The Mexican state of Oaxaca is one of the best places to experience this magical country by bicycle. The Oaxaca Valley has a cool, high-desert climate and serves as the beating heart for a network of endless dirt roads and trails among its many mountain ranges, pueblos, and rolling landscapes. The valley's rich history makes Oaxaca the most biologically, linguistically, and culturally diverse state in Mexico. It has a tangible story in its architecture, art, craft, food, celebration, and all aspects of day-to-day life. From the valley’s desert floor to the cloud forests of the Sierra Norte, there’s loads to explore from the old capital, Oaxaca de Juaréz. Find our complete Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes network guide here with a routes map and a wealth of information organized into three distinct sections.

The Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes Network guide was created by Logan Watts and Virginia Krabill with additional photography, input, and route design by Cass Gilbert; illustrations for badges by Emma Bucke; and logo by Ray Martín.

Made up of ten unique but interconnected routes—which you’ll find on the map above (overnighters in red and core routes in blue with badges below)—the Oaxaca Bikepacking Route Network will give riders a much deeper understanding of the history, culture, ecosystems, and incredible beauty of the Oaxaca Valley and the surrounding mountains. Additionally, we’ve put together maps of day rides you can do from town. Find those in the Bikes, Rides, and Gear section below.

  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes, San Jose del Pacifico
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes, Pueblos Mancomunados
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes, Hebras de Ixtepeji
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes, Micro Vuelta Sierra Norte
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes, La Vuelta de Santiago Apoala
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes, Puerto Escondido
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes, Meandros en Mitla
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes, Ojos de Cuicatlan

Travel Basics

Oaxaca is the fifth-largest state in Mexico. It is bordered by the states of Puebla and Veracruz to the north, Chiapas to the east, and Guerrero to the west. To the south, Oaxaca’s coastline extends upwards of 330 miles (530 kilometers) along the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The state is crisscrossed by mountain ranges covering approximately 80 percent of its surface area. Historically, this rugged terrain played a large role in making Oaxaca the most linguistically and culturally diverse state in the country, while its geography and topographic complexity have also made it the most biologically diverse. In the middle of Oaxaca are the Valles Centrales, three valleys separated by the Sierra Norte, Sierra Sur, and Sierra Mixteca ranges. Oaxaca de Juarez, the state’s bustling capital, lies at their convergence. From the Central Valley’s desert floor to the forested heights of the Sierras, there’s loads to explore in the area, and it’s hard to imagine a more amazing basecamp than Oaxaca City.

Getting Here and Around

Getting to and around Oaxaca de Juarez, the capital city of Oaxaca, is straightforward. It’s easily accessible by both air and land. Once in the city, most folks will find it very walkable. On off-bike days, inexpensive and reliable ground transportation options abound for visits to the many attractions throughout the valley. And, of course, given enough time, you can get just about anywhere on two wheels.

Via Air and Land

Xoxocotlán International Airport has non-stop passenger flights to and from 11 destinations in three countries. Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and Los Angeles are US cities with direct flights. At present, there are also seven domestic flights to and from Oaxaca and one from Guatemala City. If flying with a bicycle from the US, opt for a United or American Airways flight, as sporting equipment is considered part of your standard baggage allowance.

Driving to Oaxaca is also possible. Mexico is a large country, so covering long distances may take a while, but the major highways are generally in good condition. Sticking to toll roads and driving during daylight hours is advisable when possible. Valid driving licenses from most countries are legal in Mexico, including UK, EU, Canadian, and US licenses. However, you may be required to purchase an International Driving Permit if your license is not printed in English. For automobiles registered outside of Mexico, temporary import permits are required to drive beyond the border zones. Car insurance that is valid in Mexico is also required. In winter 2023, we drove down and crossed the border at the Laredo–Colombia Solidarity International Bridge. Completing immigration and automobile formalities took approximately one hour. We took as many toll roads as possible, which cost approximately 200 USD in total.

Buses provide a better option for most people traveling to Oaxaca by land. The bus lines that are available depend upon the city of origination. From Mexico City, ADO, AU, and OCC offer direct service. Most bus lines offer multiple classes, from basic to luxury. First class is generally adequate, but for longer journeys, ADO’s platino (luxury) or GT (executive) may be worth the splurge. Per its website, ADO’s official policy is that bicycles must be boxed, in a bike case, or folded. However, on multiple occasions, we have been allowed to carry our bicycles with only the pedals and wheels removed. It is advisable to protect the most delicate components with padding when possible. Voile straps are very helpful.

Bus tickets can be purchased in advance via each bus operator’s website or via websites such as During busy times of the year or when leaving from towns with fewer daily departures, an advanced purchase is recommended.

Ground Transport While Visiting

Transportation to and from the Airport

With a small bike bag, a colectivo minibus, which drops its passengers off at their various destinations (140-160 pesos per person, depending on the zone) is an option. Otherwise, it’s likely to cost between 500 and 800 pesos for a taxi from the airport into town for two to three people with bikes. It’s possible to negotiate a price with a taxi driver at the airport or go the simpler route and buy a ticket from the official airport taxi stand just inside the exit door at the airport. For the return trip, book a taxi via the DIDI app or arrange a shuttle through your hotel, guesthouse, or Airbnb. To arrange a van suitable for larger numbers of riders with big boxes, Taxi Oaxaca may be able to help (+52 1 951 200 6878).

In Town and Throughout the Valley

Taxis in Oaxaca are plentiful, and private shuttles are easily arranged through your hotel or vacation rental manager. Local and regional buses, as well as colectivos, are also inexpensive and convenient ways to travel between communities in the valley. Our friend Gerardo Garcia (WhatsApp +52 1 938 152 7555) offers shuttles and guided tours to the Enduro trail systems of Ixtepeji and La Mesita, as well as guided tours of some of the more local trails. For a private shuttle to Ixtepeji, Hugo Yovaneli may also be able to help (WhatsApp +52 1 951 159 5033).

  • Oaxaca Bikepacking ROutes

Biking in the City

Biking in, out, and around Oaxaca de Juarez is a bit chaotic but totally doable and even enjoyable with appropriate caution. There are some bike lanes in the city, although they’re not always observed by local drivers. The bigger intersections have traffic signals, though it may not be immediately obvious where those signals are located, be it hanging over the middle of the road or atop a pole on one corner. For four-way intersections without lights, it’s imperative to remember that motorists take turns. Don’t simply follow the lead of the cyclist or automobile in front of you without first looking for oncoming traffic. All in all, Oaxaca is a bike-friendly place. Speed bumps control automobiles’ speeds on many roads, and there are often many other recreational cyclists, commuters, and work trikes sharing the road.

Safety in Oaxaca

Generally speaking, we’ve found the mountains and countryside of Oaxaca to be a safe place to travel through, and the area is considered by many to be one of the most secure regions in Mexico. However, it’s worth taking extra caution within the capital. In addition, it’s always recommended to seek up-to-date information locally while out bikepacking.

Areas of Concern

Note that in 2021-22—as stated in our San José del Pacífico route guide—there were increased reports of robberies within Oaxaca de Juárez, both in the city center at night and on a few of the local trails during the day. If you’re out late, take a taxi home. In terms of riding, hiking, and running in areas close to the city, be especially mindful in Cerro del Fortín, the cross/mirador at Torre de Microondas, and at the wall at the very top of the Libramento Norte before the road drops down in Viguera, as used by some of our bikepacking routes and day rides into the Etla Valley. Problem zones are marked on this map. That being said, we still ride and visit these areas, but it’s best done as a group and ideally early in the morning.

As is the case almost everywhere, bike theft can be an issue in Oaxaca, particularly in the city. Most of the time, shopkeepers and restaurants will allow, and even encourage, you to stash your bike inside while eating or enjoying a beverage. The same goes for many tourist attractions and establishments. That said, Oaxaca de Juarez is entirely walkable, so we recommend leaving the bike in a secure location at “home” and exploring the city on foot.

Additionally, it’s best to take extra care with anything of significant value, such as cameras and expensive electronics. This doesn’t mean folks shouldn’t take photos, but it would be wise to keep the strap wrapped around your wrist or an extra hand on the strap of a camera bag when visiting busy markets or other crowded venues. Sensible precautions should also be taken with cash. Don’t visit isolated ATMs at night, and count your money discreetly. It can also be helpful to keep smaller amounts of money in an easily accessible pocket while stashing larger amounts of money in a hidden or zippered pocket. Leaving larger sums of cash behind while going out on the town is also a good idea if your lodging is secure.

Some precautions should also be taken outside of the city. While bikepacking in the mountains or countryside, camp out of sight of any roads, pitch late, and strike early. If you find yourself needing to stop for the day and see no logical camping options, ask a landowner, shopkeeper, or community member. Chances are, they’ll recommend a safe spot to spend the night and go out of their way to ensure your safety.


Mexico is overrun with street dogs, so you can expect to find them loitering and lounging in the shade of Oaxacan towns and villages. Farmers and herders also employ dogs in the countryside. Many of the dogs you’re likely to encounter, especially in more populated zones, just hang around and take passersby in stride. On the other hand, dogs will be dogs, and some of them feel the need to protect their territory or otherwise just seem to enjoy the chase. In these instances, making an aggressive tzztzztzz sound usually fends them off. Another option is to feign throwing a rock. Dismounting the bike and placing it between yourself and an aggressive dog is also a useful approach, although getting back on the bike can be challenging.

  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes
  • bikepacking mexico

If bitten, it is important to thoroughly flush any wounds with water and then clean the site well with soap and water as quickly as possible before making your way to a physician’s office or clinic. Fortunately, since 2006, Mexico has had no cases of rabies transmitted by dogs. Still, proper treatment with a course of antibiotics will likely be suggested.

When to Go

For the most part, any time is a good time to visit Oaxaca. The central valley of Oaxaca has a semi-arid, sub-tropical climate that is generally pleasant year-round. November through mid-March is the high tourist season and generally the best time to visit, but the rainy season, which extends from mid-May to October, is also a great time to experience the area, offering lush landscapes and a chance to enjoy the city with fewer tourists. The climate along the coast is more tropical. Cyclists should aim to head to higher elevations as the temperatures really warm up in mid-March to April.

