Hebras de Ixtepeji, Oaxaca
58 Mi.(93 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
This little loop is a fantastic way of spending a couple of nights camping in the high country – and riding some wonderful trails while you’re there. Like the Micro Vuelta de la Sierra Norte, it begins and ends in 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 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.
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 old railway line, think big ascent, primarily on dirt roads. Then, a wiggly inner loop of trails that offer a mix of mossy, rooty, and sometimes techy terrain with optional jumps. Finally, round this off with a gratifyingly singletrack-laden descent to the Etla Valley, which is almost completely rideable. Weatherwise, La Cumbre is cool throughout the year, offering an especially welcome sanctuary in the dry 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.
There are a number of quiet spots dotted around the route for dispersed camping. Alternatively, consider availing yourself of the facilities at Centro Ecoturistico La Cumbre Ixtepeji, allowing you to pack extra light for the big climb and enjoy the broad range of trails all the more. If you want to extend the loop that’s included in the route, download this file too. Either way, the Sierra Norte promises glorious riding in every direction and is a highlight of any time spent in Oaxaca.
Come the weekend, many of the city’s skilled enduro riders shuttle up to La Cumbre, using services offered by one of the bike shops in town. This route is a way of reaching the area on your own steam and tackling a number of its trails. For those coming from overseas, it makes a great complement to the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour, especially if you love singletrack and you’re a confident mountain biker. Be sure to check out Trail Notes for 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 steep ascent through La Mesita, as well as 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 be covered in two full days. But that’s likely to feel like a rush, so it’s best to give yourself an extra half-day, enjoy the Ixtepeji Mini Wiggle, and spend a second night camping in the high country.
- Enjoying some of Oaxaca’s truly superb 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 far reaching, 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 weekend with a day ride to Teotitlán del Valle, to see some of the beautiful textiles in this region
- 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 to really enjoy yourself. Can you ride this route on a bike with with drop handlebars? Sure, but it will be far from ideal for the majority of riders. In fact, a dropper seatpost will also come in handy on the trail loop that’s included, though old-fashioned quick-release works too!
- Best time of year: Oaxaca is a great destination throughout the year. Beware the dry season (October to April), as temperatures become sizzling hot in the valley, roads can be very dusty, and streams run dry – so 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.
- Pack light! A light rig will make a big difference to your enjoyment of these trails.
- 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.
- 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.
- There is a small fee to pass through the Reserva Ecologica La Mesita, which includes access to the butterfly garden, eco-art installations, and a number of trails. Allow time to explore!
- Technically, a fee is also required to ride around La Cumbre. 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.
- Oaxaca state is generally a safe place to travel, and this area is especially popular at the weekend with local riders. But it’s always worth getting up-to-date information on the region.
- Oaxaca is a six-hour bus ride away from Mexico City. ADO is a recommended bus company. Their big buses generally have room for a bike or two, with the front real removed and the saddle dropped. There’s an airport on the edge of Oaxaca too; see Aeromexico and Volaris for budget deals.
- Time your trip with Oaxaca’s famous Dia de Muertos ceremony (early November), but book accommodation in advance as things get busy at this time of year.
- MTB Oaxaca is an excellent resource that lists bike shops, trails, and day rides in and around Oaxaca. In terms of bike shops and repair, options include Bicicletas Pedro Martizez (bike hire/guiding too), Bicimundo, and Zona Bici for a good stock of high-end bike parts. La Cleta y El Cafe offers bike repairs and guiding services too.
- Oaxaca Journal by Dr. Oliver Sachs is a recommended read for those interested in learning more about Oaxaca from a botanical and a cultural standpoint.
- A visit to the Botanical Gardens, where the route begins, is also highly recommended to lend a deeper sense of context for the biodiversity for which Oaxaca is known.
- Dig into the carousel at the bottom of this post on another overnighter into the Sierra Norte; the carousel identifies many of the plants you’ll likely see in this area.
- There is one eco-touristic centre, just off route, where accommodation can be sought – see map for its location. Centro Ecoturístico La Cumbre Ixtepeji has food, water, and lodging on offer.
- Discreet, responsible, dispersed camping can enjoyed throughout the Sierra Norte. If you find yourself near a community, be sure to check in and ask. There are plenty of flat spots in the La Cumbre area, but fewer on the way up or down.
- There’s a wide variety of accommodation available in Oaxaca, from budget hostels to fancier digs. If you plan on setting up a base camp to explore the area in more detail, Airbnb can be a good option. The ‘centro’ is popular but the area around Xochimilco is especially appealing. It’s the oldest part of Oaxaca and is artistic, colourful, and full of small 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!
- Bring all the food you need as there’s nowhere to resupply, short of detouring to the Centro Ecoturistico.
- For post-ride recommendations when you’re back in town, head to Boulenc for fantastic fare and La Popular for a beer or two.
- Or… pop into one of the many mezcal specialists and try the local tipple, distilled from agave plants.
- Visit any market for a dizzying variety of fruit shakes, a great start to the day. Laced with celery, grapefruit, and parsley, ‘verde’ is especially good. The main market behind the zócalo – Mercado Benito
Juárez – is always a hive of activity and a great place to explore on foot.
- Aguas frescas are the drink of choice in Oaxaca and 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 recycled more times than plastics.
- Paletas! Mexico’s classic ice cream on a stick tastes especially good after (or during) a long day in the saddle.
- Eat meat? Or rather, insects? Get yourself a bag of chapolies – grasshoppers seasoned with lime, salt, and garlic – and sprinkle them on your food!
- To find out more about the culinary fare for which the city is known, it’s worth checking out the Netflix series Street Food Latin America. It focuses on local legend Doña Vale and the region’s famous recipes.
- Oaxaca is well known for its chocolate, often melted into a hot drink, and its delicious mole, which is on every restaurant menu.
- Calle de General Portfilio Diaz is becoming quite the street for locally run, ‘new wave’ Oaxacan fare. At the top end, check out Macha Pacha, which sells artisanal chocolate in compostable packaging. A few doors down, vegetarians will love hole-in-the-wall Casuelas, while Pan Con Madre, next door, is excellent for bakery products. On the same road but further into the centre of town, Boulenc (as mentioned above) has fantastic takeaway sandwiches and amazing products in the bakery next to its restaurant.
- Coffee? Oaxaca has you covered! Coffee is grown in the state and roasted locally. There are too many coffee shops to recommend but try Café El Volador, close to Templo Santo Domingo to get you started. The square where it’s located is a great spot to hang out after a ride, too.
- Rupestre, in Barrio Xochimilco, also has excellent (and strong) Americanos and delicious breakfasts – the large courtyard can accommodate bikes. Try the molletes or panque de platano frances.
- Next door, Ancestral is an excellent restaurant serving beautifully presented, traditional food.
- Want to treat yourself? Casa Oaxaca is considered one of the best restaurants in town.
Want to ride a couple more flowy trails in La Cumbre?
Download this file!
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.
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.
- You can see more images from the same area in this post – the backdrop to our foraging guide.
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