The Amateur Traveler, Chris Christensen, usually interviews people for his podcast, but the tables have turned. In this interview, Chris tells us about his travels in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Sights to see
Oaxaca is a family-friendly city, so you’ll have a good time just walking around and exploring the centre of town. The zocolo (central square) is the place to be in the evening – just show up and see what’s happening. It’s also a good place to have a coffee, a beer or a meal, and you might be able to find a local tour guide there, as Chris did. Two churches worth visiting are the cathedral and the Convento de Santo Domingo, and you’ll find a good museum nearby as well.
The Zapotec ruins just out of town are tourist drawcards, and for good reason. Chris recommends Monte Alban over Mitla, which isn’t in as good condition. A good tour guide is worth the investment for the trip to Monte Alban, so that you can learn a bit of history about the Zapotec people. There are some good craft shops in the area as well, so get your guide to take you out and do your souvenir shopping there.
In addition to the traditional Mexican fare of burritos, soft tacos and tamales, you should definitely try mole (mo-lay), a spicy sauce. Oaxaca is known as the “land of the seven moles”, and the most popular one is a combination of chocolate and chillies, used over chicken and rice and with other savoury dishes. Moles tend to be named after colours – Rojo and Negro (red and black) both contain chocolate, but there’s also Amarillo (yellow) and Verde (green).
Make sure you have a cerveza (beer) or two, and try mezcal – an alcoholic drink that’s similar to tequila. Coffee in Oaxaca is often drunk spiked with chillies, as is the excellent hot chocolate.
Chris recommends Hostel dal Mercado and Casa de Don Pablo Hostel, which both provide good accommodation for about US$12 per night, and are centrally located. There’s a kitchen and a common room, and linen and towels are provided.
Although the swine flu is affecting tourism to Mexico at the moment, Chris doesn’t advise against travel to Oaxaco. It’s an affordable and interesting destination, and with fewer people travelling there, you’ll be able to get some good bargains. He doesn’t recommend travelling through the towns on the border of the US and Mexico at present, due to higher crime rates.
You should be fine in Oaxaca, but if you’re travelling through Mexico City, never hail a cab. Either get your hostel to phone for one for you, or take the subway which is cheap and efficient.
International flights generally fly into Mexico City, which is worth exploring for a few days. From there, you can fly to Oaxaca, or catch a bus for the budget option. It’ll take you about six hours, and you can choose between the plush first-class bus, or the cheaper second-class. Check for airfare to Mexico.
All photos on this post are copyright Chris Christensen, used with permission.
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