The experience of visiting Oaxaca, Mexico, is still fresh in my mind. My first trip away from my daughter was stressful. I felt guilty and anxious. Is it okay to travel again? Did I deserve it? Does it still matter to me that traveling around the world is important when I have a greater part of my heart at home?
I’m glad to say that each second was worth it.
I traveled intending to explore the spirit of Oaxaca’s women, who celebrated their Zaptoec heritage and showcased their artisan skills. However, this description oversimplifies everything involved in these communities of women. They stem from true grit, passion, and a desire to thrive in their personal and professional lives.
Every visit revealed more incredible stories, failures, and triumphs each woman-owned business has experienced. I was humbled to be invited into families and felt encouraged to pursue my passions as a mom.
I got the chance to participate in fantastic city tours, try local food, and learn more about history. Overall, I had plenty of fun throughout the trip. It’s impossible to cover it all, but here’s an overview of Oaxaca City!
Respecting the Past
Zona Arqueologica Dainzu
Tourists often overlook this beautiful spot. It is a sacred site for women and the divine feminine energy. I encourage everyone to visit it respectfully and allow themselves to form a connection with the land and people.
You should be aware that Dainzu may sometimes be closed to the public. If you decide to venture out on your own, make sure to prepare an alternative plan.
I got the opportunity to embrace a welcoming ceremony and offering in this space. I asked for a positive experience and learned a lot from this memorable trip.
Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman
For millennia, life in Oaxaca has been about spirituality and the church. Indigenous traditions are not always followed, but catholic practices are a common sight.
Oaxaca was introduced to Christianity by the Spanish in 1537. It is full of fascinating stories about the struggle of the Oaxacqueno people to survive the ongoing invasions by Europeans and their Aztec neighbors.
Benito Juarez, a well-known and respected Oaxacaqueno, created new laws to separate church and state. He was the 26th president of Mexico and the first indigenous leader. The Catholics did not like this at all! That led to the independence talks in Mexico, which shaped Oaxaca as we know it today — the melting pot of influence.
My highly-skilled guide shared her knowledge about the city’s past. She still tells these stories to newcomers who want to learn more about the region.
While talking about Oaxaca’s history, we visited several churches, including The Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman. It is the central church and square of the city. It is also an official UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes all of Oaxaca City.
El Diablo y la Sandia
Oaxaca makes taking photos easy. Capturing the city’s atmosphere while walking through the old town or staying at beautiful boutique hotels is a unique experience.
If you are looking for the ideal sanctuary to spend the night, I highly recommend staying at El Diablo y la Sandia (The Devil and the Watermelon). There are two properties. I was at Boca del Monte, which has courtyards full of flora and a family-style lobby area. You can walk a few minutes to get to the heart of downtown, while your room is a welcome respite from a long day of sightseeing. It was wonderful.
Mole Mole Mole!
Mole was created in Oaxaca. If you’re a foodie, you’ve probably had it. It’s a rich, dark brown sauce with a hint of chocolate flavor.
While featured in many Oaxacan cuisines, its recipe is up for interpretation. It comes in various colors, from jet-black and deep red to bright yellows and greens.
Below are just a few of the ingredients that go into moles. Of course, there are many more unexpected flavors:
- Sesame seeds,
- Toasted bread,
There are many places to order mole dishes in the city. However, you can also learn how to create it yourself in neighboring villages. I learned from one family that roasting the chiles can take up to a week, especially if you cook for large groups of people.
If you are looking for products to create your mole, the Oaxaca city market is the place to go. You will find there all sorts of herbs and spices to make your dish stand out. There are also many souvenir shops in this market where the quality of local crafts and goods far outweighs imports. You will find everything you need, from stone chile grinders to beautiful embroidered dresses and aprons.
Enjoy Your Time With Tasty Meals
El Sabor de Cecy
You can enjoy a few fine dining experiences that include Oaxacan delights. But don’t forget to grab a quick taco. They are so tasty that you may want to order two! A tiny restaurant, El Sabor de Cecy, is located near the hotel. It serves delicious tacos made right in front of your eyes with fresh ingredients. Eating the squash blossoms and soft cheese right at the counter was wonderful.
