First, if you don’t like sweet food or crafts, skip Oaxaca. Yes it is beautiful but I can’t imagine loving it as much as I did if it weren’t for those two things.
I was going to recommend that tourists just skip the Benito Juarez Market. I was going to say it is for the locals, it is crowded, there are dead chickens and fish with heads laying around etc. However, that is exactly why you should go. You will find everything there. EVERYTHING. Shoes, batteries, clothes, flowers, belts, food (I wouldn’t buy it though), and crafts. It is cheap. Go there first before you waste your money elsewhere. If you are an introvert like me, go around 10AM on a weekday. I made the mistake of going there on a weekday around 5PM. But then I ran into it by mistake the next day after breakfast and it was a totally different experience. I didn’t buy much because I had already wasted my money elsewhere.
I only brought the blue handbag from the market. I just didn’t want to crop the other stuff out. The picture and necklace, you can get anywhere. People will come up to you and beg you you to buy. Remember go there first! It is huge and is sort of combined with the 20 de Noviembre Market.
*The second place you must go if you cannot make it out to the other valleys is Casa de las Artesanias de Oaxaca. This is a way to support the artists without leaving the main area. Of course, money wise it is better to just go to the villages but I was only there for 3 days so I couldn’t make it. Next time I look forward to actually meeting the artists and buying directly from them. Casa de las Artesanias de Oaxaca sells the items for the artists. The artist gets the money but you are also paying the distributor so the price is a little higher. By the time I found this gem, I was all out of money so I only brought one thing:
It is so nicely made. This is by far my favorite purchase. I will be using this bag a lot. I paid $272 pesos for it. The person who made this bag lives in Yaganiza. I feel great about the purchase because the money is going to the person who made it. Very important to me. Next time I go, I’m just planning on buying handbags and Xmas gifts. 😉
Getting a taxi from your hotel:
Do not bother booking one in advance. I did and it cost me $55 pesos (not a lot) and I don’t know whether it showed up. I was so anxious about getting to the airport on time. I wanted to trust the taxi service. Maybe if I had waited 10 more minutes, the shared taxi would have shown up but who knows? If you are anywhere near a street you will see tons of taxis just like in NYC. Just hail one. That is what I did. If you don’t see taxis near your hotel during your stay and you have a ton of luggage that is a different story. I did see tourists with one piece of luggage going near the Zócalo to get a taxi. I felt bad for them because the sidewalks aren’t made for luggage. Btw, I paid $150 pesos to get to the airport.
Where to stay:
Go by trip advisor or the guidebooks. I stayed at Hostel Don Nino. Great place. I had my own private room with a bathroom and a TV and get this: my own little garden! I didn’t get to enjoy the garden much though. Had I stayed there longer, I would have totally taken advantage of it. I was so tired from walking all day that I just crashed when I got back. I paid $1350 pesos for 3 nights. I know there are cheaper hostels. But I loved the location. It was right across from the most beautiful park. Having said that I think I will try something closer to town next time. Less walking involved (I have feet issues).
The Zócalo (main square).
I don’t know if it is legal to say this but I don’t get the big deal. Yes you must go there at least once just to experience it but it was nothing like the books made it out to be. Having said that, I spent a lot of time there on my last day there (because the taxi stand opened 2 hours late) and it was sort of like the movies. It was the first time I kind of got it. Before I was like “This is the Zócalo? What’s the big deal??” But on my last day there, there was a great band playing and people everywhere. It was dare I say, romantic? I even went into the church and stayed for a prayer I didn’t understand. But I still think it is highly overrated. I enjoyed the parks much more. But it is worth a visit since you are there.
I ran into TWO protests in one day while there. At first I was following one and then I remembered that my guidebook said to stay away from the protests! lol. I got stuck in one. I thought I would never get out. I just kept following someone who appeared to be on his way to work or school. That was one of the times I was a little scared. The other time I was scared was when it was dark – maybe 8PM- and I was lost and very far from my hotel. I ended up hailing a taxi.
My recommendation is just go anywhere to eat. haha. I didn’t go anywhere the books recommended. That involved too much work of actually looking for certain places. Mostly I went to places where there were menus outside but sometimes I would just stop in anywhere. I would NEVER do that in the United States (too scared) but Oaxaca is magical. 🙂 As far as spicy food goes, they usually let you put that on yourself so it isn’t a big deal. Of course I stayed away from anything that I thought might be spicy so I’m no help there. They tend to cook the meat tough so if you don’t like that, you might want to mention it. I think a few of the waiters might have been offended because I didn’t eat everything. I’m not sure with the culture/language differences and all. I tried to eat as much as possible to not offend. I left everyone $5 pesos for a tip. At first I was leaving $10 pesos but I went through my book and that is waaaaay generous. $5 is enough. I’m obsessed with taking pictures of food:
Of course, go there. No flash is allowed in the church so my pics didn’t come out well.
Going alone and without being fluent in Spanish
I have to mention this because so many people made a big deal about both. OMG. Grow a set of ———. ROFL. I hate when people say, “If I could do it……” But seriously I’m a person with social anxiety and I went. C’mon. It isn’t that bad. I would not as a single lady hang around at night outside of tourist spots (actually I did do that but that’s not the point). I’m not fluent in spanish but I knew enough for a few days. lol. I made sure I knew certain words like “gate” (puerta) for the airport. Make a note of all the important phrases so you can get to them. Put them on an iPhone or a tablet. Organize it in some way like words for the airport, words for the hotel, words for shopping etc. Try to learn all the numbers. I kept getting 50 and 150 mixed up. Embarrassing.
Most people in Oaxaca do not speak english. Don’t expect that at all. Some people off the tourist path will get annoyed with you for not understanding spanish. (But most won’t so don’t let this scare you. Overall, the people there are VERY accommodating and just nice). I faked it at one off the path “restaurant”. She kept speaking in spanish knowing full well I didn’t understand her. I didn’t let it bother me. I just ordered, ate the food and kept moving. I understood the menu and how much to pay. That is all that mattered. That place had the best soup. Yum.
Recommend books/websites from the Oaxaca experts:
- Oaxaca Oaxaca (website)
- Oaxaca Notes (website)
- Viva Oaxaca (book – used it a lot while there) Apparently I am able to loan this kindle book to anyone. I can only loan it out once for 14 days. Leave a comment if you want it.
- Moon Oaxaca (book). I copied the maps and it was so helpful. I was lost so many times. lol. I really recommend buying a map from Amate books once you get there. I should have done that.
Oaxaca is awesome! 🙂 🙂 It was the little things like seeing parents drop there kids off at school and seeing so many locals going to a crafting class. I love that place. As far as me moving there, it is still a dream but not something I know for 100% sure I want to pursue. What if a city in Argentina is better? I just don’t know. The next time I go, it will probably be to take a week long Spanish immersion class. I would love that. Then it wouldn’t be all about shopping! I have to do that. I just don’t know when. Maybe 2014? Hopefully.
I could go on and on. But this entry is 1600+ words already so THE END.