Between world-class restaurants serving up its famed cuisine, plentiful art galleries, colorful street art, live music, quaint neighborhoods, historical architecture, an abundance of markets, and boutiques full to the brim with local artisan creations, there’s no shortage of things to do in Oaxaca City. But to dive deeper into the local culture and history, there’s a world of natural beauty and worthwhile attractions just waiting to be experienced via day trips from Oaxaca.
From one of Mexico’s most famed archaeological sites (located just minutes from the city) and the small Zapotec weaving village that’s known for the most iconic textiles of Mexico, to one of the most stunning natural wonders in the state of Oaxaca and the mecca of mezcal, we’re sharing the best Oaxaca day trips.
More Than 5 Of The Most Popular Oaxaca Day Trips
The majority of the most popular day trips are located in the Valles Centrales, a collection of valleys dotted with rustic villages that surround Oaxaca City. Within this area, you will encounter much of what makes the region so unique, such as indigenous handicrafts, Mesoamerican ruins, vibrant markets, distinct villages, and the epicenter of artisanal mezcal production. All of these sites are within reasonable driving distance from the city, which is another reason why basing yourself in Oaxaca City is so ideal. The residents of these areas are largely Indigenous Zapotec, meaning you can dive into their culture through these numerous day trips:
Marvel at the Archeological Site Monte Albán
Located a short drive from Oaxaca’s city center, one of the most popular Oaxaca tours is a day trip to the Monte Albán ruins. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to some of the most impressive ancient sites we’ve seen in Central America (and that’s saying something). So much so that we have visited it multiple times, learning something new with each visit.
As one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, Monte Albán’s location was chosen for its easily defensible vantage point and for one thousand years, was the pre-eminent Zapotec socio-political and economic center. Walking among the temples and pyramids of this ancient capital of the Zapotec civilization (whose ancestors still inhabit many of the nearby communities) is like taking a step back in time (2,500 years, to be exact). Speaking of steps, our favorite part of the ruins is on the South Platform, where visitors can challenge themselves to summit a section of steep steps and gain a bird’s eye view of the entire archaeological site. If the steps themselves don’t take your breath away, the panoramic views of the surrounding Oaxacan valley you’re rewarded with certainly will.
Monte Albán is located roughly 6,400 feet above sea level, so we recommend wearing sturdy footwear and taking your time (and perhaps a bottle of water) while climbing any of the precarious stairways you encounter within the ruins. Additionally, we encourage you to plan to visit in the early morning (the entrance opens at 9:00 a.m. local time, but check online to confirm beforehand) before the sun reaches its maximum strength, as there is limited shade available. Sunscreen, a hat, and even an umbrella are the best things to bring in tow because, trust us, the sun hits differently at elevation.
Refreshments and souvenirs (like marble chess boards whose figures resemble Zapotec warriors or toys that can replicate the sound of a jaguar when blown on) can be purchased from multiple vendors outside of the site entrance. Between the close proximity, views, and historical significance of Monte Albán, it is certainly one of the best day trips from Oaxaca.
NOTE: As of late September 2023, Monte Albán was temporarily closed to visitors due to a conflict between workers from the archaeological site and local artisans who sell their crafts there. We recommend checking for local updates to ensure the site is open before planning your visit.
Driving distance: ~6.5 km (4 miles) or 20 minutes from Oaxaca City
How to get there: There is a parking lot near the entrance for those with a car, but you can also hire a taxi to take you to and from the ruins. We recommend arranging for the taxi to pick you up at a predetermined time rather than relying on finding one once you’re ready to leave.
Entrance: At the time of publication, entrance fees are 90 Mexican pesos
FAQs about day trips from Oaxaca City
Some popular day trips from Oaxaca City include visiting the UNESCO site of Monte Albán, going to the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua, or visiting artisans in villages like Teotitlan del Valle
The day trips from Oaxaca often include cultural highlights such as visiting local artisans, exploring historical sites, and trying regional foods.
For a day trip from Oaxaca, consider packing essentials like water, snacks, comfortable clothing, and any other items that are specific to the activities you plan to do, such as swimming or hiking gear.
