If you are planning a trip to Oaxaca, make sure you book a long stay as there are so many amazing day trips from Oaxaca city to keep you busy for a while. In this post, we will tell you all about that.
Oaxaca city and the homonymous state has so much to offer in terms of cultural manifestations, gastronomy, festivals, and natural resources. There are so many places to explore, from the mezcal distilleries, archeological sites, art workshops, and natural gems.
No matter what your budget is or how much time you have, in this post, we will help you craft your itinerary and we’ll try to share all the available tour options so that you can plan accordingly.
If your visit is limited by time or budget, you can be based in Oaxaca city and take tours to the nearby attractions either by local busses or organized tours when available.
You can also rent a car and drive around so that you can decide at your own pace. At the same time, you can also enjoy all the amazing things to do in Oaxaca and enjoy trying the delicious Oaxaca restaurants.
In Oaxaca city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, you will find history in its Cathedral and its Santo Domingo Temple.
You can find arts and crafts at La Casa de las Artesanías or at the Benito Juarez Market.
You can find gastronomy at the fine dining restaurant Tierra del Sol or in a more casual setting at the 20 de Noviembre Market or in the street food stalls.
But, if what you are looking for is mezcal, then, you can go to La Casa del Mezcal or buy chocolate at El Mayordomo.
And, let’s not forget that the main festivals happen in the city, so, if you are there during the Day of the dead celebration, you will see the altars and experience the parades.
Or you can be there during the Guelaguetza time or the December festivals like the “night of the radishes”.
Again, if you have time and budget to spare or are interested in living a deeper immersion and seeing much more than just the city, then make sure to make arrangements to visit at least one of the ancient sites, do a bit of ecotourism while horseback riding the mountain ranges, splurging in a weekend market of a nearby town, learning about the native flora and fauna, visiting multiple convents, churches, and patron saints and connecting with the local life in general.
Please note that tours would usually include round trip transportation with hotel pick up or a specific meeting point, local tour guides, entrance fees, and maybe a meal during the day.
Make sure that you make arrangements with your hotel or the official tourism office found Downton. A
nd please, make sure that you always look for supporting smaller local businesses and that if the experience was great for you then please chose to reward with a tip!
Day trips from Oaxaca to include in your Mexico itinerary
1. Hierve El Agua day trip
👉 BOOK your tour to Hierve el Agua in advance on VIATOR
Hierve El Agua would be the only one-day trip from Oaxaca City that you will want to choose if your stay is short.
Hierve El Agua is home to petrified waterfalls, refreshing spring waters, and spectacular views of the Oaxaca valley.
The breathtaking Hierve El Agua is only 70 kilometers from the capital. There are plenty of tour groups to go to Hierve El Agua, but, if you want to avoid crowds, I highly recommend hiring a local guide to get you there in a private tour as in that way you can choose to go earlier than everyone else.
Hierve el Agua Petrified Falls
Hierve el Agua is made up of a series of petrified waterfalls that are characterized by their white color and immensity (they are more than 200 meters high).
Hierve el Agua has been recognized as a probable sacred place of the ancient Zapotecs and it has also been determined that a complex irrigation system was built here more than 2,500 years ago, of which there are still important vestiges.
Visiting Hierve el Agua by public transportation
It is possible to get to Hierve El Agua by public transportation but it’s quite a challenge. You have to take a bus to Mitla either from the stadium in Oaxaca city or the main bus station.
Once at Mitla, you need to locate the “vans stop” that takes people to Hierve El Agua which waits to have at least 6 passengers to get on their way.
Visiting Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca city by tour
A full-day tour there offers the best value for the money and it allows you to see and experience much more! Especially if you are short of time, usually tours combine the visit to Hierve el Agua with el Tule and Mitla archaeological site or a mezcal distillery.
However, the downside of it is that you will get to Hierve el Agua when it’s the most crowded and you wouldn’t enjoy it so much.
Visiting Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca city by Car
Visiting Hierve el Agua by car is the best choice because you can get there very early in the morning and be there before the crowd. This way you can have the feel of this magical place.
You can rent a car in Oaxaca and you can easily use Discovercars to find the best deals.
