Monday, May 20, 2024

Discover Mexico’s coolest state with these day trips from Oaxaca

Dancing in the streets, the preservation of traditional Mexican culture, phenomenal food, and a riot of color are only some of the things that Oaxaca is known for. 

Most famous as the home of mezcal, this beautiful part of Mexico offers so much more than the simple getaways popular in beachside resort towns. From Day of the Dead festivities in November, to historical sites like Monte Albán, to exploring the local markets and dining at fantastic restaurants, you won’t run out of things to do for at least a week or two. 

Oaxaca historic center
Oaxaca is maybe Mexico’s best tourist destination, with the perfect fusion of food, culture and tradition. (Samuel Garcia/Unsplash)

But the city is also a great starting point for day trip adventures. I took a road trip with friends around Oaxaca back in 2023 and covered plenty of ground. We hiked, saw mountains, learned about history, and took endless photos to capture the memories we were creating. 

So, are you planning your itinerary for Oaxaca or hope to in the future? If that’s the case, here are some of the best day trips you can take from Mexico’s cultural capital! 

How to travel within Oaxaca

If you are a solo traveler or a couple looking to spend the day in Hierve el Agua, then it’s cheaper and more efficient to take a camioneta for around 50-100 pesos. It’s also possible to take a public bus for roughly 8-10 pesos, though these often take longer. 

If you’re a small group and want to see multiple sites in a day, it’s better to rent a car. If you feel too intimidated to drive in Mexican traffic (and I don’t blame you!), there are also numerous guided tours that include transportation as part of the price. 

As part of a group of friends, we decided to rent a car together during our visit. We wanted to have control of our schedule. Between us, we paid roughly 900 pesos for the day, the average price for a vehicle that seats up to five people. Split four ways, it was a fair deal for everyone.

Hierve el Agua

Warning: This pool is not as warm as Instagram makes it seem. (Ian Ostroff)

From scenic mountains, frozen waterfalls, and rock formations, it’s no surprise Hierve el Agua is one of the most popular day trips from Oaxaca city. An hour and a half outside of town, this nature preserve is ideal for those who like hiking, the great outdoors, and relaxing in the most unique swimming pools I’ve ever seen. Created thanks to the rock formations you’ll see everywhere here, the pools are at the edge of mountain tops and the views are spectacular. Trust me, the pictures you take will never do them enough justice!

If you want to hike in this nature reserve, I’d recommend finding a local guide or booking a tour since it’s easy to get lost. Hierve el Agua’s most common hiking trail is over an hour long and some of the others are longer still.  

My friends and I got lost quickly when we ventured into one of the hiking trails in search of the frozen waterfalls. We even followed a group tour at the start of our journey before going in a separate direction. I can’t imagine how lost we might have been if we entered a trail completely blind. So, keep this in mind unless you’re a human compass.

Tule Tree

The enormous Tule Tree is well worth a visit, and the size needs to be seen to be believed. (Ian Ostroff)

Known as Mexico’s most famous tree, the Tule Tree is a marvelous force of nature that is over 2,000 years old. There’s also a holiday to celebrate its presence in Oaxacan culture on the second Monday of October. 

Less than an hour outside Oaxaca, this is probably the most convenient day trip on this list. The tree is worth seeing for its stature alone. The tree’s enormous trunk hides various shapes, such as the image of an elephant, a lion’s head, a deer, a pineapple, and many others. This makes it a fun day trip for the whole family. You can take photos for your social media pages and cross off a worthy bucket list item. Talk about a win-win situation! 

Mitla

Mitla main temple
Mitla has been partially restored, allowing visitors to get a scale of the once-grand city. (Joseph Sorrentino)

If you enjoyed visiting Monte Albán, then you’ll also love exploring Mitla. Considered the second most important archaeological site in the state of Oaxaca, you understand why once you get there. At its height, this is where the ancient Zapotec people conducted most of their religious and political matters.  

There’s also a little flea market on site with lots of souvenir options, a few restaurants, and some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. 

Since Mitla isn’t as photogenic or popular as Monte Albán, there weren’t any crowds the day we went. That made our guided tour more relaxing since we were able to take our time to see and learn everything there was to know. 

Rey De Matatlán Mezcaleria 

El rey de Matatlán mezcaleria
No trip around the Oaxaca area is complete without a visit to El Rey de Matatlán mezcaleria. (Ksufan88/Tripadvisor)

Oaxaca is the most famous mezcal producing region of Mexico, so it only makes sense to visit a place like Rey De Matatlán Mezcaleria to get the full Oaxacan experience. 

If you go on a guided tour, you’ll learn about how mezcal is made. You’ll also get to sample different flavors, meet local farmers, and be able to buy souvenirs (including the extremely impressive array of mezcal liqueurs). If you aren’t visiting as part of a package tour, entry will cost you 250 pesos.

Mezcal is an acquired taste. It can burn your throat if you don’t consume it properly, and it takes getting used to even if you drink alcoholic beverages all the time. But it’s a “welcome to Oaxaca” moment if there ever was one! 

Do you feel the Oaxacan magic?

Oaxaca is a wonderful part of Mexico that deserves a lot of praise. Whether you like food, hiking, sightseeing, history, culture, taking photos, or all the above, it’s not hard to find something that appeals to your interests here.  

But if you like a good balance of travel adventures and a relaxing vacation, Oaxaca also has some great beach options in Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. All you have to do is book your flight and experience the Oaxacan magic!

Ian Ostroff is an indie author, journalist, and copywriter from Montreal, Canada. You can find his work in various outlets, including Map Happy and The Suburban. When he’s not writing, you can find Ian at the gym, a café, or anywhere within Mexico visiting family and friends. 

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