Oaxaca, sometimes known by its full name Oaxaca de Juárez, is one of Mexico’s most charming cities. The southern city has a large Indigenous Mexican population, a long history, and a delicious food culture.
If you want to explore the charms of this southern city, make sure that you plan your trip correctly. That is why we put together this travel guide on where to stay in Oaxaca to help you narrow down your choices!
Why You Should Visit Oaxaca in 2023
Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s most vibrant cities, and many people call it Mexico’s cultural capital. It is the capital of the state with the same name, which is renowned throughout Mexico for its high indigenous population.
The result is a unique cultural scene that sometimes makes visitors feel as if they stepped back in time. Start your trip in the center of town, with its spectacular colonial-era architecture, such as the imposing baroque Templo de Santo Domingo.
To learn more about the city, visit the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, which guides visitors through the history of the city and state. To learn more about the city’s present, visit one of the markets nestled in the city center.
Although the colonial-era architecture is impressive, Oaxaca’s indigenous heritage is far more interesting. Just a short trip away from the city in the state of Oaxaca proper, you can see imposing Zapotec ruins at Monte Albán and Mitla.
Oaxaca’s Indigenous peoples are still around today, and you can learn more about their cultures by visiting a nearby village, shopping for traditional textiles, or partaking in a traditional steam “temazcal” ceremony.
Oaxaca’s present-day attractions are also more than enough to keep your interest. The city has a spectacular arts and culture scene that bursts out onto the street — it has some of the best murals in Mexico.
Oaxacan regional cuisine is very tasty, and the region is the birthplace of important Mexican ingredients such as mezcal and chocolate.
Try to time your visit to coincide with one of the many festivals, such as the famous Guelaguetza folk festival. Oaxaca is also a great base for exploring the surrounding state. You can take day trips to beautiful natural wonders such as the nearby Hierve el Agua.
Visit an authentic indigenous village such as Pueblo Mancomunados. The coast and famous surf towns such as Puerto Escondido are a bit too far for a day trip but worth a visit, nonetheless.
Both the state and city of Oaxaca are absolutely worth a visit. Choosing the right place to stay means that you will really get the most out of your trip.
The 5 Best Parts of Oaxaca
- Zócalo: Best for sightseeing, culture, and history
- Santo Domingo: Best for dining, nightlife, and art
- Reforma: Best for upscale travel, elegance, and quiet travel
- Xochimilco: Best for the traditional experience
- Jalatlaco: Best for art, hip travel, and budget travel
The Best Areas and Hotels in Oaxaca
The city of Oaxaca has several different neighborhoods that are popular with visitors, all with their distinct characters and atmospheres. Depending on what you are looking for from your trip to Oaxaca, you may choose to stay in different neighborhoods.
The good thing about Oaxaca is that it is a fairly compact city, so no matter where you stay, it is easy to enjoy the amenities of other neighborhoods.
The Zócalo is the central square in Oaxaca which acts as the focal point for the city. This is true for most Mexican cities, but the Zócalo in Oaxaca has its own unique feeling. Zócalo is also what locals call half of the historic Centro (the other half is Santo Domingo).
The main attraction in Oaxaca’s Zócalo neighborhood is the square itself. Formally named Plaza de la Constitución, the square is dominated by the Cathedral of Oaxaca, which dates back to the 16th century.
All of the buildings surrounding the square date back to the colonial Spanish period and have imposing architecture and interiors. However, the square is also a gathering point for the city, and people-watching is often more interesting than the architecture.
There are also many sights clustered around the square itself. Just south of the square are two of Oaxaca’s famous markets, the Mercado Benito Juárez and Mercado 20 de Noviembre.
You can also check out some of the city’s museums and cultural institutions, such as the Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños (Museum of Oaxacan Painters).
The area surrounding the Zócalo is protected by UNESCO as the city’s Centro Histórico has a unique historical and cultural significance, but it is still a living, breathing neighborhood. One of the best things to do is to shop for artisan goods or go for an evening stroll along with the locals.
The Zócalo neighborhood is very lively, but that is a bit of a downside for some travelers as it gets fairly rowdy, even at night. Plus, staying anywhere in the center is more expensive than staying in one of the peripheral neighborhoods.
Things to Do
- Have your senses overwhelmed at the Mercado Benito Juárez or Mercado 20 de Noviembre.
