3 Days in Oaxaca for Food, Mezcal and Artisan Shopping

3 Days in Oaxaca for Food, Mezcal and Artisan Shopping

Oaxaca is a vibrant cultural hub in Mexico renowned for its rich indigenous heritage, colourful architecture and ancestral cuisine.

The city may be small, but it's packed with so many markets to explore and special places to eat, drink and shop. If you love discovering new types of cuisine and immersing yourself in the local culture, you'll love Oaxaca.

Our Oaxaca itinerary focuses on exploring the best of the city's food, mezcal and artisan culture.

Your 3 days in Oaxaca will be filled with unique experiences. We include the best markets to explore, street foods to eat, artisan boutiques to shop and impressive restaurants and mezcalerias to visit.

Overview: 3 Days in Oaxaca

  • Where to stay in Oaxaca
  • Oaxaca Itinerary 3 Days
  • Day 1:

    → Explore Oaxaca's markets, eat street food and shop artisan boutiques in the Centro District

    → Taste mezcals made with different agave plants

    → Pull up a seat at one of the city's best tlayluda stands

    → Walk down a lively pedestrian street that comes alive at night

    → Eat late-night suckling pig tacos from a food stand popular with locals

    Day 2:

    → Dive deeper into Oaxacan cuisine on a food tour

    → Explore mezcal in greater depth

    → Eat traditional and ancestral dishes at one of Oaxaca's best restaurants

    Day 3:

    → Walk, shop and eat your way to the Xochimilco art district

    → Dress up and dine at one of Oaxaca's top restaurants

    → Have a nightcap at an off-the-beaten-path cocktail bar

  • Getting from Oaxaca Airport to Oaxaca City
  • Our Top 5 Oaxaca Travel Tips

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Unique places to stay in Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a lively city, so although you can expect street noise, you can take some steps to limit it. Look for hotels that are on side streets or for rooms that aren't facing busy streets.

We recommend staying in the Centro District since you'll be within walking distance of the best spots.

Best for value and design: Hotel Materia

We stayed at Hotel Materia, a new boutique hotel in the city that felt like a home away from home. We loved the terracotta pink building and the thoughtful design elements inspired by the ceremonial act of smoke.

We stayed in their most private room called Humo, located up a small flight of stairs. It was far away from the street and also had a lovely private terrace that we enjoyed eating breakfast on each morning.

💎 Insider Tip: After 6PM and depending on capacity, non-hotel guests can get a drink on the rooftop of Otro Oaxaca, a luxury boutique hotel that has one of the best sunset views in the city.

🛏️ Browse more hotels in Oaxaca

Oaxaca 3 Day Itinerary

Day 1


Explore Oaxaca's markets and wander the Centro District

On your first day in Oaxaca, get a feel for the city by walking around the centre, exploring markets, eating street food and browsing artisan shops. Take your time wandering through the streets to take in the city's energy, its vibrant colours and unique architecture.

While you won't be able to see and eat everything in three days, we list the top markets and street foods we ate so you can pick and choose what you want to try.

Oaxaca's cuisine is deeply rooted in tradition and culture, with indigenous ingredients, cooking techniques and recipes that span centuries.

There were so many new dishes we tried, it was exhilarating. Even the corn tortilla in Oaxaca is something we have never seen - it's so soft we thought it was made out of flour at first. Corn has been grown ancestrally for around 10,000 years in the region and there are a whopping 35 native varieties in Oaxaca.

Best markets in Oaxaca to visit and what to eat

These are the markets we visited and what we recommend eating there. Choose what calls to your stomach:

Mercado 20 de Noviembre

Mercado 20 de Noviembre is one of Oaxaca City's oldest markets, named after the start of the Mexican Revolution, a time when the nation rose against Porfirio Díaz, a dictator who favoured foreign interests.

😋 Must eat:

  • Mole from Comedor Maria Alejandra - this 85-year old stand has been there even before the market, passed down through generations of the same family.

