and more can be found in Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-Ha-Ka) is a city in the state of the same name in Southern Mexico. The easiest, fastest, and safest way to get there is flying, and the rewards of the destination are fantastic. My husband and I had arranged for a driver through our hotel and we took Juan up on his offer to be our driver for the days we wanted to tour the surrounding area.
On our first day trip with Juan we went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Monte Alban, an ancient city begun more than 1,500 years ago. Many peoples, Olmecs, Zapotecs, and Mixtecs, lived and developed this city which became the capital of the Zapotec empire before its mysterious downfall about 850 AD. The site has pyramids, a ball court, and an ancient observatory within its complex. To me, the impressiveness of Monte Alban is similar to that of Machu Picchu; it’s just not located on the top of a mountain.
Another day Juan headed east with our first stop being in Santa María del Tule to see its famous El Tule tree, a Montezuma cypress, which, for those of us from the Ellis County area, is like the bald cypress. The tree is over 2,000 years old and, allegedly has the broadest trunk in the world. We made several stops before our visit to Mitla, another ancient Zapotec city. These stops were educational and fun. We watched alebrijes, brightly painted animals and imaginary beasts, being made, saw many examples of rugs and blankets and how the dyes were made, watched as a craftsman formed a piece of Oaxacan black pottery, and learned how mezcal is made. (The last part might have been my husband’s favorite activity since the tour included free tastings!)
Juan also took us to Hierve El Agua. The name means “boiling water,” but the water is not hot and is, in fact, a great place to relax and swim. What makes this place so special is the fact that it is only one of two petrified waterfalls in the world. (The other one is in Turkey.) The seemingly large cascading waterfalls are hardened mineral deposits left by water streaming over the cliffs and calcifying over thousands of years. There were people standing on the edge looking way down at the valley below, but those of us who are height challenged chose to stand away from the edge!
Oaxaca itself has many interesting things to see. We wandered through the Benito Juarez Market (Mercado de Benito Juarez) with its hundreds of vendor stalls selling everything from food items to comals (Oaxacan griddles). We ate our way through the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. We toured the Temple of Santo Domingo de Guzman and the Zócalo. As always, we had fun just walking around and watching people, experiences which were even better with local beer and peanuts. We visited in early October so we were able to see some of the advance plans for Día De Los Muertos which is a major event in Oaxaca.
Have you been to Oaxaca or another city in Mexico? Please share your favorite experience with us! Help us plan our next vacation.