Many travelers to Mexico start out in the country’s capital Mexico City. The city’s historic center is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers up a number of major attractions, and makes a great base for exploring important sites around Central Mexico.
But not too far from Mexico City is another one of the nation’s most popular tourist destinations: Oaxaca City.
Also known as Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca City is located in the state of Oaxaca in central southern Mexico. The region is home to lesser known indigenous pre-Columbian civilizations like the Zapotec and Mixtec, and, much like historic Mexico City, is recognized by UNESCO and has become known as the culinary capital of the country.
Oaxaca City may only be five-hour-drive or hour flight from Mexico City, but it’s a world away in terms of culture and feel. While Mexico City is packed with nearly nine million residents, Oaxaca City’s population only numbers around 300,000.
Explore archeological sites like Monte Albán, natural wonders like Hierve el Agua, and many beautiful colonial-era buildings. Add to this markets filled with beautiful handicrafts and popular annual festivals such as Day of the Dead and the indigenous cultural event known as Guelaguetza.
Read on to discover how easy it is to get to Oaxaca from Mexico City and learn more reasons why you should include this fascinating region to your next Mexican itinerary.
How to Get From Mexico City to Oaxaca
Getting to Oaxaca begins with being able to pronounce it correctly, which is wah-HAW-kah. Oaxaca is both a city and a state, the state’s interior being dominated by rugged mountains and canyons, with a beautiful coastline to the south.
By air, Oaxaca City is roughly 360 kilometers form the nation’s capital, and about an extra 100 kilometers if traveling by road. This equates to direct flight from Mexico City being just over an hour and bus rides being about 6 hours long.
Currently, domestic travel is not restricted in Mexico in terms of the coronavirus. Face masks are mandatory in Oaxaca as is practicing safe social distancing such as keeping the recommended 1.5 meters distance from others.
Getting To Oaxaca from Mexico City by Bus
Catching a bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca is the cheapest and most efficient way to get there.
Mexico has one of the best bus systems in the world, offering up plenty of comfort that includes air conditioning which is needed since average high temps in Oaxaca range between 80 and 90 °F.
One-way bus fares start at around $20 and depart from Mexico City’s main station, the Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros de Oriente (TAPO). Bus service operates every day of the year, with buses departing to Oaxaca numerous times throughout each day.
Bus companies that service the Mexico City to Oaxaca City route include both Autobuses de Oriente (ADO) and Autobuses Unidos (AU). ADO offers more frequent service and better onboard amenities that include restrooms.
ADO offers three classes to choose from including first-class, luxury-class, and platinum-class. Each carries a different rate, with the top platinum-class offering access to a VIP lobby, extra legroom, free onboard Wi-Fi, and a personal entertainment system. All classes feature comfortable reclining seats and blackout curtains.
AU buses are considered to be second-class service and offer cheaper rates but without perks like onboard bathrooms or entertainment. AU buses also leave from a separate second-class bus station.
Once in Oaxaca, there are several bus companies including TUSUG that can get you around the city and state. There are also smaller vans that can take you to the southern coast from Oaxaca City.
Getting To Oaxaca from Mexico City by Plane
If you’re short on time, the quickest way to get from Mexico City to Oaxaca is by plane. A number of airlines including Aeroméxico, Volaris, Interjet, and VivaAerobus service the route between the two cities.
Oaxaca’s airport is also an international one, meaning you can bypass Mexico City and fly direct from a few U.S. cities such as Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles.
Round trip flights to Oaxaca usually fall in the $100-$200 range and take just over an hour each way. Volaris, InterJet, and Aeromexico usually offer daily flights while Viva AeroBus only flies on select days of the week. Once in Oaxaca, it’s just a short taxi ride from the airport to the city center.
In addition to Oaxaca being linked to Mexico City, airlines also provided non-stop service to other popular Mexican destinations such as Cancún and Tijuana if you want to extend your travels around the state.
Getting To Oaxaca from Mexico City by Shuttle
There are also private shuttles available that will take you from anywhere in Mexico City directly to your Oaxaca accommodation. This service is great of you like your privacy and wish to make stops along the way but don’t feel comfortable driving yourself.
However, this method of transport is the most expensive option and will set you back around $400 for a sedan that can accommodate up to 3 passengers. Larger groups of up to 15 people will cost between $750 and $950 for a private shuttle van to Oaxaca.
The benefits of a private shuttle are that you get to decide when you depart and can ask to include stops along the way for an additional cost. The journey’s rate is somewhat offset by the fact it includes your private driver, fuel, and toll expenses.
