3-5 days Oaxaca itinerary: guide, budget, and local tips

There are so many things to do in this city so it’s hard to decide what to include and leave out in your Oaxaca itinerary. I visit every year and this my recommendation.

Nestled in the southern part of Mexico, Oaxaca is a captivating destination renowned for its rich culture, vibrant arts scene, and delectable cuisine.

The city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, effortlessly blends ancient history with contemporary allure, with its colonial architecture, bustling markets, and artisan workshops.

When planning a trip to Oaxaca, an itinerary that balances the city’s highlights and the surrounding towns are the best factors to consider.

oaxaca itinerary

As you craft your Oaxaca itinerary, consider the city’s history, culture, gastronomy, and natural wonders as key aspects to explore.

Also don’t forget to explore the Oaxacan cuisine as it is one of the highlights of visiting Oaxaca. This city is very well-known for its world-class gastronomy!

Don’t forget to include excursions to the surrounding areas for a broader perspective of Oaxaca’s region. Here’s my Oaxaca itinerary that I improve every year.

There really is so much to discover and I don’t get sick of this city! If you plan to visit in October, feel free to join my day of the dead tour!

Change how you travel and see the world by going deep into the culture. Come and travel with me!

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🛬 Arrival in Oaxaca City

Note that all flights to Oaxaca City stop in Mexico City. The flights are pretty frequent with arrivals from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM. The flight duration from Mexico City is 1 hour and 13 minutes.

Alternatively, you can also take a bus from Mexico City which is more affordable but takes 6 hours. ADO is the Mexican bus company that operates this route and has trips every hour.

Check-in time in Oaxaca is 3:00 PM so if you arrive before this, you can always leave your suitcase at your hotel for storage. You may also request for an early check-in but it comes with an additional fee.

🚕 Oaxaca City International Airport (OAX) is about 20-30 minutes away from the center. Uber is not allowed in the airport so you need to book a taxi service in advance. [Book Oaxaca Airport Transfer]

Tip: While waiting for check-in, you can go for lunch at Vaca Marina, a restaurant that has a view of the Santo Domingo Church. This will give you a great welcome and intro about the city of Oaxaca.

🌟 Oaxaca itinerary day 1: City highlights

Andador Turistico

The Andador Turístico is a vibrant pedestrian-only street in Oaxaca City, Mexico, known for its lively atmosphere. This popular boulevard, stretching from Santo Domingo Church to the Zócalo, is lined with shops, galleries, restaurants, and bars.

oaxaca itinerary

The Andador Turístico is a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll, offering glimpses of Oaxaca’s history, arts, crafts, and gastronomy, making it a must-visit destination in this UNESCO World Heritage city.

🍲 Alternatively, you can have lunch at Los Danzantes, a must-visit high-end restaurant in Oaxaca City. It is in the Andador Turistico.

Oaxaca’s Zocalo

Oaxaca’s Zócalo, the city’s central square, is a vibrant social hub steeped in history. Surrounded by colonial buildings, including the iconic Oaxaca Cathedral, the square pulses with life, hosting street vendors, musicians, and traditional dancers.

oaxaca itinerary

Shaded by large trees, you can try local foods from nearby cafes and just people-watch. The Zócalo regularly hosts events, markets, and political gatherings.

☕ Del Jardín Cafeteria has tables and chairs outside with front-row seats to the Zocalo’s view. This is a great Mexican breakfast place (under $10 USD).

Santo Domingo Church

The Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church is a landmark of Oaxaca City, showcasing exquisite Spanish Baroque architecture. Its ornate interior is adorned with intricate gold leaf work and religious iconography.

oaxaca itinerary

Built over a span of 200 years, the church tells a rich historical story. Adjacent to the church is the former monastery, now housing the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, exhibiting regional history and art.

The church’s plaza is a social gathering point, hosting markets and performances. Its botanical garden features plants endemic to Oaxaca.

Ethnobotanical Garden

Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden is a testament to Mexico’s diverse flora and the indigenous peoples’ deep connection to nature.

