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Oaxaca Is Mexico’s Cultural Capital And Home To Its Largest Indigenous Communities, Here’s What You Need To Know

Officially known as Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca, Oaxaca is one of the richest regions in the world when it comes to culture and social life, as well as biodiversity. This Mexican state has hypnotized visitors for centuries. The indigenous Mixtec and Zapotec cultures, mixed with the Spanish influence of the conquistadores, generated a rich tapestry of flavors, colors and sounds that is unique.

The Beatles once visited to meet Santa Sabina, a wise woman expert in hallucinogenic mushrooms. If you have to visit one and just one place in Mexico, we recommend Oaxaca. We would compare it to the Italian Tuscany or the French Provence when it comes to the diversity of its landscape and the overlapping layers of its cuisine. 

Here’s some of the many things that make Oaxaca a true heaven on Earth! 

So first things first: Oaxaca is home to a complex and world-renowned culinary tradition.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

The Mexican saying goes: “Barriga llena, corazón contento” (“Happy belly, happy heart”). Oaxaca will certainly keep your joy levels up with its cuisine. It is cheap and delicious. Traditional chocolate is a must, as is fresh bread from the markets. It you are a carnivore, tasajo is for you: a carefully cured meat that just melts in your mouth. If you are a vegan or pescatarian, Oaxaca has you covered with delicate dishes made from local veggies and seafood from the sun-kissed coast. 

And let’s settle the debate: Oaxaca has the best mole in Mexico, it is dark as night and chocolatey and spicy at the same time.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

Mole negro is one of the staples of Oaxacan culinary culture. It is almost black and has a strong, earthy flavor that can be tamed by using it as a dip for freshly made tortillas. Is your mouth watering yet? 

The streets of Oaxaca City have been turned into a colorful canvas by street artists.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

In recent years, street artists from all over Mexico have received incentives from the local government and turned the walls and alleys of Oaxaca City into a living, breathing museum. 

Which has made it in perhaps the most Insta-ready city in Mexico.

Credit: Instagram. @_juqui_md

And of course, foreign visitors will get a glimpse of Mexican popular culture. What about this mural with Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete getting all Pulp Fiction on us?

One word: mezcal!

Credit: Instagram. @oaxacaxamor

The state just received excellent news. Oaxacan mezcal producers were granted denomination of origin, which means that all mezcal in the world has to come from the state. This complex spirit truly speaks of the dry but rich landscape of the region. 

The Spanish built golden baroque masterpieces as part of the religious colonization of Oaxaca.

Credit: Instagram. @rkosalazar

For all the pain and misery that colonization brought (and continues to bring) to the original owners of Oaxaca, the Spanish built baroque masterpieces that are recognized the world over for their intricate designs and expert craftsmanship. The Catedral de Santo Domingo in the capital city is a must. 

The state is the home of the wonderful, dreamy alebrijes.

Credit: Instagram. @estampas_de_mexico1

Alebrijes are surreal beings that often take the form of animals. They are created by expert woodsmen in town around the state. Each alebrije is unique: there are no plans or blueprints, as each maestro artesano carves and paints these wooden figurines as dictated by his or her imagination. 

Oaxacan culture is rich and colorful: La Guelaguetza is an annual festival that brings together the awesomeness of Oaxacans.

Credit: Instagram. @drphotooax

La Guelaguetza is an annual indigenous festival that takes place on the two Mondays following July 16. Indigenous communities from all around the state converge in Oaxaca City in two days of dance, music and traditional textiles. You have to experience it at least once in your lifetime. 

Did we mention you can eat grasshoppers? Chapulines are just the best snack on planet Earth!

Credit: Instagram. @grubnwhereabouts

Look, the day will come, and it will be sooner rather than later, when we will all be eating insects. Oaxacans have done it for centuries: grasshoppers are organically raised to be fried in garlic and salt, and then sprinkled with chili. They make a great snack full of protein, saltiness and unparalleled crunch. Once you stop finding it weird, you won’t be able to keep your hands off the plate. Best paired with an ice cold lager beer or some mezcal. 

Oaxaca is rich in natural resources and biodiversity, and produces fresh and delicious produce.

Credit: Instagram. @oaxaca.bonito

The state has it all: arid lands, forests and beaches. This is why the produce is of very high quality. One of the best experiences you can have in your life is visiting a Oaxacan market early in the morning and witnessing how the locals set up their stands. Smells, colors and flavors para tirar pa’rriba

Oaxaca is home to breathtaking beaches, many of which remain relatively untouched.

Credit: Instagram. @parilicious_

Besides the capital city, Oaxaca has other areas that are worth visiting. Its geography is privileged and includes stunning beaches such as Huatulco (if you are into resorts), Zipolite (for nudist souls) and Mazunte (for a more rural experience). 

The state invests heavily in art: Oaxaca is home to some of Mexico’s most famous painters.

Credit: Instagram. @vive_oaxaca

The state is home to great artists such as Francisco Toledo and the late Rufino Tamayo. The streets of Oaxaca City, which was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987, are often embellished with art installations.  

Mixtec and Zapotec culture is lively and beautiful.

Credit: Instagram. @drphotooax

The state has a 50% of indigenous population, which is the highest in the country (by comparison, Mexico City has only 20%). Mixtec and Zapotec culture is colorful and proud. 

Oaxaca City is home to the thickest tree in the world!

Credit: Instagram. @madhungry

Just outside of Oaxaca City lays a cypress that has seen it all. Two thousand years is a long time. The legendary Tule’s trunk has a circumference of 137.8 feet (42 meters). That is just massive. 

Pre-Hispanic ruins speak of the greatness of ancient indigenous civilizations.

Credit: Instagram. @mexico_capital

Mitla and Monte Alban are true delights for any fan of archeology and history. Monte Alban is particularly stunning during sunrise. You can see it in the $20 pesos bill, by the way. 

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