A complete resource for basing yourself in Oaxaca de Juarez
Needs – Digital Nomad Essential Services
See – Photos & Videos
Go – Getting There
Do – Activities & Attractions
Stay – Accommodation
Eat – Restaurants
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Safety – Possible risks
Pay – How much does it cost?
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Reality Check – Be Aware
JOIN US! Travel Packages Offered
I first came to Oaxaca de Juarez (Oaxaca City) on a whim in October 2016. I had made a generic Facebook post asking my friends “Where is the best place to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico?”, and my friend Jodi let me know Oaxaca is the spot. She helped paint a full picture, with the rewarding and challenging aspects of life in Oaxaca. I will address similar for you in this guide!
My overall experience in Oaxaca has been wonderful. I fell in love with the community of digital nomads and remote workers so much, that I ended up getting Mexican residency to stay here long term. This was a means to stay more closely connected to the community, and as a reason to set deeper roots in a city that has captured my heart.
I suppose I’ve become more of a “Digital Immigrant” now, with nomadism only happening on short holidays or work trips, as a result of the awesomeness that is Oaxaca.
Is Oaxaca a touristy city?
Oaxaca is certainly growing in popularity, year over year. The most visited times are during the Day of the Dead festival in late October – early November, and the last 2 weeks of July for the Guelaguetza cultural festival, which is arguably an even bigger celebration.
Oaxaca is by no means at the level of tourism that some other Mexican cities see. Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos – to name a few – are busy, crowded, and overrun by tourists in comparison. In Oaxaca, the local population far outweighs the tourist population, even at the busiest of times. This makes for the opportunity of having more traditional experiences.
The type of tourists Oaxaca attracts are often less interested in ‘going for the party’ and are more interested in the culture and natural beauty found here. It is a more sensitive type of tourism, with sustainable and eco foundations growing rapidly at the base.
What is Oaxaca best known for?
Oaxaca has several unique elements for which it is best known. These mostly involve food, such as mole, chocolate and mezcal, as Oaxaca is recognized as a gastronomic centre in Mexico. Oaxaca is also known for its diversity in indigenous cultures, languages, traditions and festivals.
There is so much more to Oaxaca, so let’s explore why I fell in love with this magical city.
Needs – Digital Nomad Essential Services
Digital nomads have some pretty basic, but essential needs to be able to work online and live this lifestyle. From strong wifi to computer repair shops, from safety to the friendliness of locals. How does Oaxaca rank?
How strong is WiFi in Oaxaca?
Overall – the WiFi situation in Oaxaca is not that great. With some places below 1MBs and others blazing-fast above 200MBs, internet speeds are all over the map. The average sits roughly around 15-20 MBs, which for most online work is acceptable.
I know this could be a deal-breaker, but it’s continually getting better. Initially, fibre optic service was limited only to a few neighbourhoods in Centro. This has now spread to ‘possible coverage’ throughout most of the city. The issue now is that many don’t want to pay for more than a basic package (from apartments to cafes, it’s just an extra fee for many owners). That being said, there are several great co-working spaces:
Co-Working in Oaxaca
There are lots of Co-Working spaces in Oaxaca, with new ones popping up every month it seems! Sometimes it is comparing apples to oranges though, as the quality, services, and vibes change drastically from one co-working space to the next.
The last I checked, there were over 10 ‘co-working spaces’. This could be debatable as to what qualifies as an actual co-working space. Some are very corporate or just rent private offices, some are more hostel-like, and others are more like cafes. That said, there are also hundreds of cafes around the city, as Oaxaca is a large coffee producer and proud of it (check out the Eat section of this post for some recommendations)! You just need to try a few out and figure out what elements are most important to you. Community, vibe, price, WiFi speed, inclusions, etc.
Computer retail and repair shops in Oaxaca
This can be CRUCIAL when you’re working on a tight deadline, and your computer stops turning on! Luckily several great repair shops around the city work fast and at very fair and competitive prices.
There is also a large, official iShop located in the La Reforma neighborhood if you need specialized Mac service (and still have your AppleCare). If you want a second opinion, try Mac Luis located in the Volcanes neighborhood, which is friendly, honest, and fast.
Is there a good digital nomad community in Oaxaca?
There is an amazing digital nomad and ex-pat community in Oaxaca. With over 5000 ex-pats living here, and endless coworking spaces and coffee shops, many digital nomads are attracted to the city first, and stay for the community they become part of!
Some great places to meet other digital nomads, of course, are in co-working spaces, though there are also several Facebook groups and Slack groups where many meet and plan meetups, discuss (and troll) current events and situations, and ask questions from other ex-pats and nomads.
