Norma Hawthorne’s travel and packing tips for a one-week stay in Oaxaca during the winter months, December through February.
Clothing and Personal Essentials:
Flip flops for the shower
Hand sanitizer (small travel size)
Comfortable walking shoes
Sandals or clogs (optional)
Layered casual clothing
1-2 pairs of pants
1 pair shorts (optional)
short sleeve shirt (2)
long sleeve shirt (2)
warm sweater or fleece
Underwear for 4-5 days
Jacket or windbreaker
Sun hat with wide brim for day and warm hat for night
Medications, toiletries, sunscreen (the sun is strong)
An antiviral in case you get a stomach bug
Sunglasses, extra pair of prescription eyeglasses
Extra passport copy
Extra duffle bag or suitcase for bringing back gifts/purchases
Totebag and/or backpack for location work
Camera, batteries/chargers (video and still)
Electric current is the same, no need for a converter
Dress is VERY casual. I bring one black washable dress and one pair of black slacks (rayon or washable silk), and two long-sleeve black T-shirt that I can interchange, sometimes wearing the dress over the pants, adding scarves and shawls and a different jacket to change looks. Makes packing much simpler! Blue jeans and sweatshirts are perfectly acceptable. Please be comfortable.
Washing your clothes: there are convenient laundries throughout the city and the villages. Clothes dry in the warm air in just a couple of hours so you can easily wash and wear the same day.
Before you leave home:
Call your credit/debit card company and tell them the dates you are traveling to Oaxaca. Ask them not to block your charges and ATM use.
Sign up for international (Mexico) phone service with your wireless carrier and if you carry a handheld (iPhone/Blackberry) get an internet roaming plan or turn your data off to avoid big charges.
Money: Do not bring Traveler’s Checks. They are too difficult and expensive to cash. There are ATMs in the Mexico City airport, in Oaxaca, and the regional towns like Tlacolula and Ocotlan. The best exchange rates are via ATM withdrawal. Often, merchants will give a 10 percent (or more) discount if you use cash and not a credit card. Some will take a personal check rather than a credit card. I always bring a few personal checks. As of this writing the exchange rate is 12.5 – 13 pesos to the dollar. Oaxaca banks with ATMs are located across from the Zocalo, on Hidalgo, on Garcia Virgil a block from the Zocalo, and on the Periferico near Fabrica de Francia on the road to the airport and Ocotlan, and across from Llano Park.
Weather: Days will be mild and can be as warm as the mid-80’s Fahrenheit. Nights will be chilly and it can be breezy, even windy throughout the day this time of year. You will need to bring clothing to transition from day to evening. Think layers. This is not the rainy season.
Public Health: Most households and restaurants in Oaxaca use either purified drinking water or boil their water for cooking. Do not drink the tap water or use it to brush your teeth — anywhere. When eating “on the street” or in cafes, I advise that you do not eat raw greens, salads or anything that has been pre-peeled and cut. It is difficult to know if the utensils were washed with purified water. High-end restaurants that cater to tourists will have good sanitation standards, but in my humble opinion it is better to be safe than sorry. It is safe to eat anything that has been grilled or boiled. That’s why I have no qualms eating off the grill at the Sunday Tlacolula market. Carry your own water, tissue paper/napkins, and small container of hand sanitizer (which I use liberally). Bottled water is ubiquitous and you can buy it at any corner shop in most villages.
If you have travel tips for Oaxaca to share, please add your advice to this blog post.