Oaxaca, Oaxaca

Population: 260,000

Time Zone: Central Time Zone

Airport: Oaxaca International (OAX)

Elevation: 5,075 feet

Many Mexico travelers identify Oaxaca as the city that they like the best, and for good reason. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the large historic town center retains an authentic colonial-era presence, along with a culture that embraces the indigenous people of the area. Although an earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1854, the city was rebuilt and has remained relatively untouched by time.

Most of the city can be explored on foot, with many parks and café’s available to sit, rest and soak up the culture. The food of Oaxaca is world-renowned, utilizing many spices and recipes originating with the early inhabitants of the Oaxaca valley. The city is also a major folk art center, particularly in textiles. Open-air and indoor markets offer a wide variety and the best prices for the shopper, and quite a bit of the art is exported internationally. Much of the work is produced in the small surrounding villages where tourists go on day-trips to buy goods directly from the artisans and to visit Monte Alban, one of Mexico’s most spectacular archaeological sites located just five miles from town.

Lodging in town offers a wide-range of accommodations, but the more popular spots fill up early, especially during the holidays and fiesta times such as the Day of the Dead celebration in early November.

Oaxaca was the scene of a major protest in 2006, initially involving the teacher’s union, eventually joined by other disenfranchised groups who have grievances with the government. Although the problems have not all been resolved, the city is back to normal after a few months of empty streets and few tourists.