Foreign Sim Cards vs Local Sim Cards – What is the best choice in Oaxaca?
Some visitors choose to keep their home sim card and pay for roaming charges. But depending on your plan, that can be upwards of $100 USD/mo or more! By buying local sims, you can have ‘almost’ unlimited use for as little as $10 USD/mo!
Of course, you need to make sure your phone is unlocked and able to accept a foreign SIM (do this before traveling, as only your home phone service provider can easily unlock your phone). Once it is unlocked, put your home plan on pause, or the cheapest most basic plan, because getting local SIM cards is a game changer!
In Oaxaca, the best coverage is with a company called TelCel! You can get plans such as Amigos Sin Limites, which gives you unlimited social media use, and decent chunks of data for all your other apps. I get 30 days on that plan for 200 pesos, and that gets me 4 GB of data, plus all the unlimited social media app use!
Getting a TelCel sim and data is easy. Either go to an Oxxo (a local convenience store), or an actual authorized TelCel kiosk, located all over the city. The SIM should only be about 20 pesos, and then you can add data on top of that. If you’re at the authorized retailer, they’ll happily help you set it up as well. You can be in and out of the shop in 10 mins.
Professional Services in Oaxaca
Sometimes you just need professional help. Especially after 2020, ha! Though the ability to find specific services such as doctors, lawyers, dentists, and nannies can all make or break your time in a destination. Luckily, Oaxaca has easy access to all these services and more.
These are quite common questions amongst the ex-pat groups in Oaxaca (looking for current info on English-speaking doctors, etc) – so I would suggest searching through the previously asked questions in an ex-pat group on Facebook, such as this one, or this one – as these questions have likely been answered many times already, so you’ll have access to a phone book worth of current info to suit your needs!
Are there gyms in Oaxaca?
There are many gyms in Oaxaca. Some very basic set-ups, right up to some pretty fancy high-end gyms, and everything in between. Most gyms have options in the types of passes you can get as well, from a monthly membership to a multi-visit pass, or even just a day pass for trying it out.
There are also some outdoor gyms in the city (I try to mark them on Google Maps, every time I find one – just search “outdoor gym” and several should pop up). They are generally fairly basic, with some body-weight machines such as chin-up bars, or leverage body-weight presses, but they are good to get in a few pumps, for sure! The easiest to find is likely the equipment found inside the huge park in Centro, Parque El Llano.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Is there Uber in Oaxaca?
Uber does not have a ride-share program in Oaxaca. However, a very similar app called Didi has started working with actual taxis here to offer a very similar service to Uber.
The benefit of Didi is that the local taxi companies are still getting business, and in turn happy. As taxis are not metered in Oaxaca, the prices are generally a bit better using Didi than hailing a taxi on the road. That being said, some of the prices are bad for the drivers (such as going to the airport), and you’ll find most taxi drivers will cancel an airport ride, even if they need to pay the cancellation fee, as the price is half of what it should be – so don’t be surprised if the app doesn’t get you to the airport. Also, coming from the airport, taxis can’t enter for pick-up, so it won’t work for that either. You’re pretty much stuck using the local transfer service provided in the arrivals area.
To sign up for Didi, use this signup code and save 30 pesos off your first ride!
There is a great city bus system in Oaxaca, however, it can be quite confusing at first. To know which bus you want to take, you need to first be able to identify landmark sites (such as malls, hospitals, or neighborhoods), as they list those landmarks on their front windows. Once you have a good idea of some neighborhoods, and what landmarks are listed on the buses, they can get you almost anywhere in the city (and sometimes even to nearby cities) for only 8 pesos!
Similarly, there are collectivos. These are shared taxis with white and burgundy paint. They drive set routes and will fill up with passengers on the way. You can’t go off course though, as your co-riders are expecting to have a set route, as they may need to get off somewhere in between. Collectivos can be as cheap as 10 pesos per ride, even when going between cities.
If you’re looking to rent a car in Oaxaca, just be forewarned – they can be pricey compared to other Mexican cities. I’m not sure why it’s so much to rent cars here, but even with the very enticing low prices they advertise, they will make you buy local insurance (no exceptions), and several other compulsory fees, which can easily double the advertised price. In addition, a deposit of upwards of $1000 USD might be held on your credit card as incidental insurance. All rental places are the same, so just don’t be surprised, and accept this is part of the process here. I’ve gone on some pretty epic road trips in car rentals – they’re very handy if you want that freedom of your own car… though using taxis and buses will be infinitely cheaper.
