Oaxaca (the state) was our Spring Break destination this year. We spent the first half of that time based in Oaxaca (the city). We stayed in the northern half of the center city, not far from the ex-convent of Santo Domingo in this picture. In fact, we walked by here probably several times per day and this may have been the only visit where there were not a dozen other people all over these letters.
Known locally as los arquitos, this is the remains of an old aqueduct that brought water into the city. It's pretty impressive how this has been incorporated into the modern city. Some of the arches are now entrances into courtyards or driveways, others of them are walled and contain doors into a modern residence.
Back to Santo Domingo, this is the major landmark in the northern half of central Oaxaca. The church, convent and gardens take up several city blocks.
Our favorite feature of the church is the ceiling in the entryway which has this fabulous (and somewhat fanciful) family tree of the founder of the Dominican monks. It connects him to a variety of important European figures, saints and biblical characters.
What was formerly the convent is now a sprawling museum on the history of Oaxaca city. The highlight (in our opinion) is the Burgoa library.
The rooms around the cloisters contain exhibits on Zapotec and Mixtec culture, life during the Spanish conquistador period and post-independence exhibits. It's actually quite a lot of information. From some of the balconies you have a lovely view of the ethno-botanical gardens behind the museum. These are primarily succulents and it's impressive.
The gardens can be toured (separate entrance around the corner) but you have to go with a guide and stay with the group. From the balconies here we watched people try to escape their groups only to be herded back in.
A funeral procession? Why yes. This is the silent procession, held on Good Friday in Oaxaca (and many other Mexican cities). Many of the churches from across the Oaxaca region show up and march in silence, generally carrying very heavy relics from their particular parish.
The procession lasts perhaps 30 to 40 minutes and the spectators line the streets and watch quietly, except for that one guy on his cell phone (don't be that guy).
This is a surprisingly powerful spectacle. As soon as it is done, the city returns to its normal everday evening activities which is generally quite festive. There were a few outbursts of fireworks afterwards as well.
Just north of Santo Domingo is the covered marketplace called the Andador. This market seems to be specifically aimed at tourists. It's mostly deserted throughout the day with maybe a few stalls open in the afternoon. After dark it is thriving and can be difficult to work your way through. They sell all the typical Oaxacan crafts here: pottery, woven goods, alebrijes, traditional clothing and there are a couple of food stalls on the ends as well. The market continues uncovered onto the pedestrian streets around Santo Domingo.
This is the same street (the uncovered part) during the day. Off in the distance is Monte Alban (which we've devoted a separate page to).
We generally don't do a whole lot of shopping when we're out traveling. Maybe one small souvenir from each place we go. Having said that, Oaxaca is a fabulous city for shopping. We bought enough alebrijes alone to open our own store back in the states. Alebrijes are carved wooden animals (real or fanciful) generally painted in very bright colors. This is the Benito Juarez market south of the Zocalo. Here you can find anything. In fact, we'd recommend entering from the north side of the market because there is actually a rough map of the market there which tells you which quadrants to go to in order to find: clothing, hats, shoes, meat, vegetables, ice cream, alcohol, chiles, leather goods, and so on. This is also a good place to try those fried grasshoppers (chapulines) you've been meaning to try. There were usually women selling them near the south entrance and you can get a small handful (or more).
The Zocalo and surrounding areas are the unofficial gathering place for the entire city of Oaxaca, especially in the evening. Something is always happening here. In fact, many things are always happening here. There are a lot of vendors but we found it to be very low key. There are also a lot of restaurants on the nearby streets (as there are around Santo Domingo as well). Oaxaca is a spectacular dining destination. It may not be the Mexican cuisine commonly found exported to other countries but there are some truly unique dishes in the city.
Adjacent to the Zocalo is Oaxaca's cathedral. If you're spending any time at all in the city you'll end up here at some point (perhaps daily). In front of the cathedral is another park which acts as a continuation of the Zocalo. There is another craft market here and all the sombreros you could ever want to buy. Or, in our case, ice cream and aguas frescas.