Widely known as the home of mole (a traditional sauce), Oaxaca in Central Mexico is the country’s gastronomic capital. Here, you can work your way through all seven Oaxacan mole varieties, dining at street stalls or modern restaurants. Another must-try is the local tipple, mezcal, which is made from the agave plant. But it's not all food and drink in Oaxaca – wander its colourful streets and atmospheric plazas to experience the lively heartbeat of this intriguing city.
Many Oaxaca hostels are housed in converted colonial buildings, with spacious rooms, high ceilings, open courtyards and roof terraces. Relax in a hostel adorned with native plants, hammocks and a traditional fountain. Some hostels in Oaxaca offer free yoga and salsa classes, pool tables and board games, while others dish up hearty cooked breakfasts and put on pizza nights. There's even an Oaxaca hostel conducting a five-day Spanish course for travellers looking to pick up the local language.
The pedestrianised public square of Zócalo is the heart of Oaxaca, making it the best landmark for getting your bearings. It lies in the Centro neighbourhood, which is also home to major attractions such as the Museo de las Culturas (cultural museum) and the Jardín Etnobotánico (ethnobotanical garden). The street of Murguía goes past Mercado de la Merced, where foodies can sample fried grasshoppers known as chapulines, as well as numerous types of chillies. A bit further north, charming Jalatlaco – with its cobblestone streets and brightly painted buildings – is one of the oldest barrios, or neighbourhoods, in the city.
Dating back over 400 years, the Baroque-style Templo de Santo Domingo is a highly photogenic spot. Alternatively, get under the skin of local traditions at the Museo de las Culturas. Cooking classes will teach the secrets to the seven mole sauces, or perhaps how to make the perfect crispy tlayudas (a giant tortilla with refried beans). Finish the day at the Zócalo, where you might find yourself dancing to tunes from brass-band musicians.
Walking or cycling are the best ways to get around town, with bike hire shops dotted along the main streets. There is also an economical bus network that runs to neighbourhoods outside the centre. Oaxaca International Airport has regular flights to Mexico City (the capital of Mexico) and Tijuana, and connects to the city centre via shared shuttle vans. There are two main bus stations, Central Camionera de Segunda Clase and Terminal ADO, both a short taxi or colectivo (small bus) ride from the centre.