There is the main bus station in Oaxaca for the ADO bus line. It is by far the easiest to use and most conveniently located. There are independent bus companies scattered around the city too, often with better prices than ADO – though they can be a bit more confusing to figure out (or find), and will have very limited options for their routes and destinations (some companies will just do one route back and forth). If you want to book ADO, you can do so directly at the station. Their online platform doesn’t accept foreign credit cards for payment – but you can use this external website, Click Bus, which allows online reservations with foreign cards. It works through all the major bus companies for a very small service fee.
If you want some eco-friendly options for getting around town, check out Mundo Ceiba which is a vegetarian restaurant, with some great mezcal, and bicycle rentals! They even help organize regular communal bike rides designed to cut pollution and push alternative means of transportation. The so-called Paseos Nocturnos en Bicicleta has been happening several times a week since 2008! It’s a great way to see the city at night, in the safety of a big group – on bicycles!
How to get to Oaxaca
Oaxaca may be a small city, but it is serviced by an international airport and a bus station for major bus lines. The direct flight and bus route options are limited, though many routes simply get connections in Mexico City before making their onward journey to (or from) Oaxaca City.
The only current direct international flights coming into Oaxaca are from Los Angeles and Dallas, in the United States. All other flights tend to go through Mexico City first. Make sure your flight has at least an hour connection in Mexico City (ideally more) so that you have enough time to go through immigration, and still catch your onward flight.
Do – Activities & Attractions
There is SO MUCH to do in Oaxaca, you could be here for a week, a month, or a year, and always find new and interesting places to discover.
Some of the main attractions around Oaxaca City are the churches and parks, as well as exploring the beautiful cobblestone streets and colourful buildings. This alone could keep you busy for months on end. Outside of Oaxaca, you’ve got the Sierra Norte mountain range, which has some small villages and lots of hiking trails throughout, the largest and oldest tree in Mexico, in El Tule, petrified waterfalls, some historic towns, and ruins, as well as the pyramids of the Monte Alban empire.
There are a lot of other, very important practices & products sourced in Oaxaca as well. These include Cacao for chocolate production, and Mezcal – a drink made from agave, similar to (but much better than) Tequila.
To get your feet wet, I would suggest trying a few tours, to fully immerse yourself in the culture, the food and drinks, and traditions – to connect with Oaxaca and its people.
Where Sidewalks End is proud to have launched our own Experiences here in Oaxaca! We stay true to our ethos of being a responsible operator by only working with locals, paying fair-trade wages and fees to ensure better livelihoods for those helping with your experience, giving back to local projects, and engaging with and learning from all the locals we encounter. Our trips range from Mezcal tours – where you experience the daily life of the farmers who produce it – to food that most tourists miss, to women empowerment tours, to visiting traditional shamanic healers and beyond. Check out our Oaxaca Travel Experiences here.
For one of the best tours I’ve been on, I would suggest the Cacao and Maiz tour by Oaxaca Profundo Sessions. You will leave not only with an understanding of chocolate and corn’s significance to this region, but you may even end up quite introspective about the significance of the food that grows back in your own home! It’s fascinating, and a great (and yummy) way to spend a day!
Stay – Accommodation
Where should I stay in Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is a pretty large city for its small population. Some areas are certainly more well-equipped than others. The most popular places to stay in Oaxaca for digital nomads would be the barrios (neighborhoods) of Jatilaco, Xochimilco, La Noria, and La Reforma.
These barrios are all just on the outskirts of Centro proper which, although beautiful, is very full of hotels and tourists. The cost can be astronomically different as well if you move just a 5-10 mins walk outside of Centro.
For example, I rented a tiny furnished studio apartment in Centro (the historic center) for 6000 pesos/month (approx $300 USD), with a shared patio for 6 other renters. Now I live in a 3-bedroom unfurnished house with a massive private yard full of fruit trees, near San Felipe del Agua for 7000 pesos/month (Approx $350 USD). This is about a 10-minute bus ride from Centro.
I know both these prices are incredibly cheap for many coming from overseas… though understand that those prices are more than the average Oaxacan makes in a month. For this, I do discourage the use of Airbnb in Oaxaca, as it is just creating a shortage of affordable housing for locals to live in, and driving prices up. When I first moved here, it was possible to find a 2-bedroom apartment in Centro for 4500 pesos/month ($225 USD) – so in just a few years, the prices have nearly doubled.
I would suggest trying to rent directly from the landlords. There are two best ways of finding an apartment in Oaxaca. The first is by walking around the neighborhoods, looking for “Se Renta” signs on the sides of buildings, and calling the number to set up an appointment. The other method is through some Facebook groups which are intended just for apartment rentals. Keep in mind, that good places go quickly – very quickly! If you see a post from the morning, and the place seems too good to be true, it may be gone by the afternoon. The market is fierce! Don’t hesitate, to join and turn on your notifications for this group if you are proactively looking.