✔️ Top Tip: Don't limit yourself to trying just one mole. There are many different types. Ingredients can include dried chiles, corn, spices, herbs, tomato, almonds, raisins, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chocolate, plantain, pineapple... the list goes on! We tried Amarillo, Estofado, Coloradito and Mole Negro, and they were all so different.

Mercado Benito Juarez

Mercado Benito Juarez is a bustling marketplace renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and diverse array of traditional foods, crafts, and local products. We bought two packs of mole and worm salt for home, and even bubble wrap to protect our mezcal bottles during travel.

😋 Must eat:

  • Nieves - you could call it Mexican ice cream. It's similar to sorbet and is made by hand. There are so many different flavours to choose from and you can mix them too.
  • Tejate - corn, cocoa and mamey seeds (a sister fruit of avocado) are mixed in in a special way to create a foamy beverage. Representing life, Tejate is traditionally made by women from the Zapotec community in Oaxaca and dates back to pre-Hispanic times.

La Cosecha Organic Market

La Cosecha Organic Market has a laidback atmosphere and offers organic products from local producers. It's located in a quieter area just north of the centre and is open from 9-5.

😋 Must eat:

  • Molote de Plantano - small fried plantains filled with cheese
  • Garnachas - small round fried tortillas topped with cabbage, refried beans, cheese and other toppings like pork, beef, onions or salsa.
  • Pozontle - an indigenous ceremonial drink from Oaxaca known as the drink of sacred plants. It's made of water, corn, cacao, molasses and cocomecatl (a wild plant that creates the foam).

Pasillo de Humo (aka Smoke Alley)

When you see an alley filled with smoke, you'll know you're close to Pasillo de Humo, a meat market that cooks beef and pork over coals. It's served with tortillas and sides of your choice.

😋 Must eat:

  • Tasajo - thinly sliced marinated beef, kind of like jerky
  • Cecina - thinly sliced marinated pork
  • Chorizo - finely ground and seasoned pork sausage

How to order your food at Pasillo de Humo:

  1. Order your meat at one of the vendors and they will give you a numbered card.
  2. Sit down at a table and order your sides for the tacos and drinks (if you want a table, you have to order drinks).
  3. If the tortillas don't come with your meat, clap and a lady will come over to sell them.
  4. You pay each person separately with cash.

Central de Abasto

Central de Abasto is one of the largest wholesale markets in Oaxaca and is catered to locals.

😋 Must eat:

  • Memelas from Donna Vale - if you've seen Somebody Feed Phil or the Netflix special, Street Food: Latin America, you should be familiar with these memelas famous for their chile morita salsa.

Mercado de la Merced

Mercado de la Merced has a good local spirit to it. We visited on a Sunday and it was packed with locals eating breakfast while listening to live traditional music.

😋 Must eat:

  • On Sundays, look for the barbacoa vendor outside of the front entrance - barbacoa is traditionally made with goat or lamb and is slow-cooked underground. Once cooked, the tender meat is served on tacos with fresh toppings and salsas. It's traditionally something made on Sundays for family gatherings or special occasions.

We realize all of these food places may feel overwhelming... and we have even more coming up. To make it easy, we've made a street food checklist to tick off what you've eaten!

Shop artisan boutiques in the Centro district

You could call Oaxaca the artisan capital of Mexico, where skilled craftspeople create an array of exquisite textiles, clay ceramics and candles with intricate details. What blew us away was how many unique types of handcrafted items there were, it wasn't a cookie cutter experience in each store.

As you wander the city and eat street food, pop into these awesome artisan shops in Centro:

  • Artesanías La Casa del Rebozo - this cooperative created by 84 artisans is the best store to browse first. Here, you can assess prices and establish a baseline before exploring other shops. We bought a hammock here.

  • LIA Cafe - part cafe, part boutique, this store had one of the best curations of handcrafted items we saw in the city. We bought a black clay fruit bowl.

  • Huehuecoyotl Art - has a nice selection of ceramic cups and mugs

  • TRASTIENDA - located in the courtyard of a gorgeous historic building, this boutique sells unique housewares from artisans.

