The southern Mexican state of Oaxaca is a hot new tourist destination with rich history, ancient ruins, great cuisine and world-renowned handcraft artisans.
The southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has long been a crossroads for human populations. The region’s museums are rich with exhibits of early civilizations and ruins from the ancient tribes that once roamed Oaxaca. The state is home to 18 indigenous groups who have managed to maintain their native languages and traditions into the 21st century. Whether you’re a historian at heart, gastronome in search of your next great meal, or art lover with the desire to see world-renowned handcrafters at work, Oaxaca has something in store for you.
It’s believed that the center of the Monte Albán ruins, ascending more than 1,300 feet above the Oaxaca Valley, is the oldest Pre-Columbian site in Latin America. The settlement of Monte Albán – an area covering 25 square miles – was considered a key place of worship for more than 2,500 years and provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of sixth century BC natives. At its height, the historical site was home to 35,000 people who worked, created art, played games – check out the juego de pelota ball court while you’re there – and eventually died and were buried. Before you leave, stroll through the museum for interpretive displays.
Oaxaca Cathedral dates back to 1535 and serves as a reminder of the Spanish who conquered the region a number of years earlier. For more than two centuries, there were additions and modifications made to the building, including a major rebuild project following a 1714 earthquake. When you visit, you may notice that the two bell towers are designed in the same style as the cathedrals in Mexico City and Puebla, built low in order to withstand earthquakes. Make a point to check out the exhibit of paintings and remains of the Cross of Huatulco, transported from Santa Cruz Bay, Huatulco in 1612.
Museo Regional de Oaxaca
Sometimes referred to as the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca is the city’s most prestigious museum. Situated in imposing monastery buildings adjoining the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the museum’s main exhibit includes a collection of finds from a Zapotec burial site in Monte Albán. Excavated in the early 1930s, the tomb held corpses as well as a treasure trove of jewelry. If you have children, be sure to pick up a package of materials designed by The National Institute of Anthropology and History. The package will contain fun activities, like coloring pages and word searches, created to spark your child’s imagination.
Tree of Tule
It’s worth the seven-mile drive east of the city to the small village of Santa María del Tule to see the ancient Tree of Tule. Standing nearly 138 feet tall and 131 feet wide, the tree is believed to be 2,000 years old. The Tree of Tule is a Montezuma cypress located on the grounds of a charming little church. Local legend has it that a priest of the Aztec storm god initially planted the impressive tree. Once there, consider taking the six-mile drive to San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya, site of the 16th century San Jeronimo Church, which is famous for an interior jam-packed with colorful paintings created by locals.
Oaxaca is one of several states in Mexico that claims to have created the first mole, the thick, rich sauce made from chocolate, nuts, chili peppers, and other ingredients. No need to get involved in the national debate over which recipe is best. At Restaurant los Pacos, you can sample seven different kinds of mole in order to decide for yourself.
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