A burgeoning cultural and culinary capital with a beautiful colonial core of lovely, tree-shaded streets, Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s most captivating cities. It offers visitors so many things to discover and explore that many just keep coming back for more. Check out these fun and interesting facts about this beautiful city.
1. Oaxaca is surrounded by mountains
Oaxaca is located about 48 minutes from Mitla, and 280 miles southeast of Mexico City where the Sierra Madre Oriental and Sierra Madre del Sur mountain ranges converge. The part that is confined to Oaxaca is called the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, a massive mountain range in its own right. In fact, most of the peaks in this mountain range are very high, ranging from 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) and 3,000 feet (915 meters) above sea level.
2. The weather is comfortable all year
Oaxaca weather is recognized for its mild, spring-like climate year round. The rainy season lasts from May through September, with rain generally falling in the afternoons. The coastal area remains hotter and drier, while temperatures high in the mountains remain cold all year. The average annual temperature typically varies from 47°F to 87°F and is rarely below 42°F or above 93°F.
3. Many indigenous tribes call it home
There are at least 16 indigenous groups in the state of Oaxaca, and all of them retain their own languages and traditions. Of these 16 groups, some have big populations, like the Zapotec (357,134) and Mixtec (290,049), while others are relatively small, like the Chocotec (524) and Ixcateco (207).
4. Tourism is an important economic activity
Oaxaca’s primary industry is tourism. The principal attractions are the spectacular landscapes of the Oaxaca Valley, its rich and colorful indigenous cultures, and the colonial architectural of the city itself. The city was in fact awarded World Heritage status due to its numerous historic buildings and monuments.
5. The ruins of Monte Alban are minutes away
Monte Alban, one of the premier Oaxaca tours on offer today, is considered to be the first great city of Mesoamerica. Founded around 500 BC Monte Alban’s played an important role as the dominant Zapotec socio-political and economic center for almost a thousand years.
6. There are many ecotourism activities
It is the state with the most biodiversity in Mexico, with almost 800 bird species and 249 mammals, including the White-nosed Coati, White-tailed Deer, Central American Red Brocket Deer, Puma and Margay. This high level of biodiversity is due to Oaxaca’s rugged topography and its diverse ecosystems, and these unique characteristics have given rise to one of the biggest markets for ecotourism in Mexico, including bird watching, hiking and mountain biking.
7. The Guelaguetza is an annual dance festival
The Guelaguetza festival is held on the last two Mondays of July. During this time, communities from throughout the state present their regional costumes, dances, songs and music in an open-air theater built into the side of a hill. The festival is celebrated on the last two Mondays of July, except when one of these falls on July 18th, which is the anniversary of the death of Benito Juarez, in which case it takes place on the following two Mondays.
8. Locals celebrate radishes
Night of the Radishes takes place on December 23rd. It is a tradition that stretches back more than a 100 years when merchants hoping to attract potential shoppers to the town square before and after Christmas church services would carve intricate shapes into the radishes. In 1897 the mayor of Oaxaca declared the radish-carving tradition an official local festival. Today the competition for the best carvings is fierce, with some weighing as much as 7 pounds (3 kilograms), and depicting anything from animals to nativity scenes.
9. Mezcal is made here
Oaxaca’s best-known products is “mezcal”, a drink similar to tequila but distilled from varieties of cactus other than the blue agave, which is used for tequila. The plant must be 6 to 8 years old before it can be harvested. Most bottles of mezcal include a worm, a practice that originated in the 1940’s when Jacobo Lozano Páez discovered that a worm enhances the flavor of mezcal.
10. Grasshoppers is a popular snack
An unusual Oaxacan delicacy is “chapulines”, a dish consisting primarily of barbecued grasshoppers. After being cleaned and washed, they are toasted on a clay cooking surface with garlic, lime juice and salt. Sometimes the grasshoppers are also toasted with chili. They are mostly eaten as a snack, like salted peanuts, or with guacamole and tortillas or totopos (corn chips).
11. Oaxaca makes a lot of chocolate
While Oaxaca doesn’t grow much cacao (the base ingredient for chocolate production), with most of the beans coming from Chiapas and Tabasco, they certainly produce a lot. You will see cacao being sold in all the outdoor markets, and since the 1950’s local companies have have produced and successfully marketed chocolate locally as well as abroad. Although the use of electronic grinders is now common, ingredients are still added, mixed and packaged by hand. In fact many urban Oaxacans purchase cacao beans at the markets and then take them to the local companies, like Chocolate Mayordomo, to be ground and mixed according to each family’s personal tastes.