Located within the Santo Domingo Cultural Center, the garden showcases the unique plants of Oaxaca’s varied ecosystems, ranging from arid cacti to lush tropical species.

oaxaca itinerary

🎟️ Tickets and hours: Open from 10:00 AM – 3:30 PM. Tickets at 100 pesos ($6 USD). The tour can be booked for different languages (English, French, Spanish, German, etc.). They are not accepting reservations so you need to fall in line early. This is a guided tour and can’t be done on your own.

Tip: To make sure you get in the garden, fall in line around 8:00 AM. There are many cafes and bakeries on the street where the garden where you can get breakfast.

Museums of Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City’s museums are treasure troves of culture and history. The Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, housed in the former Santo Domingo monastery, showcases regional artifacts.

The Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Hispanic Art exhibits a diverse collection of indigenous art. The Contemporary Art Museum (MACO) highlights modern pieces.

oaxaca itinerary

The Textile Museum showcases Oaxaca’s rich weaving traditions. These museums collectively narrate Oaxaca’s captivating story.

🎟️ Tickets and hours: Most museums in Oaxaca are FREE and don’t require a reservation. They usually close by 4:00 PM.

Jalatlaco

Jalatlaco and Xochimilco are two of Oaxaca City’s most picturesque neighborhoods, each with a unique perspective of the city’s rich history and vibrant culture.

Jalatlaco is one of the oldest districts in Oaxaca City. Its cobblestone streets, colorful colonial-era houses, and relaxed atmosphere make it feel like a village within the city.

oaxaca itinerary

Once a stagecoach stop, Jalatlaco retains a charming old-world ambiance, hosting small boutiques, cafes, and local artisan studios. At its heart, the Jalatlaco Church boasts a beautiful painted wood ceiling, making it a quiet sanctuary worth visiting.

Tip: Jalatlaco is a great area to visit for both day and night. This neighborhood is so lively at night with street parties and music so if you liked it during the day, you’ll love it at night, too!

Xochimilco

Just north of the city center, Xochimilco is named after the famous floating gardens of Mexico City due to its canals in the pre-Hispanic era.

Today, it’s an artsy neighborhood known for its restored colonial mansions and tranquil pedestrian street, lined with eclectic shops, galleries, and restaurants.

The neighborhood comes alive on Fridays and Saturdays with the Organic Market, where you can explore a range of local produce, crafts, and culinary delights.

Tip: Eat at Ancestral in Xochimilco, a restaurant that is focusing on ancient-style Oaxacan cooking. It is a small place so it may be difficult to get a reservation but this is highly recommended to those who are interested in food adventures.

🥾 Oaxaca itinerary day 2: Hierve El Agua

The visit to Hierve El Agua is already 8-12 hours so this will cover most of your day 3 Oaxaca itinerary. Hierve el Agua is about 3 hours away from Oaxaca City and MUST be on your list.

Formed by mineral-rich water trickling down the cliffside over thousands of years, these cascades offer stunning views over the surrounding valleys.

The name ‘Hierve el Agua’ means ‘boiling water’ in Spanish, a reference to the bubbling springs that feed the falls.

hierve el agua

There are also natural pools atop the cliffs, where you can swim so make sure you bring swimming clothes, towels, and change of clothing.

Amidst breathtaking scenery, you can explore walking trails, local flora, and nearby traditional craft markets. This geological wonder is a must-see when visiting Oaxaca.

🧭 Tours and getting there: It is challenging to get to Hierve El Agua on your own so booking a private tour is recommended (from $140 USD). [Book Hierve El Agua Tour]

Tip: You may also combine your visit to Hierve El Agua to nearby sites like Mitla and the Tule Tree. Overall, the visit to all three sites will take 12 hours.

oaxaca map

Travel to Oaxaca with all my recommendations in the city. This Oaxaca map includes over 600 places, divided into different categories!

🥃 Oaxaca itinerary day 3: Mezcal tasting and agave farm visit

Mezcal is from Oaxaca so it would be strange not to have this in your Oaxaca itinerary. On day 3, go on a mezcal tour to get into the traditional processes behind this revered spirit.

