Sitting in a valley, Oaxaca City offers stellar panoramic views of the surrounding mountains from anywhere in the city. Its colonial buildings, decorated with contrasting colors and green sandstone, set the stage for imposing baroque churches and convents, bustling markets, intricate arts and textiles, and an exquisitely complex cuisine with roots as old as the archeological sites surrounding the city.
Home to 16 of the 56 indigenous groups in Mexico, Oaxaca is the most ethnically diverse state of the country. Each unique culture—with its own language, traditions, ingredients, and customs—gets intertwined in the city, blending or carving a space of its own, but always bringing its distinct richness to Oaxaca City’s daily life.
The archeological sites, like Montealbán or Mitla, give us a window into the pre-Hispanic civilizations, and the fragments it left behind. The variety and beauty of the local arts and crafts are a testimony of the dexterity and talent of the artisans who have, generation after generation, inherited and perfected the techniques to make textiles, ceramics of various clay colors, jewelry, and alebrijes. Oaxacan cuisine, of singular complexity and richness, is a reflection not only of the diversity of the terrain, but of the blending of the cultures that have been present, and of the human ability to create beautiful, sophisticated, and delicious things even when resources are scarce.
Oaxaca must be taken in slowly, attentively, in order to understand its layers. It is a city full of energy and life, which can be appreciated fully as soon as one steps into a market: women dressed in their colorful traditional gowns offering chapulines (crickets) of different sizes, aromatic herbs unknown to the untrained eye, giant tortillas both soft and crunchy, waters and sorbets in every color and flavor imaginable, the earthy, leathery smell coming from the shoe isles selling huaraches and belts, the less pleasant smell from the fish isle, and the divine smokiness guiding one to the chiles and spices—the heart of Oaxacan food.
With all its past and strong cultural roots, Oaxaca is changing, both economically and culturally. New galleries and clothing stores propose combining old traditions with more contemporary visions, restaurants are reviving interest in forgotten millenary ingredients by giving them a new interpretation, or hip mezcalerías offering single sourced, one-of-a-kind types of the agave drink to liven the nights in the city.