Not Feeling the Romance in Oaxaca City

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

First of all, I know I’m going to get a lot of people commenting that they don’t agree with what I’m about to say, but travel is a very personal thing, and this is just how we felt about our time in Oaxaca City:

It was disappointing.

Known for its indigenous culture, cheese, mole sauces, chocolate and coffee (among other things), travellers and locals had all raved about this mountain town, describing it as incredibly romantic, enchanting and picturesque. Although we agree that it was beautiful, and definitely worth the visit if you’re in the area, we felt a little bit let down.


In our opinion, the UNESCO city of Guanajuato and the high altitude town of San Cristobal were both much more aesthetically pleasing and were more enjoyable for wandering around in.

Of course, it’s unfair to compare three completely different cities, in three different regions of Mexico. However, when we were in Guanajuato, other travellers and locals were constantly comparing these romantic, colonial towns, making statements like “If you like Guanajuato, you’ll love Oaxaca City.”

After visiting all three, we felt like Oaxaca City simply didn’t live up to the hype.

Apart from a couple of small pedestrian streets, the roads in Oaxaca were filled with loud vehicles giving off loads of pollution as they whipped past. The main square (Zocalo) was covered with tented market stalls selling anything and everything you could imagine, not to mention there were a bunch of protesters camping out in the square.

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The makeshift market and public demonstrations really took away from the views of the cathedral, and robbed the plaza of any space that was left for peaceful relaxation and people watching.

zocalo market oaxaca city
Some shirts for sale at the Zocalo market

The food was good, but we had better mole sauces during our time in Guadalajara and Puerto Escondido. The cuisine in Oaxaca is meant to be incredible, and although we loved the hot chocolates and the tlayuda (flat pizzas), we were a touch disappointed by what we consumed. The street foods were pretty good, but we much preferred all of the delights on the bustling streets of Mexico City.

Perhaps we just didn’t eat at the right restaurants, or sample enough food.

chicken mole oaxaca city
We tried 3 different mole sauces at different restaurants – none of which were nearly as good as others we’ve had…

Although we as foodies were a bit let down, we did really enjoy the carnivore food stalls at the Mercado 20 de Noviembre! That place was hectic, loud and confusing, but once we figured it out, the result was a delicious plate of meat and sides for lunch.

We also found a little hole-in-the-wall place in the suburb of San Felipe del Agua. Run by a local family, this Italian/Mexican restaurant served yummy homemade meals, but even if the food wasn’t good, I think we would’ve still gone back just to spend time with the family.

We know that many of the amazing sites of Oaxaca City can be found in the surrounding villages and valleys, but we only managed to visit the Monte Alban Ruins, which were outstanding.

We spent our Valentine’s Day wandering around this vast site, gazing in awe at the ancient structures, tombs and carvings. When the sun was at its most intense, we sought shelter under one of the few trees with awesome vistas over the valley below. This was a definite highlight of our two weeks in the State of Oaxaca.

Check out our quick video of Monte Alban Ruins here.

In the end, we didn’t feel as though Oaxaca City was worth the flight from Mexico DF. It just didn’t have the same vibe as other cities in Mexico and was lacking in quiet plazas and squares. The busy traffic really took away from the old buildings and anything that was happening on the sidewalks and streets.

There were a couple of nice pedestrian-only walkways, but even they were broken up by rows of intersecting traffic. We saw many women dressed in beautiful, authentic clothing and numerous indigenous people, and I’m sure if we had more time and went to the valleys, we would have had a more local experience.

The food and coffee were good, but we’ve had some incredible meals and cups of coffee in other parts of the country. The buildings and cathedrals were nice, but we much preferred the vibrant coloured homes and colonial architecture in Guanajuato, Guadalajara, San Cristobal and Mexico City.

We wouldn’t say give Oaxaca City a miss, but if you had to choose between the five cities listed in this article, perhaps consider giving the others priority.

Sorry Oaxaca, we felt the romance, but we’ve definitely had better.

Ok, let’s hear it! Have you been to Oaxaca City? What were your thoughts on it?

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Not Feeling the Romance in Oaxaca City

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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25 thoughts on “Not Feeling the Romance in Oaxaca City”

  1. I had the same experience, didn’t hate it but didn’t love it – I much preferred San Cristobal. I felt the same way about Puerto Escondido – I loved Playa Manzanillo but the rest was a bit disappointing. My favourite Oaxaca experiences were celebrating my 30th in the small beach community of San Agustinillo and trekking between indigenous villages in the Sierra Norte

  2. I have to say I sort of agree. In the end, we stayed 2 to 3 weeks and while I definitely look back fondly and had some great meals, it didn’t live up to all the hype that was heaped on it, but maybe it was the people who put the hype on it’s fault, and not Oaxaca CIty? We didn’t leave town, we just stayed in the center and ate at the street stalls for weeks and I would have to say it’s a great place, just buckling under the pressure of too many foodie people hyping it up. I was impressed with the Mezcal culture though!

