What can you fit into a 3-day escape? We’ve partnered with Dr. Cacinda Maloney of Points and Travel as she takes us on a whirlwind adventure through Oaxaca, Mexico. 

From mezcal’s smoky tastings, nine types of mole, native artistry and trips to a crystallized waterfall oasis to architectural ruins and indigenous markets, this place is a treat! It seems Oaxaca City is much like the mezcal spirit it is famous for – colorful, spicy and born from a whole different culture than anything I have ever seen.

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Photo by Sarah Afana

Bumping along the road in the luxury van, we had finally arrived after a long journey from Mexico City.  Next time I will remember to fly into Oaxaca City even though the scenery to get here was gorgeous. I had finally arrived at one of my dream destination in Mexico, having heard of this city and state for years, it was always high on my bucket list.

I had often heard:

Him: “Have you been to Oaxaca, Mexico?”

Me: “No, but I have been to Mexico at least 50 times.”

Him: “Then you have not been to the true Mexico!”

Oaxaca is in the southwestern part of Mexico, nestled in a lush valley and surrounded by mountains with deep Zapotec roots and a simmering passion felt deep in your bones. It is a mix of Spanish colonial architecture, lively dancing in the streets and a trendy food scene. It brings with it brightly colored clothing, buildings painted in pale yellows to light blue colors, and of course, its mole and mezcal. In fact, mole and mescal (tequila’s smoky older sister) are both ingredients in which this city is famous.

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Photo by PointsandTravel

Dropping my bags at the blue hotel, Oaxaca was a feast for my eyes and for my senses. Her mezcal was the first thing that was offered from the Azul Hotel with wedges of lemon and chile spices.

It is a local, smoky spirit made from the maguey plant, wildly popular and called tequila’s mature sister. I was ready for the taking as it burned down the back of my throat. It was a slow burn, yet a shot of that and a quick turn around had me on the streets in no time.

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Photo by PointsandTravel

After walking only a few blocks admiring the hues of colorful walls, I was already at the main plaza (Zócalo) with the imposing Spanish Colonial church, Santo Domingo. Suddenly it looked like there was a parade in the streets. Musicians, balloon venders and street food carts abound.

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Photo by PointsandTravel

It was actually a wedding procession, much like the one I witnessed in New Orleans, only this one had a stilted groom and bride puppets whirling around with a giant dancing balloon! There were mariachi bands and Oaxacan-styled dressed men and women dancing in the streets! The girls were whirling about with fruit baskets on their heads! The dancers wore many different styles of dress — each from the different regions of Oaxaca. Some were cowboys, dressed in all-white, with their matching cowgirl in a flowing orange silk skirt and white tops. Still others were covered in elaborate embroidered dresses with intricate patterns and had shimmering ribbons in their hair.

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Photo by Cantimplora Travel

Little girls were dressed in white flowing taffeta dresses with flowers entwined in their hair. The wedding guests were dancing in the cobble-stoned streets with high heels and elegant dresses.

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Photo by Cantimplora Travel

It was a party or “Callejoneada”, but not just for the bride and groom.

“In Oaxaca, a party is for everyone to join in!” I later found out from some locals.

I made my way to the main dining event of the evening at Los Danzales, which is an indoor/outdoor restaurant with a giant tent cover. A spread soon appeared before our eyes: salsas, some verde (green) and some rosa (red). Then came the traditional carne and avocado tortilla soup, a salad with some extra special crunchiness (chapulines).

What on earth are chapulines?

Well, I didn’t know until after I ate them that they were fried grasshoppers!

And then came the mole. Oaxaca is famous for nine definitive types of sauces, which is a mixture of all kinds of spices, garlic, fruits, chocolate and other ingredients that gets poured over different types of meat or vegetarian style.

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Photo by Cantimplora Travel

After dinner, we strolled over to a local mezcaleria (a tasting room for mezcal) that was so tiny that it could only fit maybe 10 people. We ordered up shots from Leon, the bartender at Los Amantes Mezcalería, in what he described as the best mescal in town. That grand night, we had the iconic Mexican guitar player standing in the corner of the tiny tasting room singing old Spanish songs to us. We sang along to the few words that we knew in Spanish! While sitting in the tiny kids’ chairs low to the ground there, I devoured every inch of the minty-green nooks and crannies of this place. It was covered in mezcal bottles, odd sculptures, naked lady paintings and tribal masks. It was a night to remember.

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Photo by Cantimplora Travel

“Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también.”

(“For every ill, Mezcal, and for every good as well.”)

The next morning I was up and ready for the next round of Oaxaca goodness: a trip to the over-saturated, calcium-carbonate waterfall of El Heirve de Aqua. It is a cascade of waterfalls about 45 miles outside of Oaxaca City.

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Photo by PointsandTravel

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Photo by Cantimplora Travel

The water scurries over the cliffs, where excess minerals are deposited and creates a “cascada chica” (small waterfall) and also a “cascada grande” (large waterfall) that contains large pools for swimming. There are lots of tiny natural pools around as well. It is the perfect watering hole to spend your day hiking around the area and/or relaxing in the cool spring water. I combined that with a few hours of learning about mezcal from one of the local masters, who made and poured me a bottle right from his own mescal reserves and hand-bottled it right in front of me.

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Photo by PointsandTravel

I watched as his assistant heated up the wax to seal the bottle! This was a very long day, yet the experiences were extraordinary and memorable.

During the next 24 hours, I took a trip to Mitla, an archeological and religious site of the Zapotec people. It was a great place to learn more about their history and culture. They were smart engineers, creating earthquake proof walls and a structure that allowed for rainwater to be removed, so as not to destroy the building. I had heard of the Mayans and the Aztecs, but this group was completely new to me. And although most tourists who come here visit Monte Alban, our tour guide experts felt this was the more interesting site for us to learn about the Zapotec culture.

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Photo by Cantimplora Travel

My next stop was an indigenous artistry oasis co-op of Tallar Jocobo and Maria Angels workshop, where the master artists were creating alebrijes, which are mystical animal figures out of pinal wood.

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Photo by Cantimplora Travel

They also paint them and other crafts from paints that they create from the earth and natural sources in the area. This co-op of artists is fascinating and worth a visit.

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Photo by Cantimplora Travel

Oh shoot, I didn’t even tell you about the Sunday market in Tlacolula … 72 hours in Oaxaca is not enough!

Tour Guide: 

Cantimplora Travel

Mexico City, Mexico

Eat:

Los Danzantes
Macedonio Alcala No. 403-4,
Oaxaca 68000, Mexico

Drink:

Mezcalería Los Amantes
Allende #107, Centro Histórico
Oaxaca 68000, Mexico

Stay:

Casa Azul Hotel

Mariano Abasolo 313, Centro Histórico
Oaxaca 68000, Mexico

Cacinda Maloney is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnomads visit travelocitygnomads.com.

Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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