Insiders Guide to Oaxaca

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I am often asked about my favorite places in the world, and often a conversation occurs where it doesn't cross my mind to mention my beloved Mexico; the motherland, my parents home country.

Although my parents home state is vastly different, the culture and food, the people and varied landscapes remain the same and make it a favored destination of mine year after year. Yet of all the spots I claim to conocer oh so well, Oaxaca. However, a place I have only made a small dent of all the thrills and frills of this amazingly vibrant, colonial city with rich indigenous roots.

There is no doubt that Oaxaca will always hold a near and dear place to my heart. It's the significance of a closing chapter in my life, yet welcoming a new horizon, a new chapter if you will. This charming town with Mexican hospitality and endless corazon is also the heart of Mexican cuisine.

After falling in love with its storied and cobbled streets, the vibrant culture, colors, sounds, tastes, and the amazingly hospitable climate. It’s a place with bustling marketplaces, lively fiestas, and beautiful folk art traditions and fascinating history.

It is time to teeter into the unknown, this way by way of Oaxaca. Ready to discover some of the hidden (and not so hidden) gems?

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DORMIR [to sleep]

Casa Oaxaca is the charming little hotel with a quirky heart-shaped pool, stands on its own two feet, with its mixture of colonial architecture with modern touches. Be sure to eat at the restaurant here, it’s been touted as one of the best. Taking up residence in this architecturally stunning and historically fascinating 19th century Oaxacan mansion is Casa de Sierra Azul. This is also a place my group stayed, and enjoyed the 17 high-ceilinged rooms to choose from, each one decorated in a classy yet simple style, with colorful accents. Casa de las Bugambilias is just one of three guest houses that they run in Oaxaca and is well located only one block from the famed Santa Domingo temple. It's personal touches and traditional Mexican artesanías within each of the 8 rooms.

COMER [to eat]

When it comes to food and drink, Oaxaca will not disappoint because this is one of Mexico's best foodie destinations, and many of the regional dishes date back to pre-Hispanic times. Its culinary offerings include a wide variety of corn-based dishes, and the local gastronomy also makes good use of the vast array of chiles grown in the state. Mole sauces are a specialty; you'll hear about seven different moles, but there are in fact more. Oaxaca is a significant mezcal producing center, and tasting the endless varieties is a favorite pastime.

Don’t miss out on the street food in Oaxaca. You’ll find many street foods stands throughout the city. Forget about gourmet restaurants: these stands are where some of the city’s best food is served, and the friendly banter of your dining companions will be hard to beat. From Elotes y Esquites (Mexican Street Corn) to Chapulines to fresh mango with chili, there’s plenty to pick from.

Origen Oaxacan herbs and chiles, ceviches and risottos converge on the menu of Origen, the restaurant of Top Chef Mexico winner, Castellanos Reyes. The creation of their dishes is based on tradition; it is enough to try the unforgettable language in Mole Chichilo to realize the office of the cradle of chef Castellanos.

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Come for the fantastic breakfast 
in the leafy garden, stay for a conversation with Alejandro Ruiz, the amiable chef. of Casa Oaxaca Café. The sprawling food market of Central de Abastos Mercado is an excellent place for lunch, with dozens of vendors preparing meals on the spot. Between Juárez Maza and Calle de Victoria. Enrique Olvera’s new restaurant, 
Criollo, serves creative spin on classic Oaxacan dishes in a modern space with an outdoor dining room.
 Run by the talented Chef Pilar Cabrera, Restaurant la Olla is an unpretentious restaurant offering Oaxacan specialties. Head to the upper-level dining room, which is more spacious than the ground floor, with artwork by local artists. The moles are delicious, but to start, order the squash blossom soup.

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Los Danzantes has three restaurants scattered across Southern Mexico, but the one in Oaxaca is locally considered to be outstanding with equally impressive cocktails. Get out of the city and pay a visit to the distillery as well. For 
 education in Oaxaca’s signature spirit, book 
a tasting at this bar/classroom in the city center for Mezcaloteca. There 
are nearly 100 varieties on 
offer.. 
Graciela Ángeles Carreño’s distillery is a farm-to-glass operation at Mezcal Real Minero. Tour the agave crops before settling into the tasting room.

Mexico is perhaps not the most well-known coffee producing country, but in Veracruz, Chiapas and Guerrero in particular, there are quality beans being produced. However, what about colonial Oaxaca? Your coffee options are not limited in this historic, quaint and vibrant city. El Volador, Cofetarika, and Alma de Café are worth checking out.

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HACER [to do]

Wander through the Historic Center of Zócalo. Oaxaca City was built for the wanderer; winding streets take you high up above the center with views over the Oaxacan skyline, and cobbled paths lead you to cafés you wouldn’t ordinarily have found in a million years. The multi-colored façades of many of Oaxaca City’s houses and edifices only add to this charming town. You’d be hard-pressed to visit Oaxaca and not stop by the Museo de las Culturas at least once, given that it’s located next to the famed Templo de Santo Domingo in the 17th century converted monastery. Even if you’re not big on museums, this one does have some cool exhibits you should check it out for the location alone. The large open windows frame the surrounding Ethnobotanical Garden, creating some literally picture perfect views.