Eat – Restaurants
Is there Food Delivery in Oaxaca?
There are TONS of food delivery options in Oaxaca! Some are bigger companies such as UberEats, while others are completely locally run and managed (and reliable)!
The most popular Food Delivery app in Oaxaca is Didi – the same as the Taxi ride-share app. To sign up for Didi, use this signup code and save 30 pesos off your first ride or meal!
UberEats is also in Oaxaca, and was here before the others! After Didi established itself as the Ride Share app, they were able to quickly take over the food market too. Not every restaurant is on both, so you may find some gems here that aren’t on Didi! Get 30% off (up to MX$200) your first Uber Eats order of MX$150 or more. Terms apply. Use my code at checkout: eats-uberwsetravel
What is the most popular food in Oaxaca Mexico?
The most famous food that originates in Oaxaca would be Mole Negro. This is a thick and smoky-sweet stew, almost like a curry. Mole Negro has more than 25 ingredients, including cacao, and can take a full day to prepare!
There are 7 main regional moles in Oaxaca, all completely different in their flavors (and colors), though you’ll find that even those regional moles have their variations from person to person, chef to chef.
Oaxaca is also famous for many other foods, such as Chocolate, Quesillo (a stringy cheese), Tlayudas (like a fajita that has been toasted), and mezcal – the purest, most ancestral version of tequila. These are just the basics, too! There are tons more local and indigenous specialties, making this the culinary capital of Mexico!
Where should I eat dinner in Oaxaca?
A shorter answer would be to the question “Where should I not eat dinner in Oaxaca?” as there are SO MANY amazing restaurants all over the city! Oaxaca isn’t the gastronomic capital of Mexico for nothing! You are guaranteed a good meal almost anywhere you go, both indoors and on the street!
Personally, I love street food! There are so many food stalls all over the city, and many are only open at certain hours of the day. You may find some incredible taco stands only in the morning, and then tlayuda places that are only open at night, and vice versa!
You’ll also find some interesting specialties, such as elotes (corn covered in mayo, cheese, chili powder and lime), steamed camote sweet potatoes, and fried street burgers loaded with toppings, which are way better than they sound! These all usually come out at night.
Must-try restaurants in Oaxaca
- La Popular – A staple amongst locals and foreigners alike, it’s good local food, good location, and as the name implies, it’s popular – often packed, so expect a wait
- Boulenc – no list would be complete without a bakery that has made a name for itself. It has grown from a tiny bakery to one of the biggest restaurants in Centro, and it keeps expanding. It’s not necessarily serving up Oaxacan food, though – but a nice change if you want some bread-based delicacies.
- Zandunga – I would recommend this spot for a slightly fancier meal, especially if you want to focus on meats from Oaxaca – specifically from the Istmo region of Oaxaca (which is the easternmost region, and also unique). The Mexican wine selection at Zandunga is quite nice too!
- Santa Hierba – This is the best spot for local vegetarian options which highlight Oaxacan ingredients, and sustainable practices.
- Restaurante Coronita – this is a great spot to try some of the different moles Oaxaca is so famous for! Coronitas does a sampler to try the main 7 different regional moles. It’s a great way to compare them all at once and see what you like best
- La Cosecha – an organic market with outdoor seating, and a variety of stalls to try local, organic cuisine! It’s usually only open Wednesday-Sunday for lunch.
There are honestly way too many amazing restaurants in Oaxaca to them any justice, but this should get you started!
Digital Nomad-friendly coffee shops in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is a major producer of coffee beans, both coastal and mountainous! With this, the coffee scene here is off-the-charts delicious! Some personal favorite coffee shops for the caffeinated nomads would be:
- Cactus (lovely space, AMAZING sandwiches, and fast wifi)
- Sho Cafe (nice space, ok wifi, good coffee)
- Mondo Cafe (delicious coffee and baked goods, friendly staff, ok wifi)
Where can I drink mezcal in Oaxaca?
There are loads of mezcalerías all over the city. Oaxaca is the world’s biggest producer of mezcal after all. Though some bars are better geared for first-timers than others. To start to adjust your pallet to the world of mezcal, I’d suggest trying the following:
- El Destilado – A great intro, if you grab a seat at the bar, the bartenders will be happy to try and find a suitable mezcal for your palette based on how you answer a few simple questions (such as sweet vs smokey, and so on).