  • Xaquixe Showroom - for chic handblown glassware in different colours. We bought 4 water glasses.

  • Piedra de Río Tiendita de Barro - slightly tucked away on a side street, this shop has a large selection of artisanal vases. There were unique designs we hadn't seen elsewhere.

  • Juana Vintage - for vintage clothing

  • Bazar Alcalá 100 - an evening bazaar with a variety of vendors, many selling contemporary products. I bought a stylish pearl bracelet.

Don't miss our guide on the best shopping in Oaxaca.


Taste mezcals made with different agave plants at mezcalerias

Surprising to me, discovering different types of Mezcal was my favourite thing I did in Oaxaca. It was fascinating trying mezcal from different agave plants and different distillation techniques. I'm not someone who can sip straight alcohol, but as I slowly tried more and more, I began to taste the complexities of each mezcal and that "alcohol taste" went away.

30 types of agave plants can be used to make mezcal. And this may come as a surprise, but tequila is actually one type of mezcal made from a singular agave plant called Blue Agave. It's so much fun figuring out what types of agave are your favourite. My favourite is Jabali and Ari's is Tepeztate.

When you buy mezcal internationally (in the US for example), chances are it's made with espadin, the only type of agave that is cultivated. The rest of the 29 types are wild agaves, where mezcaleros go out on horseback into the mountainous desert to find them at the right time for harvest.

🥔🔎 Cool Fact: The large stem that emerges from a mezcal plant is called a quiote, which only flowers once it has reached the end of its life cycle. Once it blooms, the agave plant cannot be harvested. Depending on the type of agave plant, some live to be around 30-35 years old!

You will notice there are ancestral mezcals and artisanal mezcals. Ancestral means it was distilled in a clay pot, whereas artisanal means it was distilled in a copper pot. Each distillation technique can really change the taste.

Grab a seat at the tasting bar at In Situ Mezcaleria, which has one of the best selections of premium mezcals. They were the best we tried and we even found a rare mezcal that was fermented in cowhide! Its owner, Ulises Torrentera, is a renowned Mezcal author and expert.

You can do a tasting of 5 mezcals for 500 pesos. It's a great way to see what type of agaves you like.

Pull up a seat at one of the city's best tlayluda stands

Taking a seat at a tlayuda stand was one of our most entertaining experiences in Oaxaca.

If you haven't heard of a tlayuda, it's a large, thin corn tortilla topped with refried beans, meats such as tasajo, cecina, or chorizo, Oaxacan cheese, and vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes. It's cooked over charcoal and is sometimes called "Oaxacan pizza." Some places serve the tortilla open-faced, and some, folded over.

We recommend going to Las Tlayudas de Mina y Bustamante, a stand in Centro that is a favourite with locals. They start getting things set up at 7:30pm. We recommend ordering their hot chocolate atole as well.

Note: Due to construction, they were located here on Google Maps when we went.

Keep tasting mezcal at La Querencia Mezcaleria

La Querencia Mezcaleria

While there are a plethora of mezcalerias in Oaxaca, La Querencia Mezcaleria caught our attention with its hypnotic music and seductive red lighting inside. It ended up being one of our favourite tasting experiences.

We tried very small amounts of different mezcals (for free) before choosing our favourite to have as a glass. The owners were very friendly.

Walk down C. Macedonio Alcala Street at night

C. Macedonio Alcala Pedestrian Street

Oaxaca comes alive at night, with vendors selling their wares on pedestrian streets and crowds of people enjoying an evening out. Walk down C. Macedonio Alcala Street and see the 16th-century Baroque-style church, Templo de Santo Domingo, light up at night.

See our list of the 9 best things to do in Oaxaca at night.

Devour late night suckling pig tacos

Suckling pig tacos from Lechoncito de Oro

For a late night bite, get your hands on suckling pig tacos from Lechoncito de Oro, a food stand open until early morning that is popular with locals. The chicharron (fried pork belly) was our favourite.

