Mexico is home to many colonial cities but there’s something particularly special about Oaxaca. Colourful, characterful and completely walkable, the old city is a joy to discover with kids. There are lots of museums, galleries and handicrafts stores (which may cause some children to groan out loud!) but there are many fun family activities that culture-wary children can enjoy. There is also lots of fantastic food.
The ancient city of Monte Alban sits on a flattened hilltop more than 1,000 feet above the valley floor, just a few miles west of Oaxaca. The views from here are breathtaking, although archaeologists are still scratching their heads over the location – it’s positioned on a tall, steeply walled plateau and there is no water source. It’s a fascinating place to visit with the remains of temples, tombs, an observatory and a ball court. The site is very old; the first known buildings date back to 800 BC and hieroglyphs found here are among the most ancient writings in all of Mesoamerica. A good museum (explanations in Spanish, only) is at the entrance to the site.
Oaxaca is often called the “Land of the Seven Moles“; mole is a rich sauce made from as many as forty different components. Oaxacan cuisine is also famous for some of its more peculiar ingredients including grasshoppers. A visit to the local market, Mercado 20 de Noviembre, is a wonderful way to experience the local culture, and some of these traditional local products. This market is packed with stalls selling baskets of dried grasshoppers, bowls overflowing with different kinds of mole, football-sized cheese and more. The bustling cook-to-order food section is a great place to grab a bite to eat, even if you don’t choose the crickets!
The Botanical Gardens (el Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca) are located behind the Santo Domingo Cultural Centre. The land was originally destined for life as a luxury hotel when Oaxacan artist Francisco Toldeo proposed transforming the grounds into a beautiful garden. The state of Oaxaca is one of the most bio-diverse in the country and today the gardens showcase the huge range of flora native to this state. However, access to the gardens is through hiking tours only.
For a museum of a different kind, head over to Museo de Nieves Manolo, a traditional ice cream store that creates all manner of weird and wonderful flavors. Choose from cheese with basil or mescal and rice pudding. If those don’t appeal, there are more traditional flavours on offer.