Browse through international and local car rentals and find the best deal.
Tour some Mezcal distilleries
Mezcal is from Oaxaca (although not exclusively, but that is another story), but, it is not only a “typical alcoholic drink”. Mezcal is a very characteristic expression of the people of this region and mainly of the Zapotec indigenous culture.
Mezcal is present in the many celebrations during the year as well as in rituals, ceremonies, and even in the practice of traditional medicine.
2. Mezcal tours
A Mezcal tour will take you on a journey through the artisanal processes of the Mezcal tradition and you will get to taste a lot of it.
Usually, Mezcal factories are located in the central valleys of the Oaxaca State, between 30 and 90 minutes away from the capital city.
The state of Oaxaca has many mezcal zones, which are located in the districts of Miahuatlán, Sola de Vega, Ejutla, Yautepec, Tlacolula, Zimatlán, Etla, Zaachila, Putla, Nochixtlán, Mixe, Huajuapan, Ocotlán, Tlaxiaco, Coixtlahuaca, Cuicatlán, Choapan, Ixtlán, among others.
A Mezcal tour will take you on a journey of discovery of the traditions related to this traditional liquor, which complements the delicious food of the region since pre-Hispanic times.
As well, it will show the entire process of how mezcal is made from harvesting the agave plant to distillation. And finally, it will include a tasting of a wide variety of mezcals including Espadín, Cuishe, Madrecuishe, and Tobalá, among others.
One of the main destinations where a Mezcal tour will take you is Santiago Matatlan which has been named the “Mezcal Capital” because of the number of palenques that can be found there (a palenque is a factory where Mezcal is made following the artisanal ways).
Another location thus a bit farther from the capital is Ejutla de Crespo. In this district, there are thirteen municipalities where mezcal is made and at least fifty mezcal factories.
They have at least 17 types of Agaves which can be combined between each other or worked in different seasons to obtain at least 8500 mezcales.
A bit farther is Villa Sola de Vega. The main characteristic of this destination is that they distill the beverage in clay and not in a copper still (alambique).
This practice has been around for more than 400 years.
There are different types of Mezcal tours such as the “beginner” or more “touristy” ones, the educational ones, and the “Lunadas”, a more hands-on experience.
Usually, the beginner tours are combined with other attractions such as the visit to an archeological site, an artisanal village-like Teotitlan del Valle, and of course, the mezcal tasting at the end.
An educational tour would be a more in-depth experience in which you would visit many different palenques to be able to witness the Maestros mezcaleros and their assistants engaged in the different stages of the process.
Finally, the “lunadas” happen specifically on full moon night and this experience is done based on the cultural belief that the moon and in general the sky influence positively or negatively the crops.
The lunadas consist of being part of the mezcal production process, especially in the process of plugging the oven.
More Mezcal tour options
Explore the Ancient Ruins of Monte Alban, Mitla & Yagul
👉 BOOK your tour to the ancient ruins of Montealbán in advance on VIATOR
Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, Monte Albán was one of the most important cities in ancient Mesoamerica. During its peak, the city of Monte Albán housed a population of 35,000 people.
MONTE ALBÁN is the largest archaeological site in Oaxaca. The Great Plaza covers an area of more than three hectares.
Including the structures adjacent to the plaza, the complex covers 20 hectares (43 acres) at the summit of a hill that rises 400 meters from the valley floor.
About the central plaza, it is thought that it must have served as the principal marketplace and the focus of administrative and ceremonial activities of the community.
There are 2 possible meanings for this site’s name. One is “Cerro de Piedras preciosas” (Precious stones hill) or, “Cerro Verde” (green hill).
The name Monte Albán was given because when the first explorations started, the land was owned by a Spaniard with that last name.
The first archeologist and explorer of Monte Albán was Dr. Alfonso Caso and he located the occupation of the site between the times of 500 b. C. to 1521. The cultures that are said to have inhabited Monte Albán are the Zapotec and the Mixtec.
Montealban Entrance fee and opening hours
The entrance fee to the archeological site is only 85 pesos. It is open between 8 am and 5:00 pm
How to get to Montealban
Monte Albán is located 8 kilometers west of the city of Oaxaca de Juárez. It only takes 30 minutes to get there.
