Skip to main content

Mezcal and the Magic of Oaxaca, Mexico

Church of Santo Domingo de Stock Guzman in Oaxaca, Mexico
Image used with permission by copyright holder
It is dusk in Oaxaca and after a well-spent hour sipping local mezcals in the Mezcaloteca Bar, I saunter out into the narrow, cobblestone streets, belly warm, only to be swept up by a candle lit, musical parade of unfathomable local enthusiasm. Horns blast and women in colorful skirts spin onwards in percussive progression to the town square where other equally exuberant processions merge into a carnival of hundreds gathering under a full moon at the base of the vendor-lined town square and the beautiful La Iglesia de Santo Domingo.

It is an unrivaled and unexpected experience of mezcal-fueled enthusiasm unique to the spirited, historic city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Nestled in the Sierras in central Mexico, Oaxaca is a city with a rich cultural history and incomparable culinary scene deeply intertwined with mezcal, an agave-based liquor made only in Oaxaca.

“Oaxaca gives context to mezcal and mezcal gives context to Oaxaca,” says Fausto Zapata, owner of El Silencio, a small batch mezcal made in Oaxaca and found across the United States. “Oaxaca is the creator of mezcal and happens to be just as magical as the spirit itself.”

In Situ
In Situ Image used with permission by copyright holder

The cobblestone streets of downtown Oaxaca are lined with Mezcalerias. These are small, usually family-owned bars like the Mezcaloteca Bar where my evening began. The proprietors of these Mezcalerias swell with pride for their regional spirit and often serve their family’s own brand; a method of preparation that might go back more than a century. In addition to the intimate experience at Mezcaloteca, be sure to hit up Mezcalogia, In Situ, Txalaparta Bar and El Distilado. Each offer a slightly different variation of regional flavors. The bartenders, often also the owners, will share with you their spirit’s rich history and will guide you towards finding a mezcal to fit your taste. Bartenders have a robust knowledge of the flavors and textures of the mezcal they pour and rarely is there anything but mezcal on the drink menu. In fact, order a vodka soda, or worse a tequila, and you might find your Oaxaca experience at said Mezcaleria abruptly ended.

Mezcal is certainly one of Oaxaca’s most defining cultural characteristics but the smoky intoxicant is far from the only reason to visit Oaxaca.To sustain a full day in Oaxaca, one must augment Mezcal-tasting with other experiences and activities, of which there are many.


Perhaps nowhere in Mexico does the cuisine shine quite like in the city of Oaxaca. And with several of the world’s most notable chefs opening restaurants there, that culinary tradition continues to expand. The city is most well-known for its moles, Oaxaca cheese, and crickets (try them… you’ll be fine). And, while one must experience those staples in some way, shape or form, these are the restaurants you can’t miss.

Casa Oaxaca
Casa Oaxaca Image used with permission by copyright holder

Chef Alejandro Ruiz’s Casa Oaxaca offers simple yet sophisticated regional dishes. Ruiz prides himself on robust flavors made with minimal ingredients. Another of Oaxaca’s most innovative (and daring) restaurants is chef Jose Manuel Banos Rodriguez’s Pitiona. If you thought snacking on crickets sounded daunting, get a load of this menu. Chicatana (ant) mole, goat-hip stew (amazing) and beef tongue in chili adobo topped with potato foam are among the favorites. You’ll leave this world-class restaurant feeling not only pleasantly satiated but brave. To eat like the locals, try Zandunga. It has a local feel, uses local ingredients and features a variety of grilled meats, a delicious black mole and usually offers mole specials that change daily.


Visit the Santa Domingo Church and Cultural Center. Once a monastery, this church is one of the city’s hubs and features stunning immaculately landscaped courtyards, a robust art collection and artifacts from the ancient city of Monte Alban. The ruins of Monte Alban, themselves, located six miles outside Oaxaca City, make up a remarkable UNESCO World Heritage site and is a must see if you are staying in Oaxaca.

