25 Reasons We Love Oaxaca
If one walk through the romantic old streets doesn't leave you infatuated with Mexico's colorful colonial city, a little mescal usually does the trick.
22. Seriously crafty
Of the state's 3 million people, about 160,000 are registered artisans. Every village specializes in a different craft: In San Antonio Arrazola, phantasmagoric animals called alebrijes are carved from the soft wood of the copal tree. They're then painted in bright colors with tiny brushstrokes, creating geometric designs. The town of Atzompa is known for green-glazed pottery; Ocotlán, for clay figurines; and San Agustín Etla, for handmade paper. The Regional Association of Craftswomen of Oaxaca (or MARO) store in Oaxaca city sells crafts from all over the state. 5 de Mayo 204, 011-52/951-516-0670.
23. Lingo for gringos
The Instituto de Comunicación y Cultura de Oaxaca holds Spanish classes Mondays through Fridays, and a week's worth of instruction costs just $150. The institute also offers a popular immersion program, in which students live, eat, and play with Oaxacan families. The $450 weeklong package includes airport transfers, accommodations in a room with a private bath, all meals, five hours of daily language instruction, arts workshops (cooking, weaving, dancing), and a field trip. Macedonio Alcalá 307, 011-52/951-516-3443, iccoax.com.
24. Tomb raiding
Outside Oaxaca city, archaeological sites and villages are clumped together so you can see two or three in a day and not feel rushed. Mitla, 30 miles southeast of Oaxaca, is an ancient burial site for the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, with intricate stone mosaic fretwork covering the square tombs ($2.75). In the nearby town of Teotitlán del Valle, weavers such as Demetrio Bautista Lazo create much-coveted rugs with patterns that are inspired by the tomb designs (La Cúpula, Km. 2 Avenida Juárez, 011-52/951-524-4090, rugs from $170). No visit to Teotitlán is complete without lunch at the Mendoza sisters' Tlamanalli restaurant, where all dishes--squash-blossom soup, slow-cooked chicken stew--are made in the traditional Zapotec style (39 Avenida Juárez, 011-52/951-524-4006, from $6).
25. Chocolate for breakfast!
The art of Mexican chocolate-making has remained unchanged for centuries: Cacao beans are dried and cured, then toasted and ground by hand on a stone slab and mixed with cinnamon, sugar, and crushed almonds. The result is dry and chalky, but delicious. Oaxacans love their chocolate; they each consume an average of 5.5 pounds of it per year. Many start the day with hot chocolate, which is whisked until it froths like a cappuccino. One of the best-known brands, Chocolate Mayordomo, has a small shop outside Mercado Juárez. 20 de Noviembre 305, 011-52/951-516-3309.