Temperatures and Best Time to Ride

Oaxaca has two primary seasons: wet and dry. The dry season extends from November through mid-May or early June. The rainy season coincides with the summer and early fall. Generally speaking, the rains arrive in the afternoon, and downpours often persist through the night. The days are generally clear unless a storm system is stalled/sitting over the area.

  • Vuelta A Los Pueblos Mancomunados
  • Rigs of the San Jose del Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour

Pueblos Mancomunados

Average temperatures in the city range from lows of 48-60°F and highs of 78-88°F, with November and December being the coldest months and April and May being the warmest. Temperatures fluctuate an average of 20-30°F per day, so mornings and evenings can be cool, even on the hottest days. The sun is intense in the mountains surrounding the valley, but temperatures can also get much cooler. At 10,000 feet, temperatures can dip below freezing from late November through mid-February, but as soon as the sun appears, temperatures rise quickly. The valley gets quite hot in the spring, with temperatures easily exceeding 90°F. But, when the rains finally arrive, they provide a great relief from the heat of the day.

In short, there isn’t a bad time to ride in and around Oaxaca, outside of the very hottest months of the year, but the most ideal time is on the tail end of the rainy season through the early part of the dry season. From mid-October through January, the landscape is green, roads are not terribly dusty, and temperatures are ideal. As the dry season wears on, the aridity takes its toll on vegetation, and dusty conditions make riding less pleasant.

Where to Stay

Oaxaca is a captivating city, with so much to see and do that most folks will likely appreciate staying in and around the city itself. There is no shortage of accommodations, so it’s easy to find lodging to meet any budget. For returning visitors who may have had their fill of the city or those averse to the hustle and bustle of city life, it is also possible to find accommodation in any number of villages and smaller towns outside of the city.


Many barrios, or neighborhoods, make up the city of Oaxaca. Some of the barrios have a more local feel, and others are clearly more tourist-oriented. The Centro district is broken down into Centro-Xocolo and Santo Domingo (the northern portion of Centro). These areas are the most touristic of the city and offer a lot in terms of accommodations, dining options, and nightlife, but they can also be a bit hectic. Our favorite barrios, Xochimilco and Jalatlaco, are located just north and east of Centro, respectively. The areas around these neighborhoods are also nice: La Cascada, northern Centro, and other nearby neighborhoods. Generally speaking, the northern part of town is a good home base and the further north you look, such as in Lomas del Creston and Guadalupe Victoria, the quieter things will be. Note that Centro, Xochimilco, and Jalatlaco have al become rather touristed over the last few years. While we have never stayed there, La Noria also seems to be a very nice neighborhood with a predominantly local vibe.

Airbnbs, Hotels, and Posadas

Booking a hotel online or renting an Airbnb are the easiest ways to secure lodging before arriving in the city. That said, finding lodging upon arrival at a hostel or posada should also be fairly easy unless you plan to arrive at the very busiest time of year. Another option for finding extended-stay lodging in and around the city is through the Oaxaca Housing Rent/Buy/Sell group on Facebook.

Travel Essentials: Visas, Money, Health

As far as tourism goes, traveling around Oaxaca is pretty straightforward. Entry requirements are minimal, there aren’t any particularly exotic diseases to be concerned about, currency is easily accessible, and the language is familiar to many.


The entry requirements for a relatively short visit (fewer than 120 days) to Mexico are minimal for most visitors. Many foreigners will only need a passport that remains valid for at least six months beyond the entry date, as 69 countries enjoy visa-exempt status. Visitors should verify their status through their own state department or the Mexican consulate. Upon entry, folks should request a sufficient period of time to cover the length of their stay. The default is often a 30-day stamp, but our requests for 120 days have never been rejected.


The currency of Mexico is the Mexican peso (MXN). Attaining pesos upon arrival in Mexico is easy. Currency exchange booths, as well as ATMs, are located in all international airports. ATMs and banks are also plentiful in the city. ATM fees can add up quickly. So, for frequent international travelers, we recommend opening a bank account that reimburses account holders for any ATM fees they may be charged. Charles Schwab offers checking accounts that do just that.

Another word on ATMs: When withdrawing cash, an ATM prompt will ask if the user accepts the stated currency exchange rate. The exchange rate listed in the prompt is generally very poor, so we refuse it. Cash is still dispensed by the ATM, but from our experience, the exchange rate you’ll receive is far more favorable.


Visitors to Oaxaca should consult with their healthcare provider, their Ministry of Public Health, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for recommendations on vaccinations and additional prophylaxes. As a rule, it is strongly advisable that visitors be up-to-date on their routine vaccinations. This is particularly important when traveling in regions where the local population is more likely to suffer poor outcomes when their health is compromised.

The most common ailments that visitors to Oaxaca are likely to suffer from are gastrointestinal in nature. Following some basic precautions will lessen the risk of getting ill, but avoiding all street vendors or fresh produce isn’t a good option, in our opinion, as the food scene in Oaxaca is one to relish. One good rule of thumb is to eat at establishments that are popular with locals and do it when they are busy. Restaurants and street vendors with a reputation for bad food don’t usually have a strong following. Also, tap water should not be consumed anywhere in Oaxaca. Large garrafones of purified water will likely be provided at any guest house, and restaurants are usually very willing to refill water bottles for a nominal fee. Water obtained from spigots and streams should be thoroughly purified before consumption.

Mosquito-borne illnesses also pose a risk when traveling to Oaxaca. Fortunately, malaria is rare in the state, but dengue, zika, and chikungunya are not. Precautions should be taken to avoid mosquito bites at any time of day. The best defense is the regular use of insect repellant, but physical barriers, like long-sleeved shirts and pants, and screened windows and enclosed tents will also help keep mosquitos at bay.

Other common health-related problems arise from overexposure to the sun and air pollution. Sun shirts and broad-spectrum sunscreen will help protect skin. In terms of respiratory health, wearing a mask about town is always an option for those particularly sensitive to smog. A buff or bandana is also a great option for minimizing dust inhalation, especially while riding during the later end of the dry season.

If you find yourself in need of medical attention, there are a number of options in the city. Hospital Reforma, just a few blocks away from Santo Domingo, is a good private hospital. Many insurers will cover the expense of care received there, but even without health insurance coverage, the price of care is reasonable. There are pharmacies scattered throughout the city for first-aid supplies and over-the-counter medications. Farmacias del Ahorro and Farmacias de Similares are a couple of the more well-known chains. In small towns, the pharmacies are more likely to be small “mom-and-pop” operations.


Spanish is the official language of Mexico and is spoken by the vast majority of Oaxacans. In the city, English will suffice, but outside of the city, travelers need at least a rudimentary knowledge of the language. The basics will suffice, but fluent travelers will really get the most out of their time in Oaxaca. From our experience, most people appreciate an attempt at speaking the language, no matter how bad it may be, and a “buenos dias” or “cómo está?” or even just a good old “hola” is almost always reciprocated with kindness.

In some instances, Spanish will be of little use. Sixteen unique Indigenous languages are also spoken in Oaxaca. While most of the individuals who speak those languages also speak Spanish, that’s not always the case, especially in more remote communities. In the rare event that you encounter a non-Spanish speaker, a smile is always a safe bet.

Tradition and Responsible Cycling

While Mexico is not immune to the global trend of people losing their manners, social etiquette and polite behavior are still the norms, especially in the country’s more conservative and rural areas. Even in the cities, it will be appreciated, if not expected, that people follow some basic rules of conduct. As cyclists who often find ourselves in areas where fewer tourists tread, we think it is particularly important to show respect to the locals by following at least some of their basic customs.

  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Singletrack

Acknowledge folks’ existence

Simple enough. In Mexico, it’s common to always greet the people you interact with. Say “hola” or “buenos dias” before engaging in any business, be it purchasing fruit from a market vendor, ordering a meal, or checking into lodging. Even in passing, if eye contact is made with someone, a smile and a “good morning/afternoon/or evening” are standard courtesy. This is especially true while pedaling through the countryside. When being introduced to a group of people, each individual should be greeted separately, no matter how long it takes. A simple wave to the group does not suffice. Also, If you need to squeeze past someone on a bus or reach over their shoulder at the market, it is customary to say “con permiso” (with your permission) versus just pushing past them.

Use the local language

This recommendation comes with a caveat. So many languages are spoken in Oaxaca that no one would expect a tourist to know them all. That said, one should speak at least enough Spanish to exchange pleasantries and meet their basic needs. In the city, it is easy to find locals who speak English in higher-end hotels and tourist restaurants, but expecting locals to speak English in their own country is arrogant. Learning a few words and phrases in the local language is a basic sign of respect and courtesy.


Tipping is part of Mexican culture. Most of the people working in Mexico’s service industry earn very modest salaries and rely on tips to earn a living wage. In a restaurant, waitstaff should receive a 10-15 percent tip on the bill, though foreigners are generally expected to tip on the higher end of the scale. A 20 percent tip is not uncommon in more metropolitan areas like Oaxaca City. In bars, a 10 percent tip is standard. In comedores, especially those outside of the city, 10 percent is more common, or simply rounding up to the next 10 MXN.

Tips for housekeepers at hotels should be 20-50MXN per night’s stay. If you stay at a hotel for more than one night and the room is cleaned daily, tip each day, as the housekeepers’ schedules change. Round up to the next 10MXN for taxi drivers within the city, and for those who provide airport transfers, tip 10-20MXN for each piece of luggage. If a driver helps with a particularly bulky item, like a bike, tip more generously.


Mexicans are not particularly concerned with how visitors dress, but conforming to some basic standards is never bad. Mexicans are generally pretty conservative. Outside of beach areas or the gym, it is uncommon to see Mexicans wearing shorts. As cyclists, it is acceptable to wear shorts, but a pair of pants, a dress, or a skirt will be far more appropriate off the bike.

Indigenous Communities

Many of the routes on this site traverse through lands that are owned and managed by Indigenous communities. The Pueblos Mancomunados, for whom one of these routes is named, are a self-ruling cooperative of eight villages in the Sierra Norte who have worked cooperatively to create an ecotourism network. The villages in this network include Amatlán, Benito Juárez, Cuajimoloyas, La Nevería, Lachatao, Latuvi, Llano Grande, and Yavesía.