Getting To Oaxaca from Mexico City by Rental Car
For the most part, driving from Mexico City to Oaxaca City is safe. The media tends to overexaggerate the dangers of driving in Mexico by yourself. As long as you’re not looking for trouble or are a journalist, the risks are minimal.
The real crime is the fact it isn’t exactly cheap to rent a car and drive around Mexico yourself.
Automatic transmission rentals carry a premium and you have to of course add on additional expenses for compulsory insurance, expensive highway tolls, petrol, and parking. Car rental companies also charge expensive fees for one-way rentals if you don’t plan on returning to your original pickup location.
Just getting out of chaotic Mexico City with a car is stressful and then the drive to Oaxaca requires you to keep your eyes focused on the road which means you don’t get to take in the scenery nearly as much.
Driving on the toll roads is quite safe but you should be careful taking unpaved roads and take care where you park your rental car. Cell service can be minimal in rural Oaxaca and it can be easy to get lost once you get outside the city.
There are also regular protests that can block roads that take place just outside Oaxaca City. Local bus drivers and taxis will be aware of these protests and can better plan detours to avoid them.
Like the U.S., driving is on the right side of the road. The total trip between Mexico City and Oaxaca should take around five to five and a half hours.
Why You Should Visit Oaxaca
To truly appreciate everything Oaxaca City and the surrounding state has to offer, I recommend you set aside at least 3-4 days.
You could easily fill several weeks with things to do and planning your stay around one of the popular holidays or festivals will only enhance your experience.
These are just some of the top reasons why you should make an effort to see this remarkable part of Mexico.
Diversity and History
Oaxaca is considered by many to be the country’s most ethnically and linguistically diverse state.
Nearly a third of Mexico’s indigenous population is said to reside in the state of Oaxaca and it is home to well over a dozen different ethnic groups. In addition to native residents, you’ll also catch people with English, French, Italian, and Catalonian backgrounds.
The Oaxaca region was once home to pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Zapotecs. Monte Alban, the capital of the ancient Zapotec empire, can still be witnessed today and is just 10 kilometers outside Oaxaca City.
You can climb the steps of ancient pyramids and marvel at the ruins of temples, terraces, and palaces. The site as a whole is one of the finest preserved pre-Hispanic cities in Mexico.
Another historical highlight found in Oaxaca City is a church named Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman. The church and monastery were founded by the Dominican Order and date back to the late 16th century.
The buildings went on to be used for military purposes during the revolutionary wars before ultimately being fully restored with an interior that is decked out in tens of thousands of sheets of gold leaf.
Culinary Capital of Mexico
Known as Mexico’s culinary capital, Oaxaca attracts a large number of foodies every year. It’s probably most well known for its moles, which are highly spiced Mexican sauces. Mole sauces are each made up of different ingredients and carry different flavors.
Mole poblano is one of the most popular mole varieties and has a sweet and spicy flavor thanks to its inclusion of chocolate and chili peppers. The sauce is often used to flavor turkey or chicken and the resulting dish if often considered to be Mexico’s national dish.
Other ingredients that are often used to make moles include nuts, black pepper, capsicum, pumpkin, cinnamon, and cumin. Other popular mole varieties include mole negro, mole verde, and mole amarillo.
Another item you must try while in Oaxaca are chapulines or crispy fried grasshoppers that are cooked with chili. Other great local dishes include tlayudas and Oaxacan tamales. Wash it all down with some local mezcal, which is a distilled alcoholic drink made from agave.
Locally Made Crafts
Oaxaca is also home to many skilled artisans who regularly sell their handicrafts at local markets. You will find brightly colored alebrijes which are carvings of animals and mythical creatures carved from local copal wood and then vibrantly painted.
Also on offer are hand-embroidered textiles, barro negro and green glazed pottery, rugs made with natural dyes, ponchos, and blankets.
Hierve el Agua
One of the most fascinating natural wonders just outside of Oaxaca City is Hierve el Agua. These natural white rock formations look like waterfalls that have been frozen or petrified in time.
The formations are formed by hardened calcium carbonate and other minerals over long periods of time. The site sits just 40 miles east of the city and can experienced via a full-day guided tour from Oaxaca or by taking a bus and taxi combo via the town of Mitla.
The highlight is swimming in the pools of which one allows you to swim right up to the cliff’s edge.
Oaxaca’s Beautiful Coastline
You can also arrange transport to take you from Oaxaca City down to the southern coastline where you’ll find some of Mexico’s finest beaches such as the nearly four-kilometer-long Playa Zicatela which is known for its legendary surfing.
Major beach resort towns include Huatulco and Puerto Escondido, the latter of which is a great spot to enjoy fishing and birdwatching. Puerto Escondido can be reached by both bus and flight from Oaxaca City.