The state of Oaxaca offers the best of Mexico, both old and new. It has a vibrant urban city, abundant indigenous arts and handicrafts, renowned native cuisine, fascinating history, natural wonders, and a rich cultural heritage, including 16 separate living languages.
Though honored by its designation as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, Oaxaca City is as much about the present as the past. By day, people linger at plaza-front sidewalk cafés. By night, the same central plaza comes alive with entertainment, from folkloric dance to orchestral music to a shifting cast of street performers. And in the blocks around the plaza, especially to the north, a new generation of Oaxacan chefs, hoteliers, designers, artists, and makers of mezcal, now offer travelers new ways to enjoy the city’s pleasures.
Cultural wealth abounds outside the city. The surrounding Valley of Oaxaca is ringed by the ruins of ancient civilizations, including Mitla, celebrated for the unique Greca stone fretwork decorating its walls. The vibrant market of Zaachila coexists with the mysterious ruins of its pre-conquest old town. And on a western hill overlooking all, regal Monte Albán, Mesoamerica’s first metropolis, still reigns from its mountaintop throne.
These ancient ghosts exist side by side with vibrant native markets offering everything from colorful carpets and pottery to embroidered dresses and alebrijes, Oaxaca’s celebrated wooden animals. The less-traveled Mixteca region offers its share of magnificent Dominican churches, remote ancient kingdoms, and natural wonders, such as emerald waterfalls, limestone caves, and crystal springs. And southeast on the Isthmus, where the continent shrinks to a narrow land bridge, you can join the celebration at near-continuous festivals.
More contemporary recreational pleasures such as fishing, diving, stand-up paddleboarding, or simply lounging can be found on the golden strands of Pacific coastal resorts like Puerto Ángel, the Bahías de Huatulco, and Puerto Escondido. At Puerto Escondido, surfers challenge one of the world’s fiercest breaks. Along the coast around Huatulco and Salina Cruz, a dozen mostly deserted surfing breaks provide every kind of wave imaginable.
Wherever you wander in this rich land, you’ll find excitement, friendly people, relatively low prices, and a host of traditional Mexican delights.