Day 2


Dive deeper into Oaxacan cuisine on a food tour

On your second day, we highly recommend going on a food tour of Oaxaca's markets. Since portion sizes are big in Oaxaca, food tours are the best way to try a variety of dishes since you're with a group.

We learned so much about Oaxacan cuisine and tried things we wouldn't have found on our own.

Viator offers highly rated food tours. We like how most tours have free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance.

Explore Mezcal in greater depth at Mezcaloteca

Tasting mezcal at Mezcaloteca

Now that you've learned a bit about Mezcal - go deeper with your understanding at Mezcaloteca. The library-style mezcaleria offers educational tastings, including pictures of the different agave plants and how its made.

Your guide curates your experience based on your level of knowledge and by what flavours and types of agaves you prefer. This is why we recommend going to other mezcalerias first before going to Mezcaloteca - you will be able to deep dive further, rather than just get an introduction to the spirit.

Mezcaloteca is very popular and books up far in advance. Make your reservation online.

Try traditional and ancestral dishes at Levadora De Olla

Levadora de Olla is one of Oaxaca's best restaurants, serving traditional, lost ancestral and ceremonial dishes from Oaxaca’s Sierra Sur region. It also offers creative dishes based on traditional recipes and ingredients.

Chef Thalia Barrios Garcia comes from a small town in Oaxaca and has combined her family's culinary traditions with skills acquired during culinary school. Set within a colonial-style building, the restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere and charming courtyard.

Book your table online.

😋 Must eat: Oaxaca Native Tomatoes dish

Day 3


Walk, shop and eat your way to the Xochimilco art district

For your last day, we've created a walking route that takes you north of the centre into a quieter village-like area called Xochimilco, which is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Oaxaca.

This is where we saw the most beautiful streets with colourful buildings and street art.

Our walking route takes 45 minutes without stops and brings you back to the centre. It doesn't feel long since you're stopping at so many places.

Stop 1: Start your morning with a healthy breakfast at Ama Terazza. Walk through Muss Cafe and the courtyard to find stairs that lead you to the terrace. The terrace overlooks both the city and the 16th-century courtyard with stone archways. We loved their smoothie bowls.

Stop 2: shop Origen Textile for sustainably handmade clothing with natural dyes. Their pieces are stylish and have a contemporary fit. I bought a pink and cream shirt with buttons made from coconuts.

Stop 3: Walk down Pzla del Carmen Alto, a tiny street with awesome vendors. We found our favourite jewelry here (both men's and women's) and unique textiles for excellent prices.

Stop 4: Enjoy a cold cacao beverage from Rito Chocolatería & Tienda, a chocolate artisanal shop. It's the most gourmet chocolate milk you'll ever have and a great pick-me-up. Cacao has been cultivated for thousands of years in the region.

Stop 5: Xanté Arte y Diseño - after gawking at the beautiful street, stop in at this art gallery and shop selling prints and textile art. We loved the indigenous stories tied to the artworks. We bought a textile piece called the Cosmic Serpent.

Stop 6: Cooperativa 1050º - if you're looking for ceramic dinnerware, this is the place to go. You'll find black, red, light brown and dark brown clay pottery with a contemporary design.

Stop 7: Morocho Oaxaca - stop into this boutique selling black Oaxacan ceramics with a slick contemporary style.

Stop 8: take a well-deserved sit at Chepiche Cafe, a tropical oasis tucked away in the Xochimilco neighbourhood. It's a great spot to enjoy a refreshing drink or bite to eat.

Cubana torta from Torta Hormigas

Stop 9: save room for a torta from Torta Hormigas, a food truck serving up mouthwatering Mexican sandwiches. We've had some really tasty tortas in Mexico City, but this is the best one we've had yet. We recommend the Hormiga Cubana, which comes with cheese, pierna (pork leg), chorizo and ham.


Dress up and dine at one of Oaxaca's top restaurants

Relax back at your hotel and work up your appetite again for dinner at one of Oaxaca's nicest restaurants. We have two to choose from that are great for a romantic dinner or for dressing up.

