Hebras de Ixtepeji, Oaxaca

We recognize Indigenous Peoples as the traditional stewards of this land. Moreflag On Zapoteco Land
  • Distance

    58 Mi.

    (93 KM)
  • Days

    2.5

  • % Unpaved

    90%

  • % Singletrack

    20%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    8

  • % Rideable (time)

    99%

  • Total Ascent

    10,250'

    (3,124 M)
  • High Point

    10,800'

    (3,292 M)
Hebras de Ixtepeji is a short, testing, and fun weekend loop into the mountains behind the city of Oaxaca. It packs in a combination of low-traffic dirt roads, forest tracks, and backcountry trails - almost all of which is rideable with a lightweight bikepacking setup. Designed with mountain bikers in mind, it also includes an introduction to the Sierra Norte's La Cumbre Ixtepeji enduro and cross-country network, an impressive centre that draws riders from across Mexico and the world...
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This little loop is a wonderful way of spending a long weekend in the Oaxaca’s high country – and riding some of the Sierra Norte’s primo trails while you’re there. Yes, you can ride it in two full days. But relax! Ixtepeji is such a beautiful place that once you’ve made the effort to get there, why rush back down again? I recommend eeking it out into a two night adventure to make the most of your time in the high country. Bring a book (better still, read a few chapters of Dr Sach’s Oaxaca Journal). Enjoy the area’s remarkable biodiversity. Whittle a spoon. Philosophise about life. Or just pack in extra singletrack – bikepackers can drop down into the Ecoturismo Comunal Santa Catarina Ixtepeji for the night, enjoy a meal, and ride some bonus hours of unladen trail riding.

Like the Micro Vuelta de la Sierra Norte, this route begins and ends in the heart of Oaxaca City. Whilst the former offers a dirt road overview of the mountains that back the city, this singletrack sibling seeks to connect its most flowy trails, setting its sight on the lookout tower at Pelado Chico (3080m) as a midway goal. The route also includes the classic ascent through La Mesita, passing right by its Reserva Ecologica. Not only does La Mesita provide an unconventional backdoor into Ixtepeji, it also offers the chance to visit and support a community-run eco-centre along the way, complete with a butterfly farm and art installations, along with its own walking and mountain biking trails. It’s well worth some of your time.

For those with a reasonably strong level of fitness and a love of singletrack, the route’s shape – for all its wiggles – is as simple as it is satisfying. After exiting town via the Libramento Norte, think big ascent, primarily on dirt and forest roads. Then, a short hiking interlude to Cruz de la Pena offers some far-reaching views across the Mitla and the Etla Valleys – it’s a great chance to get your bearings. Follow this up with a wiggly inner loop of singletrack trails that offer a mix of mossy, rooty, and sometimes techy terrain and optional jumps, before returning back to town via a gratifyingly singletrack-laden descent into the Etla Valley. Finally, wind down with a relaxing ride back into Oaxaca along the disused railway tracks that once ran between Oaxaca and Puebla. It’s peppered with a variety of refreshments, including the delightfully sweet coco de crema and tangy tepache.

Weatherwise, Ixtepeji is cool throughout the year (brings extra layers for camping at elevation), offering an especially welcome sanctuary in the dry season, and the area drains quickly in the rainy season. Often lost in a swirl of cloud cover, this moisture serves to make the landscape all the more lush and green. Aside from a dense forest of pines, expect to see madronas, old-growth oak, bromeliads, and orchids in this protected zone.

  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Singletrack
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Singletrack
  • Oaxaca Bikepacking Singletrack

There are a number of quiet spots dotted around the route for dispersed camping, a couple of which are marked on the map. Please remember that this is a community-owned forest so tread carefully and be sure not to smoke or make a fire. Alternatively, consider availing yourself of the facilities at Centro Ecoturistico La Cumbre Ixtepeji (offering camping, affordable lodging and good food). Doing so will allow you to pack less for the big climb and enjoy the broad range of trails all the more. Work is also underway to refurbish the cabañas above La Mesita (see map for POI). When they’re reopened, there’s the potential to turn this route into a fantastic hut-to-hut, singletrack laden adventure. Watch this space!