- Look at the beautiful historical architecture or visit one of the museums, such as the Textile Museum.
- Shop for souvenirs in the markets or many artisan shops.
- Join the crowds for live music in the evenings in the neighborhood’s public squares.
Where to Eat
- Enjoy classic regional and Mexican dishes in the courtyard of Restaurante Catedral.
- Try the traditional local drink “tejate” in the Mercado Benito Juárez (or try any of the other food stalls).
- Enjoy traditional Oaxacan food at Origen, prepared by a Top Chef Mexico winner.
- Grab street tacos from beloved taco cart Chefinita.
Zócalo Budget Hotels
- The simple Parador San Agustín is one of the few budget options around the Zócalo. The hotel is set in a 16th-century building but has modern amenities such as fans, cable TV, and private bathrooms.
- The colorful Hotel Trébol is just 2 minutes away from the Zócalo but offers a calm oasis from the city thanks to the inner courtyard and clean, colorful rooms.
Zócalo Mid-Range Hotels
- Hotel Casa Pereyra features traditional touches, such as artwork on the walls and a colorful façade, excellent service, and modern touches, such as cable TV.
- Nestled right by the Oaxaca Cathedral, Casa de la Asuncion is located in a historic building and features traditional architecture, including an inner courtyard and an in-house restaurant.
Zócalo Luxury Hotels
- Elegant Casa Antoineta welcomes guests with its earthy, comforting design, air-conditioned rooms, and an in-house café and restaurant.
- Trendy Pug Seal Oaxaca is a stylish boutique hotel centrally located, but it stands out with little details, such as complimentary bikes for guests, art in the rooms, and a delicious breakfast.
2. Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo is the other half of Oaxaca’s Centro Histórico. It centers around the spectacular baroque church and monastery Santo Domingo de Guzmán.
This half of Centro Histórico has its own fair share of historic buildings, including the house of the first indigenous Mexican president Benito Juárez. A wander through the cobblestoned streets will impress you with the gorgeous architecture.
Santo Domingo is the part of Oaxaca Centro that has the livelier arts and culture scene. You can stop into established museums such as the Museum of the Cultures of Oaxaca or duck into smaller art galleries.
Santo Domingo also has a modern cultural scene with fantastic dining and nightlife. Going into the neighborhood’s bars and clubs is a great way to meet locals and other travelers, and it has the best nightlife in Oaxaca.
Santo Domingo is very lively, and that liveliness might be a downside for some travelers. If you are hoping to get a quiet night’s sleep or are traveling with young children who need an early bedtime, a quieter neighborhood is a better choice.
Things to Do
- Visit the massive church complex of Santo Domingo.
- Duck into one of the local museums, especially the Museum of the Cultures of Oaxaca.
- Head north to take pictures at Calle Macedonio Alcalá, a colorful cobblestoned street.
- Taste mezcal in one of the local bars (and continue the night as long as you want).
Where to Eat
- Enjoy dinner and drinks with a view from the rooftop at La Mezcalerita.
- Try atole, a traditional corn drink, at La Atolería Masea.
- Enjoy classic Oaxacan dishes at Restaurante Casa Oaxaca.
- Dine on high-end twists on Oaxacan classics at El Tendajón.
Santo Domingo Budget Hotels
- Simple yet classy Hotel Maela offers guests colorful, clean rooms, private bathrooms, in-room TVs, and a shared garden patio.
- Colorful Casa Esmeralda Hotel may be simple, but it offers air-conditioned rooms and a rooftop terrace.
Santo Domingo Mid-Range Hotels
- Elegant Hotel Casa Vértiz has stylish, air-conditioned rooms with some seating, a great location, and a rooftop bar.
- Unique Hotel Boutique Casa Catrina has beautiful rooms with art in them and wellness services such as massages and traditional temazcal steaming ceremonies.
Santo Domingo Luxury Hotels
- Adults-only Majagua Hotel Boutique is an oasis hidden behind an unassuming pastel façade. Guests can enjoy gorgeous rooms, free breakfast, and a rooftop terrace.
- 5-star Hotel La Casona de Tita is perfect for culture lovers thanks to the architecture that blends modernity and tradition, in-house art exhibitions, and a delicious restaurant complete with local mezcal.
