(This list was originally written for Adele’s blog on Latin Threads / Abrazo Style. John’s favorite things are mostly found in nature in the hills above San Pablo, which you can get a taste of here. And, of course, following Adele around her list below.)
Living in Oaxaca for five years puts “favorites” into perspective: creature comforts, uncrowded, lovely places, quality service, unique experiences … and food!
This list is by no means complete, and they are in no real order, as it is hard to rank favorites.
1. El “Pepe Limon”, the most wonderfully refreshing drink on a hot day. Feeling warm? Then visit Cafe Brujula and order this smoothie drink made from cucumber and lime juice with a bit of sweet. They also have wifi and the best coffee in town(originally at Garcia Vigil #409-D and now in two additional locations).
2. Easiest parking lot: on Matamoros and Garcia Vigil. For those of you with anything larger than a small SUV you know what I am talking about! This garage is downtown, close to everything and has a WIDE entrance with great clearance! (I know, a bizarre favorite, but you have to drive a truck to understand this one!)
3. La Bisnaga Restaurant: Wonderful “new” Oaxacan cuisine with the best mojitos in town. They serve up traditional Oaxacan fare (and more) with contemporary flair. The service can be sketchy, but it is worth throwing yourself in front of the wait staff to order.
4. The Zocalo. No trip to Oaxaca is complete without drinks or a meal in the town square. My favorite place is La Primavera but there are plenty of choices to sit and people watch. If you are not indigenous-looking, I guarantee you will be barraged with offers for everything from rugs to back massagers. The phrase “ya compre, gracias” (“I already bought one, thanks”) works well. Note: during teacher-strike season (usually May, but sometimes extending into the summer), the Zocalo can become crowded with tents. It’s not pretty, but it is a cultural experience.
5. Amate Books. On the Alcala, a wonderful pedestrian street that connects the zocalo to the Santo Domingo church area. Blissfully car free, the Alcala offers lots of tourist shops, a few good restaurants, and Amate Books (at 307). This small store hosts an excellent collection of English language books on Latin America, from art to architecture, culture, fiction, and even Oaxacan recipe books. If you are looking for a good read for the bus or a coffee table book on local ceramics, this is the place!
6. Ruins. We all know about the Monte Alban ruins, which are amazing, and those of Mitla and Yagul, which are also must-sees. But the latest (and very convenient) discovery is just across the valley from San Pablo Etla, on a hill west of Monte Alban. The Atzompa ruins becoming more known but they’re still in the process of recovery, which means they’re still being excavated and modest reconstructions began a couple of years ago. You’ll see few tourists as you check on their progress. The Atzompa ruins are above the village of Santa Maria Atzompa, due south of San Pablo.
7. Santa Maria Atzompa. After visiting the ruins above, don’t miss the town below, which is famous for its ceramics. The village of Santa Maria Atzompa hosts some of the greatest diversity of styles of any of the ceramic villages in the state of Oaxaca. Ask around for the homes of Angelica Vasquez Cruz, artisan of the year for Mexico in 2009; the Blanco family; and the local cooperative ceramic market, where you can take a break for a comfortable lunch.
8. Pan & Co. and PanAm for good bread. Pan & Co’s main location is in Colonia Reforma, PanAm is located near the Camino Real hotel on Abasolo.
9. Museo Belber Jimenez, on the corner of Tinoco and Palacios, downtown Oaxaca. This museum/store is a wonderful mix of the rare and the exceptional, much of it for sale! You will find samples of William Spratling silver, rare textiles, and who knows what else, but I guarantee the quality will be fabulous!
10. Molinos! These traditional “grinding” stores host rows of traditional electric or hand grinders where they pulverize everything from cacao beans to make the famous Oaxacan chocolate to combinations of chiles for making molé and other fabulous Oaxacan dishes. I once walked by one of these places when they were grinding chilies and the small amount of chili “essence” in the air almost brought me to my knees with the intensity of its “heat”! You can find a number of these places (Mayordomo is the main chocolate purveyor in Oaxaca, one street off the Zocalo toward the Benito Juarez market.) Don’t forget to sample the chocolate!
11. Tlacolula Market. This one is is a bit of a drive–most of the way to Mitla–but it’s simply an amazing market, by far our favorite in Oaxaca–or indeed, anywhere. You’ll see a few tourists, but really it’s by locals for locals, a one-stop-shop for everything they need. Listen closely and you’ll hear many of the vendors speaking their indigenous languages to each other; Spanish is only for commerce. Open only on Sunday and get there mid-morning if you’re not fond of crowds.
And that’s just the start. We’d be delighted if you’d share with us a few of your favorites as well!