You can go to local palenques (distilleries) to witness artisans crafting mezcal from harvesting agave to final distillation.

oaxaca itinerary

These mezcal tours are set in agave farms, just an hour away from Oaxaca City so this is not your usual tasting in a bar or restaurant.

These palenques are family-run and are small producers so you’ll be supporting the local community of mezcaleros if you opt for this kind of tasting.

🧭 Tours and getting there: You have to book a tour to get to a palenque. I recommend this local family who will also cook you lunch in their home in between the tour! The tour starts at $129 USD. [Book Mezcal Tour]

Tip: Want mezcal bottles to take home? Palenques sell them cheaper! Just make sure to bring cash as credit cards are not accepted in these areas.

🏺 Oaxaca itinerary day 4: Monte Alban and Oaxaca’s small towns

Monte Alban Archaeological Site

Monte Albán, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Mesoamerica’s oldest and most significant archaeological sites. Established by the Zapotec civilization around 500 BC, it thrived as a political and economic center for over a thousand years.

Gabriel Tovar

You can explore its grand plazas, intricate tombs, and monumental structures, including the impressive Ball Court and Observatory. The site’s hilltop location offers panoramic views of the surrounding valleys.

Monte Albán’s on-site museum enriches the experience with artifacts and context. The visit to Monte Alban only takes 4 hours max so you can still combine it with other activities.

🧭 Tours and getting there: A tour to Monte Alban only takes half-day and the tours are around $85 USD per person. [Book Monte Alban Tour]

Alebrijes Workshop

Alebrijes are fantastical, vibrantly painted wooden creatures, a folk art tradition originating from Oaxaca.

oaxaca itinerary
Analuisa Gamboa

Under the guidance of local artisans, you can learn the intricate processes of carving and painting your own alebrijes. Carvers demonstrate how they transform copal wood into whimsical figures, while painters reveal techniques for their elaborate designs.

The creative environment is a great authentic cultural exchange with the local community and a deeper appreciation for Oaxacan craftsmanship. You will also get to take home the alebrije that you painted!

🧭 Tours and getting there: This is also a short activity (2-3 hours) and starts at $85 USD per person. This can be easily combined with the Monte Alban tour for a package price. [Book Alebrijes Workshop]

Black pottery in Coyotopec

San Bartolo Coyotepec in Oaxaca is globally recognized for its black pottery, or barro negro, a centuries-old Zapotec tradition. This pottery is unique for its color, sheen, and intricate designs.

oaxaca itinerary
Alejandro Linares Garcia

The process involves local clay, which naturally turns black during firing in a sealed kiln. Artisans shape pieces by hand or on foot-powered wheels, often etching intricate patterns before firing.

You can participate in a workshop or explore local studios offers a rich insight into this elegant Oaxacan craft.

🧭 Tours and getting there: This is also a short activity and can be combined with a visit to Tule and Mitla. [Book Pottery and Town Visit]

🥻 Oaxaca itinerary day 5: Oaxacan textile

Teotitlán del Valle is renowned for its vibrant, handwoven textiles, a Zapotec tradition spanning centuries. These textiles, typically rugs or tapestries, feature intricate designs woven on traditional pedal looms.

Artisans use natural dyes derived from plants, insects, and minerals to create a spectrum of rich colors. Patterns often depict local flora, fauna, and Zapotec motifs, each carrying symbolic meanings.

You can visit a family-run workshops, do the weaving process firsthand, and try the loom! The local families will also serve lunch at their homes.

🧭 Tours and getting there: This activity takes 4-6 hours and starts at $125 USD. You need to book a tour to visit the families. [Book Textile Tour]

Last day: Oaxacan markets and shopping

Oaxaca City’s markets are bustling hubs of commerce and culture. Mercado Benito Juárez offers a variety of goods, from food and clothing to handicrafts. Here, you can sample local cuisine, like tlayudas and chapulines.

Mercado 20 de Noviembre, known for its food stalls, is a gastronomic delight, where you can enjoy a hot chocolate or a custom-made mole sauce.