If you want to extend the loop that’s included in the route, download this file too, which includes bonus singletrack – or check out all the nearby trails on Trailforks. See the Trail Notes tab for my ideas. Either way, the Sierra Norte promises glorious riding in every direction and is a highlight of any time spent in Oaxaca.

Come the weekend, expect company on the trails. Many of the city’s skilled enduro riders shuttle up to La Cumbre, using services offered by one of the bike shops in town (see Need to Know tab), and the area is popular with riders from overseas too. The charm of this route is that it offers a way of reaching the area on your own steam and tackling a number of its trails. For those coming from afar, it makes a great singletrack-laden complement to the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour, especially if you’re a confident mountain biker with an appropriate setup. Be sure to check out the Trail Notes tab for other day rides in the area, too.

What’s in a name? Aside from its flowy singletrack, this area – and nearby Teotitlán del Valle, especially – is known throughout Mexico for its stunning textiles, hence the route’s name, Hebras de Ixtepeji. Often, three generations of a Zapotec family live under one roof, honing their craft on wooden looms, using natural dyes derived from plants, minerals, and insects. These are collected from the surrounding hillsides; for instance, the reddish hue seen in some carpets is achieved by grinding down and boiling up cochineal bugs, which feed on nopales, or prickly pears. With thanks to Emma Bucke for the use of her beautiful pine needle watercolour in the route badge.

Difficulty: We’ve awarded this route an 8, due mainly to the amount of climbing compacted within its short distance. Additionally, there are some technical trails where the odd dismount may be required, depending on your skill level. However, hike-a-bikes are very short – the longest is likely to be the stint to the lookout, which steepens towards the end. In terms of distance, the route can certainly be covered in two days. But given the extensive network of trails in the area, I recommend allotting yourself an extra half-day, enjoying the Ixtepeji Mini Wiggle and more, and savouring a second night camping in the high country.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • Resources