The best way to go to Monte Albán is on an organized tour that includes round trip transportation, the entrance fee (most of the time), and a guide.
By car rental or taxi
If you rent a car or only hire a taxi, it is easy to get there and inexpensive, I still though do recommend hiring a local guide.
By local busses
If you are on a budget, you will find shared buses that park on the corner of la Calle de Mina and Diaz Ordaz in downtown Oaxaca and take you there.
👉 BOOK your tour to Hierve el Agua and Mitla in advance on VIATOR
After Monte Alban, Mitla was the most important ceremonial center of the Zapotec culture and is distinguished from any other archaeological site by its famous Grecas (staggered geometric figures used to decorate their buildings) that are present in all constructions.
The main attractions are the main palace and 2 cross-shaped tombs which one can enter. Mitla means “place of the dead” and it is believed that the Zapotec kings were buried here.
Mitla is also a very good example of how the Spaniards built their churches right on top of the pre-Hispanic ceremonial centers.
How to get to Mitla from Oaxaca city
To get to Mitla from Oaxaca City we can take a bus from the Eduardo Vasconcelos Baseball Stadium located on Avenida Niños Heroes de Chapultepec, which is about ten minutes from the historic center. The bus fare is approximately 18 pesos and the trip takes about an hour.
Organized tours to visit Mitla usually include the visit to El Tule and Hierve el Agua.
The entrance fee to the site is 85 pesos from the beginning of 2022 and according to the official INAH website it opens from Wednesday to Sunday only.
5. Yagul archaeological site
Yagul means in Zapotec “old tree or stick”, from ya, “tree”, and gul, “old”; the inhabitants of Tlacolula identify it as Yugul, from yu, “land, town”, and gul, “old”: “old town”.
In the surroundings of Yagul rock shelters have been found with vestiges of cave paintings of nomadic groups, probably the first settlers of the valley of Oaxaca.
Getting there by public transportation is possible but a bit complex. You have to get on a bus that goes to Mitla and then get off passing Tlacolula, from there if a local taxi is available they can take you to the site or the walk is around 1.5 km.
Visiting Oaxaca Arts & Crafts workshop in the nearby villages
Oaxaca is one of the states where the different handicrafts are a tradition and a way of life.
Here the local and ancient customs are preserved and promoted, so, it is only obvious that for the traveler, this state has created a Handicrafts route in which we can come acquainted with the creative processes of the local artists.
The “Magical Handicrafts route” designed by the tourism bureau comprises the arts & crafts of 6 different communities:
San Martin Tilcajete: Home of the famous Alebrijes.
San Antonio Arrazola: a second home of the Alebrijes
San Bartolo Coyotepec: Known for the black clay pottery pieces.
Santa Maria Atzompa: Known for the varied green glazed clay products.
Santo Tomas Jalieza: famous for the colors, shapes, and designs of the textiles that the women of this community make on backstrap looms.
San Antonino Castillo Velasco: known for its Multicolored silks and cotton of its garments.
Ocotlán de Morelos: famous for its cutlery and knives.
6. Alebrije Workshops in San Martin Tilcajete and San Antonio Arrazola
If the magic of Oaxaca could be sculpted it would respond to the name Alebrije.
Alebrijes are a representation of fantastic animals that often look like hybrids of two or more species that fusion into a magnificent piece of colorful art.
The inventor was an artist from Mexico City, Pedro Linares. It is said that the hallucinations of a feverish night that almost kills him are what led him to invent them.
The alebrijes became famous throughout Mexico and many artisans from San Antonio Arrazola and San Martin Tilcajete mocked the idea of turning their homes into production workshops.
Many claim that in Oaxaca, it was the artisan Manuel Jiménez Ramírez who mixed the local tradition with the original idea of Pedro Linares to give rise to the Oaxacan Alebrije.
In Oaxaca, the tradition of carving wooden animals was already very old, known as tonas, inherited from the Zapotec culture, in whose cosmovision they are spirits, nahuales, that serve as guides in the life of each person according to the day in which they were born.