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Explore the art galleries throughout Oaxaca is a must. While Mexico City takes the title for the most museums, Oaxaca is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to art galleries. From smaller independent ones that you can dip in and out of as you wander the cobbled, winding streets of the city to the larger more famous ones that display pieces from renowned artists, the art scene in Oaxaca is absolutely one of the things you must see. Visit the mezcal distilleries. The spiky agave plants whose piñas (hearts) harvested to roast, mash and ferment, it became clear why this is one of the most excellent mezcal you’ll taste.
 Chef Pilar Cabrera of Restaurant la Olla, also offers cooking classes through Casa de los Sabores. For more fun experiences, check out Airbnb Experiences, where you’ll find unique cooking classes, tours, gallery walks and so much more.


Updated May 2019



Photo Diary: Agra

There are those places that we all dream of visiting. One's the you must visit and experience for yourself, and Agra is one of them. The main reason why visitors come to Agra is to visit the timeless monument to love and one for the bucket list, the Taj Mahal.

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Photo Diary

Agra

It's the city of the Taj Mahal, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some 200 km from Delhi. Agra has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri nearby. There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra's days of glory as the capital of the Mughal Empire.

Truth be told, the city has little else to recommend it making it a place for an over night stay before moving on to your next destination. You can also opt for a one day excursion from Delhi to Agra. Keep in mind that due to the very high number of tourists, Agra is a breeding ground for touts and people looking to separate you from your money. 

Getting into Agra from Delhi is a quick train or bus ride, and an experience to be had.

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The Agra Fort

The Agra Fort, built by rulers of the Mughal empire, is a sight to behold. It's sandstone walls and white marble interior will hold you in awe. But before you go, be sure to find your way to the back of the Fort and catch the view of it's sister monument, the Taj Mahal off in the distance.

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Taj Mahal

One for the bucketlist. Despite the hype, it’s every bit as good as you’ve heard. I know everyone takes this picture but when you capture it with your own eyes, it because something magical and a memory that will last a lifetime!

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Insiders Guide To Madrid's Christmas Markets

There is no denying that the Christmas markets in Europe are some of the best and they form the perfect setting to get into the holiday spirit. And, Madrid is no different.

Madrid puts on a great show during the Christmas season, with sparkly lights hung across every street, the sweet aroma of cinnamon spice and the echo of Christmas jingles in the air, and market stalls full of festive fare. I got a chance to explore the Christmas Markets last year, and if you're in the Spanish Capital during this time of year, you are in for a magical wonderland of magic. Get ready for another festive adventure into the unknown, this time by the way of Madrid.

Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets
Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets
Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets
Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets

Plaza Mayor

Madrid’s main traditional Christmas market is held on the city’s main square, Plaza Mayor, and has been going strong since the 19th century. Over 100 wooden stalls set up home on the plaza for the month of December, selling everything from nativity scenes to wigs and jokes for the Day of the Holy Innocents, Spain’s version of April Fool’s Day, which takes place on December 28. This beloved Christmas tradition sees people playing practical jokes on each other with items they have bought from the Christmas markets.


Feria Dulces de Navidad

If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss this one. The market, which is set up in front of the Teatro Real, Madrid’s opera house, sells only Christmas sweets. Favorites include turrón, a nougat-style block made from almonds that is popular at Christmas Time in Spain.


Plaza de Callao Christmas Market

Every year, Spain’s main department store, El Corte Inglés, installs a huge winter cabin on Plaza de Callo, a central square just off the Gran Vía shopping street. The festive cabin sells Christmas accessories, including baubles, tinsel, and lights, and is a popular spot for locals and tourists to stock up on their Christmas decorations. The square is dominated by a gigantic Christmas tree that is the ideal backdrop for that festive selfie.


Feria Mercado de Artesanía

This artisanal market, on Madrid’s Plaza de España, draws craftspeople from across Spain, selling everything from leather goods and jewelry to ceramics and handcrafted toys. It’s a good place to shop for Christmas presents as it has a range of traditional Spanish products from different regions of the country.


Mercadillo del Gato

This cool pop-up market is the place to come if you want to find something less bauble-related and more stylish. The stalls are populated by young, local designers selling everything from clothes and accessories to art, games and vintage homewares. The Christmas market will be held in the Westin Palace hotel from December 1 to 10 and at Gran Vía 13 from December 15 - January 5.


El Rastro

While not exactly a Christmas market, we couldn’t leave Madrid’s biggest street market off the list. El Rastro is more than just a market; it is a weekly event, held every Sunday, when locals browse the stalls selling bric-a-brac, antiques, flamenco records and leather goods, then enjoy some tapas and beers in the little bars lining the market’s route.


Mercado de Diseño

The Design Market unites dozens of designers every month for a market held at the Matadero, Madrid’s former slaughterhouse that is now a thriving cultural space holding regular exhibitions and concerts. Past years have seen the market host a Christmas-themed event in the run-up to December 25, so keep an eye on its website for details of up-and-coming Christmas markets.


Plaza La Remonta

Slightly to the north of the center of Madrid, in the Tetuan neighborhood, Plaza La Remonta holds one of the biggest Christmas markets in the city, with stalls selling all the traditional fare, from Christmas decorations to toys and games for the kids. Don’t miss the ice rink, a great festive activity for all the family.


Mercadillo de la Plaza de Jacinto Benavente

Just off the Puerta del Sol, right in the heart of Madrid, the Plaza de Jacinto Benavente holds an annual craft market. Over 20 huts, designed to emulate a medieval village, sell sweets, Christmas decorations and beautifully handcrafted accessories that make lovely souvenirs to take home from Spain.


Published December 7, 2017 - Updated December 7, 2018