Several other communities around Oaxaca have followed suit and created their own ecoturismos (eco-tourism centers). “La Mesita” San Pablo Etla and La Cumbre Ixtepeji are two examples. Through their cooperative efforts, these communities are able to sustainably protect the natural environment and their own cultural traditions while also providing a great experience for their visitors. From these ecoturismos, folks can arrange guided hikes, overnight lodging in cabañas (with fireplaces), space for camping, and prepared meals. Cyclists can also access the all-purpose trails and, in the case of La Mesita and Ixtepeji, enduro trails. Other small communities in the area don’t have quite the ecotourism infrastructure found in the aforementioned communities, but they do manage the land several trails in this route guide pass through.

To support the people whose work preserves and maintains these beautiful places and the trails we enjoy riding, it’s vital that anyone who accesses these lands pays the requisite (and very modest) fees. See individual routes for details. Also, remember to always follow Leave No Trace principles.

Bike, Rides, and Gear

In addition to all the great bikepacking routes we’re serving up, there’s a wealth of great purpose-built singletrack, a smattering of rugged and raw trails, and an infinite network of great dirt roads. So, where to start? Dig into the details below to find pointers on what bike to ride and what gear you need to bring…

The Perfect Bike for Oaxaca?

The perfect bike for Oaxaca will depend on your intended itinerary. An ATB or hardtail will be the best bet for folks who are primarily interested in the bikepacking routes on our site. However, it gets more complicated when you factor in all the options. You’ll find every breed of surface and riding type a lover of dirt cycling could dream of here, from fast gravel to chunky dirt roads and from relatively smooth goat tracks to death-defyingly steep singletrack. It’s all here, but it gets tricky if you want to ride everything Oaxaca offers. Here’s how we see it:

San Jose del Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour


A hardtail equipped with 2.4 to 2.6” tires is our top recommendation as an optimal, do-all vehicle for bikepacking and trail riding in Oaxaca. This setup provides versatility to navigate the state’s diverse terrain, whether it’s the challenging dirt roads on the San Jose del Pacifico or La Cumbre Ixtepeji’s technical singletrack nestled in the steep Sierra Norte.

For maximum versatility—and hardtail bikepacking in general—we recommend a suspension fork with around 100 to 140mm of travel. The granular decision within that range will be based on personal preference and what exactly you want to ride. For example, if the Hebras de Ixtepeji is your destination route, or you’re interested in riding any of the “long trails” (the rugged singletrack descending the Sierra back into the valley), having a more plush 130 to 140mm fork might be ideal. And, frankly, a full-suspension bike might be a requirement for many folks. That being said, there are rental bike options, which we’ll cover later. Generally speaking, a 120 to 130mm fork should suit most riders looking to tackle a mixed bag of surfaces and trails.

  • Baja Divide Rigs, Nordest Sardinha
  • Logan's Cotic SolarisMax
  • Pipedream Moxie

Logan’s thoughts: Having spent nearly half a year in Oaxaca over the last three winters, my bike of choice for the area has evolved. I went from the relatively steep Nordest Sardinha with 110mm of travel on the left to the more aggressive 120mm Cotic in the middle to the even slacker 140mm Pipedream Moxie on the right. You can read my thoughts about the Cotic from year two here, but the Moxie has proven to be much more in tune with Oaxacan singletrack riding. That being said, choosing the right bike is a bit of a conundrum. On the dirt roads of the San Jose del Pacifico, a more conservative and upright ATB would be a comfier perch for all-day pedaling.

ATB (Rigid Mountain Bikes)

While gravel bikes will suit some of the routes, such as the more mellow Excursiones En Etla or Mendros en Mitla, we recommend that folks run at least 2.0” tires for most of the rides here. A rigid mountain bike with 2.4 or 2.6” tires that can do a little bit of everything is likely the best choice for riding routes like the San Jose del Pacifico and Pueblos Mancomunados. The downside is that the long trails and more rugged singletrack might not be as enjoyable or even rideable, depending on your skill level and tolerance. Check out this rig roundup from a group tour on the San Jose del Pacifico. It provides a pretty good picture of the wide range of bikes suitable for our flagship route in Oaxaca. Whatever bike you choose, pack light, as there’s a lot of climbing to contend with here.


Extra-low gearing is critical as there are some very steep grades on most of our routes and day rides in Oaxaca. A modern Shimano or SRAM 1×12-speed drivetrain—10/11-50/51/52-tooth cassette paired with a 30-tooth chainring—is recommended for 29ers. For folks with a 2 or 3x, something with similar low gears and range is ideal. An ultra-low gear between 17 and 19 gear inches is probably a good benchmark for most riders pedaling a loaded bike.

  • Good Night 2022 Oaxaca
  • bikepacking oaxaca ixtepeji

Thoughts on Tires

First off, tubeless tires are a must. There are many relentless spiky and spiny plants in Oaxaca’s desert scrubland. We’ve heard about several innertube-equipped bikes enduring countless flats. In one particular instance, a rider setting out on the Meandros en Mitla had to immediately head back to town to acquire more patches after running out during a mile-long stretch of goathead-strewn desert road. A good tubeless setup will help you avoid a similar fate. We also recommend getting some oversized tire plugs and carrying extra sealant.

Second, we’ve found that tire choice is one of the trickiest equipment decisions when planning a ride in Oaxaca. For most of the dirt-road-oriented routes, tires with fast-rolling center tread and more significant side lugs are ideal—similar to many of the popular tires on routes like the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route or other desert rides. Examples include the Vittoria Mezcal, Teravail Ehline, and Maxxis’ Ikon or Rekon. Bear in mind that the terrain and surface type are extremely variable. There are fast, hard-packed sections, sandy bits, extremely chunky rutted roads, and everything in between. Riders who choose high-volume tires will be rewarded by the floatation and the extra cushion on the bumpy stuff.

The decision gets more complex if you’re considering riding the singletrack trails in the Sierra Norte. You can read Logan’s deep ponderings on the subject here and more in his review of the Maxxis Forekaster. In summary, there’s not much braking traction on many of the steep and loose trails in the Sierra, so the beefier, the better. His tires got knobbier on each of his three consecutive visits to Oaxaca, and for his third trip in 2024, he decided on a Maxxis Rekon (rear) and Minion DHF (front) combo.

Here are some additional related links to further your research into bikes and gear for Oaxaca:

Gear and Packing Considerations

As with any bikepacking journey, it’s important to consider the intended route(s) and the time of year you’ll be traveling. Aside from universal packing concepts, the area presents a few other unique considerations.

Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes

Hydration, Water Capacity, and Availability

It’s always important to stay hydrated, but in the arid climate Oaxaca sees much of the year, doing so can be tricky. Add elevation to the mix (routes in this guide climb up to 10,000 feet/3,040 meters), and it gets even more challenging.

  • Capacity: On most of the bikepacking routes in Oaxaca, there isn’t a lot of surface water available for filtering. Several springs are noted on GPX tracks, mostly in the mountains, but they are few and far between. Water obtained from spigots and streams should be thoroughly purified before being consumed. Also, tap water should not be consumed anywhere in Oaxaca. For all these reasons, we recommend carrying between three and four liters of water for most multi-day rides, although different routes may have varying requirements.
  • Garrafones: The lifeline to drinking water in Oaxaca are garrafones, large 20-liter blue plastic bottles that folks in the US typically associate with water coolers. Garrafones are regularly cleaned and refilled with purified water, making them a great option to avoid single-use plastics. They’re readily available at most guest houses, hotels, and hostels, and restaurants are usually very willing to refill water bottles from garrafones for a nominal fee. Garrafones can also be purchased in many small stores for 20-40 pesos—make sure to tell the clerk that you’re refilling bottles and don’t need to purchase the container—and you can easily refill the bottles and bladders of an entire group of riders. Even when split between three or four bikepackers, there’s usually a few liters of leftover water that you can leave with them. Considering the cost, garrafones are even more economical for solo travelers than bottled water purchased in landfill-bound single-use plastic.
  • Agua de Sabor: Agua de sabor (or agua del dia) is another great hydration technique. Available at most sit-down restaurants and comedors, agua del dia is water flavored with natural fruit or vegetable juice. Common flavors include jamaica (hibiscus), melon, lime, horchata (rice water with cinnamon or other spices), cucumber, and orange. It’s extremely refreshing. Order a jarra (large pitcher) or two of agua de sabor at lunch, fill your water bottles, and you’ll happily meet your hydration requirements for at least an hour or two. Agua del dia isn’t available everywhere, but most sit-down establishments will have it on any given day.

Rainproof Gear

Packaging a quality rain jacket and potentially rain pants is always a good idea if you plan on following one of our routes that head into the Sierra Norte or the Sierra Sur. Even in the dry season, these high mountain ranges can be shrouded in clouds and damp mist. Likewise, if you’re traveling anywhere in Oaxaca during or around the rainy season, there’s always a chance of a popup storm or shower. Things dry out pretty quickly, but it’s always good to be prepared. The same suggestions can be applied to storing water-sensitive equipment, such as down sleeping bags or electronics. If you’re not using waterproof bags, a spare dry bag or liner might come in handy.

Insulation and Layering

Again, if you’re following one of our routes heading into the Sierra Norte or the Sierra Sur, you’ll reach altitudes of around 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), and you should pack some layers. It’s not uncommon for temperatures to drop below freezing in the mountains, and we usually bring a good down puffy jacket, merino layers, and a sleeping bag or quilt with a 0 to 5°C (32 to 40°F) rating. A spare pair of thick wool socks and gloves may come in handy, too.

Cooking and Fuel

Fresh, tasty, and affordable meals are easy to come by in Oaxaca. Comedores, street vendors, and markets are regularly spaced and readily available on most of our routes. Considering that, you can almost ditch the camp kitchen entirely by using Stashers or Ziploc-style bags to haul to-go memelas, tlayudas, quesadillas, and tamales (which we think might just be the perfect bikepacking food). However, that’s not always the case for all of the routes, especially if you want morning coffee.