    link

  • Enjoying some of Oaxaca’s superb trails and backcountry singletrack – from flow to enduro, there’s something for everyone!
  • The sheer biodiversity of this area – ascend fields of cacti to bromeliads to pine and old-growth oaks.
  • Topping out at the Pelado Chico lookout for atmospheric views across the Sierra Norte, whatever the weather.
  • Treating yourself to a celebratory meal in one of Oaxaca’s superb restaurants upon your return
  • Rounding off your trip with a day ride to Teotitlán del Valle, to see some of the beautiful textiles in this region, after which this route is named.
  • Best bike: The trails in La Cumbre are challenging enough that a fully rigid plus bike or a front suspension hardtail are about the minimum you’ll want for this ride. A dropper seatpost is very much recommended, though an old-fashioned quick-release works too!
  • Best time of year: Oaxaca is a great destination throughout the year. The dry season (October to April) is a good time to ride but be aware that in the later months, it’s sizzling hot in the valley, the roads can be very dusty, and streams run dry. Leave early and carry extra water. In contrast, the rainy season (May to October) brings lush countryside, tacky trails, but the risk of heavy nightly downpours. On the whole, the trails drain well. Mid October through December are probably the best times to ride here, as the landscape is still green, the heaviest rains have passed, and the temperatures aren’t yet oppressive.
  • Pack light! A light rig will make a big difference to your enjoyment of these trails. They’re often steep and technical.
  • Almost all of this route is rideable, but expect to hop off your bike occasionally, depending on your skill level. Ride conservatively and carefully, as parts of this route are very remote and far removed from emergency services.
  • If you want to extend the route beyond the bonus gpx file we’d included, it’s as simple as adding in more trails once you’re up in La Cumbre. Many are listed on Trailforks. For those with the skillset and the bike, there are a number of black-graded enduro trails too. They’re great trails but very intense too.
  • There is a small fee (40 pesos) to pass through the Reserva Ecologica La Mesita, which includes access to eco-art installations, and a number of trails. There’s also a butterfly garden, for an additional 40 pesos. Allow time to explore! Camping is possible there too, if you get a late start or want to stop and ride trails.
  • Technically, a fee (200 pesos) is also required to ride in Ixtepeji. However, this route doesn’t pass by the ticket booth on the main road where this would normally be paid; if anyone asks for the fee, just request a receipt, so you can show it if need be. 
  • If you pack light, riding these trails with minimal bikepacking gear is very do-able and you’ll still have a lot of fun. Otherwise, consider dropping down to the Centro Ecoturístico La Cumbre Ixtepeji and leaving your bags there. It’s a 30-490 minute climb to get back out again to the main trail hub.
  • Generally speaking, the mountains of Oaxaca are a safe place to travel through, but it’s always worth seeking up-to-date information.
  • Want to get into the botanical groove? Visit the renowned Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca for a plant primer before you set off. There are 2 hour, guided tours in English and Spanish.
  • Background readingOaxaca Journal by Dr Oliver Sachs, is a highly recommended read for those interested in learning more about the area, from both a botanical and cultural standpoint.
  • Nearby trails: A short ride from the centre of Oaxaca, the trail network west of San Felipe Del Agua has a network of cross-country singletrack – see Trailforks for details. The Escalones trail, as an out and back, is especially recommended.
  • Enduro scene and bike guides: A number of tour agencies can supply full suspension bikes and guided day rides, like Coyote Adventuras, Trans Sierra Norte, and Bicicletas Pedro Martinez. Coyote and Pedro Martinez offer more mellow tours around the valleys too.
  • Bike shops: Bicimundo and Zona Bici are well stocked and both have shops in Reforma, which are recommended over their branches in the city centre. Expect to find sealant, modern drivetrain components, and a reasonable selection of mountain bike tyres, right up to 29 x 2.5/2.6.
  • Bike rentals: Aside from the full suspension bikes provided by tour companies for their enduro tours, Bicicletas Pedro Martinez rents decent hardtails for 500 pesos/24 hours. Otherwise, pop by Bicibella Oaxaca, below Coyote tours. They may be able to set you up with something too.
  • Resources: MTB Oaxaca is an excellent website that lists bike shops, trails, and day rides in and around Oaxaca. Thank you Larry!
  • El Día de Muertos: Consider timing your trip with Oaxaca’s famous festival and ceremony (early November), but book accommodation in advance as things get especially busy at that time of year.
  • Buses: Oaxaca is a six-hour bus ride away from Mexico City. ADO is a recommended bus company and generally has room for a bike or two. You may need to remove the front wheel and drop your seat post.
  • Flights: Volaris, AeroMexico, and a number of other airlines fly to Oaxaca via Mexico City or Guadalajara. There are some direct flights to LA, too. Airlines invariably have different bike policies – cost/size/weight – so always check ahead. I like to travel with a compact bicycle bag –  like the Tardis from Ground Effect – as it fits into smaller taxis and is easier to store in a hotel or hostel.
  • Airport taxis: Depending on the size of your bike boxes, it’s likely to cost between 350 and 500 pesos for a taxi from the airport into town – for 2 to 3 people with bikes.  You can buy tickets for the official airport taxis when you arrive (just by the exit) and it’s all regulated. If you have a small bike bag, you can likely fit it into the collectivo. For your return, download the Didi App on your phone (pay the driver directly), or arrange a shuttle through your hotel.
  • Covid-19 tests: tests suitable for air travel to the US are available at Farmacias Ahorro , a national chain of pharmacies.  You’ll need to book in advance (sometimes at least a day) but results are almost immediate. The cost is approximately $25/500 pesos. Find the closest to where you are staying, book online (laptops work better than phones), and don’t forget to bring ID. There are other more immediate (but expensive) clinics in town too, that may well be better suited to larger groups. Your accommodation will also be able to advise.
  • Mask wearing: Be sure to wear your mask both indoors and outdoors in Oaxaca city, as per the state mandate. Expect to have your temperature checked and to be required to clean your hands with sanitiser when entering certain establishments and markets. Be especially sensitive to Covid-19 restrictions and requirements in smaller communities. Be sure to check in on Mexico’s Covid-19 Epidemiological Traffic Light Map before embarking on this tour.
