At the end of a winding road near the mountains, is the 4-story apartment we live in for a week in Oaxaca. From the highest floor on the roof, I can see a translucent fog circling the mountain peaks. The city welcomes us with cloudy skies that promise rain. Even so, I feel drawn to its streets–motivated by my curiosity about a new place and the unknown stories it holds.
Of all the cities I’ve visited in Mexico, Oaxaca is my favorite, primarily for its cuisine. An abundance of restaurants, food trucks, and markets serve traditional Oaxacan cuisine, full of flavor and unlike anything I’ve eaten across Latin America. Even the tacos look different. In most places, the tortilla shape is a flattened cylinder instead of the half-sun I’m used to seeing. We eat tlayudas (the Oaxacan version of quesadillas) with melted Oaxacan cheese called quesillo, succulent grilled and slow-cooked meats packed into tortillas or eaten on their own, rich mole sauces made with Oaxacan chile peppers and spices, stuffed tamales cooked in banana leaves, and a medley of fruit–some only found in Oaxaca.
Alongside meals, we drink Mezcal: a widely distilled liquor from the same plant that produces Tequila. I sip on it from shot glasses and enjoy it in fruit-flavored cocktails, tasting the smooth, smokiness on my palate. Every day of the week-long trip, I look forward to a communal meal with my friends, excited to deepen my love for Oaxaca through its food.
To visit Oaxaca is to spend time with its cuisine–smelling, tasting, drinking, and savoring. However, outside our gastronomic pursuits, we find time to sightsee, visiting natural pools at Hierve El Agua, ruins at Zona Arqueológica Mitlan [not pictured], and my favorite, the Jaguar Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates animals with the end goal of releasing them to their natural habitat. We tour the facility with a resident biologist who takes us through each animal and explains the rehab process. Snakes, lions, tigers, jaguars, and black panthers (whose fur is in fact not black but covered in brown spots) rest behind their sprawling enclosures. We meet a placid python named Saigon, and a playful jaguar named Elena, who leaps along the wired barrier with any of us who run with her. I learn I cannot outrun a Jaguar (as if this were up for debate).
In a few weeks, Elena will transition to her next stage of rehab, which weans her off human contact, as she prepares to return to the wild. The biologist tells us she will miss Elena, but she’s also happy to return the jaguar safely to its home.
Hierve El Agua
Good To Know
We flew from Oakland to Oaxaca via Mexico City. As always, I booked flights through Google Flights
Our accommodation was via Airbnb, you can find it here: https://abnb.me/qGqBxgjWBvb. Angel was a great host – super responsive and helpful.
I would be remiss if I ended this post without sharing my favorite restaurants from Oaxaca (you can’t go wrong with any of these): Los Danzantes, Pitiona, Zandunga, Ancestral Tradicional, Boulenc, Expendio Tradicion, and Gozobi.
In front of Casa Toledo, in the centro, is a taco stand owned by a group of women. Their star dish, tacos de chile relleno, is delicious and usually sold out by 1pm.
For a stellar experience of Oaxacan cuisine and history, you can book the food tour with Me Encanta Oaxaca experiences.
The best way to visit Hierve El Agua is to hire a bus with a driver. The roads are narrow, winding, and unfriendly, and cell service cuts out halfway into the ride. You do not want to be driving on your own in those conditions.
“T in Transit” is an 8-part series featuring stories from many of the countries I enjoyed visiting this year. Click the “follow” button to subscribe to this blog and receive part III as soon as I hit publish.
As always, thank you for reading!
Same Footprints, Different Sands