My son Jacob (mi hijo) and my daughter-in-law Shelley (mi nuera) came to visit for a week and just returned to Albuquerque last Saturday night. We were not hard-pressed to figure out what to do during their time here. Fortunately for me, daily activities also included some resting time, which I appreciated since they arrived the day after my return from our whirlwind Chiapas Textile Study Tour (registrations open for 2024).
What did they want to do?
- Soak at Hierve el Agua mineral springs
- Climb the archeological site at San Pablo Villa de Mitla
- Taste mezcal (of course) in Santiago Matatlan, Mezcal Capital of the World
- Dine in some of Oaxaca’s finest restaurants and comedors
- Visit 3M and the Mujeres del Barro Rojo in San Marcos Tlapazola
- Shop for hand-woven home goods
- Explore the vast Abastos Market
- Meander the Teotitlan del Valle and Tlacolula markets
Jacob has been here many times before. A world traveler who has lived and taught English in Japan for a year, Shelley had never been to Oaxaca. I know this won’t be her last visit.
Soak at Hierve el Agua. The toll road beyond Mitla is open and it only takes 45-minutes to get to this spectacular ancient Zapotec ritual site from Teotitlan del Valle. (More like 1-1/2 hours from Oaxaca City.) It’s mid-March and extremely hot here now — reaching the mid- to upper-80’s Fahrenheit. Jumping into the pools is a refreshing respite. Know that these are not true hot springs. The water is mineralized but it’s still a chilly, though refreshing plunge. Lots of food and drink stalls at the entrance to satisfy hunger and thirst, including micheladas, fresh coconut water, and snacks. Note that in addition to the tollroad, you will be stopped in the village to pay a per person passage fee, and another fee to park at the site. There are colectivos to take you there from Mitla. Some take a tour to get there or hire a taxi for the day. The tours only give you about an hour there, so beware you may not be able to spend enough time if you go this route.
Climb the Archeological Site at Mitla. Second only to Monte Alban, the post-classical archeological site at Mitla combines Zapotec and Mixtec cultures as expressed through the carved fretwork on the facades of the ancient temples. This is where Zapotec royalty were buried and Mitla was designated a Pueblo Magico a few years ago to acknowledge the historical importance here.
Eat at Mo-Kalli in Tlacolula. This obscure comedor is operated by Traditional Cook Catalina Chavez Lopez who is recognized as one of the best in Oaxaca. The small restaurant has about four tables and can seat 18-20 people if filled. It rarely is. There is no menu! This is mole country and featured here are usually seven different moles including: negro, coloradito, rojo, verde, amarillo, estofado, sigueza, and sometimes more. They come as a tasting selection for you to decide which you want to order. Depending on this, you will get the mole accompanied by either beef, pork or chicken and plenty of hot-off-the-comal tortillas. Order a cerveza or a fruit water to wash it down. This is the REAL Oaxaca. Tell her I referred you.
Taste Mezcal at Don Secundino 1914 in Santiago Matatlan. Another off-the-beaten path palenque where 30-something mezcalero Jorge Alberto Santos Hernandez makes amazing wild agave mezcal that rivals the best in Oaxaca, including my favorite, tepeztate. The palenque is named in honor of Jorge’s grandfather and his birth year. The family has been making mezcal for generations. This palenque is not easy to find. There is no signage, anywhere. It is hidden back in the campo off a dirt road leading from the highway. Google maps can help you get there — sort of! Best to call for an appointment and directions. Jorge speaks a bit of English. 52-951-185-4350. Tell him I referred you.
Visit 3M and Mujeres del Barro Rojo. 3M is none other than Macrina Mateo Martinez and the Red Clay Women are the cooperative she founded with family members years ago in San Marcos Tlapazola. Macrina may be the most famous of the women potters in the village of San Marcos Tlapazola where they trek into the foothills to dig the clay they work into beautiful pottery — bowls, plates, salseros, mezcal cups, comales and cooking vessels.
They ship worldwide and Macrina shows her work in New York’s Museum of Modern Art gift shop. Oh, and they have been to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, too. Why do we love Macrina? She is the story of independent, courageous indigenous women who have chosen not to marry in favor of career and an exit strategy from machismo culture.
Shop for Hand-woven Home Goods with a stop to visit Arturo Hernandez in Mitla. Arturo’s workshop features cotton and wool textiles often colored with natural dyes. He specializes in home goods — tablecloths, napkins, dishtowels — but also weaves glorious rebozos, shawls, scarves, ponchos and quechquemitls. We know many designers who work with Arturo to make private label cloth sold around the world. Call ahead to make sure they are there! 52-951-189-9147
A forage deep into Abastos Market. This is the biggest wholesale and retail market in Oaxaca state. Some say it rivals any Mexico City market, too. Going there is not for the faint of heart. You can get lost. It’s like going through the souk in Marrakesh. Watch your pockets and purses. There are thieves who prey on visitors. However, with caution, you can meander and enjoy EVERYTHING that Oaxaca has to offer — from food to handcrafts to the outdoor grill kitchen where you can eat a fresh-off-the-comal tlayuda. This is where vendors come to shop and resell. Shop like you are a local by going here! Jacob and Shelley found the barbecue grill kitchen where they had goat tacos. You can get this at the Sunday Tlacolula market, too.
Meander Teotitlan del Valle to shop for rugs, get there in time for the daily 8:30-10:30 am. market, see the archeological site (behind the church), and get a great grilled taco de cecina (pork) at Restaurant Tierra Antigua. Teotitlan del Valle is where I live and you can find excellent lodging here for a fraction of the cost of comparable locations in the city. It’s also centrally located to all the sites I’ve noted above. Oaxaca culture is found in her villages, where indigenous language is still spoken and many still wear traditional daily dress.
Enjoy your stay! Oaxaca is a very special place.