Visit the Ruins of Mitla
Largely considered the second most important archaeological site in Oaxaca (Monte Albán being the first), Mitla is a great Oaxaca day trip located roughly an hour east of the city. Among the ancient ruins that feature intricate stone mosaics, you’ll find an abundance of ceremonial spaces and tombs that provide important insight into the religious practices of the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples.
Considered a sacred location for the Zapotecs, the name Mitla comes from the Nahuatl word, Mictlán, which means “place of the dead,” as it has long been considered the place where souls go to rest in the afterlife. FYI, we believe that Milta and Monte Albán are best experienced with a knowledgeable local tour guide.
After you’ve perused the ruins, fuel up on some comida at Origen Maíz, home to some of our favorite memelas in all of Oaxaca. They also have a sampler platter that provides the perfect opportunity to taste a little of everything on their menu if you’re visiting with others. When you get there, be sure to ask if you can sit on the rooftop, where you’ll find an expansive view of the village and the artisan market down below. Quench your thirst with one of their many agua fresca flavors offered daily (the tamarindo is worth writing home about).
Driving distance: ~46 km (29 miles) or 1-1.5-hour drive from Oaxaca City
How to get there: You can driver yourself, hire a taxi or private driver, or take public transportation like a colectivo or bus. The latter two can be caught near the baseball stadium.
Entrance: At the time of publication, entrance fees are 75 Mexican pesos
Soak in the Waters of Hierve el Agua
Continuing southeast from Mitla you’ll find Oaxaca’s most famed natural wonder: Hierve el Agua. Spanish for “the water boils,” this landmark features petrified waterfalls on the edge of a cliff that resemble frozen cascades, creating an optical illusion unlike anything you’ve seen before.
While it’s one of the best day trips from Oaxaca and a popular tourist destination, it’s also the furthest spot from the city (1.5 to 2 hours from the city center, depending on road conditions) on our list, but we think it’s well worth the trek (and can be combined with other destinations on this list as noted above). Before you hit the road, be sure to grab your swimsuit and a towel, as there are multiple mineral-rich pools in which you can soak while taking in the views.
In addition to some mellower hikes offered that provide different vantage points of the petrified falls, the rocks can be slippery, so plan your footwear accordingly and tread carefully. Given its popularity, we recommend arriving early (the entrance opens at 7:00 a.m.) to beat the crowds (and get the best photo ops).
Driving distance: ~64 km (40 miles) from Oaxaca City. The drive takes about 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on road conditions.
How to get there: If you have a rental car, parking is available on-site. Another option we recommend is to hire a taxi for a day (negotiate the day rate up front) and combine it with other destinations on this list. It can make for a longer day but also saves you the most time and money.
Entrance fees: At the time of publication, fees are 50 Mexican pesos
Meet the Artisans of Teotitlán del Valle
In addition to its world-class food and mezcal, one of Oaxaca’s most notable claims to fame is its intricately handwoven textiles – from colorful rugs and bags to table runners and more. While you can easily find them in various shops and markets in the city, it’s not quite the same as finding them at the source. Travel just 40 minutes outside of Oaxaca City to the vibrant small village of Teotitlán del Valle, where the Zapotec culture is celebrated through its 6,000 residents who continue to practice this ancient art form that has been passed down from generation to generation for more than 2,000 years.
In Teotitlán del Valle, you could spend hours weaving (pun intended) in and out of any of its dozens of weaving workshops (oftentimes also the homes of the weavers) and witness where and how the magic is made. This village has been renowned for its weaving since Pre-Hispanic times — traditional designs depict Zapotec gods or Mitla-style geometric patterns while other weavers craft distinctly modern designs. Many of the weavers offer demonstrations that give you insight into the craft, including the mind-blowing manner in which many of the dyes are made. Learn how an insect found on cacti makes a vibrant red pigment while a pomegranate (surprisingly) is used to make a unique green-yellow dye. Marvel as you watch a weaver balance on the wooden pedals of a 40-year-old loom, working their wool yarn with lightning speed and precision as Zapotec symbols and patterns slowly emerge on the textile they’re creating in front of them.
