How To Spend The Perfect 3 Days In Oaxaca


Looking for the best things to do in Oaxaca? When thinking about a Mexico vacation, the majority of people have in mind white sand beaches and incredible turquoise waters; some would also think about visiting Mexico City, the country’s biggest concrete jungle, but not many would pin Oaxaca on their map or have heard of it all. 

Located 500 kilometers to the South of Mexico City, Oaxaca de Juárez is considered one of the main cultural hubs in Mexico. There are direct flights from Mexico City to Oaxaca and also several buses running daily between the two cities.

Oaxaca is the perfect combination of ancient and new history, it is a mix of tradition and vibrant cultures. Oaxaca is an explosion of colors and delicious smells all around and for most, the best time to visit Oaxaca depends on your personal likes and dislikes.

It is the place where all Mexicans and foreigners come to taste some of the best food and mezcal in the whole of Mexico. From local markets to top-notch restaurants and from small towns handicrafts to new art galleries popping every month in the city, Oaxaca has something to all. Proof of it is that there are many digital nomads living in Oaxaca.

This is a 3-day Oaxaca itinerary that summarizes the top things to do in Oaxaca and must-do experiences you shouldn’t miss in Centro (downtown) and surroundings while visiting the city.

3-Day Oaxaca Itinerary

Best Things To Do In Oaxaca: Day 1

Wondering what are the best places to visit in Oaxaca? Starting with a city tour will help you understand the significance of the city and will allow you to get your head around the main areas in Centro. 

Oaxaca is a very walkable city, there are several free city tours and companies that offer this service, but you can definitely discover the city by yourself. Either way, during your 3 days in Oaxaca you’ll probably be hitting the main spots. This is a suggested Oaxaca itinerary for your first day in Oaxaca.

Start your day in front of the stunning Temple of Santo Domingo, this is an iconic church in the city and also one of the main meeting points for locals. Everyone loves to stop and admire Santo Domingo, it is a view you don’t get tired of easily!

Start the first of your 3 days in Oaxaca visiting Santo Domingo Church

Walk down Calle Macedonio Alcalá towards Zócalo (main square), you’ll be passing by beautiful colorful buildings that hold Oaxacan artisanal crafts such as alebrijes, rugs, black clay figures, as well as some museums and top-notch restaurants in town.

The Zócalo is Oaxaca’s main square, it is the perfect place to sit down and people watch for hours. Shoe cleaners, mariachis, and vendors, all gather around to please locals and foreigners with their talents. You can quickly visit the Cathedral “Catedral Metropolitana de Oaxaca” too as it is located right beside the main square.

The walk will continue towards the largest market in the city “Mercado de Abastos”. This is one of the most immersive and unique experiences one can probably have while in Oaxaca City. It is difficult to put your focus on just one thing over there.

The market is quite big and you will probably not be able to see it entirely in one morning. However, walking through its mazed corridors will give you a glimpse of the many products you can find here. From fresh fruits and vegetables to sneakers and from wedding dresses to live cattle, here you will find anything you could ever think of!

You will probably start to get hungry, this is when we head back to Centro and stop by the “Smoke Alley” at 20 de Noviembre market. This is the clear definition of meat paradise. As touristy as it can sound, the place is mostly frequented by locals and the quality of the meat is incredible too. 

Once you’re done with lunch, continue your Oaxaca itinerary wandering around Benito Juarez market for a quick souvenir shopping, and then head to “Plaza de la Danza”. This is a square guarded by two churches where you can also find the best “nieves” (iced ice cream) in town.

Continue your visit towards the borough of Jalatlaco. This is considered by many, the most beautiful borough. The tranquility of Jalatlaco makes you forget you are in a big city. Its cozy coffee shops and many graffiti, together with the beautiful colorful streets make this borough one of the trendiest in the city.

See Also: How To Spend The Perfect 3 Days in San Cristobal, Chiapas 

You would now be close to the end of the tour. For the last part of this self-guided Oaxaca walking tour, you would be heading back to Centro, crossing the green and vibrant park of “El Llano” and “Jardín Conzatti”, a small garden in Centro, up until the end of Xólotl street, where the Aqueduct stands.

This aqueduct dates back to the 17th Century and was used to provide the city with water as it connects the Northern mountains with the city center.

During the evening, consider grabbing a mezcal cocktail in one of the rooftops overlooking Santo Domingo church. There are many bars in Centro that offer dinner as well around this area.

Things To Do In Oaxaca: Day 2

For those who love history, this might be one of the highlights of your Oaxaca trip. Visiting the ruins of Monte Alban is one of the best things to do in Oaxaca. There are many tours operating this activity, they will also take you to the small villages surrounding the city. You can easily rent a car too and do the following Oaxaca itinerary by yourself.

Monte Alban is considered to be one of the most important ruins in Mexico and is a must-see in your 3 days in Oaxaca. Not only these Zapotec ruins are part of the Unesco World Heritage, but also they have an important role in the history of the country. Thanks to the discovery of the “Tomb 7 Treasure” the Mexican government decided to fund the National Anthropology Institute in order to excavate more ruins.

This led to the discovery of the ruins of Chichen Itzá amongst many others. The entrance itself is 4USD. I would totally recommend a guided visit here as it would enlighten you with some important details of the Zapotec culture too.