  3. Wow! 2 – 3 weeks in the city? Now that’s my kinda slow travel, awesome.

    Ya, I too think it’s the people’s fault for hyping it up so much! But I still think that apart from the food, the sights, architecture and overall vibe of San Cristo and Guanajuato is better…in my opinion 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for sharing Katie – I’m not crazy!! Definitely the same for us with Puerto Escondido – we really loved Playa Carrizalillo, but the rest was not our style. But I have to say, what a great spot to celebrate your 30th!!

    Thanks for the comment.


  5. Hey guys – funny how we felt almost exactly the same way about the place: I actually loved Guanajuato and don’t understand how someone can suggest that Oaxaca would be a step up. Before getting to Oaxaca we were in Puebla which really impressed us. Nobody ever mentions Puebla, very underrated place with some incredible architecture. And none of the poverty you see in Oaxaca,
    Having said that I still that its a nice city and there are some great sites in the surrounding area (like you, very impressed by Monte Alban).. But Oaxaca certainly not my favorite place in Mexico.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  6. Hey Frank,

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought this way! Guanajuato isn’t even in the same league as Oaxaca City if you ask me. The surrounding sites were great, but it just didn’t have the same feel/vibe as other cities. I’ve heard Great things about Puebla!! Definitely bummed out that we missed that. Will have to check it out next time.

    Thanks for the comment.


  7. Sorry David! It had it’s great points, that’s for sure, but we much preferred Guanajuato, Guadalajara, San Cristobal and even Mexico City. Have you been to those cities in Mexico as well?

  8. I had the opposite experience, I loved Oaxaca City and found Guanajuato to be beautiful but not my thing. This is likely influenced by a few things.

    I am disabled (mobility issues) so getting around Guanajuato meant lots of pain for me. The weather was poor while I was there, which also didn’t help. I enjoyed the arts festival – and had planned that portion of my trip around it. I ended up leaving two days early because I just wasn’t having fun.

    I was in Oaxaca City for Dia de los Muertos, so that probably makes the city more glamourous. It was one of the best parts of my trip. I also rather enjoyed the demonstrators in the zocalo, but I’m an activist back home and enjoy seeing people fighting for their rights (it’s part of what I loved about Mexico in general, seeing protests and the passion of the people all over the country).

    I will agree on the food in Oaxaca. I was disappointed that I didn’t find the good food until the day before I left. I’m also a vegetarian, so that made eating there very difficult. I fell in love with the cheese though!

    I loved San Cristobal – I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they didn’t like it – but also for the spirit of rebellion that permeates the area.

    I’m heading back to Mexico in a month, and can’t wait to see Oaxaca City and San Cristobal again.

  9. Hi Morgan,

    I can understand why you didn’t resinate with Guanajuato, it’s very hilly for sure and would definitely be difficult to get around in for you. I would love to witness Dia de los Muertos! Lucky 🙂 Enjoy your next trip to Mexico – we too love it there.

  10. so you mean people actually live there and use modern conveniences, and do not follow “authentic”, “traditional”, old fashioned ways for the benefit of tourists? how rude of them..too bad people in the USA, Canada, western Europe do not shun modern conveniences & live “traditionally” & “authentically” (whatever that means) as well. they would be more interesting places to visit, for sure!

  11. I love Oaxaca City, but have also been around the state a bit (Monte Alban, Cuajimoloyas & Lachatao, Mazunte, Tlacolula, San Bartolo Coyotepec, Capulalpam). I don’t recall the traffic being intense at all, apart from the road circling the city. I agree with the commenter above that Puebla is prettier to my eyes and the food is also fantastic there….I get the vibe Puebla isn’t hyped quite as much as some other cities in Mexico, but am not sure why!

  12. Maybe we need to see more of Oaxaca 🙂 It was just the actual city that we weren’t all that in love with. Really loved Monte Alban and Puerto Escondido / surrounding beaches. But we need to go back and see more 🙂

  13. Pity. Oaxaca is one of my favorite places in Mexico. Yes, it can be a bit gritty, but it’s a real place where people live and work. Even for big tourist-drawing events like Dia de Muertos, the city maintains its true identity. I’m sorry you were let down by the cuisine. I’ve found that it does live up to its name as Mexico’s culinary capital, just don’t eat near the Zocalo! Find the tlayuda cart or taco stand with the long line. That’s where the good stuff is! I’ve spent a cumulative 5 months in Oaxaca and know I’ll be going back. Let me know if you’re ever nearby again, and I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

  14. Aside from the food and the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, I would say that, yes, Oaxaca de Juárez is massively overrated. But the nearby mountains offer a lot of natural beauty which I’d love to take in more. Maybe hike around the Pueblos Mancomunados, visiting indigenous folks. Wouldn’t go back to Oaxaca City though.