  • There is an eco-touristic centre is just off route – see map for its location. Centro Ecoturístico La Cumbre Ixtepeji has food, water, and lodging on offer. Private cabanas are available for approx 250 pesos or person (minimum 3), or there are 4 bed dorm rooms (with private bathrooms) for 200 pesos, and camping for 100 pesos per person. The centre can be reached via one of the one-way mtb trails. To return from whence you came, there’s a 30-minute climb back up to the main trail hub. The phone number is 951 560 4039.
  • If you get a late start, you can camp at La Mesita Ecoturismo San Pablo Etla for 100 pesos per person. This gives you access to the local trail network, too, and the outdoor art centre.
  • Currently, the cabanas owned by the San Pablo Etla community are being renovated. When finished, consider using them for your first night, just note that there’s no restaurant, so you’ll need to bring food and/or a means to cook it. The number for La Mesita Ecoturismo San Pablo Etla is 951 114 40 67, through which the cabanas can be booked.
  • Discreet, responsible, dispersed camping can enjoyed throughout the Sierra Norte. If you find yourself near a community, be sure to check in and ask permission to camp. There are plenty of flat spots in the Ixtepeji area, but fewer on the way up or down. No fires are allowed.
  • There’s a wide variety of accommodation available within Oaxaca City, from budget hostels to fancy digs. If you plan on setting up a base camp to explore the area in more detail, Airbnb can be a good option. Location-wise, it’s hard to go wrong anywhere near the centre of the city but the area around Xochimilco is especially appealing. It’s the oldest part of Oaxaca and is artistic, colourful, and crammed with coffee shops.
  • There are several spots to refill water bottles along the way, the most reliable are marked on the map. Bring a filter.
  • En route up the climb, there is also a water spigot at Reserva Ecologica La Mesita.
  • In the dry season, it’s a good idea to have the capacity for 3+ litres of water on your bike; there is less water to be found on the south-east-facing La Cumbre side, so fill up whenever you see it. The last reliable spot is around 32km into the route.
  • If you run low, you can head down to Centro Ecoturístico La Cumbre Ixtepeji to fill up. Food is available there too.
  • Bring all the food you need as there’s nowhere to resupply, short of detouring to the Centro Ecoturistico.
  • On your way out, the last place to find food is in La Viguera (a restaurant is recommended on the map) before the big climb into the high country.
  • Various paleterias and spots to enjoy tepache and other local drinks are marked on the map, for the cruise back into Oaxaca.
  • Alternatively, if you’re returning on a Saturday or Sunday, treat yourself to a fantastic meal at Agua Miel, in San Pablo Etla. You’ll need to book in advance. It’s a little further down the valley from San José el Mogote archeological site, which is also well worth checking out.
  • A post-ride recommendation in Oaxaca? Check out La Popular for a beer or two, and good local food. The wild mushroom (setas) and garlic dish is especially good.
  • Calle de General Porfirio Díaz, in Oaxaca City, is becoming quite the street for locally run, ‘new wave’ but affordable Oaxacan fare. From the end closest to the centre, the Boulenc ’empire’ includes an incredible bakery, a fantastic restaurant and coffee shop, and a grocery store (Suculente) with all kinds of bottled, fermented delights. Further up the street, Hierba Dulce is an excellent vegan restaurant with a broad menu of traditional dishes – it’s my belief that their avocado and chocolate ‘cremosa’ is one of the best desserts in town! Further up the street still, looks out for Pan Con Madre, another excellent spot for bakery products.  Vegetarians will love the small, hole-in-the-wall ‘Casuelas’, a block past the excellent Mercado Sánchez Pascuas. A few steps beyond lies Macha Pacha, which sells artisanal chocolate in compostable packaging. The owner is a keen mountain biker!
  • Want to really treat yourself? Dive down the Oaxacan foodie rabbit hole by checking out the following world class restaurants: Crudo, Restaurant Alfonsina, Criollo, Agua Miel, Origen, Hotel Sin Nombre, Teocintle, and Casa Oaxaca. You’ll need to book in advance for all of these places.
  • For a great market to try all of Oaxaca’s regional cuisine, head to Mercado Organico La Cosecha (C. Macedonio Alcalá 806), where a number of small stalls will entice you with their delights! Outside seating. This place really is one of Oaxaca’s gems and is highly recommended. Open Weds-Sunday.
  • Coffee? Oaxaca has you covered! Coffee is grown in the state and roasted locally. There are far too many coffee shops to recommend, but try out Café El Volador, at the beautiful Plaza de la Cruz de Piedra, to get you started. The square is a great spot to hang out after a day ride, too.
  • Over the highway in Xochimilco, Rupestre has a lovely courtyard and especially strong americanos – there’s room for bikes too – or there’s the roof terrace at AM Siempre (great gluten-free chocolate cake!) next door. Nearby Chepiche (look it up on Googlemaps, as it’s not signposted from the road) is great for breakfast; it’s super spacious and there’s outdoor seating, with plenty of room for bikes. I recommend trying La Huerta. Ancestral, also close by in Xochimilco, is a restaurant serving beautifully presented, traditional Oaxacan fare. Xochimilco makes a great destination for an amble too.
  • To find out more about the culinary fare for which Oaxaca City is known, check out the Netflix series Street Food Latin America. It focuses on local legend Doña Vale and the region’s famous recipes.
  • Pop into one of the many mezcal specialists or stop along the roadside and try the local tipple, distilled from agave (maguey) plants. There are many subtleties to mezcal, depending on the agave, where it’s grown, and how it’s distilled. If you want to dive deep into the mezcal-tasting experience, Mezcaloteca, in Oaxaca city, comes highly recommended, as does El Destilado.
  • Visit any market for a wide variety of fruit and fruit shakes, a great start to the day. ‘Verde’, laced with celery, grapefruit, and parsley is a personal favourite. The main Oaxaca market, behind the zócalo – Mercado Benito Juárez – is always a hive of activity and a great place to explore on foot.
  • Cacao plays an important role in Oaxacan food and the state Oaxaca is well known for its chocolate. It’s either melted with cinnamon and sugar into Oaxacan hot chocolate – traditionally served without milk – or made into a delicious mole, which can be found on every restaurant’s menu.
  • Agua frescas are the drink of choice in Mexico and are way better than Coca-Cola! Choose from jamaica, horchata, and tamarindo, along with whatever fruit is in season – mango, papaya, or guava. Where possible, buy soft drinks in glass bottles as these are both re-used and more easily recycled than plastics.
  • Tejate, a pre-hispanic energy drink made from maize and cacao, and tepiche, made from fermented pineapple, are two other excellent local drinks to look out for.
  • Eat meat? Or rather, insects? Grab yourself a bag of chapolines – grasshoppers seasoned with lime, salt and garlic – and sprinkle them on your food or just enjoy them for afternoon nibbles.
  • Paletas! Mexico’s classic ice cream on a stick tastes especially good after (or during) a long day in the saddle. A few of our favourites are marked on the map.