Monte Alban is a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the best places to visit in Oaxaca

After lunch, continue your self-guided Oaxaca walking tour with a visit to Teotitlán del Valle. This is a small Zapotec village known for its dazzling and detailed artisan products, especially their textiles and rugs. The majority of the families living in this town have their own workshops where they create their products and distribute them to the vendors that will most likely sell them in Centro. Here you will have the possibility to visit one of the families and witness all the processes that take to create a rug.

Visiting a family-run rug workshop is a must during your 3 days in Oaxaca

During the evening, consider going for a street food hunt! Oaxaca has some amazing street food specialties: Cangreburguers, street burgers near Santo Domingo or Tlayudas at Bustamante with Mina street, past Zocalo. A great way to wrap up the second of your 3-day Oaxaca itinerary!

See Also: Things To Do in Tulum in 3 days

3-Day Oaxaca Itinerary: Last Day

You cannot say you have been to Oaxaca if you haven’t visited a palenque (mezcal distillery) and tasted mezcal. Visiting a palenque is one of the top things to do in Oaxaca. That is because the state of Oaxaca is the number one mezcal producer in Mexico, for this reason, it is considered the capital of this world-famous spirit drink.

There are many ways to visit a palenque. Most tourists visiting Oaxaca end up going to Santiago Matatlán which is the closest town to Centro, but many of these palenques are already owned by big corporations and visits can lose their essence as the art of producing mezcal is a very unique family-run generational business.

Consider joining an off-the-beaten-path mezcal tour. There is nothing like visiting the palenque and seeing the family running their business while they explain the distillation process and production of their artisanal mezcal. You will also have the chance to visit the agave fields (where the mezcal plants grow) and plant your baby agave!

Lunch will take place at the palenque. Finally, you will be offered to join a mezcal tasting which is also included in your visit.

After the tour, you’ll still have some free time in Centro. This could be the perfect day to have drinks after dinner in any of the many bars/clubs in the city.

Some of the best bars in Oaxaca nowadays are Convivio (alternative music with show and DJs); Archivo Maguey (two floors, one normally plays Latin music & reggaeton and DJs play on the second floor), and Txalaparta (Latin music live bands on the first floor and commercial international pop at the terrace on the second floor).

Never forget to stop for a taco after the party is over. Those are always the best tacos!

If your idea is to spend more than 3 days in Oaxaca, here is a complete Oaxaca guide with more recommendations on what to do in Oaxaca during a longer stay, including hitting the best coffee shops and bars and some tips to move around the city.

Best Time To Visit Oaxaca

Oaxaca is an all-year-round destination. Depending on the season, the city is preparing for a different festivity, part of what I personally think Oaxacans have always such a cheerful attitude!

Three of the most important festivities take place between the months of July and December, making this period the best time to visit Oaxaca. These are:

Guelaguetza: This is an annual indigenous cultural event that takes place only in Oaxaca and involves all of the different villages around the city center too. The celebration enhances the traditional costumed dances of the various indigenous peoples of the state. It takes place yearly during most of the month of July and includes parades of indigenous walking bands, several handicrafts, and food coming from the different parts of the state of Oaxaca. 

Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead): Probably the biggest festivity together with the Guelaguetza. Although this is celebrated in all of Mexico, Oaxaca plays an important role as it is considered one of the best places to celebrate Muertos, along with Puerto Vallarta and other key cities. Mexicans and foreigners from all over travel to Oaxaca to celebrate this festivity. Events take place during several days, being 2nd November the most important day.

One of the best times to visit Oaxaca is during the popular Dia de los Muertos festivities

Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radishes): This annual event takes place every 23rd December and it is dedicated to the carving of radishes and harvesting of flowers that are all used to create different scenes all around town.

Oaxaca Travel Tips and Final Thoughts

Most of the hotspots in Oaxaca City are now open to tourism. Masks are mandatory out in the streets and when entering bars and restaurants. Whilst life it’s pretty much back to normal, some museums and attractions are still closed due to Covid19 restrictions, this is the case with the Museum of Cultures, which holds Monte Alban’s Tomb 7 treasure.

There are several villages in the Northern mountains of Oaxaca that are also closed to visitors. On top of that, one of the main tourist attractions in the state “Hierve el Agua” is only partially open. You can visit the site with a tour company, but there are still conflicts and many agree is not the best moment to visit due to political discrepancies between the communities running the place and the Mexican government.

See Also: The Best Day Trips from Puerto Vallarta

Despite the few places still closed to the general public, Oaxaca is ready to receive new visitors and you can clearly sense it while visiting the city. Locals will welcome you with big gentle smiles and “calendas” will invite Oaxacans and foreigners to join the dance and celebrations for a better tomorrow.

About The Author: Luna is a Spanish travel blogger who has visited 14 countries and lived in more than 5 of these throughout her lifetime. She has started her solo journey during the pandemic and is nowadays enjoying the slow-travel nomad lifestyle while learning the language and the culture of the new places she discovers. She is now based in Mexico, but her dream is to live like a hobbit in New Zealand. You can follow her journey on Instagram and read all about her adventures in her blog.

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