Casa Oaxaca - best for the setting: overlooking the Santa Domingo Church, Casa Oaxaca is one of the city's hottest restaurants by renowned Mexican chef, Alejandro Ruiz. Located inside a 18th-century colonial townhouse, there are multiple levels. Request to sit on the outdoor upper terrace - it has a better ambience with its warmer lighting and view of the church.

Make a reservation.

Origen - best for the food: run by Chef Rodolfo Castellanos, who was the winner of Top Chef Mexico (Season 1), we were nervous the restaurant would be overrated. We loved the food at Casa Oaxaca, so were surprised when we enjoyed our dishes even more at Origen. We also liked the intimate setting. We ordered from the a-la-carte menu.

Book your table.

Have a nightcap at La Cueva Oaxaca

La Cueva Oaxaca

We visited the two acclaimed cocktail bars Sabina Sabe and Selva, which were both great. But, there is one cocktail bar that stood out to us more than these others: La Cueva Oaxaca.

Located off-the-beaten-path in the Centro area, we loved how it had a local crowd and not just international tourists, like you see at other cocktail bars. The amber lighting and brown textured walls were what caught our eye at first and as we got closer, the decor, music and atmosphere brought us inside.

The Mexican-fusion music was great and we were so excited when our favourite cumbia-fusion group, Son Rompe, came on. We also discovered an excellent Latin American cover of The Door's Riders on the Storm.

See our list of the 7 best bars in Oaxaca City.

Trip Extension Options

Petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua

Visit the serene Oaxacan countryside

Have one more day to spare? We highly recommend doing a day trip into the countryside to see the famous weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle and the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua, which you can swim in!

Viator offers many highly-rated day trips from Oaxaca City. We like how most tours have free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance.

If you have two more days to spare, check out our 5 Days in Oaxaca Itinerary, including extraordinary sights in the countryside.

Combine Oaxaca with a trip to Mexico City

Mexico City is an amazing city to combine with Oaxaca and you can fly there direct - check out our itineraries:

Getting from Oaxaca Airport to Oaxaca City

Taxis are not allowed to pick people up at the Oaxaca airport. Instead, there are designated private taxis and shared shuttles (you will see a bunch of white vehicles).

Everyone has to line up at the kiosk located just inside the arrivals door to purchase a transfer ticket. Once you get your bags, line up as fast as you can because the line can get long. It's 445 pesos for a private shuttle and 120 pesos for a shared van. Both drop you off at your stay. We were one of the last in line, so there were only shared vans left.

For a hassle-free transfer, you could also book a private shuttle through Viator, but it's double the price around $51 USD.

Our Top 5 Oaxaca Travel Tips

  1. Go on a food tour so you can try many different things - portion sizes are really big in Oaxaca, so it's better to share among a group of people.
  2. Cash is king - 5% is added to some credit card transactions at markets and smaller boutiques. Cash is also needed for buying street food.
  3. When buying a bottle of Mezcal, look for these things written on the bottle to ensure it's authentic and sustainably produced: the village in Oaxaca where it was made, the name of the maker and that it's 100% agave (or 100% maguey, the local term).
  4. Make a beeline for the shuttle lineup at the Oaxaca airport - it gets long.
  5. If you're flying from Mexico City to Oaxaca, sit on the lefthand side of the plane to get spectacular views of Popocatépetl, one of the most active volcanoes in Mexico.

If you haven't already, don't forget to download and print our free street food checklist:

Get started on booking your trip to Oaxaca

  • 🌃 Book your accommodation: Booking.com is our go-to for finding places to stay. Sort by top reviewed.
  • 🚖 Book private airport transfer: through Viator
  • 🌮 Book your food tour: through Viator
  • 👩‍⚕️ Get affordable travel insurance: with SafetyWing - it's budget-friendly and you can even buy it while abroad, but note the max medical coverage is $250,000 USD.
  • 🏥 Get comprehensive travel insurance: with World Nomads - it's more expensive, but the max emergency medical coverage is $5-10 million, depending on the plan.
  • ✈️ Track flight prices: with Hopper

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