  15. I don’t know where you ate but since i am well-travelled having visited more than 60 countries and resided in 25 P have to say that naturally speaking Oaxaca is ugly and if you have been anywhere in Europe it is also architecturally ugly and as for the food, well, it sucks. I would love a list of restaurants you ate in since i have been here a month and have not had anything equal the food in Italy, France or even Spain-the Mexican food is better in Spain. I guess a lot of you haven’t travelled much and anyone who HAS travelled and thinks the unfriendly ugly city of Oaxaca is their “FAVORITE place”has NO TASTE.. Turkey is the most beautiful architecturally, naturally and with the friendliest people and BEST food. SO clean and HAMAMs are you kidding me! INCREDIBLE. “Favorite place Oaxaca” equals UNCULTURED.

  16. Oaxaca is a shit hole. I speak Spanish fluently not like a gringo. I am a dual European(THANK GOD) and American citizen(not really I only identify as a New Yorker) and I have travelled to 14 Mexican States and many cities therein and i can tell you without a doubt that Oaxaca is a dirty, unfriendly, sometimes SCARY place. The lack of friendliness and overall aesthetically offensive appearance of the people annoys me and I was stuck there because i rescued a puppy that people left to die at seven weeks old and needed to find him a place. If you want to feel unwelcomed in an ugly city woth no NATURE and terrible service in restaurants be one of the ifiots on here praising this city and move there. The Americans who live there are SO weird. I saw one in La Zoriana she was anorexic and wrinkled as a raisin wearing WOOL in JUne. Disgusting. Probably a Californian no doubt ugly, weird and disordered just like this city.

  17. Tatiana, I think that you have some prejudices that might need addressing. Calling a uniquely Mexican city a “shit hole” because it doesn’t fit into your idea of what a nice city looks like is at best ignorant, and at worst, Eurocentric and vaguely racist. Oaxaca is a city where people live and work and yes, there are protests and the streets can be dirty, and there are quite a few people experiencing homelessness. These things are all a part of a living, breathing city that is beautiful in all of its gritty glory. Show some empathy to the city of Oaxaca and the people who live there. Don’t use your limited bad experiences to generalize. Thanks.

  18. I’ve been in Oaxaca City for over 5 weeks now and am obsessed! But I must say..I read your article before coming, which was quite helpful, as my expectations were lower than they probably would have been. At first I thought it was beautiful here and felt love at first sight. And then for the next week or so, I thought “Ahh, it’s cool but there are places I like much more.”

    But then after spending even more time here I think I started to appreciate all of the small things – my favorite bakery, the sweet lady who sells tamales, the wonderful weather, the gorgeous views, the street art, the yummy and affordable food from the street vendors..and then it became magical. At this point, I feel like I could legitimately live here and am not ready to leave. It’s funny how emotions can go up and down & how much good/bad expectations affect things.

    I do have to agree with you on the food. Though I really like it, I had read so many comments saying it was out of this world, and honestly I think the authentic Mexican market in my hometown (the Midwest) has tastier food. haha

  19. I totally agree that Oaxaca is NOT amazing, or even very good. I disliked it the first time I visited, due to the traffic, dirty streets, and horrendous pollution. I decided to come back again thinking I had just had a bad first experience. Sadly, it was exactly the same. I would definitely give Oaxaca City a miss when visiting the state of Oaxaca. There are many other amazing places to see in the state.

  20. I’m here in Oaxaca right now and I think it’s way overrated – it’s been quite disappointing. Especially the food, everyone has been hyping the food but I have found it to be lacking in real flavor. The best has been Boulenc. Oaxaca is worth a visit, but lower your expectations and only stay a couple days.

  21. Just when I was starting to think I was going mad…. You saved me. For me Oaxaca is an horrible place. It combined awful misery, oppressive police presence, suffocating traffic and pollution, lots of foreign travellers, maximum covid paranoya. The best moment I had in Oaxaca was leaving and my favorite place was my bedroom.

  22. I have to sort of agree with Tatiana, Supra.

    It is a tourist town but for me, as a Jew, to see all kinds of grafitti supporting PLO or whatever. And I mean a lot of grafitti including on Catholic Cathedrals. I don’t think anyone in this town has ever met a person from Israel or a Palestinian. Except for me.

    It seems that there were several Marxist International conferences here over the years (a lot of Shining Path nonsense everywhere) and the youth may have been influenced by that? It is a very isolated part of Mexico and I do not see the hype. Netflix, Youtube, etc.

    But. I think it is a pretty city due to the Spanish architecture. I would give it a 2 – 3 day trip maximum.

    I think we should support the people here with tourist dollars because I do not want to see the young people here fall. There are a lot of beautiful old indigenous people here and young people who want to learn English!

    Disregard the communist grafitti, on places of worship.

    I am sure someone at the Federal level of the Mexican government is working on it.

    Or, hopefully, Pope Francis.

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