A visit to the workshops of San Martin or San Antonio will allow the traveler to learn about the process that involves selecting the piece of wood, drying it, preparing it, and carving it to add colors and decorations to the piece.
It is said that the carving of the piece is not necessarily planned. It is the hands of the craftsmen and women that will find the spirit animals that live in it.
In San Martin Tilcajete most of the economy revolves around the production of alebrijes, and children from a young age learn to carve and paint them.
There are more than 150 workshops and some of the most famous is El Sueño Zapoteco, by the renowned artist Dante Cruz, and the workshop of Jacobo and Maria Angeles.
For me the best way to get to experience the Alebrijes workshops is to go on an organized tour, but, if you are on a budget or are more of an independent spirit you can always make your way to the Zocalo of Oaxaca city and get on the shared vans or taxis that go to “Ocotlan”.
Once you get to Ocotlan you can take a moto-taxi that will drive one kilometer to where the workshops of San Martin Tilcajete are.
In the case of San Antonio Arrazola, it was Don Manuel Jimenez that pioneered the creation of alebrijes in the town.
Before the alebrijes were internationally known, he was a self-made woodcarver who got his inspiration from the animals of the farm he cared for.
As time passed, Don Manuel taught wood carving to the people of the community, and as the craft became more popular, it became a very important source of income for the locals.
A place of interest in Arrazola is the Don Manuel Jiménez House Museum, in this property, a space was built to show the history behind the carved wooden figures.
Inside its rooms, there is a workshop to show part of the wood carving and painting process.
Something that I like about the Alebrijes experience is that now many workshops are offering the visitor to choose to paint their own Alebrije.
7. San Bartolo Coyotepec: Oaxaca Black Pottery
This town is known to have been a Zapotec settlement. Formerly its name in Zapotec was Zaapeche (place of many Jaguars).
This town is especially distinguished by the skillful practice of black clay pottery. The originality and designs of the local artisans are very unique. In the village, one can find black pottery workshops such as the one of “Doña Rosa” where the rudimentary techniques of elaboration are shown.
San Bartolo Coyotepec also has a handicrafts market that sells pots, pitchers, and black clay dishes; musical instruments; work and religious objects, and other regional handicrafts.
To get on your own to San Bartolo you can take a bus from the bus station just outside of the main downtown area.
8. Santa Maria Atzompa
Santa María Atzompa is located 15 / 20 minutes away from the City of Oaxaca, it is located on the slopes of a hill that on its summit shelters vestiges of the Zapotec culture. The internationally recognized handicraft of Atzompa is the green glazed pottery. The town’s name comes from the Nahuatl which means ‘on the top of the water’.
Most of the population is dedicated to the production of pottery. They make various objects using red clay, green glazed pottery, and polychrome pottery and use several techniques.
There are two handicraft markets: La Asunción and Señor del Coro, in both, you can buy pots, plates, glasses, ornamental objects, flowerpots, napkin holders, lamps, etc., you can also visit the pottery workshops and appreciate the elaboration of the different articles.
9. Santo Tomás Jalieza
Located 45 minutes away from Oaxaca City, this small town offers visitors a great day trip for shopping for handicrafts made there, such as embroidery and weavings, that are offered to the public on Friday during the “market day”.
Santo Tomas Jalieza’s hallmark is the creative talent of men and women whose fine manual works of thread-silk or cotton are turned into pieces for personal, utilitarian, or decorative use, also with enormous cultural value.
The artisans of this town have forged -through generations- skill and creativity with the backstrap loom, a pre-Hispanic system for weaving, which consists of a leather and rope strap that is placed on the artisan’s lower back and waist.
It is here where the artisans make the traditional garment called Quexquemetl, a piece of clothing from Oaxaca intended to cover the torso of women.
To dye the garments and pieces, natural dyes such as indigo, huizache, pomegranate, aloe vera, and lemon balm are used.
A day tour to Santo Tomas Jalieza would involve visiting the family workshops, the local handicrafts market, and observing the weaving process.
At Santo Tomás Jalieza one can also walk through the so-called Piedra de Letra (letter stone/rock), a singular monolith with carved inscriptions dating from the time of Monte Albán. The oral tradition speaks of the existence of a magical market in the underworld, whose entrance door is La piedra de Letra.