Want to ride a couple more flowy trails in La Cumbre Ixtepeji?

The Ixtepji Mini Wiggle offers an intro into some of the more flowy, mellower trails in the network.

Spending the night in the Centro ecoturístico La Cumbre Ixtepeji?

This Ixtepeji Sunrise Ride is short and sweet.  It includes a great spot to enjoy the sunrise across the Sierra Juarez, and a small trail loop that’s best enjoyed unladen. It takes around 1.30hr riding time but you’ll want to linger at the lookout, for sure!

Spending longer in Oaxaca?

Check out the six-day San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour, a loop out of Oaxaca. Or catch a bus over to Cuicatlán, and ride the three day Ojos de Cuitalan tour, in the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve. If you want to visit the Pacific coast, check out the Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido route.

Looking for day rides to further explore the area? 

The Monte Albán and Cuilapan Rural Ramble is a challenging rough stuff day ride that passes by the Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán en route to the Ex-Monastery of Cuilapan, set in Oaxaca’s Valle Grande and Ejutla area. You can trim it down a smaller loop, but I recommend the full figure of eight route, as the extension provides a wonderful showcase for Oaxaca’s traditional farming practises and inter-cropping – a combination of corn, squash, and beans to help fortify the soil and keep pests away.

If you’re interested in bringing back a textile from your trip and would like to buy it directly from the makers, the 75km Teotitlán, via Huilapam, Dainzú, and Tule is sure to add great memories to your purchase. It links up mellow trails, rural roads, and desert two-track. Find out more about traditional Oaxaca textiles and how they’re made here.

With thanks to Larry at www.oaxacamtb.com sharing his vast knowledge of the area and its dirt roads.

Additional Resources

  • You can see more images from the same area in this post – the backdrop to our foraging guide.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

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