Levadura de Olla
This restaurant featured the Mexican tomato in all its colorful forms, along with a rainbow-like appetizer. As you waited for your food, you could see the entire table of tomatoes in the front room while a server explained how Oaxacan cuisine uses them. He exclaimed, “Tomatoes can be one of the most tenacious fruits!”
The starters also included crickets. Although insects might seem new to you, people have been eating them for hundreds of years. Because of its health benefits and high protein content, cricket flour is becoming more popular. You can order your guacamole with a side of deep-fried critters.
Hierba Dulce is the city’s pride and joy. Many traditional cooking styles are featured on the all-vegan menu. They pride themselves in using hyper-local ingredients to combat the over-industrialization of agriculture. Enjoy a delicious meal in the courtyard, and don’t forget to try the homemade mole and fresh salsas!
Puro Burro’s relaxed atmosphere makes it feel a bit more local than other establishments. A steak burrito was served with a cold beer, and it was a great late-night meal that we could enjoy from our hotel’s walking distance.
Oaxaca Brewing Company
Like most major cities, Oaxaca is on the beer brewery hype train. Forget about wine and guide your attention toward a wide selection of beers. They are delicious, and the atmosphere is intimate.
Sur a Norte
Oaxaca has a vibrant cocktail scene, particularly at the rooftop bars located near the main church square. Take in the views and enjoy a drink or two under the shade for a bird’s eye view of the city.
This rooftop bar/restaurant is a bit quirky and fun. It serves up delicious cocktails and food.
It is a cute place where you can sample more moles and fresh seafood. You can also find vegan options and spicy margaritas here. It is an excellent spot to eat early in the morning, as it is away from all the noise.
This is the place to visit if you’re looking for a quick coffee fix. Be sure to get there early for the best selection, as they often have a long line. They also serve delicious pastries and bottled cold-brew coffee.
We stopped at the market once more in the evening, and I brought home mezcal and Tejate chocolates. Tejate is a non-alcoholic cacao and corn drink. It was not my favorite when I initially tasted it, but it was delicious as a truffle!
Supporting Local Women
After experiencing all the delicious surprises Oaxaca City has to offer, it would be a big mistake not to explore beyond its borders. I wish I could have covered every experience of my trip. These are just a few of the many wonderful artisans and business people I met.
Mujeres del Barro Rojo
These beautiful women collect clay from nearby mountains and transform it into beautiful works of art. The story of the founder was full of drama and success. She broke away from village norms to become a successful businesswoman and a mother.
The ceramic products she sells benefit her extended family, which is a fully-fledged business using traditional crafting techniques. Her pieces are featured in museums, and some of her wares can be purchased at her huge home and workshop.
In Mexico, candles play an important role in many matrimonial events. These intricate candles, which are carved and dipped in Oaxaca, represent a husband’s love for his (traditionally married) bride-to-be. Women-owned businesses make these candles. The wax is then repurposed for future use.
The art of candle-making has been passed down through generations. Each generation plays a part in the creation process. You can also bring home small candles if you visit the workshop.
It takes time to achieve good things, right? I spent the whole morning watching a local chocolate maker at work, and the results were astonishing.
Cacao beans are roasted over an open flame and then hand-ground into a fine paste. When the chocolate turns shiny, you know it’s done! You can also add cinnamon sticks and lots of sugar.
Once the block of drinking chocolate has dried, you can use it to make delicious chocolate beverages that people throughout Oaxaca can enjoy. We were informed by the woman that she used slightly less sugar for tourists because locals love their drinks extremely sweet.
Rugs in Vibrant Colors
The Vida Nueva Women’s Weaving Cooperative is a must-visit place in Oaxaca City. The Oaxacaquenos weave these beautiful rugs using natural wool and dyes. This women-owned business was founded in 1980 by two women who took over the management of the craft. They now use the profits to support the village’s development.