It’s worth noting that the village has limited cell service, so plan in advance and know where to go if you have certain workshops or restaurants you’d like to visit. Additionally, while some vendors may accept credit cards, we recommend taking efectivo (cash) with you if you plan to purchase textiles. There are ATMs available, but you’re better off using one of the bigger bank ATMs in Oaxaca City before you venture out. We promise if you visit Teotitlán del Valle, you will not only leave there with a whole new appreciation and respect for this ancient craft and the people who practice it but some pretty special souvenirs, too.
Driving distance: ~27 kilometers (17 miles) from Oaxaca City. This is a relatively short drive of about 40 minutes.
How to get there: We recommend hiring a taxi by the hour (arrange pricing upfront before you leave) to take you to the village. If you drive there in a rental car, we recommend parking in the center of the village, near Museo Comunitario and in front of the small market stalls, and walking around the village from there.
Tip: A stop in Teotitlán del Valle can be combined with a trip out to Mitla and Hierve el Agua, depending on how much time you want to spend in each destination.
Visit A Mezcal Distillery in Santiago Matatlán
“Para todo mal, mezcal; para todo bien, también… y si no hay remedio: litro y medio.” (“For everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, also…and if there is no remedy: a liter and a half.”) This famous phrase was spoken to us with pride (and a wink) by a mezcalero (a mezcal producer) we met on our first trip to Santiago Matatlán – also known as the mezcal capital of the world.
Located roughly 45 minutes from Oaxaca City, Santiago Matatlán is a charming pueblo with residents who have been perfecting the craft of mezcal-making for centuries. Yes, centuries. While mezcal may have just gained worldwide acclaim in recent years, this iconic spirit has long been an integral part of Oaxacan culture. One of the things we love most about Santiago Matatlán is that you can witness firsthand that, despite its rise in global popularity, it still largely remains a small-batch, family-run affair. We encourage you to do a mezcal tasting with a local guide so that you can be sure to support these artisanal makers who are practicing traditional (and often sustainable) methods.
Many of the families of this quaint town have been producing mezcal with recipes passed down for generations, and in the spirit of mezcal itself, they love nothing more than sharing it with others. Local mezcaleros will welcome you into their mezcal distilleries (known as palenques), where you can witness every step of their process with you, from the harvest of the agave through to the distillation. Prepare to be in awe, as the production of mezcal is one of the most labor-intensive activities we’ve ever witnessed. It will leave you with a whole new appreciation for the spirit, and you will never look at an agave plant the same way.
Driving distance: Depending on traffic and road conditions, it will take you roughly 45 minutes to get to Santiago Matatlán from Oaxaca City.
How to get there: As with the other destinations on this list, we recommend either a rental car or a hired taxi to visit Santiago Matatlán for the ease and flexibility of visiting various palenques and parts of town at your own pace. It will also make transporting all of the bottles of mezcal you will inevitably buy home with you easier.
5 Additional Day Trips from Oaxaca
The truth is, you could spend a few weeks exploring the Valles Centrales around Oaxaca. Here are five more spots to explore:
- Visit the world’s widest tree trunk – the Tule Tree – which is as old as the Monte Albán ruins in Santa Maria del Tule
- See where Oaxaca’s famous black pottery (barro negro) is made in San Bartolo Coyotepec
- Head to the part-Mixtec, the part-Zapotec town of Zaachila to visit their bustling Thursday market
- Buy intricately hand-carved alebrijes — colorful hand-carved wooden animal figures — at the alebrije workshops in San Martín Tilcajete
- Eat the best barbacoa we’ve ever at the Tlacolula Sunday Market in the town of Tlacolula de Matamoros
Let Us Plan Your Oaxaca Day Trip
Many of these destinations we’ve shared can be combined to make a full-day guided tour of the surrounding Sierra Norte Mountains. If you’re looking to travel to Oaxaca, whether you’re interested in custom travel planning or a small group trip, the Salt & Wind team is here to help. Contact us today to learn more.
Photo Credit: Opening photo by Belikova Oksana; Monte Alban by Juan Salvador; Mitla ruin by by CCinar; Mezcal by Eva Lepiz; Hierve el Agua by Mis Imagenes Para Ti; Natural dye process by aindigo; Alebrije artist by SL-Photography