As stated in the San Jose del Pacifico route guide, we recommend using an alcohol stove and have marked a hardware store on the map where you can find alcohol industrial. It’s next to La Michoacana on Calle de Frey Bartolomé de las Casas, which is near the Zocalo. It can be bought in bulk (56 pesos for 1.5L, ask for alcohol metilico). Elsewhere on the route, ask for alcohol puro or alcohol de quemar, but be aware that it can be time-consuming to track down, so you’re likely better off buying enough for the whole loop. Cleaning stores and pharmacies often stock more expensive alcohol etílico, but make sure it’s a high enough alcohol percentage—ideally 96% or so. Some of these burn better than others.

You can also buy compressed camping gas bottles at La Gran Montaña. It’s on Miguel Hidalgo, close to Marito and Mogli Cafe, a hip little coffee shop that’s worth popping into if you need an afternoon pick-me-up.


It’s possible to ride some of the routes on the site without camping, staying in just hotels or cabanas. However, some sort of camping shelter is necessary for most of them. And while you might be able to eke out a trip using a hammock in the mountains, a fully enclosed tent is highly recommended. As stated in the San Jose del Pacifico guide, there can be mosquitos, black flies, and plenty of creepy crawlies, such as scorpions, brown recluse spiders, and rattlesnakes.

Our Favorite Day Rides

If you choose to linger in Oaxaca de Juarez or ride one of the many multi-day loops from the city, there’s a good chance you’ll also want to tack on a few day rides to keep your fitness, get acclimatized, or explore some of the outlying towns and attractions. Oaxaca also has quite the mountain bike culture, and it’s common to pass by other riders out on dirt roads, trails, and abandoned pavement around the city. Here are a few of our favorites, with thanks to Larry Ginzkey ( for laying the groundwork and our own Cass Gilbert stitching some great rides together.

More Singletrack Trails and Options

Furthermore, Oaxaca is on the world stage for enduro-level mountain bike trails. A glance at Trailforks will quickly reveal quite a few options, with a standout web of purpose-built singletrack in Ixtepeji and several big trails descending the Sierra Norte. The Hebras de Ixtepeji route explores many of these trails. Another shorter trip we’ve taken on occasion is to use the Hebras route to climb to Ixtepeji and stay there for a day or two in the bunkhouses or cabanas, riding the trails unloaded for full enjoyment. Finding a guide service is also easy if you’re interested in shuttling. See below for details.

  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes
  • Oaxaca Mountain biking

As mentioned, the long trails descending from the Sierra Norte into the valley are another highlight of the area, although they can be much more challenging than the singletrack in Ixtepeji. If you’re from the US, it’s safe to think of the long trails marked as “blue” (intermediate) as “black” (difficult) and the black ones as very hard black trails or even “double blacks.” A couple of our favorites are Mil Rios and 204, both of which have pretty steep and difficult sections but are largely rideable. See a note about shuttling these below.

Be sure to check out Larry’s for more inspiration on day rides. Cass also put together a couple of goodies called Laguna Seca and La Reina Marimba, both of which are extremely challenging.

Bike Shops, Guides, and Services

Local Bike Shops

The two main bike shops in Oaxaca are Bicimundo and Zona Bici. They both have shops in the Reforma neighborhood and one in Centro, all of which we’ve visited and are marked on the map below. Both are modern shops and offer almost anything you might need as far as drivetrains, tires, and general bike maintenance. They also both sell large full-suspension bikes and can likely get you a bike box if you need one for travel.

Bike Rentals

Most of the guides listed below offer bike rentals—mainly full-suspension bikes—and several other options exist. We rented bikes for visiting friends from another common shop, Pedro Martinez, but unfortunately, two of them had mechanical problems from the get-go. Our friend Gerardo Garcia (WhatsApp +52 1 938 152 7555) also rents a few bikes. Bicibella also has bikes for rent and is in a great location in north Centro.

Guides and Shuttles

There are several full-service guide companies in Oaxaca. Popular companies include Transierra Norte and Oaxaca Bike Expeditions. These tour companies are a good option for folks focusing on singletrack/enduro riding. For bikepackers who have a bit of time and money to spare, a full-service experience could provide a good introduction to the area. For most bikepackers, they aren’t a great option.

For a more self-served approach, our friend Gerardo Garcia (WhatsApp +52 1 938 152 7555) can shuttle riders to the trails in Ixtepeji and La Mesita. He also offers guided tours and speaks fluent English as well as Spanish. One of our favorite trips to do with Gerardo starts by driving us and our bikes to La Cumbre Ixtepeji, where he spends the better part of the day shuttling us up to the top of trailheads and then picking us up at the bottom. After a day of taking in all the great downhills, he drops us off at the ecotourism center, where we can eat and stay for the night. Then, the next day, we pedal back to Oaxaca on dirt roads and one of the challenging long trails like Mil Rios. Note that he also offers two interesting day tours: a tour of some “secret” trails directly from town and a shuttle service on bigger singletrack.

Things to See and Do

Aside from all the great riding on offer, Oaxaca is home to many incredible archeological and historical sites, a variety of botanical wonders to behold, tons of delicious foods to try, and a menagerie of arts and crafts to discover…

A Brief History of Oaxaca

The history of the Central Valley and Oaxaca is long and rich. Evidence of human occupation in the valley of Oaxaca dates back to between 11,000 and 12,000 BCE. From its genesis, Oaxaca has been home to at least 16 distinct cultures. The Zapotecas and Mixtecas constitute the largest and once most powerful of these groups, having left indelible marks on Oaxaca as we know it today.

The Zapotec people occupied San Jose Mogote, which lies just outside of Oaxaca city, as early as 1600 BCE, and they later established Monte Alban in approximately 500 BCE. Monte Alban functioned as the capital of the Zapotec civilization for approximately 1,000 years and was home to some 25,000 people at its peak. The site was gradually abandoned by the Zapotec, beginning around 800 CE. By the 11th century, another Indigenous group, the Mixtec, was the dominant civilization in Oaxaca. The Mixtec had emerged in the wake of the Maya collapse in the 9th Century, with tribes in the region of present-day Puebla, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. Their influence peaked in the 11th century, when the leader Eight Deer Jaguar Claw united the various Mixtec kingdoms. By 1000 CE, the Mixtec were in control of Mitla, the area’s most important religious site, and by 1350 CE, they had taken control over Monte Alban.

Good Night 2022 Oaxaca

However, the Mixtec’s dominance was relatively short-lived, as the Aztecs triumphed over the Mixtecs and Zapotecs in 1458. By 1486, the Aztecs had established a fort on the hill that overlooks present-day Oaxaca City. Now known as El Fortín, the hill was originally named Huaxyácac, the Nahuatl (Aztec language) phrase, which means “among or on top of the huaje tree.” This was the major Aztec military base charged with enforcing tribute collection and controlling trade routes. The Aztec reign in Oaxaca was even shorter than that of the Mixtec, lasting little more than 30 years before the arrival of the Spanish.

In 1521, a coalition of Spaniards and Indigenous fighters led by Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (near present-day Mexico City). Within months, the Central Valley was under Spanish rule, and in 1529, the city of Oaxaca was “founded” under the name Antequera. From the onset, the conquistadors sought to subvert the cultures and traditions of the Indigenous people as a means to exploit them for financial gain. The Mixe people put up the most resistance to the colonizers, mounting various rebellions over the decades that followed, but they eventually retreated to isolated regions in the Sierra Norte, where they still live today.

Most Indigenous people, however, were forced into indentured servitude via the encomienda system, a continuation of the pre-conquest tribute and labor system. A combination of factors, including poor living conditions, left the population particularly vulnerable to the diseases that the colonizers introduced from Europe. As such, the Native people were decimated by disease. To make up for the lost labor force, the Spanish imported ever-increasing numbers of African people as slave labor, particularly in the coastal regions of Oaxaca. This systematic exploitation of Indigenous and African populations continued throughout the 300-year Colonial Period.

The Mexican War of Independence began on September 16, 1810, when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, called the people of Dolores, Mexico, to mass and shouted, “Will you free yourselves?” In the speech that followed, Hidalgo called for the end of Spanish rule, racial equality, and land redistribution. The uprising that ensued would be the first of many to take place over the following 11 years. Finally, In August of 1821, the Treaty of Córdoba was signed, ending Spanish rule, and in 1824, the First Mexican Republic was established.

Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes

In the subsequent years, Mexico faced great political instability. The early years were marked by struggles between conservatives and liberals, including a brief empire under Emperor Maximilian I. One of the most important political figures of this time and throughout the history of Mexico was Benito Juarez, a Zapotec from Oaxaca who served as Mexico’s first Indigenous president.

The second major Oaxacana political figure of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Porfirio Díaz. The Mexican Revolution that took place from 1910 to 1920 was sparked by widespread discontent over Porfirio Díaz’s long dictatorship, political repression, and economic inequality. When the revolution began, Oaxaca, like many southern states, rallied around the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who proclaimed that the land belonged to the workers. His rhetoric resonated with most Oaxacans since many of them were exploited by the large landowners.

The revolution led to the ouster of Díaz, but the ensuing years were marked by a prolonged civil war during which upward of 1,000,000 people were killed. Ultimately, a new government was formed, and a new constitution was drafted. The Mexican Constitution of 1917, which is still in effect today, was the first such document in the world to outline social rights. Founded on principles such as human rights, separation of powers, and separation of church and state, the Constitution of 1917 paved the way for land reform, established organized labor rights, laid a foundation for free and secular education, and restricted the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico. It also listed basic human rights for all Mexicans. The promises of the Constitution have never been fully realized, but all subsequent legal arguments have been based on its framework. Moreover, the Constitution forms the basis by which Mexican citizens judge their political leaders.

The spirit of rebellion that spurred the Mexican Revolution and led to the creation of Mexico’s Constitution is alive and well in Oaxaca. The most famous example of this occurred in 2006 when the police violently responded to the annual teachers’ strike in and around the Xocolo of Oaxaca de Juarez. A coalition of various Indigenous and social groups formed in response and mounted protests against government corruption, demanding social justice and Indigenous rights that lasted for over six months. They called for the removal of the state governor, leading to widespread demonstrations and deadly clashes with authorities. To this day, protests are a part of daily life in Oaxaca, where regular road closures, blockades, occupations of public buildings, work strikes, pickets, and marches occur.

