The region of Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s most exciting. Here you’ll find colonial cities and ancient ruins, pristine beaches and mystical forests. For thousands of years, indigenous peoples have lived in the mountains and valleys and along the coast, and each of the sixteen groups has contributed a rich cuisine, artistry, and identity to Oaxacan culture.
To navigate such a diverse terrain, we need an expert. We turned to Santiago Suárez, founder of the artisanal mezcal brand Mezcal Amarás, to guide us through Oaxaca.
“Mexico has ten percent of the biodiversity in the world, and Oaxaca itself has like two percent, so it’s a really rich state. You can go to Oaxaca City to eat delicious food. Two hours from there, you drive to San Jose del Pacifico, which is cold weather, with pine trees surrounding you, and you can have psychedelic mushrooms with a shaman in the forest. Three hours later, you go to a tropical place and eat bananas, and then one hour later, you arrive at Mazunte, which is like the new Tulum.
Oaxaca is a state with more languages than anywhere else in Mexico. In the Valles Centrales, which is in the center, they speak specifically Zapotec, a language from 2,500 years ago. But in the same area, you will have Mixe, which is another language. Then you go to the left, and in this corner, Mixteca Baja, they speak Mixteco. Oaxaca, by having all that richness in terms of languages, has a massive richness in terms of culture, clothing, and food. You add to that all the different climates, and you create an extremely diverse place.
Food in Oaxaca is very related to insects. There’s a chicatana ant that only comes out in the rainy season, and they do a sauce with it, or they also eat grasshoppers and worms. Mole is like the Mexican curry, and sometimes it even tastes like a curry. There are sweet moles, some that are more spicy, and some that taste more like almonds, very rich. Then you have tlayudas—it’s a massive tortilla, very big, and it’s like the Mexican pizza. It uses beans as a base and has tomatoes and some chilis.
For me, Oaxaca makes some of the most beautiful textiles in the world. In one of these textiles, the purple comes from one specific insect that grows in the rocks next to the sea, so that purple will only be found in areas where the sea is nearby. The textiles speak the traditions of the town through their colors and their shapes.
In Oaxaca, you get to see a lot of things of Mexico. You get the colonial city, you get the ceramics, the food, the handcrafted textiles, the beautiful beach. Oaxaca City has some nice hotels, beautiful museums, beautiful art scene. For the number of people that live in the city, it’s one of the richest cultures I’ve seen in my life.”
Av Belisario Domínguez 513, Reforma, Oaxaca
Mon-Sat: 7:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; Sun: 7:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
Mercado 20 de Noviembre
20 de Noviembre 512, Centro, Oaxaca
Mon-Sun: 7:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Los Pacos Oaxaca
Avenida Belisario Domínguez 108, Reforma, Oaxaca
Mon-Sun: 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
Calle de Manuel García Vigil 519, Centro Oaxaca
Mon-Sat: 11:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m.; Sun: 2:00-10:00 p.m.
Restaurante Casa Oaxaca
A Gurrión 104, Centro, Oaxaca
Mon-Sat: 1:00-11:00 p.m.; Sun: 1:00-9:00 p.m.