Monte Alban
Monte Alban Image used with permission by copyright holder

And while Santo Domingo and Monte Alban highlights historic and cultural aspect of Oaxaca, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca accents the city’s flare for the avant-garde. Housed in an 18th century home the museum features work from some of Mexico’s premiere contemporary artists.

No trip to Oaxaca City would be complete with a stop at La Plaza de la Constitucion. The city’s center for more than five hundred years and home to most municipal buildings. La Plaza de la Constitucion is also home to the Benito Juárez Market where visitors can find locally made crafts and sample fruits, cheeses and baked good from local farmers.


The Hotel Quinta Real is not just a hotel but a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally constructed in 1576 as a convent, this stunning hotel retains its original and recently restored frescoes and tile floors. Not only is The Hotel Quinta Real rich in history but offers some of the best accommodations in Oaxaca City. Luxurious rooms are centered on vibrant courtyards and offer patios looking out onto the city’s bustling streets.

The Hotel Quinta Real
The Hotel Quinta Real Image used with permission by copyright holder

Remember, this is most important: no matter where you are, don’t forget the mezcal. Its good. Really good. And if a parade comes along, join it. You never know where it might lead.

Editors' Recommendations

Matt Payne
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Matt Payne is an Oklahoma-based travel photographer, writer, public speaker, and filmmaker. Matt has covered Rwanda, Alaska…
Visitors to Death Valley have rare opportunity to go kayaking in an ancient lake (for a limited time)
Kayak in this rare lake in Death Valley before it dries up
A kayak on the Badwater Basin.

If the outdoors, an ancient lake, and stunning views are all things that make your Spidey senses tingle, you need to head to Death Valley as soon as possible. The National Park Service says there is a small window when you could kayak in a lake in Badwater Basin, and it's happening right now. Pack your gear and go on an adventure at Death Valley National Park.

The ancient lake is having a moment
The driest spot in the U.S. saw enough rain to turn the lowest elevation point in North America (which hits 282 feet below sea level) into a glorious lake where kayaks roam free. Though it is only temporary, Badwater Basin, located at the bottom of Death Valley National Park, a foot of water took over the normally dry salt flat to form Lake Manly.
Help from a hurricane
The unexpected additional inches of rainfall boosted Badwater Basin due to Hurricane Hilary in August 2023. Typically, Death Valley National Park gets two inches of rain a year, but because of the hurricane, the valley floor caught 4.9 inches in six months, with a bonus of 1.5 inches in early February.

Read more
Fairmont Grand Del Mar: Get 64% off a stay at the five-star hotel and spa
fairmont grand del mar deals gilt february 2024  san diego front

California is always a good idea. Especially when you can get a discount on a fabulous hotel with great accommodations and amenities. Now is the best time to head to San Diego to indulge in a little R&R with constant sunshine and cheer.

Gilt is offering up to 64% off a two-night stay the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, San Diego for a limited time. This deal is for two adults only, so unfortunately you will have to leave the little ones at home. If you've been wanting to plan a trip to California, now is the perfect opportunity. Click the button below to learn more about this deal and keep reading for even more details.

Read more
This gross thing has been found at 4 Las Vegas Strip hotels (but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting)
Are these pests taking over Sin City?
Las Vegas

Recent reports from the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) reveal that inspectors found bed bugs in several Las Vegas Strip hotels over the past five months. This report has caused concern for travelers looking to visit Sin City, making them wonder if they should skip the destination for their next vacation. Although bed bugs are unsettling, they should not deter you from planning a fun Las Vegas vacation.

The first report of bed bugs came back in December when a guest staying at the Encore filed a complaint. The room was immediately taken out of service when bed bug-sniffing dogs discovered that there were indeed live bed bugs in the area. Aside from Encore, inspectors found bed bugs at three other Strip hotels from September 2023 to January 2024. The other properties impacted include the Venetian, the Mirage, and the Excalibur Hotel and Casino.

Read more