Mexico is home to many pretty cities, but there’s something particularly special about Oaxaca. Colorful, characterful and completely walkable, this old city is a joy to discover with kids. There are lots of museums and galleries and handicrafts stores, which may cause some children to groan out loud, but there are also many activities that culture-wary ones will enjoy. Take our word for it, soon enough no one will be asking “where is Oaxaca?” anymore, and, who knows, this lively colonial gem might just become one of your favorite pit stops along the foothills of the Sierra Madre.
The ancient city of Monte Alban sits on a flattened hilltop roughly 1,300 feet (400 metres) above the valley floor, just a few miles west of Oaxaca. It makes for one of the best Oaxaca tours on offer today, and rightfully so; the views from here are breathtaking. However, archaeologists are still scratching their heads over the location – it is positioned on a tall, steep plateau and there is no water source. It’s a fascinating place to visit with its remains of temples, tombs, an observatory and a ball court. The site is very old; the first known buildings date back to 1000 BC and hieroglyphs found here are among the most ancient writings in all of Mesoamerica.
Elsewhere, you can have a go at cooking food the pre-hispanic way. A staple of Mexican culture and cuisine is “caldo de piedra” (stone soup), and it is a must when in Oaxaca. The soup has been made by the Chinantec people of San Felipe Usila for centuries. Large river stones are heated in flames and then placed into large soup bowls using thick, metal tongs. The contents begin to boil immediately, cooking the tomato-based soup and its ingredients in the process. Kids also tend to love watching the soup fizz and bubble.
However, touring the Botanical Gardens (el Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca) should be at the top of your list, as it is one of the premier places to visit in Oaxaca. Located behind the Santo Domingo Cultural Center, the land was originally destined for life as a luxury hotel when Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo proposed transforming the grounds into a beautiful garden. The state of Oaxaca is one of the most bio-diverse in the country – making for excellent bird watching too! – and today the gardens showcase the huge range of flora native to this wonderful state.