Your 2-minute guide to Oaxaca city, Mexico

A quiet cobbled street in Oaxaca Mexico
A quiet street

First off, it’s a wonderful place, full of life and colour and food and traditional Mexico. Here’s our introductory guide to this lovely city.

The city is for the most part built on a grid of roadways, making navigation on foot very easy; you will be given directions such as “walk two blocks past the market, turn left and walk three blocks, it’s on your left”. The city radiates around and way from the main square, the Zocalo, and nearly all of the main sights are within easy walking distance of the square. The Zocalo itself is incredible, loud and colourful, restaurants on three of its four sides, teeming with life and oozing Mexican spirit; the cathedral, the wonderfully intense markets, Santo Domingo and many other sumptuous buildings are within just a few minutes walk of the Zocalo, as are craft shops and mezcal bars, both in abundance.

Aromas of food permeate the senses; sometimes taco stalls, sometimes grilled meats, but the most intense are those occasional streets housing the chocolate makers, the whole street full of deep scent of chocolate.

The madness of the Zocalo is one thing; but perhaps the true Oaxaca is to be found in the calmness of its quieter neighbourhoods, cobbled streets separating the rows of low aspect houses, houses in ochre and primary colours, leafy lanes, trailing flowers, cafes, shops and bars anonymous by day then open at night (and vice versa), smiling faces, friendly chatter. Our own neighbourhood, Jalatlaco, is a former Zapotec tribal village now absorbed by the city, retaining a peaceful character yet just 15 minutes walk from Santo Domingo. Characterised by the distinctive wall art which decorate several of the quaint buildings – a modern twist brought about by socio-political unrest – Jalatlaco has a charm all of its own.

But don’t ignore the Zocalo, or the two major markets next door to each other, just being part of the verve and the madness is stimulating and exciting. The city’s leafy squares and tree lined streets and the archetypal low slung characterful Mexican buildings are so endearing, yet the dual existence of the craziness of the centre and the serenity of the outer neighbourhoods, so close together, provides the travelling visitor with a sumptuous mix. Add on the incredible food, the obsession with mezcal, the huge numbers of places to eat, the mountains towering above, and shielding, the city, and you have a destination which once visited will never be forgotten.

The magnificence of Monte Alban

Monte Alban Zapotec settlement near Oaxaca Mexico
Monte Alban

Between us we’ve visited some of the greatest ancient archaeological sites of the world, discovering and learning world history at the very place where it unfolded. We both love that experience. Monte Alban, just a couple of miles outside Oaxaca city in Mexico, bears comparison with some of the very best, it is an amazing place. Built over a 350-year period roughly spanning 850BC to 500BC, constructed at over 7000 feet above sea level by levelling a large area of the mountain, Monte Alban was the city of the Zapotec tribe, one of 16 tribes in the valley of Oaxaca. Large sections of the colossal buildings remain, and the extensive research over the last two centuries means there is enough information to bring a walk around the site alive; the abilities of these ancient races is awesome, from their ability to construct an immense city through to their use of astronomy and nature to guide their existence.

Despite 2,000 years of history including the Spanish occupation, the descendants of all 16 tribes still exist in the valleys today, each retaining their own dialects and customs. Monte Alban is a wonderful place to visit, and to learn a little more about the history of the fascinating country which is Mexico.

The joy of insects. Posted 2/1/19

Chapulines- grasshoppers for lunch in Oaxaca Mexico
Chapulines- grasshoppers

Eating insects is not something that comes naturally to the British, indeed we can’t think of a single insect which forms part of British cuisine. By contrast, the Mexican diet is full of them, being home to more edible insects than any other country in the world, with 88 species of edible beetle alone, together with ants, worms, caterpillars, ants’ eggs and, of course, grasshoppers. And we are on a journey of discovery here on our trip to Oaxaca. So far we’ve eaten ants with our beer, a sauce made from edible ants, a powder made from ground moth caterpillar, and now, at last, grasshoppers. These chapulines, as they are called here, are so much more tasty than we could ever have imagined, they are genuinely delicious. No wonder the locals love them here, carrying a salty, meaty taste which is very pleasing on the palate. We’re not over playing this: don’t miss chapulines if you come here, you’ll be missing out if you do!

New Years Eve in the Zócalo, Oaxaca

New year celebrations in Zócalo Oaxaca Mexico Feliz Ano Nuevo
New Year celebrations

There’s very little in life that beats the feeling of being absorbed into a different way of life, and feeling a long way detached from your ordinary everyday life, it’s one of the essential joys of travel. New Years Eve in the Zócalo in Oaxaca was very different from back home. Here’s some things you can expect to see which you wouldn’t see in the UK:-

⁃ Fireworks on open sale by street vendors with no restriction on who can buy, so small children are buying. In fact, some of the sellers are children too.

⁃ Children using lighters to light fireworks, holding the fireworks in their hand until properly alight, then throwing the burning firework across the crowded square.

⁃ Adults joining in, throwing lighted fireworks and firecrackers into the square, some firing rockets horizontally into the crowd.

⁃ Nobody batting an eyelid at any of this!

⁃ The main stage where the bands play, and the focal point of the square, becoming empty after a band finishes around 9pm, and then left deserted for the remainder of the evening.

⁃ Half the huge crowd in the square cramming into one corner to dance in the streets to a band performing supposedly privately in one of the restaurants, and the midnight countdown taking place only there.

⁃ Masses of people buying spray cans of white foam and squirting it into each others’ faces.

⁃ Vendors pushing through the crowd just after midnight, still trying to sell rugs and paintings even on the makeshift dance floor.

Feliz 2019

Happy New Year Feliz 2019 ana Nuevo

A few hours left until midnight here in Oaxaca, but almost new year back in the UK. Feliz ano nuevo!! Feliz 2019!!

Benito Juarez is one of Oaxaca and Mexico’s most revered statesmen. One of his legacies is this mantra….

Entre los individuos , como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.

“Between individuals, as between nations, respect for the rights of others, means peace”.

If only our world leaders lived by this mantra today, then the world would be a better place. To those who seek to oppress and to wage war, and to those who seek to eliminate our differences by telling us we are all the same, you are equally guilty of failing that mantra.

We suppose a year of peace is too much to realistically hope for, so let’s hope 2019 is a year of progress. Happy new year to everyone!

Moving on . Posted 30/12/18

Bacocho beach Pacific coast Puerto Escondido Oaxaca Mexico
Goodbye to all this

Our time in Puerto Escondido comes to an end after a brilliant couple of weeks where the joy of being in this wonderful corner of the world has been surpassed only by the incredible food experiences. We are moving on now, to the city of Oaxaca, where a different type of adventure awaits. Catch up with the journal at The Americas/Mexico; Days 14 & 15 bring our coastal time to a close.