Oaxaca, our new New Mexico
During the last 5 years we lived in Denver, my husband and I seemed to gravitate towards our neighboring state to the south, New Mexico, more and more often. Apart from our growing love for Santa Fe, we began to slowly explore many of the nooks and crannies of this stunning and tasty state. Now, living in Chiapas, I find myself gravitating to our neighboring state to the north, Oaxaca, whenever possible. Similar to Santa Fe, Oaxaca City has wonderful food, is a great city for the pedestrian and has a lot to see and do and explore in the surrounding hills and valleys.
It always took a little bit longer than I remembered to get down to Santa Fe from Denver. The same is true for the drive from San Cristobal to Oaxaca. It seems so close on the map, but the twisty, mountainous roads make for slow going. The overnight bus takes about 11 hours and while I would assume that parts of the drive are quite scenic, I wouldn’t know given that it’s always dark. I do hope to drive there myself one day, but that would require having a car, and that would be a pain!
My love affair with Oaxaca began back in July of 2007, although I didn’t know it at the time. On that first visit I was pretty ignorant regarding Mexico. I traveled to Oaxaca mostly because it was on the backpacker route and the next logical step after passing through Chiapas. I passed through quite quickly and didn’t absorb much but something must have gotten stirred up inside, enough that when I moved “down South” and Oaxaca was suddenly my neighbor I knew I wanted to go back. In visits over the past few years I’ve slowly started collecting and curating my list of favorite places to dine, to go for coffee and drinks and to sleep. Now visits to Oaxaca City include a few repeat favorites as well as checking off a few new places on my ever-growing list. On my most recent pass through Oaxaca I had the chance to share some of my favorites with my mom on her summer visit.
Given that she was visiting for the first time a few of the classic “must do” stops were included. We decided to hit up Monte Alban right out of the gates, while the weather was cooperating. Truthfully, Monte Alban is one of the more underwhelming sites I’ve visited in Mexico, but that’s not to say it isn’t worth a visit. It’s close enough to town and in the early hours of the day it doesn’t get a lot of visitors. This makes for a pleasant visit and it’s important to note that this site was built by the Zapotecs, who pre-dated the Mayans and is one of the earliest cities that has been found from Mesoamerica.
The Ex-Convent of Santo Domingo is also a must. It is a beautifully laid out museum and cultural center with so much to discover and has the added bonus of offering great views of the city. Even if you breeze through it at full speed it’s worth a visit. My mother enjoyed it so much she had to come out for a lunch break before returning to finish a few of the galleries she had missed in the morning. The courtyard out front is great for a rest in the shade and for people watching as it fills up in the evenings with families who come out to enjoy the cooler hours of the day with an ice cream in hand. With the botanical garden on the backside of the Ex-Convent this is such a central part to any visit to my beloved Oaxaca.
With those two classic stops behind us, we had time to visit a few other favorites.: The Alebrije Workshop of Jacobo y Maria Angeles, the Textile Museum of Oaxaca, and the Postage Museum. All three have no cost of admission (donation only) and are wonderful, for the permanent displays, the rotating exhibits and the buildings/area they are in.
It’s incredibly hard to choose where to dine when in Oaxaca City. I especially struggle with this because I find San Cristobal to be a bit lacking, restaurant-wise, for my tastes. That means when I go to a more eclectic city with international cuisine, I not only want to eat some of the local & Mexican specialties which are tremendously well done in Oaxaca, but I also want to take advantage of having Indian cuisine, Sushi or Thai food. Such are the woes of an immigrant in southern Mexico with a strong preference for all things Asian. But this time, Mom wasn’t going to waste her caloric intake on flavors she readily gets at home, and with good reason, so we stuck to Mexican flavors. Our two favorites from this visit were La Olla (great menu of the day) and La Biznaga. The latter has an interesting and diverse menu but what immediately caught our eye was the pork braised in a guava flavored pulque (fermented agave).
As we eventually began to do in New Mexico after several visits to Santa Fe, it’s now time to start venturing out to some of the other destinations within the state of Oaxaca. Here’s to hoping that a trip up the Oaxacan coast is in our near future.
Cheers to Oaxaca!