Historical Sites of Interest Around the City and Valley

Many of the most well-known archeological sites in the Oaxaca Valley can be easily visited on a day trip by bike from the city or, better yet, as a stop along one of the bikepacking routes linked to this guide. There are also a few historical sites within the city where visitors will undoubtedly find themselves passing time.

Monte Alban

As mentioned, Monte Alban, located on a hill overlooking the city, is one of Mesoamerica’s most important archeological sites. It was inhabited for approximately 1,500 years by a succession of civilizations, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs, and Mixtecs, and it served as the capital of the Zapotec people from approximately 500 BCE to approximately 850 CE when the Zapotec gradually abandoned the site. The Mixtec later took over the site, adding to the complex and utilizing Zapotec tombs for their dignitaries. The site extends over four square miles (six-and-a-half square kilometers) and includes awe-inspiring pyramids, magnificent temples, tombs, and bas-reliefs with hieroglyphic inscriptions. The on-site museum is a must, with incredible displays that offer great, albeit sometimes gory, insights into the lives of the folks who once called Monte Alban home.


Mitla, derived from the Nahuatl word Mictlán meaning “place of the dead,” or Lyobaa, as the Zapotec refer to it, is the second-most important archeological site in Oaxaca. It is located in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, approximately 27 miles (46 kilometers) southeast of Oaxaca. It was inhabited from at least the Classic Period (100-650 CE) and was established as a sacred burial site by the Zapotec. The Mixtec gained control of the area around 1000 CE, but the area remained populated by Zapotec. The Mixtec influence is most pronounced on the existing structures, namely its intricate mosaic fretwork or friezes that were designed out of thousands of cut and polished stones, set in place with no mortar.

San Jose Mogote

There’s not a whole lot to see in San Jose Magote, as it has not been as carefully restored or protected as the two previously mentioned sites, but the archeological site is worth a visit if you happen to be riding through the Etla Valley. Founded around 1500 BCE, San Jose Magote is considered to be the oldest permanent agricultural village in the Oaxaca Valley. It is credited with being the first settlement in the area to use pottery, and the earliest evidence of Zapotec writing was found here. The remains of San José del Mogote lay inside a small town by the same name and consist of two large elevated platforms or step pyramids, each topped with what is left of several other multi-room chambers. In town, the community museum at Hacienda del Cacique exhibits several interesting archaeological finds and asks only for a small voluntary donation to enter.

Yagul and the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla

Yagul is another fascinating archeological site and former city-state associated with the Zapotec. It was first occupied years earlier, but between 500-700 CE, residential, civic, and ceremonial structures were first built at the site. The site, which is set on a hill overlooking the Tlacolula Valley, can be divided into three principal areas: the fortress, the ceremonial center, including an impressive ball court, and the residential areas.

Vuelta A Los Pueblos Mancomunados, Oaxaca

In the valley surrounding the site and extending further toward Mitla lie a series of prehistoric caves and rock shelters that gained Unesco World Heritage status in 2010. At 10,000 years old, squash seeds found in one cave are considered to be the earliest known evidence of domesticated plants in the continent, and corn cob fragments from the same cave are said to be the earliest documented evidence of maize domestication. Additional archeological findings add to the story of humankind in our evolution from hunter-gatherers to more settled agrarians. Per Unesco, “The cultural landscape of the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla demonstrates the link between man and nature that gave origin to the domestication of plants in North America, thus allowing the rise of Mesoamerican civilizations.”

Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán

Soon after the Spanish conquest of Oaxaca, Cortez sent for Dominican friars to establish themselves in Oaxaca and evangelize the Indigenous people who lived there. One of the Dominicans’ first acts was to begin the construction of the Santo Domingo Church and Convento complex. The construction of the main church and convent was completed around 1619. The convent was the principal monastery of the province, serving as home to as many as 150 Dominican friars. From the War of Independence through to the Mexican Revolution, the church and convent were successively occupied by military troops of various factions. The church and a small section of the convent were returned to the Dominicans in the 1930s, but the military didn’t vacate the building completely until 1994. Today, the complex is home to the church, with its exemplary Baroque architecture and intricate gilded decor, the Oaxacan Museum of Cultures, two libraries, and the amazing Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca.

A Botanical Wonderland

Oaxaca is the most biologically diverse state in Mexico, a country that ranks as one of the most diverse in the world. The state is home to five primary ecosystems: pine-oak forest, valley scrubland, low tropical deciduous forest, evergreen tropical forest, and tropical rain forest. Its particularly complex topography has also created micro ecosystems within these larger biospheres, where many of Oaxaca’s endemic species of plants and animals are found. Most of the routes found within this guide traverse the pine-oak forests, scrubland, and, to a lesser extent, the low tropical deciduous forests.

Oaxaca Bikepacking Singletrack

  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes
  • Vuelta A Los Pueblos Mancomunados
  • Bikepacking Tehuacan Cuicatlan Reserve

Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca

The region’s botanical richness not only holds ecological importance but also cultural significance, as many of the plants found in Oaxaca have been traditionally used by Indigenous communities for food, medicine, textiles, and ritual purposes. On that note, a visit to Oaxaca would not be complete without a trip to the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, where guided tours provide an amazing introduction to the flora of Oaxaca and its relationship to the people whose home this is. We recommend that everyone take a tour before setting out on a bike trip, as it provides a solid foundation for what you’ll encounter along the way. Another good educational resource is Oaxaca Journal by Dr Oliver Sachs, a naturalist-oriented book that weaves the area’s botanical and cultural history together.


  • Mushrooms: Oaxaca is well known for its medicinal and culinary mushrooms. San Jose del Pacifico is particularly well-known for the former, but from July to October, the Sierras at large offer great opportunities for very well-versed foragers to find amazing mushrooms of all varieties.
  • Orchids and bromeliads: In the pine-oak forests of the Sierras, you’ll encounter lots of amazing plantlife. The orchids and bromeliads are particularly delightful.
  • Succulents (Agave, Maguey, Yucca, and Cacti): So many amazing succulents thrive in Oaxaca. The giant agave in the mountains are truly magnificent as are the towering organ pipe cacti that dot the valley hillsides. In the valley, riders will also pass neat rows of maguey being cultivated for mezcal production. Yucca is also present throughout the valley and extends into the Sierras as well. Those that dot the ridgeline nearing El Carrrizal in the Sierra Norte look like they jumped straight out of a Dr Seuss book.
  • Ferns: More than 700 fern species are found in Oaxaca, including delicate maidenhair ferns and the towering Sphaeropteris tree fern. Ferns are found across all of Oaxaca’s ecosystems. The aforementioned Oaxaca Journal was written by Dr Sacks when he was on a fern tour in Oaxaca in 2000.
  • Guaje: The guaje isn’t the most beautiful tree, but the name Oaxaca is derived from this mimosa-like tree, which can be found popping up all over the city, valley, and dry deciduous forests throughout southern Mexico and Central America. It has small ball-like cream to yellow-colored flowers and produces seed pods that are traditionally served alongside tlayudas.

Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes

Pine-Oak Forests

Pine-oak forests occur primarily between elevations of 7,000 and 10,000 feet (2,150 and 3,000 meters). These temperate forests are the most extensive type of vegetation in Oaxaca and make up a great expanse of the Sierra Madre. In addition to oak and pine trees, this zone is also home to the Montezuma baldcypress. The Arbol del Tule, or Tule tree, located just outside of the city, is a fantastic specimen, having the stoutest tree trunk in the world. Many other plants are growing around, under, and sometimes on the pines and oaks, including ferns, bromeliads, orchids, agaves, and hundreds of colorful wildflowers. The bromeliads and agave lend an especially magical feeling to these forests. When standing among them, it’s easy to transport yourself millions of years in the past to a time when dinosaurs roamed these very forests.

White-nosed coati, white-tailed deer, and Central American red brocket deer live in these forests, as do elusive wildcats like puma and margay. Oaxaca has more species of birds than anywhere in Mexico, and many, including the nearly endangered, endemic dwarf jay, can be found in these forests. Another unique animal to look for is the Oaxacan pygmy rattlesnake.

  • Vuelta A Los Pueblos Mancomunados, Oaxaca
  • Scrubland

Valley Scrubland

Valley scrubland is found between 4,500 and 5,500 feet (1,400 and 1,700 meters) of elevation in plateaus where surrounding mountains cast rain shadows. Most of the Oaxaca Valley falls into this ecosystem, one which is dominated by shrubs, cacti, yucca, agave, and other succulents, as well as morning glories and grasses. Over 30 species of cacti can be found in the valley, including plenty of prickly pear cacti, which host the cochineal, an insect from which carmine (red) pigment is produced. Other amazing species of cacti one can find in this biome include the endemic biznaga cactus and the amazing organ pipe, aka candelabra cactus, that grows 16 to 26 feet (5 to 8 meters) tall and, when in bloom, has the most beautiful daisy-like flowers. Agave, or maguey as mezcal-producing agave is locally-known, is farmed throughout the valley. The espadin agave is the most commonly farmed variety, while our favorite, tobala, can be identified by its short and slightly stout stature.

Because so many humans inhabit the valley, fewer of the large, wild mammals can be found in this area. Those that can be found here include coyotes, gray foxes, red squirrels, opossums, rabbits, and ringtails. ​​Vermilion flycatchers, blue grosbeaks, various sparrows, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds abound. Over 60 species of reptiles live in the valley scrub ecosystem of Oaxaca, including the Sack’s giant whiptail lizard (Aspidoscelis sackii), which is endemic to the high valleys of southwestern Mexico, and the Oaxacan Coral Snake.

Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes

Low Tropical Deciduous Forest

Most of Oaxaca’s low tropical deciduous forests lie along the Pacific Coast, south of the Sierra Madre del Sur. Their natural vegetation is dominated by small trees and shrubs, many of which are deciduous and lose their leaves from November through May. The tree species that make up this forest include the Ceiba tree, aka kapok, whose seed pods produce a light, buoyant, cotton-like fluff once used to fill life preservers, Pacific Coast Mahogany, plumeria, and the cactus árbol del matrimonio, whose trunk is covered in wicked-looking spines.

Wildlife that can be spotted here includes the northern tamandua (a tree-dwelling anteater), white-nosed coatis, pygmy spotted skunks, nine-banded armadillos, and various iguana species. Ocelots also live here but are elusive. The marbled toad and the Mexican giant tree frog are two of this ecosystem’s more common amphibian species. A few of the birds one can see in the tropical deciduous forests include the white-throated magpie, golden-cheeked woodpecker, orange-breasted bunting, russet-crowned motmot, and the citreoline trogon.

Comida Oaxaqueño: Oaxacan Food Guide

Mexico is full of great food, with each region having its own specialties. However, we think it’s easy to argue that Oaxaca has the best of the best. Much of that is due to the state’s incredible ethnic and biological diversity. Many dishes rely on local varieties of corn, chiles, herbs, and greens that are found only in a particular region, and the techniques used to make them have been handed down for generations and are often very specific to a particular Indigenous community. All of that said, there are a few Oaxacan specialties that transcend regionalism and have made their way into the repertoire of most Oaxacan cooks.

  • Tlayuda
  • Oaxacan Food
  • Oaxacan Food
  • Oaxacan Food
  • Oaxacan Food
From top left: a vegetarian tlayuda; memelas con tasajo (steak), pollo tinga (chicken in tangy sauce), and flor de calabaza (squash flower); entomatadas con chorizo, fresh tortillas in delicious tomato sauce with Mexican spicy sausage; chilaquiles con huevos, hard or fried tortillas or chips in slow-cooked salsa (red or green, usually) with eggs

What to Eat: Oaxaca Specialties

  • Mole: Oaxaca is the epicenter of mole. The word “mole” is derived from the classical Nahuatl word for sauce. There’s far more to this delicacy than the singular black mole many folks may be accustomed to in the United States. Each mole, of which there are traditionally seven, contains a careful balance of 20 or more ingredients, including chiles, chocolate, and spices such as cinnamon, pumpkin seeds, and others. A great mole has a complicated, intensely rich flavor. They are generally served with meat but may also be served with vegetables, in tamales, or simply with a stack of warm tortillas. Levadura de Olla offers particularly great moles, all made with traditional techniques.
  • Memelas are considered the breakfast of champions in Oaxaca, but like so many other Oaxacan staples, they can be enjoyed any time of day. They are basically oval-shaped, open-faced tacos made from masa flour and cooked on a comal. They are slightly thicker than tacos but not as thick as sopes. They are generally served with a thin spread of asciento (unrefined lard), followed by a smear of black bean paste, the meat of your choosing, and either quesillo or queso fresco. Vegetarians should order their memelas “sin asiento.”
  • Tlayudas are the largest of the tortilla-based Oaxacan snacks. They are usually served folded in half, but sometimes they’re served open-faced, which is why they are sometimes referred to as Oaxacan pizzas. The tortillas are thin and crispy with a slight chew. As with the memelas, they are usually spread lightly with asiento and then layered with lettuce, a black bean spread, quesillo cheese, and meat. They can be served “sencilla,” which means without meat, and, of course, one can request that they be made “sin asiento.” Tlayudas can also include avocado and tomato. In some of the more expensive establishments, they are often served with chepiche (an aromatic herb), a grilled chile, guaches (the seeds of the guache tree), and radish.
  • Quesillo, also known as Queso Oaxaca, is a string cheese similar in texture to mozzarella but with a stronger, salty flavor. It is generally produced with raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk. It can be eaten plain or pulled and chopped into smaller strings that are added to popular dishes like tlayudas or quesadillas.
  • Insects are a great source of protein, and they are lightweight, which makes them not only a great bar snack but also one perfect for bikepacking. Chapulines (grasshoppers), chicatanas (flying ants whose legs and wings have been removed), and gusano de maguey worms (caterpillars who live primarily on agave) can all be found at any market, They are generally roasted or fried with tasty seasonings, including salt, chili, and lime.
  • Barbacoa, or barbecue, was pioneered by the Mayans of the Yucatan Peninsula and is traditionally made by wrapping meat in agave leaves and slow-cooking it in a pib (underground oven). Today, it is popular across Mexico and the rest of the world, with each region having its unique variation. In Oaxaca, goat is what’s for dinner. Sunday is the day for barbacoa, and we suggest checking it out at the Tlacolula market. Or, for a higher-end, full-service experience, head to Barbacoa Obispo in San Felipe del Agua.

Oaxacan Food

  • Agua de chocolate
  • Tejate

What to Drink

While Oaxaca is well-known for its amazing food, its lineup of traditional beverages is nearly as impressive. Each of the following beverages is not necessarily unique to Oaxaca, but they are all popular options visitors will likely encounter.

  • Mezcal, in its simplest terms, is a distillate of maguey, or agave, as the plant is otherwise known, but on a deeper level, mezcal is an important part of Oaxacan culture. Tastings are offered at numerous mezcalerias in the city, and for those who’d like to take a deeper dive, a visit to one of the many palenques in Santiago Matatlán is a great experience. The best deal we’ve found is at La Cosecha organic market; you can find a small mezcal shop in the back that bottles its own. You can have your bottles filled or buy one of theirs. They even offer tastings! Two of our favorite varieties are tobala and tepeztate, both of which have a smoky essence. Espadin is usually the most affordable option and can also be quite good. Note that there are plenty of spots for mezcal maker tours on the Meandros en Mitla and San Jose del Pacifico routes.
  • Pulque is a delicious ancient beverage made by fermenting the sap from the agave. Its alcohol content varies but is significantly less than that of mezcal. It is similar to kombucha but can be more viscous.
  • Tepache is another popular fermented beverage made from pineapple. It’s a bit sweeter and more tart than pulque.
  • Tejate is the original sports drink. It is made with cocoa, maize, the seed of the mamey sapote fruit, rosita de cacao (an edible flower often used to season chocolate), and the optional addition of sugar. It has an unusual appearance, as the fat from the mamay floats on the surface in white fluffy blobs. Looks aside, the drink is refreshing and delicious, similar to diluted Nesquik (instant chocolate milk). Tejate is renowned for its energizing properties and was originally served to field workers needing a boost.
  • Atole de maiz (corn) or de trigo (wheat) is not unique to Oaxaca, but it is a very popular beverage that is often served with breakfast. Its consistency is similar to thin porridge, and it’s often sweetened with panela (unrefined cane sugar).
  • Chocolate de agua, or hot chocolate, is another Oaxacan staple. Oaxacan chocolate is made by grinding pure cacao and mixing it with panela and often other spices, including cinnamon, before forming it into a disc or small ball. To make the hot chocolate, a disc is added to warm water in a clay pot, and a wooden whisk, or molinillo, is used to mix and froth the solution. Hot chocolate will often be offered with agua or with leche. We were surprised to find that we prefer the water version. The intensity of the chocolate just seems more pronounced without the mellowing effects of milk.
  • Cafe de Olla is not specific to Oaxaca, but its origins have been traced to the mountainous regions of southern Mexico, including the states of Veracruz, Chiapas, and Oaxaca. Cafe de Olla is traditionally made in clay pots from a combination of coffee, panela, and cinnamon. There are many variations that include different spices, such as cloves, anise, and black pepper.
  • Agua de Sabor (or agua del dia) is water flavored with natural fruit or vegetable juice. Commonly found flavors include jamaica (hibiscus), melon, lime, horchata (rice water with cinnamon or other spices), cucumber, and orange. It’s extremely refreshing. Order a jarra (large jug) of agua de sabor at lunch, fill a water bottle or two, and you’ll happily meet your hydration requirements for at least an hour or two.

Where to Eat

There are way too many great restaurants and eateries in Oaxaca to compile a comprehensive list. These are just a few of the options that come highly rated or that we can vouch for personally. Most listed establishments are in the city, primarily in Centro and Xochimilco. In smaller towns and in the countryside, comedor(es), which means “dining room or dining tables” and fondas, small family-run restaurants, are the way to go. Fondas are more often found in markets, while comedores can be found along even the most remote stretches of road.

Antojitos, Street Vendors, and Budget Eateries

The most economical places to eat in town fall into two main categories: those that serve comida casera and those that serve antojitos. Most locals eat their main meal of the day, la comida, in the afternoon hours. In the evening and early morning hours, locals will likely only grab a snack. 

Comida Casera

Comida casera, otherwise known as the menu del dia, is offered at restaurants throughout town and at many of the comedores outside of the city. These meals consist of several small courses, including a soup, entree, and dessert. They are generally served from 1 p.m. until 3 or 4 p.m. or whenever the kitchen runs out of food. Restaurants that serve comida casera will post their menu of the day on signboards or chalkboards just outside their doors. If you’re in the mood for a hearty lunch at a great price (usually 100-150MXN in the city), keep your eyes peeled for a tasty-looking menu and a crowd.


Antojitos, which means “little cravings,” make up the majority of the options in the budget category. These snacks are also jokingly referred to as Vitamina T, as they include tacos, tostadas, tortas, tlayudas, and the occasional tamale. 

Street Vendors and Counter Service

  • Doña Ceci: Some of the best tacos and empanadas in town. Also serving tortas, all served with tasty toppings, including great guisados, various meats, and vegetarian options.
  • Tacos del Carmen: Good street tacos; open during the day
  • Empanadas del Carmen (evening hours): Excellent street empanadas and quesadillas. Try the flor de calabaza quesadilla. Unfortunately, it’s gotten popular, so there’s usually a line.
  • Lechonito de Oro: Amazingly rich pulled pork street tacos.
  • Super Tortas Gigantes and Tortas La Hormiga: Good takeaway torta spots bordering Jardin Conzatti. Super Tortas Gigantes also has a small dining area.
  • El Compadre Taquerías: Great street tacos with seating!
  • La Cosecha Organic Market: Great place to get an introduction to Oaxacan food. This peaceful outdoor market has rows of picnic tables from which you can enjoy memelas, tlayudas, sopas, tejate, and all sorts of other delicacies, all made in the little stalls that line the market.
  • Tlayudas la Chinita: Located south of Centro. Featured on a Netflix documentary. The line can get long, so grab a number and take a seat if you can find one.
  • Memelas Doña Vale: Another Netflix-featured vendor who is reportedly worth the hype. Located in Central de Abasto, closes noon-ish, so be there early. 
  • Pasillo de humo en Mercado 20 de Noviembre: This isn’t a single restaurant. It’s a series of butchers in a smoke-filled hallway. Choose your butcher, choose your meat, and have a seat to order sides, beverages, and tortillas. 

