Hebras de Ixtepeji, Oaxaca
58 Mi.(93 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
This little loop is a wonderful way of spending a couple of nights in the Oaxaca’s high country – and riding some wonderful trails in the Sierra Norte while you’re there. Yes, you could 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 2.5 day/2 night adventure, and making 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 enjoy a couple of hours of bonus singletrack. (see gpx file/Traiforks below)
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 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 roads. Then, a wiggly inner loop of trails that offer a mix of mossy, rooty, and sometimes techy terrain with optional jumps. Follow this up with a gratifyingly singletrack-laden descent back down to the Etla Valley, which is almost completely rideable. Finally, enjoy a relaxing ride back into town along the disused railway tracks… home to a variety of refreshments, including the delightful coco de crema and tepache. Perhaps I can suggest a delicious pizza at Boulenc to celebrate?
Weatherwise, Ixtepeji is cool throughout the year, 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.
There are a number of quiet spots dotted around the route for dispersed camping, a couple of which are marked on the map. 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, which includes bonus singletrack – or check out all the nearby trails on Trailforks. 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 singletrack-laden complement to the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour, especially if 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 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.
- 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 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 (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!
- Technically, a fee (200 pesos) 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. Or, hiding your gear! Just be sure to mark it with a waypoint (-;
- Generally speaking, the mountains of Oaxaca are a safe place to travel through, but it’s always worth seeking up-to-date information.
- 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. Expect to generally find sealant and a reasonable selection of mountain bike tyres, right up to 29 x 2.5/2.6.
- 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.
- 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.
- Volaris, AeroMexci and a number of other airlines fly to Oaxaca via Mexico City or Guadalajara. Depending on the size of your bike boxes, it’s likely to cost between 350 and 500 pesos for a taxi into town – for 2 to 3 people with bikes. You can buy tickets for the official airport taxis when you arrive and it’s all regulated. Download the Didi App on your phone for the return journey, or perhaps arrange something through your hotel.
- 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 Ixtepeji area, but fewer on the way up or down.
- 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.
- Bring all the food you need as there’s nowhere to resupply, short of detouring to the Centro Ecoturistico.
- For post-ride recommendations as you’re rolling back in town, head to Boulenc for fantastic fare and La Popular for a beer or two.
- 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 to 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.
- 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.
- Eat meat? Or rather, insects? Grab yourself a bag of chapolies – grasshoppers seasoned with lime, salt and garlic – and sprinkle them on your food or just enjoy them for afternoon nibbles.
- In Oaxaca City, Calle de General Portfilio Diaz is becoming quite the street for locally run, ‘new wave’ 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 with all kinds of homemade delights. Further up the street, Hierba Dulce is a an excellant vegan restaurant that a great menu of traditional dishes. I firmly believe that their ‘cremosa’ is one of the best desserts in town! Further up the street still, vegetarians will love the small, hole-in-the-wall ‘Casuelas’ whilst Pan Con Madre, next door, is another excellent spot for bakery products. A few steps beyond lies Macha Pacha, which sells artisanal chocolate in compostable packaging.
- Coffee? Oaxaca has you covered! Coffee is grown in the state and roasted locally. There are 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 is a nice spot with 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 is perhaps my favourite spot in town- it’s super spacious, there’s outdoor seating, it’s great for a breakfast, and again, plenty of room for bikes. I recommend trying La Huerta! Look this place up on Googlemaps, as it’s not signposted from the road.
- If you’re after something a little special, Ancestral, in Xochimilco, 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.
- Oaxaca is well known for its chocolate, often melted into a hot drink, and its delicious mole, which is on every restaurant menu, so be sure to get a taste of that, too.
- Agua frescas are the drink of choice in Mexico 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. Keep your eyes peeled for the coco stand on your way back into town – you can get crema de coco, agua de coco, and tepache, a fermented pineapple drink.
- Paletas! Mexico’s classic ice cream on a stick tastes especially good after (or during) a long day in the saddle. Some favourites are marked along the route…
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. 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.
- You can see more images from the same area in this post – the backdrop to our foraging guide.
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