Oaxaca was one of the places I was looking forward to the most in Mexico – not just because of my 30th birthday fiesta, but also because I’d heard so much about the foodie scene there. Before we even made it to the town though, I was blown away by Monte Alban, a huge archaeological site on a hill above. We earned the great views with a few serious stair climbs – they were totally worth it!
En route from gorgeous Puebla, we stopped beside this cactus, which was impressive enough before our guide Cesar told us it is thought to be 300 years old!
Dating back to 500 BCE, Monte Alban was built by the Zapotecs and became the centre of their social and political life for almost a thousand years. It was one of the first major cities in Mesoamerica and today this is most visible in the sheer scale of the place – it’s huge! It took us a couple of hours walking around just to cover the distance between South and North platforms, the two main viewpoints in the site. Cesar is descended from the Zapotecs and told us their name meant cloud people – a link that seemed obvious when we were up that high. It reminded me of Maori pa sites from New Zealand, where the fortifications were in places where you can see for miles.
Today it’s still possible to spot many of the carvings, original and restored, on the buildings and to see where the religious and social buildings were. Another fascinating feature are the decorative stones, thought to represent sacrificial victims or prisoners of war.
Our gang earning the views!
Anna and I at the top
And down again! See how massive it is?
The gang (Photo credit: Jamie Grupen-Hall)
After we’d all well and truly conquered leg day on the stairs of Monte Alban, it was time for lunch. We headed into Oaxaca and made a beeline for Mercado Benito Juárez where I tried two regional specialities at the restaurant stall La Abuelita – mole coloradito and horchata, a sweet drink made from ground rice. Both were delicious!
Refuelled, we headed out… to try more local goodies. As a lactose-intolerant person, I was overjoyed to visit Mayordomo to see their chocolate get made and find out that it was dairy-free – mainly cacao and sugar! (Let’s not think about how much sugar) Their chocolate milkshakes were also divine – so good I requested a stop there the next day for my birthday present!
And then it was time for some serious exploring around Oaxaca. I loved the space in front of Santo Domingo, which was variously home to what we thought was a quinceañera celebration for a girl’s fifteenth birthday, peaceful crowds of pigeons, and a full parade complete with gigantes – huge dancing puppets!
I loved the colourful textiles everywhere – and wished for a bigger suitcase for souvenirs!
The streets were full of people out enjoying the cooler evening temperatures – promenading, chatting with friends or watching the buskers and shows at corners and in the park. I loved seeing the huge family groups from little ninos to grandparents all out together.
We finished the day with delicious guacamole – I think I became part avocado on this trip – and mezcal cocktails. More on mezcal in my next Oaxaca post, but safe to say I was a firm fan of the smoky, strong cousin of tequila!
Have you visited Oaxaca or tried Mezcal? What did you think?