Reforma is one of Oaxaca’s most upscale neighborhoods. It is where wealthy locals live and where tourists in search of an elegant vacation come to visit.
It is also a quieter neighborhood thanks to its mostly residential character, perfect if you want to enjoy Oaxaca but still want to sleep at night.
Reforma doesn’t have much in the way of attractions, but there is still stuff to do in this neighborhood. The neighborhood has upscale boutiques and international stores, making it one of the best places in Oaxaca for shopping.
You can also go around the neighborhood and look at the neoclassical buildings that make up Oaxaca’s main political sites and try the international restaurants.
Reforma doesn’t have many sights, so it is not the best neighborhood to stay in for sightseeing, although getting to the Centro Histórico is fairly easy. It is also one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Oaxaca, so it is not a good choice for budget travelers.
Things to Do
- Go shopping in Reforma’s malls and boutiques.
- Head north to see the beautiful fountain Fuente de las Ocho Regiones.
- Join the locals for their evening stroll along the streets and parks of the neighborhood.
Where to Eat
- Try a slow-food twist on Oaxacan cuisine at Itanoní, which sources its corn locally.
- Join the lively locals at the local watering hole Cantina El Otro Mundo, which offers free snacks with drinks.
- Enjoy a delicious seafood menu at Sirilo/Cocina Folk.
Reforma Budget Hotels
- Comfortable Hotel Posada Doña Alicia has local touches such as colorful rooms, local décor, and friendly bilingual staff.
- Rental accommodations are your best budget option in Reforma, such as Departamento Reforma, which offers guests a fully equipped apartment, stylish touches, and garden access.
Reforma Mid-Range Hotels
- The surprisingly sleek Oaxaca Inn Reforma offers guests modern rooms with Wi-Fi, an in-house restaurant, and great service.
- Villa Santa Julia Hotel Boutique is a bit far from the main sites of Oaxaca but makes up for it with comfortable rooms and even an outdoor pool.
Reforma Luxury Hotels
- Elegant Hotel Casa de Arte Gallery and Pool features beautiful architecture, especially in the bar and restaurant, upscale rooms, and a colorful outdoor pool.
- Casa Carmen Reforma has elegant rooms, outdoor terraces for relaxing, and a great location close to the center, even though it is technically in the Reforma district.
The northern neighborhood of Xochimilco is the best place in Oaxaca City if you want to immerse yourself in the unique traditions of the region.
This neighborhood is actually the oldest residential neighborhood in Oaxaca, dating back to Pre-Columbian times, and it maintains the traditional, sleepy feeling of a village even though it is part of the Oaxaca City metropolitan area.
The best thing to do in Xochimilco is to walk around the colorful historic streets and let yourself get lost. Be sure to check out the famous Xochimilco Aqueduct, a colonial-era structure that is a symbol of the neighborhood.
Historically, Xochimilco was a textile worker’s neighborhood, and many weaving workshops are still around. If you are lucky, you can peek into one or check out the work of more modern artists who are showcasing their wares in galleries and on the neighborhood’s walls.
Xochimilco is a bit far from the downtown area, so keep that in mind as you plan your trip. If you want to do a lot of sightseeing, make sure that you budget for taxis.
Things to Do
- Take a street art tour along García Vigil Street (the street itself is dedicated to local artist Rufino Tamayo).
- Shop for local textiles and artisan wares as souvenirs.
- Follow the “arches,” or the Xochimilco Aqueduct, for gorgeous photos.
Where to Eat
- Try regional Oaxacan specialties, including seven different types of moles, at Ancestral.
- If you’re feeling adventurous, stop at a street food cart for fried grasshoppers.
- Have breakfast and brunch in the garden of Chepiche Café.
Xochimilco Budget Hotels
- The no-frills Santa Cecilia Hotel has clean, comfortable rooms, a shared sun terrace, and service that goes above and beyond.
- Local-run guesthouse Casa Xochimilco welcomes guests with comfortable rooms, great views, and friendly owners willing to help guests organize airport transfers, tours, and more.
Xochimilco Mid-Range Hotels
- Colorful Hotel La Cascada has clean rooms, credit card facilities (not common in Oaxaca), and free parking, perfect if you are road-tripping through the state of Oaxaca.