- La Mezcalerita – Probably the most popular date spot for locals, this rooftop bar has one of the biggest lists of mezcals and craft beers in the city, with reasonable prices.
- Sabina Sabe – Named after the famous local shaman Sabina, there is a great presentation and mastery of mezcal here. Even the duo from Breaking Bad stopped by a few years back!
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
What’s the best time to visit Oaxaca, Mexico?
The best times to visit Oaxaca are during the summer months of June to August (hot, rainy, lush, and the Guelagutza festival) and winter from October to January (cool, dry, Day of the Dead, and Christmas/New Year). Take note: this is also a high season; more tourists = higher prices.
Spring is very hot and the fall is very rainy. The months between February and May (spring), as well as the shoulder season between August and October (fall), constitute a low season which means fewer tourists.
Safety – Possible risks
Is it safe to travel to Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is one of the safest states in all of Mexico. It hasn’t always had this reputation, but with growing popularity, it has been able to keep safety a priority. It is one of the few states which doesn’t have an international travel advisory warning against it. There is an abundance of solo female and LGBTQ travelers who visit. Most international visitors feel very safe and welcomed in Oaxaca.
Though there is no cartel or mafia activity here, there is petty theft. Be mindful of your belongings when you go out, and whenever possible, leave what you don’t need at home or in your hotel safe. This includes separating some of your IDs and bank or credit cards out of your wallet, and not taking all your cash out with you. It’s always important to have backups in case you lose your wallet while exploring.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to falling victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in traveling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and let a trusted colleague, family member, or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoil your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
What is the cost of living in Oaxaca Mexico as a digital nomad?
Though this depends on your lifestyle and habits, it is safe to say you can live a very comfortable life in Oaxaca for an average of $1200 to $1400 USD per month. This would include the costs of a central apartment, bills, food, and moderate entertainment.
You can live much more cheaply than this, if you have a bare-bones apartment, and cook all your food at home. You can also live much more extravagantly, in a big house with a pool and a maid, and dining out frequently, so knowing your own wants and needs should help you better determine how much you will need (or be able to) spend here.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Being a responsible tourist (or traveler, or nomad, etc) is about being mindful of the different ways of life your hosts inhibit and checking your privilege at the door on your way in. Oaxaca is a city full of culture, food, music, textiles, architecture, history, nature, and pretty much everything on anyone’s checklist for ‘amazing destinations’. However, it is also one of the poorest states in all of Mexico. They are humble, yet traditional people that live here. Being belligerently drunk (or drinking in public) is looked down upon. Not being too flashy, and dressing modestly is always appreciated.
Though it is ok to bargain a little bit in some of the markets – it is not like Asia where you should be haggling down to half the quoted price or less! The prices are usually either fixed or with enough wiggle room to be talked down a tiny bit, just for part of the bartering game. Don’t be a bully over a few dollars, when it could be the difference of their family eating that night or not. Try to support as many local businesses as possible too, and avoid the bigger chains (who eats McDonald’s or drinks Starbucks in Mexico anyway? The food is amazing, as is the locally grown coffee!!). Of course, have fun, try to engage as much as possible, bust out your limited Spanish words, and keep an open mind and open heart. Oaxacans are some of the nicest people in Mexico too, and if you treat them well, you will be treated like family!
Reality Check – Be Aware
Is Oaxaca City worth visiting?
Oaxaca is definitely worth visiting if you love delicious food, friendly locals, beautiful scenery and good quality of life. This is a destination you can really immerse yourself in, and will get back as much as you put into it!
If you are just looking for a beach holiday, Oaxaca is NOT your destination. Though the coastline is fantastic, it is a mission to get there. You can fly (25 mins, and $100 USD each way, in a tiny Cessna plane), or a 7-hour minivan ride, or a 10-hour bus. If you’re staying in Oaxaca for a while, it’s a great escape down to the beach for a week or so. You probably wouldn’t be going just for a weekend, however.
There are many reasons why Oaxaca was voted the #1 city in the world to visit, by Travel & Leisure in 2020. It really is a paradise for visitors, especially if you are looking for somewhere to come and learn about the beautiful cultures that make up this part of the Mexican landscape.
If you are coming for these reasons, you may never end up leaving!
JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when traveling to some of these off-the-beaten-path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
Where Sidewalks End offers a variety of Oaxaca-centric tours and experiences, to help you engage with locals, learn ancestral practices, and experience cultural traditions. Check out our WSE Travel Oaxaca Tours!
Have you ever thought of being a digital nomad in Oaxaca? If there’s anything else you’d like to know before you come, please let us know in the comment section below!
PS – If you get tired of the city, head down to Puerto Escondido and work from the beach!
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!