Mercado de Artesanías is a craft lover’s paradise, brimming with textiles, pottery, and alebrijes. These vibrant markets not only provide a feast for the senses but also offer a rich insight into Oaxaca’s traditions, regional products, and daily life.

🛫 Departure from Oaxaca City

To maximize your Oaxaca itinerary, take the last night flight out to Mexico City (around 7:00 PM) or the night bus at 10:00 PM.

🇲🇽 Oaxaca travel recommendations

  • Go on a mezcal tour in a palenque just outside of Oaxaca City. This includes an agave farm visit and lunch with a local family.
  • Visit the textile cooperative of locals to learn about the artisan goods of Oaxaca.
  • Enhance your cooking skills, discover secret family recipes, and enjoy the flavors of real Oaxacan cuisine through an authentic Oaxacan cooking class.
  • Explore the captivating mix of indigenous and colonial architecture, stroll through colorful markets, savor the city’s rich gastronomy, and meet fellow travelers through a Oaxaca walking tour.
  • Dive into Oaxaca’s rich art scene in our hands-on Alebrijes Workshop. Learn to create your own vibrant Alebrije – a whimsical, colorful folk art sculpture – under the guidance of local artisans.
  • Experience the vibrancy of Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead celebrations, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event. Witness the colorful parades, join the candlelit vigils, and honor the departed in this unique blend of indigenous traditions
  • Discover the timeless charm of Oaxaca’s Jalatlaco and Xochimilco neighborhoods. Wander through cobblestone streets with colorful houses, traditional markets, and quaint cafes.
  • Experience the bustling energy of Andador Turistico, Oaxaca City’s vibrant pedestrian walkway. Explore various artisan shops, traditional markets, and exquisite local eateries. Absorb the city’s rich history as you stroll by colonial-era architecture, lively squares, and vibrant murals.
  • Discover a diverse array of indigenous plants, learn about traditional uses in medicine, food, and crafts, and admire the stunning design that intertwines nature with culture at Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden.
  • Visit the stunning petrified waterfalls of Hierve El Agua, bathe in mineral-rich thermal pools, and take in the spectacular panoramic views.
  • Journey into the ancient world at Monte Alban, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Oaxaca.
  • Benito Juarez Market offers a wide array of goods from colorful handicrafts, textiles, and pottery to local produce and traditional Oaxacan snacks.
  • Just a stone’s throw away from Benito Juárez, the 20 de Noviembre Market is known for its mouth-watering array of local food stalls.
  • Slightly off the tourist trail, La Merced is noted for its food vendors, selling traditional Oaxacan staples like barbacoa, tamales, and quesillo.
  • Juana La Vintage, Vikers Vintage, and Añorarte are key stops for vintage lovers. You can shop here for as low as $3 USD.
  • Experience the fusion of luxury and culture at Grand Fiesta Americana Oaxaca with elegant spacious rooms, gourmet dining, and a tranquil spa, all set within a beautifully restored colonial building.
  • Escape to Pug Seal Hotel, where boutique charm meets authentic Mexican hospitality. Uniquely designed rooms, lush gardens, and delightful cuisine just a few steps away from Oaxaca’s vibrant cultural and historical landmarks.
  • Selina Hostel is an eclectic, budget-friendly accommodation that offers a mix of private rooms and shared dorms, all set within a lively community atmosphere – a great place to meet solo travelers!
  • Mexico is currently experiencing a housing shortage for locals because of platforms like Airbnb or Vrbo. The local community would appreciate it if you book local-run hotels and accommodations.
  • Oaxaca is a walking city so there’s no need to worry about transportation. You can walk anywhere! Just make sure to book an airport taxi transfer as the airport is far away from the center.
  • If you are planning a Oaxaca road trip, it is highly recommended to rent a car, especially those who want to see the Oaxacan coast (Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, etc).
  • Don’t travel to Mexico without insurance. Ekta Traveling is the recommended insurance (for travelers ages 2 months to 100 years old).

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