- Casa los Arquitos B&B has air-conditioned, comfortable rooms, continental breakfast each morning, and additional services such as car rental.
Xochimilco Luxury Hotels
- The lush Hotel Fortin Plaza has elegant, gilded décor, comfortable rooms, and additional facilities such as a pool.
- There are international chain hotels around the highway in Xochimilco, such as the plush City Express by Marriott Oaxaca, which features amenities such as air-conditioned rooms, free parking, and a fitness center.
Artsy Jalatlaco is where the cool kids of Oaxaca live and work and where tourists in the know come for culture and art. The neighborhood is just off of the Centro Histórico, meaning that it is close to major sightseeing locations.
It hasn’t been fully discovered yet, so it is one of Oaxaca’s more affordable neighborhoods. The best thing to do in Jalatlaco is to take in the art.
The neighborhood is full of street art, murals, and galleries by local artists. The street art contrasts beautifully with the historic cobblestoned streets. Jalatlaco is also a great place to stay if you want a more local feeling on your trip to Oaxaca.
It has a very laid-back pace of life, which you can soak in at the many cafés, restaurants, and bars where you will rub elbows with local artists and residents.
Jalatlaco doesn’t have much in the way of luxury offerings or upscale shopping (for that, you should stay in Reforma). However, it has plenty of charm in its own right.
Things to Do
- Walk the streets and take in the murals, which are on almost every building (some of the best streets are Aldama and Cinco de Mayo).
- Join a street art bike tour hosted by Coyote Adventures.
- Duck into galleries by local artists (and maybe pick up a unique souvenir or two).
Where to Eat
- Dine at family-owned El Son Istmeño for regional specialties from the Isthmus of Oaxaca.
- Pick from the diverse menu (including many vegetarian options) at Casa Armadillo Negro.
- Peek behind the colorful façade of Mi María Bonita for handmade tortillas and family Mexican recipes.
Jalatlaco Budget Hotels
- Traditional Hotel Posada San Rafael has colorful, simple rooms with free Wi-Fi, en-suite bathrooms, and flat-screen TVs.
- Hotel Casa Maguey is a favorite among backpackers. It offers private rooms and shared dormitories, quirky shared areas including hammocks, and extra touches such as breakfast.
Jalatlaco Mid-Range Hotels
- Hotel Cazomalli Oaxaca is a riot of color, just like the neighborhood where it’s located. The rooms are decorated with colorful traditional-inspired décor and feature modern amenities. Guests can access a rooftop terrace for relaxing.
- Neon One Oaxaca Centro hides modern amenities behind its eye-catching façade, including air-conditioned rooms, parking, meeting rooms, and complimentary breakfast.
Jalatlaco Luxury Hotels
- City Centro by Marriott Oaxaca is no cookie-cutter chain hotel thanks to its riotously colorful façade and décor, as well as amenities such as a restaurant, conference rooms, and a rooftop terrace with a pool.
- Stunning Los Pilares Hotel is located in a renovated colonial-era house and features elegant rooms, a pool, and amazing service, including laundry and babysitting.
So, Where Should You Stay in Oaxaca?
|📸 Best for Sightseeing||Zócalo|
|🍸 Best for Nightlife||Santo Domingo|
|👑 Most Luxurious Area||Reforma|
|🎭 Best for Culture||Xochimilco|
|🎨 Best for Art||Jalatlaco|
Oaxaca is Mexico’s de facto cultural capital, and no trip to Mexico would be complete without a visit to this southern gem. The Centro Histórico, which is a UNESCO-protected site, is the main draw for tourists to Oaxaca.
For sightseeing, it’s best to stay directly in the center. There are two sides to the center: Zócalo, which is great for sightseeing, and Santo Domingo, which is also great for sightseeing and contains the city’s best bars, clubs, and restaurants.
Staying in one of the peripheral neighborhoods allows you to experience Oaxaca in a more relaxed setting. Upscale travelers tend to flock to Reforma, while those who want to experience Oaxacan tradition go to the pre-Columbian neighborhood of Xochimilco.
Jalatlaco is fast emerging as a favorite among artists and budget travelers.
No matter where you stay, make sure you spend time exploring the other neighborhoods of Oaxaca as well. Oaxaca has so much to offer that it would be a shame to confine yourself to just one area of the city!