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.

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.