Full-service restaurants

  • Fonda Florecita (Mercado Merced): Buy one get one free chilaquiles on Mondays until 2 p.m. are hard to beat.
  • Taco Alvaro: Good economical fare in a family atmosphere. They offer tacos, tostadas, pozole, etc.
  • Tacos Roy: Good taco shop; there are several locations throughout town.
  • *La Popular and The Other One (same restaurants, two locations a block apart): The Other One is one of our go-to spots; it’s reasonably priced and set in a nice atmosphere with interesting artwork adorning the walls. Good tostadas, tlayudas, etc.
  • Ramón Camarón: Great place for shrimp and fish tostadas; very reasonably priced; the Mexicana tostadas con pescado are great, as is the habanero hot sauce made from Pepsi-Cola and roasted peppers.
  • Taquería Tacomiendo: We haven’t tried it, but this place comes highly recommended. They have locations in Reforma and on the southern edge of Jalatlaco.
  • Taquería la Flamita Mixe: Local recommendation with two branches in the Reforma neighborhood. Open from 9:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.

NOTE: In addition to providing shuttles and guided MTB tours, our friend Gerardo Garcia also offers street food tours via Airbnb experiences. Here are links to those experiences: Tacos and Secret Bars of Oaxaca and Street Food, Bars, and Culture.

Mid-Range (250-800MXN per person)

There are also many mid-range options that toe the line between affordable and high-end that are quite nice but a little easier on the wallet than the fine dining options we’ll cover next.

  • Ancestral: This gem of a restaurant is slowly edging its way closer to the fine-dining list, but for now, it’s on the higher end of the mid-range options. Authentic cuisine is made in an open kitchen and served in a beautiful outdoor garden setting in Xochimilco. The molotes and garnaches are amazing.
  • Chepiche Cafe: Another great option in Xochimilco, set in a peaceful courtyard. The breakfast is particularly good and more economical than the dinner options. We highly recommend the Torta Ahogada. The coffee is also superb. 
  • *Casa Taviche: This Small menu rotates daily but always includes very reasonably priced and tasty entrees, including excellent vegetarian options. Their mezcal cocktails are also fantastic. Try the one with pepino, though it will probably lead to more.
  • Barbacoa Obispo Cocina Rural (San Felipe del Agua): This is our favorite spot for Sunday barbacoa. The tacos blandos are very reasonably priced and come with an array of tasty accouterments. 
  • *Levadura de Olla: This impeccable restaurant serves the most authentic moles in a charming atmosphere. It’s well worth the cost for a truly special dining experience.  
  • Luz de Luna (San Andreas Huayapam): This is another great spot for barbacoa, though they make it from cow versus the traditional goat as elevated comal fare. The upstairs dining area has a beautiful view that makes their two-for-one mezcal cocktail special even more enjoyable. 
  • Boulenc: They offer tasty breakfasts under 150MXN/person. Dinners include sandwiches on house-made bread and great wood-fired pizzas.

Fine Dining (800-1000+ MXN per person)

The number of fine dining establishments in Oaxaca is growing by the day. Prices have risen significantly in the last few years, but the quality of food and service offered at these world-class restaurants still make them a great option for special occasions. 

  • Criollo:. Criollo is a collaboration between world-renowned chef and restaurateur Enrique Olvera (Pujol, Mexico City), head chef Alejandro Ruiz, and architect Javier Sánchez. They offer an exceptional tasting menu that changes daily.
  • Origen: Origen offers a la carte and fixed menus. Online menu with prices.
  • Tika’aya: We’ve heard high praises for this tiny restaurant with inspired twists on authentic Mixtec cuisine. Mixtec kitchen with a six- or seven-course tasting menu. 
  • *Los Danzantes: One of the more established fine-dining options in the city, once regarded as one of Chef Alice Waters’s favorite spots. 
  • Crudo: Chef Ricardo Arellano says the food at Crudo is unquestionably Oaxacan, but this tiny restaurant offers an omakase dining experience that is reportedly unforgettable. 
  • Alfonsina: A visit to Alfonsino requires a little extra effort, as it’s located outside of the city in the small town of San Juan Bautista la Raya. From what we’ve heard, it’s well worth the trek. The five-course menu is ever-changing but always fresh and inspired. 
  • Restaurante Casa Oaxaca: A classic fine-dining spot in the city serving a variety of moles as well as lighter fare, located on the square with Santo Domingo church.

Vegetarian and Vegan

Though meat is heavily featured in most Oaxacan and Mexican cuisine, vegetarians and vegans need not despair. Markets abound with amazing produce and nuts, and you can find high-quality ground nut butters at any of the health food stores in the city. Most restaurants and many street vendors also offer limited vegetarian options, including tlayudas sencillas “sin asiento” and quesadillas. For vegans, memelas “sin asiento” and tacos with flor de calabaza, huitalacoche, champiñones or hongos are a great option. For desayunos or almuerzo, entomatadas (tortillas in a delicious tomato broth) are another tasty option, and sopa de guías de calabaza is a healthy option full of greens. If the guías come with chochoynes (cornmeal dumplings), ask first if the dumplings include lard (manteca de cerdo). While in the city, there are also some great restaurants with multiple vegetarian options. 

  • Calabacitas Tiernas: Excellent vegetarian and vegan food with a cool library/bookstore built in; great atmosphere. The jamaica and plantain taquitos are awesome.
  • Hierba Dulce: Good vegetarian/vegan restaurant that’s moderately expensive. Try their cremoso de chocolate oaxaqueño for an outrageously rich dessert.  
  • Cabuche: Great tacos and vegan pazole made with mushroom broth. 
  • *La Cosecha Organic Market: Great spot featuring a covered courtyard with multiple vendors, food stalls, juices, mezcal, etc.
  • Adamá: Beautiful little restaurant serving all of the Middle Eastern classics, like falafel, hummus, and baba ghanoush. Cash only.
  • Boulenc: Good wood-fired pizza and non-Oaxacan fare in a really neat space; great breakfasts. Boulenc’s bakery is also one of the best in the city.

Bakeries and Coffee Shops

  • *Pan con Madre: Excellent bakery; good bread, granola, pizza, pastries, etc. One of our favorites.
  • Boulenc: Another fantastic bakery with great breads and flaky, buttery croissants.
  • Corasán taller de pan artesanal: Another very good bakery and coffee shop. Located in Xochimilco.
  • *El Volador: Excellent coffee and a good place to meet for pre-ride caffeination.
  • Cafe Caracol Purpura: Another nice coffee and chocolate shop and cafe. The beans are house-roasted.
  • Antique Cafe: Good coffee and a serene courtyard setting for breakfast and lunch. Located in the Xochimilco aqueducts beside Ancestral restaurant.

Markets Galore

Markets are an integral part of life in Oaxaca and shouldn’t be overlooked. Not only can you find a dizzying array of fresh fruits and vegetables, amazing juice bars, prepared snacks, and incredible meals, but visiting the markets also offers a rich learning experience. Vendors are usually happy to answer questions and often offer samples of the fruits they sell. Most markets also have vendors selling a variety of hardware, apparel, and all sorts of useful odds and ends. Every municipality or village in Oaxaca (and likely throughout Mexico) has one big market day, or tianguis, each week. These markets are at their most lively these days, and vendors often travel long distances to sell their wares. When planning a bikepacking trip, it’s fun to consider the days when you can incorporate a busy market visit into the route. The following is a limited list of some local market days.

Monday: Teotitlán del Valle

Teotitlán del Valle is the place to go if you’re in the market for a beautiful, handmade wool rug. Note that a lot of the rug shops (of which there are many) are open on most days, but many of the makers will go to other markets to sell their products on other days. Monday is the best time to go.

Tuesday: Santa Maria Atzompa

Santa Maria Atzompa is our favorite town for ceramics. Check out the local greenware at the market, then take a tour of the many small studios in town afterward.

Wednesday: Villa de Etla

Etla is most well-known for its delicious quesillo. While you’re there, consider a side trip to San Agustin Etla to check out the Centro de las Artes. And if you happen to be in San Agustin Etla on a Sunday, check out the farmer’s market in the eucalyptus forest (noted on the map).

Thursday: Zaachila

Zachilla was the last capital of the Zapotec. This open-air market purportedly has some of the best barbacoa in the valley.

Friday: Ocotlán

Ocotlán has one of the biggest tianguis in the area, with a vibrant fruit and vegetable market. It is well known for its nieves (traditional Oaxacan ice cream), bread, and artisanal knives. We happily stumbled on market day in Ocotlán during our ride on the San Jose del Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour.

Saturday: Oaxaca de Juarez

Multiple markets are spread throughout the city, but Mercado Benito Juárez and Mercado 20 de Noviembre are probably the most popular (and heavily touristed). These markets are directly adjacent to each other and are great spots to grab breakfast or lunch (check out the smoked meats hall, and be sure to get a traditional Oaxacan tamale stuffed with black mole and slow-cooked chicken) followed by some craft shopping.

The largest market in the city, and one of the largest in the world, is the Central de Abasto, which covers over 800 acres/328 hectares. This is where “real” Oaxacans and local business owners come to shop. A visit to Abastos Market is great fun, albeit a little overwhelming, especially on Saturdays. Note that there have been incidents of pickpocketing in Abasto, so be sure to secure your belongings.

