Last December, Josh and I had the opportunity to spend several days in Oaxaca, Mexico. As a result, it’s now one of my favorite places in the world, second only to Scotland. So how did I fall in love with this fascinating, relatively unknown city? Was it the colorful colonial streets and the heavily scented air, full of chocolate and spices? Was it the taste of mole and the exotic delicacies like fried grasshoppers? Was it the indigenous traditions, and the ancient, magical mountain-top pyramids? Or was it the unique and beautiful arts, crafts and musical traditions? Undoubtedly, it was a little bit of everything in Oaxaca that captured my heart and imagination.
Oaxaca is a cultural intersection that brings together many aspects of Mexico, mixing them together like a delicious, complicated mole. The city itself is full of the gorgeous colonial style architecture that you see in many beautiful cities throughout the Mexican heartland, such as Morelia, Puebla, Guanajuato and Queretaro. The atmosphere is relaxed, and in the main square on weekends the cafes are full of people drinking coffees and micheladas, and families and children with balloons out for a day at the park. Although Oaxaca is well known to Mexican tourists, there are relatively few international tourists there, the majority of which are European families and student backpackers.
But venturing beyond the main square and the quaint colonial streets, Oaxaca also has one of the richest arts and crafts traditions in Mexico, where indigenous groups still make many beautiful handmade goods such as green glazed and carved black pottery, colorful wool tapestries, clothing, jewelry and art. Josh and I toured a hacienda in a nearby village that continues to use natural dyes and traditional weaving methods to create elaborate tapestries. They offer week or month-long classes – we were tempted to sign up.
Many natural and ancient wonders lie just outside the city. We saw the world’s widest tree at Tule (it’s also over 2,000 years old!), visited a gorgeous petrified waterfall, and dipped our toes in mineral-rich springs on the edge of a mountainous ravine. We saw the impressive decorative ruins at Mitla and visited the famous pyramids of Monte Alban, majestically perched high above the city between earth and sky.
And how could I forget the food? We wandered through the huge markets, getting lost in the winding corridors that were full of the sweet and spicy scents of fruit, nuts, chiles and herbs, and stopping to sample strange traditional snacks like chapulines (fried grasshoppers with chile and salt). We watched artesians mixing and grinding Oaxacan chocolate, infused with cinnamon and spices. We tasted Oaxacan mole, sampled mezcal, and of course, enjoyed a few Indio micheladas.
For me, Oaxaca is something between a memory and a dream. It made an indelible mark on my heart and on my experience in Mexico, and I know we’ll be back, again and again.