10. San Antonino Castillo Velasco
This is a Zapotecan small town founded by people originally from Monte Alban. It was founded in 1694.
They are popular for their textiles made with silk threads and their embroidered dresses and blouses. They also use reed to make attics, cages, baskets, small baskets, napkin holders, etc.
One of its main crafts is the “San Antonio dress” whose main trait is the fine multicolored embroidery with which it is decorated.
The town also elaborates a craft that is called “Immortal Flower” (Helichrysum bracteatum).
Its elaboration requires a long process of work, its origin is religious and consists of the elaboration of religious objects decorated with this type of flowers (they are born and die without losing their petals or their color).
The flower can be red, white, yellow, or orange and besides religious articles, they are also used to decorate the baskets used in the many different “parades” (calendas) in which the Oaxacan women (“chinas oaxaqueñas) participate.
11. Ocotlan de Morelos
One of the main characteristics of Ocotlan is that it gathers in its local market many of the crafts expressions of other villages like the Alebrijes or the polychrome pottery, but, a day tour to this town would be mainly to get acquainted with the very specific craft of cutlery and knife making.
This trade has its origins in the colonial era of the XVI century, during the period in which the Dominican friars brought with them the blacksmith’s trade.
The artisans of Ocotlan transform the raw metal mainly into beautiful sharpened blades that make pieces such as swords, knives, daggers, letter openers, or other decorative articles.
Tree of Tule and Teotitlan Village
Usually, because they are on the same road, a half-day trip would include El Tule and Teotitlan del Valle, and, for a long day tour, a visit to Hierve el Agua too.
12. El Tule
Santa Maria del Tule is located east of Oaxaca City and it is famous for the Tule tree, an enormous 2000-year-old ahuehuete.
A fun activity at Santa Maria del Tule is to be guided by the kids of the town around the trunk and be shown the different shapes that make space for the legends about the animals and other creatures that hide in the tree.
El Tule tree has a height of approximately 40 meters, a circumference of 45 meters, and an approximate weight of 636 tons.
13. Teotitlan del Valle Village
This town (“place of the gods”, in Nahuatl), is famous for the quality and beauty of its wool textile products: rugs, jackets, bags, sarapes, tapestries, “corridors”, carpets, curtains, and dresses, made on large wooden looms and decorated with natural dyes, whose designs range from traditional Zapotec and Mixtec ethnic symbols to “copies” of contemporary photos or art captured on the textile.
The best tours to Teotitlan del Valle usually consist of visiting families’ workshops and witnessing the process of making a rug.
From learning about the different types of wool used to being shown how a natural dye is made from trees bark, plants, and even insects.
Nowadays as artisans and families dedicated to tourism have more demand from visitors, they are constantly creating more experiences like more hands-on ones in which a person can create their dye and give color to threads, enjoying a cooking class with the head of the family or even living a homestay experience.
Teotitlan del Valle has a lot more to offer as well in terms of things to do on a day trip (even a multi-day one).
People can hike “El Picacho” hill which is considered mystical and sacred.
Also, people can visit “La Cuevita del pedimento” (the little cave of the petition) where local people go ask for blessings and miracles to the virgin that “lives” there.
As well, other handicrafts are being made there by craftsmen such as the “velas de concha” (candles in shell form) or traditional sweets.
And, also, it’s a good place for those interested in bird watching as at the “Benito Juarez dam” and the “Piedra Azul dam” is common to find different kinds of birds.
Teotitlan del Valle is located 30 kilometers from the city of Oaxaca. It is possible to take public transportation at the main bus station by boarding the “Transportes Estrella Valle del Norte” bus line.
There are also collective cabs to Tlacolula that will drop you off at the turnoff to Teotitlán where you can take a second collective cab that will take you there.
14. The Markets
Besides all the handicrafts and art, if there is one more thing that characterizes Oaxaca, is its gastronomy.
Typical local dishes such as mole negro, coloradito, green and red stew, Chiles Rellenos, and higaditos attract tourists from all over the world, but they don’t arrive at the tables on their own.
Behind all this exquisite food is a local market with a vast array of fresh produce, spices, seeds, and more.