There are also smaller markets scattered throughout town. The prices of goods tend to be higher, especially for non-locals and those without a great handle on their Spanish, but they are convenient and are far less claustrophobic than those previously mentioned. The fondas at these markets offer home-style meals at great prices. Two of our favorite neighborhood markets are Mercado Sánchez Pascuas on the northwest edge of Centro and Mercado de la Merced, close to the colorful Jalatlaco neighborhood, east of Centro.

Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes

Sunday: Tlacolula

Tlacolula’s market is one of the oldest continuous markets in Oaxaca and across Mesoamerica. It’s particularly impressive because of its huge size and the quality of crafts found there. Every Sunday, craftspeople, farmers, and vendors from towns and Indigenous communities throughout the valley gather there to sell their products. It’s famous for its barbacoa, though non-meat-eaters can also admire the array of crafts from throughout the valley, including an array of pottery, baskets made from palm and carrizo, and coffee and cacao from the mountains. It’s worth it for the hubbub alone. If you arrive on two wheels, you can walk your bike into the market, but it can be a little hectic with the crowds.

Arts and Crafts in the Oaxaca Valley

Art and craft are intrinsic to Oaxacan culture. It’s hard to walk a block without seeing fantastic graphic artwork wheat-pasted to colorful walls. And then there are neighborhoods like Jalatlaco and Xochimilco, where entire blocks are covered in exquisite hand-painted murals. Fabrics woven in Xochimilco still decorate many homes, while ceramics made in one of several nearby villages cover patios and balconies and adorn dinner tables. If shopping is of interest, it’s easy to find galleries and artisanal markets throughout the city with works representative of all the local communities. For those interested in meeting artisans and seeing works in progress, visiting the communities where these crafts are made is highly recommended. 

  • Good Night 2022 Oaxaca
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Routes


The graphic arts scene in Oaxaca de Juarez is incredible. Much of the work is socio-political in nature, with roots based in the tradition of Mexican Muralism—a creative era that emerged after the Mexican Revolution, which was reignited with the Popular Revolt of 2006. Aside from what you see on the walls throughout the city, there are too many great print studios in town to list, but here are the names of just a few:

  • Subterráneos is a group that encourages young people—through a school, workshop, and gallery—to make social issues visible with public artistic expression.
  • Espacio Zapata was founded by Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo and is set in a beautiful colonial house in Centro across from Santo Domingo. The center offers rotating graphic art exhibitions and more.
  • Taller de Gráfica La Chicharra was founded in 2014 as a graphic production workshop focused on traditional engraving techniques.


Embroidery and weaving are the two primary categories of traditional textile craft that you will see a lot of in Oaxaca. Weavings include rugs, which are often from wool dyed with natural pigments, and wall hangings created on fixed-frame pedal looms. Cotton belts, handbags, and placemats are typically produced on backstrap looms, and bolts of cotton and silk cloth used to make homewares like bedspreads, tablecloths, and towels are made on flying shuttle looms. Embroidery can primarily be found on huipiles (loose-fitting tunics) and blouses but may also be added to dresses and men’s guayaberas. Traditionally, embroidery was created by hand, but most of it is made with a machine today. The locations listed below are where these distinct textile processes are most well-represented. For folks interested in textiles, the Museo Textil de Oaxaca often has great exhibits, and their gift shop has examples of some of the finest work in the area. 

  • Teotitlán del Valle: The Teotitlán del Valle pueblo is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Norte just below Benito Juarez. It’s known for its wool rugs, wall hangings, purses, and cushion covers. Much of the wool used has been dyed with pigments derived from natural sources found locally, such as chamomile, indigo, cochineal, and marigold. Most of the weaving shops in Teotitlán have looms on-site where visitors can observe artisans at work. Some shops offer full tours where visitors can learn about the dying processes and participate in workshops.
  • Santa María Tlahuitoltepec: This town in the eastern side of the state specializes in machine-embroidered huipiles and blouses. Distinct black and red designs are unique to the Mixe community of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec. Many of the designs contain symbolic elements that represent the community’s historic, cultural, and spiritual identity. Since 2015, Santa María Tlahuitoltepec has been at the center of a fight over cultural appropriation, intellectual property rights, and plagiarism. Several international fashion designers and apparel companies, including Isabel Marant and Anthropologie, have copied the unique designs of the Indigenous community without their consent or compensation. 
  • Santo Tomás Jalieza: South of the old capital, Santo Tomás Jalieza is a small pueblo known for backstrap loom woven belts, guitar straps, bracelets, and purses. There are cooperatives of weavers in town and works for sale at the Mercado Artesanal. For a special treat, visit local weavers and watch them at work. The Navarro family is particularly inviting, and their workshop is in a lovely courtyard. 
  • San Antonino Castillo Velasco is known for its hand-embroidered cotton blouses and dresses in one-of-a-kind, multicolored, floral motifs. Men’s blouses and guayaberas are less common. Each blouse takes at least five to seven days to complete, with more complex work and dresses taking up to eight months. There are a few shops in San Antonio where work can be purchased directly from the source, though hours are a little unpredictable. On a visit in 2023, we had luck at Artesanías de Blusas Bordas Pensamientos de Colores, as it’s shown on Google Maps. Artesenias Seve and Artesanias Vicky also have good reviews. For a special treat, visit the studio of master sculptor Jose Garcia Antonio when you are in San Antonio.
  • Barrio Xochimilco in Oaxaca de Juarez is an historic maker of cotton tablecloths, bedspreads, napkins, and other housewares woven in bright colors. Walking through the Xochimilco barrio on any given day, you can often hear the sound of the weavers at work. The flying shuttle loom has a distinct, rhythmic beating sound as the weaver moves the handle back and forth. Peak your head into a workshop, and you can see how much physical labor goes into creating these beautiful housewares. 


Pottery has been an essential component of Oaxacan life since the times of the Olmec and the earliest Zapotec inhabitants. Today, ceramicists and potters throughout the valley continue to work their craft, many using the traditional techniques for which their specific communities have long been known. Contemporary ceramicists are also making their marks on Oaxaca, blurring the lines between traditional craft and high art. The results are inspiring.

The villages listed below are each known for their distinctive contributions to the rich tradition of Oaxacan ceramics. Many artisans in these communities have open studios and welcome visitors. Various tour operators based in Oaxaca City also offer guided visits and workshops in some of these communities. This list is by no means comprehensive, as there are upward of 70 villages in the area known for their ceramics, and dozens of different methods are used for making clay wares across those villages. 

  • San Marcos Tlapazola is a small Zapotec village located approximately 25 miles/40 kilometers from the city. Roughly a third of the village’s population is dedicated to the production of barro rojo. The vast majority of these artisans are women. The process of creating a finished piece is arduous. The final steps include burnishing the pieces with stones and then firing them in a most unusual way, which involves layering brick, stone, spent ceramic shards, sheet metal, bedsprings, and dung. We fell in love with the tiny mezcal cups with faces that exude personality on our very first visit, and we’ve returned several times since. San Marcos Tlapazola is conveniently located on several of the routes in this guide, including the San Jose del Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour. Stop by on your bike, and if your frame bag proves too small for transporting these great ceramics, come back in a taxi.
  • San Bartolo Coyotepec is famous for its barro negro, or black pottery. This pottery is the most emblematic of Oaxacan ceramics, as its sleek, dark appearance, which often includes carved elements, is undoubtedly unique. There are no added colors or glazes applied to the work. The color is purely a product of the clay’s mineral content and the intense carbonization that results from the firing process. The pieces with a shiny black appearance were burnished before firing, while the matte, dark gray ones were not. A great day ride from the city makes its way through San Bartolo and over a desert pass back into the valley. See the section on our favorite day rides for details.
  • Santa Maria Atzompa, which lies just a stone’s throw away from Oaxaca City, is a hub for talented ceramicists. The town is best known for its jade green-glazed earthenware, most of which is used for cooking, baking, and serving food. In the mid-20th century, wares from Atzompa were shipped to all parts of Mexico and exported to the United States, but later, concerns over lead toxicity from the glaze destroyed that market. In the 1990s, newer lead-free green glazes were developed, but Atztompa’s economy has never recovered. Today, you can still find plenty of green-glazed pottery in Atzompa as well as traditional pastillaje work, but there are also artists making edgy, contemporary works that are a far cry from those classic dishes. Some of our favorite studios in town include Taller de Escultura y Cerámica 4 Elementos, Galleria De Arte Peguero, and Taller de Escultura y Ceramica Bichuga Bigu. Find those in the Excursiones en Etla route as well as noted on the recommended Ceramica y Senderos day ride.
  • San Antonino Castillo Velasco is not well known for its ceramic artists, save for one man—master sculptor Jose Garcia Antonio—and his family. Señor Garcia is known for his whimsical folk art, the most impressive of which are life-sized figures, including mermaids, mythical creatures, and Zapotec women. Despite losing his eyesight from glaucoma at the age of 55, he continues to create work with the help of his partner and muse, Maestra Santa Reyna. Their three children have continued in the family tradition. It may be possible to arrange a tour of their studio in advance, but we were lucky enough to catch the Maestro at work without advanced notice.

San Jose del Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour


Alebrijes are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. They were first created in Mexico City by papier-mache artist Pedro Linares, who purportedly had visions of fanciful creatures whilst very ill and lying in bed unconscious. His concept was later adopted by Oaxacan woodcarver Manuel Jiménez. The craft took off, as there was already a strong tradition of wood carving in Oaxaca. Today, the towns of  San Antonio Arrazola, where Ramirez was born, and San Martin Tilcajete are home to hundreds of artisans who create these amazing sculptures, carved from copal wood and meticulously hand-painted with vibrant patterns and impossibly intricate details.

To learn more about how alebrijes are made, including a great demonstration of how the different pigments used to paint them are produced, visit the Jacobo and María Ángeles Workshop in San Martin. The work at this studio is pricey, but the quality is amazing.


If you have a question or need advice about gear recommendations, route alternates, bike choice, or other things not addressed in this guide or the respective route guides, please use the form below. Similarly, if you just want to support this project or you’ve ridden one or more of these routes and want to send a token of your appreciation, use the form below and it will be sent directly. We’re currently fundraising for route updates in 2024 and a full Spanish translation of this guide.