Thursday is the market in Zaachila, Friday in Ocotlán de Morelos, one of the most important markets, and Tlacolula de Matamoros is a Sunday market and it is the most indigenous market in Oaxaca and therefore the most important and most beautiful.
A market tour will show you the colors, flavors, and smells that will take you and all your senses on a mesmerizing journey.
The Northern mountain range
This is one more of the routes that have been designed by the travel bureau but this one is mainly for nature lovers.
There are 5 main destinations can be experienced on this route:
15. Capulalpam de Menendez
70 kilometers from the capital, Capulálpam is one of the nearby villages that still preserves the placidity of the province, framed by its traditional architecture of adobe, wood, tile, and yellow quarry.
Here you can enjoy a stroll through the steep cobblestone streets, or visit the temple of San Mateo, the patron saint of the town.
16. Guelatao de Juarez
Guelatao is a small mountain community where Don Benito Juárez García, Benemérito de las Américas was born.
The name Guelatao means in Zapotec “Laguna del Encanto” or “Enchanted Lagoon”.
Day trips here mix history with nature as one can learn about the former Mexican president’s life while at the same time visiting the town’s lagoon.
17. Ixtlan de Juarez
This Zapotec community is located at 2,030 meters above sea level. An enormous variety of flora and numerous species of fauna populate the humid forests. Because of its biodiversity, this region is considered one of the 17 most interesting areas in the world.
A guided tour here would include the visit to an eco-tourism project located 6 kilometers from the town of Ixtlán, where visitors can hike, mountain bike, or horseback ride.
Other points of interest are the viewpoint of the Cerro de Cuachirindoo, as well as the caves “El Arco”, “La Cascada” and “Cerro de los Pozuelos”.
18. La cumbre ixtepeji
This community is rich in millenary forests of pines and oaks, and gorgeous landscapes.
A guided tour offers visitors four routes: Peña Piedra Prieta, Mirador Pelao Chiquito, La Cumbre, La Cascada, and Ixtepeji-Las Ánimas which can be seen either through pleasant walks on foot, exciting bike rides, or from various viewpoints.
One can also visit other nearby communities that preserve their traditions and ancestral lifestyles. In the community of Las Ánimas, local people make mills, spoons, and wooden carts and in the town of Yuvila, they make typical bread and have chocolate tasting too.
19. Llano de Las Flores
Llano de las Flores is a high plateau of enormous natural beauty (more than 2,700 meters above sea level), in the Sierra Norte of the state, only 70 kilometers from the city of Oaxaca.
The best tours take people through the town’s forests where oak, arbutus, and many different species of pine and vegetation typical of mesophytic forest can be found. Also, visitors can stop at a trout farm, or waterfalls, and even go on a 180-meter zip-line through the tall trees.
Day trips of Oaxaca: final thoughts
I have delivered a very concrete overview of the surrounding area of Oaxaca capital city that can be explored on some of the best Oaxaca tours.
As you might have noticed, the options are very abundant and there is something for everyone to see, do, taste, and buy!
Visiting Oaxaca is on the bucket list of a lot of people these days, so, if you have the chance to plan to go or you are already packing make sure to give yourself enough time to take it all in.
Stay in Oaxaca as much as you can but do go on at least 2 or 3 day trips from Oaxaca city.
If you are on a budget or are short on time, find a reputable and larger tour operator that has everything already organized, but, if you want more quality and a slower pace to do more, do hire a private tour guide and create your own personalized Oaxaca tour. You will not regret it!
About the Author: Bia
Bianca is a woman, Mexican, a traveler, an ally, a dreamer, a creative, 100% human and so much more. Bianca has +20 years of experience in personal travel throughout 3 continents, and many countries, cities, towns, and communities. She also comes with +20 years of experience with customer service in the hospitality and tourism industries. A passionate advocate of her country (despite it all), an amateur writer & blogger, art lover, certified yoga teacher, entrepreneur, neophyte researcher, philosophy fan, and knowledge obsessed, she has one dream and mission in life:
“To achieve, through her venture, for travel to be considered and used as a tool for a better education and human development in Mexico”
And, even if in baby steps, she is making the dream, come true through her brand: