San Jose del Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour, Oaxaca
244 Mi.(393 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
Route last updated Jan 2022. Be sure to check Mexico’s Covid-19 Epidemiological Traffic Light Map before embarking on this tour and wear your mask, as is currently required by the Oaxaca state – more details under the ‘Must Know’ tab.
Jan 2022 update: Two riders reported an access incident whilst following the forest road between Cieneguilla and San Agustín Mixtepec. It appears that some San Agustín Mixtepe community members are unhappy seeing cyclists in this area. Whilst this incident may well be isolated – in the past, we’ve been explicitly told that there is no issue riding this forest road – please take the suggested detour (as show on the map and on the gpx file here) until this is resolved, so as not to offend anyone from the San Agustin Mixtepec community, to whom this land belongs. Alternatively, consider riding this route in reverse and asking permission in San Agustin Mixtepec.
The San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour is a week-long loop that showcases Oaxaca and its geographical, botanical, and cultural diversity. Setting off from Templo de Santa Domingo de Guzmán, it exits the state’s capital city and its cultural and artistic hub in a somewhat unorthodox way, setting the tone for this distinctly backcountry route.
Heading south, the outward leg consists primarily of rural terracerías – dirt roads – that connect small communities as they wend their way from one milpa – field – to the next. It eases bikepackers into dirt road touring, Mexico-style, and in all likelihood, you’ll be sharing bumpy thoroughfares with dilapidated pickup trucks, parked donkeys, fellow cyclists, many of whom are on singlespeeds, as well as horse and carts. Paralleling it and only crossing it on occasion, it almost completely avoids the paved highway to the coast, providing instead a more gentle insight into traditional Oaxacan farming life.
Leaving the Valles Centrales, the route strikes south-east into the cloud forest towards the popular, highway-side settlement of San José del Pacífico – a great spot to take an additional day’s rest, especially if your legs are still easing into mountain riding. After coursing up and down through the lush, often misty forests typical to this area, the return loop is a wilder and less travelled affair. First it hurdles a remote mountain high pass that’s close to 2,900 metres in elevation, tracing an old mtb race, the Reto Totohua, that was last held in 2013. The descent down the other side is a long and thrilling one, eventually breaking out across a hot, dusty plain that’s home to vast patches of agave plantations. Those who enjoy an evening tipple will be pleased to know that Oaxaca is famed for its mezcal, best served from a small, travel-friendly (and reassuringly lightweight) jícara, a cup fashioned from the gourd of the calabash tree.
Dropping down to a balmy 900 metres in altitude, sweaty brows are to be expected, as is the sight of banana and papaya trees, which grow in abundance at this elevation. Tracing the shores of the languid Río Quiechapa, the route then climbs back into the cooler climbs of the mountains once more, striking deep into a rugged land of giant groves of prickly pear and bearded columni cacti. Continuing its northwards roll, the route eventually connects with the Mitla Valley for the final, relatively flat stint home to Oaxaca, with its promise variety of enticingly edible rewards.
Don’t be too much of a rush, though. This last stretch is an especially appealing one, because it connects a number of small villages that are each known for a particular craft – including basket making and barro rojo pottery – before passing the low key, Zapotec archeological site of Dainzú, which date back some two millennia. Continuing its cultural tour, it includes a detour up to Teotitlan del Valle, famed throughout Mexico for its textiles, many of which use plant and insect pigments as natural dyes – keep a spare Voilé strap handy in case you want to invest in a beautiful rug!
Onwards, it’s just a short ride to Santa María del Tule and its refreshing nieves, from where a convenient bike path beelines straight into the city. Take the time to pause to inspect a particularly impressive Montezuma Cypress specimen that has resided there for over two thousand years, and note that you’ll be in good company too, as the revered Prussian botanist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt did exactly the same in 1802. At 14 metres wide and 42 metres in circumference, it’s claimed the tree is the stoutest tree in the world.
Tule aside, we’ve barely even touched on the state’s remarkable biodiversity, which draws biologists from the world over. There’s no better way to prime yourself for a visit than by reading the entertaining Oaxaca Journal by Dr Oliver Sacks – the acclaimed neurologist, writer, and fern enthusiast – in fact a local fern is named after him. Keen-eyed bikepackers may well spot a wide variety of plants throughout the route, many of which are endemic to this area, can are especially noticeable on the shoulder of the rainy and dry seasons. We’ve included a few examples below and captioned names within the photoset should you wish to partake in this Oaxacan botanical treasure hunt.
In order of presentation: Red Dahlia, Purple Bush-Bean, Bromeliad (Tillandsia Oaxacana), Orchid (Govenia utriculata), Bonnet (Mycena).
The southern Pacific states of Oaxaca and Chiapas are also known for their mushrooms, which can be appreciated in a number of ways. If you’ve come across the name María Sabina, you’ll likely know about Oaxaca’s popularity amongst overseas travellers, drawing famous creatives from around the world. Sabina’s sacred healing ceremonies were based around the use of psilocybin mushrooms, and somewhat controversially, were brought to fame in a Life article in the late ’50s.
Come rainy season, foragers will love this area too, because the fungi that grow all around 2440m San José del Pacífico also taste delicious within the fold of a tlayuda. These handmade dishes, typical to Oaxaca, are a foodie bikepacker’s dream. Cooked on a comal, they consist of a large, crunchy, partially toasted, homemade tortilla covered with a spread of refried beans, cabbage, avocado, meat, Oaxacan cheese, and fresh salsa. Quite delicious!
Edits, alternates and extensions
For those coming from afar, Oaxaca deserves as much time as you can make for it and if you live in Mexico, it’s a destination worth getting to know over a series of visits. For this reason, we’ve included a number of alternatives to riding in and out of the city, as well as a short ride to San Mateo Rio Hondo to extend your trip at its midpoint, too.
The full loop includes a fun and unorthodox route out of Oaxaca. But if you need to save time, there’s a way to exit the city that is considerably more direct and will save you half a day, even if it means riding the highway for a stint – see the RWGPS gpx here. It passes by San Bartolo Coyotepec, known for its barro negro pottery.
If you’re running late at the end of your trip, it’s easy enough to edit out the detour to Teotitlán del Valle (as worthwhile as it is). Conversely, should you want to eek out the ride, you can either climb up above Teotitlán del Valle and enjoy one last high elevation campout – see the main RWGPS map for a recommended spot – or visit the Mitla archaeological site and the sprawling Tlacolula market, which is especially hectic on Sunday. The Camping and Lodging tab includes a great place to stay in Mitla. Use the Mitla Connector gpx as a backcountry, low traffic way of riding there, keeping you completely off the highway.
Additionally, we’ve included day rides into nearby valleys to bookend your trip (see the Dirt Road Day Rides box out below), and if that’s not enough, I’d recommend a foray into the Sierra Juárez too, the range that overlooks the city to the north. With the right steed – think capable mountain bike – the San Jose del Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour pairs especially well with the Hebras de Ixtepeji forest road and singletrack ride, which is a 2 to 3 day exploration of the Sierra Norte.
Check out the Trail Notes tab below for more details – and investigate the various points on the RWGPS map for places to mix and match the route – so you can tailor your Oaxaca visit to suit different timelines, riding preferences, and bike setups.
Lastly, for anyone with a longer itinerary still, consider heading over to the nearby Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve (a 1.5-hour bus ride away), or embarking on a mountain crossing to Puerto Escondido on the Pacific coast – via the Oaxaca Escondidada route. Or, use the San Jose del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour as a warm up/shakedown ride to a bigger journey south, following the Trans Mexico (Sur).
Dirt Road Day Rides
The Grand Dirt Tour aims to showcase the many facets of this beautiful and culturally diverse state, and for those coming from afar, the city of Oaxaca de Juaréz makes a great base to learn about Zapotec culture and traditions. As such, it’s well worth allotting yourself at least a few days to enjoy the fantastic regional fare, visit the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, pop into the Museo Textil, and ride out various nearby archaeological sites – like nearby Monte Albán and Atzompa.
Indeed, the three main valleys that prod out of the city offer much more than just riding… though cycling is definitely the best way of discovering them! With this in mind, we’ve included five recommended day rides of differing lengths to bookend your trip. The first and second will introduce you to the archaeological site of Monte Albán, one of the most important cities in Mesoamerica – one is a day ride and the other just a couple of hours in the saddle. A third hurdles the Libramento Norte, leading riders out on quiet dirt roads to the acclaimed Centro de las Artes de San Agustín, returning via the Zona arqueológica de San José El Mogote and the old railway line. In case you didn’t stop in Teotitlán del Valle on your way through the Mitla valley, a fourth overlaps the route briefly, using the mostly mellow foothills trails that connect the city with Huayapam, a village known for its pre-hispanic energy drink, tejate. The fifth is one of my favourite half-day rides in the area. It strikes out to San Felipe Tejalapam on ridgetop dirt roads, offering a fresh perspective of the area. Find links below and see Trail Notes for additional details about these routes.
1. Monte Albán and Cuilapan Rural Ramble
2. Monte Albán and Atzompa Rough ‘n Ruts!
3. San Agustín Etla: foothills out, railroad back
4. Teotitlán del Valle, via Huilapam, Dainzú, and Tule
5. San Felipe Tejalapam Dirt Loop (v. Roughstuff)
Factor in delicious local coffee and what’s considered amongst the finest fare in the country – Oaxaca’s markets are legendary – and you’ll begin to see why this Mexican state is such a bikepacker’s delight!
With thanks to outdoor educator and artist Emma Bucke for sharing her beautiful botanical illustration, as used in the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour route badge. And for her knowledge of (and enthusiasm for) the natural world, which helped greatly to shape this trip.
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- Experiencing Oaxaca’s sheer biodiversity; rub shoulders with bromeliads, orchids, ferns, agave (ouch!) and much more…
- A visit to San José del Pacifico and its intriguing mushroom culture.
- Roller coaster climbs and monster descents through the steep and crumpled folds of the Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte and Sierra Sur.
- Quiet, traffic-free, backcountry riding for almost the entire route.
- A chance to spend time in Oaxaca de Juaréz itself, an enclave of creativity, fine food, and Zapotec culture.
- Working in a number of complimentary day rides, or weekend bikepacking loops, to make the most of your time in the region.
- Best bike: A rigid mountain bike or hardtail with a 2.3″ to 2.6″ tyre is the best steed for this route, due to the mixed terrain, the extended climbs, and often steep grades. But as there’s nothing ‘technical’ along the way in terms of terrain, a traditional tourer works well too. If you’re aboard a gravel bike, run gearing that’s comparable to a mountain bike, fit the widest tyres that you can, and expect to be jostled around at times. Whatever bike you choose, be sure to pack light, as there’s a lot of climbing to contend with.
- Best time of year: Oaxaca is a great destination throughout the year. But bear in mind that during the dry season (November to April/May), dirt roads become increasingly dusty and temperatures soar – especially as you descend in elevation. The landscape also becomes increasingly dull and brown. In contrast, the rainy season (May to October) brings lush countryside and more bearable midday riding temperatures, but expect heavy later afternoon or nightly downpours. Thankfully, rain in the mountains of Oaxaca is rarely an all-day affair, unless there’s a storm system lingering on the Pacific coast or the Gulf of Mexico, in which case it can be rainy and overcast for a few days. 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 – within these months, November is perhaps ideal. Early in the year is good too, though I’m personally a fan of the rainy season and the drama of its skies.
- Speaking of the rainy season, it can be worth bringing a light piece of tarp to protect your bike’s chain from rusting at night, if that’s when you’re riding. There’s a waypoint on the map for one potential mud-clay trouble spot, though on the whole, the area drains well. Storm systems aside, rains mostly come in the late afternoon or at night, so don’t tend to get in the way of enjoying your days. The rainy season has its own charms, including epic skies, storm-racing, and the chance to forage for mushrooms!
- Mushrooms are most plentiful from July to September, though they do linger on into October and even November too. Check out Oaxacan mushroom guru Osvaldo Sandoval’s Instagram for ideas and inspiration.
- Packlist? Check out this post. There are various additional notes on the area, too, so it’s worth reading even if your packlist is dialed.
- Direction: We’ve routed the loop in an anti-clockwise direction, in part to because it’s a more mellow intro to dirt road riding in Mexico, and also to finish up with an easy-going cruise through the Mitla Valley, with a detour to Teotitlan del Valle for a chance to purchase one of its naturally dyed, handmade rugs. However, the route also works really well in reverse. Ridden clockwise, it throws riders straight into the more adventurous portion, with a more gentle roll through the countryside to round it all off. Riding it clockwise also avoids the knee-popping climb into San Jose del Pacífico. There are a few minor alternates marked on the map for those riding in a clockwise direction and note the possibility of one-way roads in towns when following the gpx file.
- Difficulty: This route is characterized by significant and sometimes steep climbing but other than that, it’s a fairly straightforward ride. Road surfaces are very mixed but the terrain is never technical. Tackling it in a clockwise direction, there’s one sizeable bike-push to note – the stint up towards San Jose del Pacifico, as marked on the map – which can take about half an hour of hard graft. Other than that, assuming the right gearing for mountain riding and a decent level of fitness, you should be fine! If you’re coming from a coastal region, be aware that the ride hits 3000m in elevation. And in the dry season especially, prepare yourself for soaring temperatures when climbing out of Santa Maria Zoquitlan. Be sure to hydrate and time your riding accordingly to avoid midday highs.
- Safety: Generally speaking, the mountains of Oaxaca are a safe place to travel through, but it’s always worth seeking up-to-date information.
- Critters: There can be mosquitos, black flies, and occasionally poison ivy, so packing some Benadryl if you’re sensitive to any of these can be useful. We’ve spotted brown recluse spiders too, as well as rattlesnakes, so an enclosed tent is recommended.
- Many of these dirt roads see little travel – a wave and a friendly greeting go a long way within the small Zapotec communities.
- Similarly, some Spanish language skills are highly recommended, as much of this route sees few foreign visitors.
- Money matters: There are no ATMs en route except (on the first day), so bring cash. Try and break 500 peso notes in a city bank beforehand into small bills, as small stores and restaurants will have trouble changing them.
- To find out what events are being held in the city, follow the Que Pasa Oaxaca Facebook page. They also publish an occasional digital magazine on the Issuu platform.
- Want to get into the botanical groove? Oaxaca is the perfect destination to bring out your inner phytophile. 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. Download iNaturalist on your phone and go plant (and insect) crazy. This article, on the many uses of Opuntia (pricky pear) in Mexico throughout history, is especially fascinating. And read this associated post for a pictorial overview of some of the plants you can expect to find
- Background reading: Oaxaca 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 city centre, 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: There is also an abundance of steep cross country and techy enduro trails in the area, especially up in the Ixtepeji and La Mesita zones. Again, see Trailforks for details or check out our Hebras to Ixtepeji route, which makes a great singletrack compliment to this dirt road ride, assuming you have an appropriate bicycle. Otherwise, there are a number of tour agencies that can supply full suspension bikes and take you up there for the day, 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 is probably the best place to rent a bike suitable for dirt road riding here. A decent Orbea hardtail costs 500 pesos for 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.
- Dispersed camping is possible along this route. Bear in mind that they are unofficial spots, so be discreet, respectful, and be sure to leave no trace. I’ve marked a small selection on the map but with a keen eye there are plenty of others – especially in the more forested parts of the ride. If in doubt, ask for permission from the local ranch or ejido. People are very friendly and accomodating.
- Fuel: I use denatured alcohol and have marked up a hardware store on the map – Calle de Frey Bartolomé de las Casas, below the Zocalo – where it can be bought in bulk (56 pesos for 1.5L, ask for alcohol metilico). It’s next to a paletería, by good fortune! Elsewhere on the route, ask for alcohol puro or alcohol de quemar, just be aware that it can be time-consuming to track down, so you’re likely better buying enough for the whole loop. 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!
- Most larger settlements will have lodging, if you ask around, including Hotel Diamante Plaza in Miahuatlán de Porfirio Díaz.
- There’s plenty of options to be found in San José del Pacifico to suit all budgets. It lies a little before the halfway point of the route and is a great place to spend an extra day. Note that less touristy options can be found further up the hill from the main street, and nearby San Mateo Río Hondo promises off-the-beaten-track alternatives too, if the San José del Pacifico ‘scene’ is a bit too much for you.
- Mitla side trip: If you want to eek out your trip and visit the Mitla archeological site (and the excellent Tlacolula Sunday market), consider treating yourself to a night at Casa Lyobaa. It comes complete with a beautiful cactus garden, a great breakfast, an excellent record collection, and a swimming pool! Otherwise, there’s plenty of more budget-minded accommodation to be found. This RWGPS track is a fun way of getting there, and will keep you off the highway, which is definitely best avoided.
- Refugio Terraza de la Tierra. Looking for something a little ‘alternative’? The beautiful Refugio Terraza de la Tierra offers rustic and well-priced cabins, a yoga hall, vegan fare, and some idyllic signed walks through the cloud forest. Those on a budget can camp in the organic vegetable gardens for 100 pesos per tent, though note that space is limited. It’s a short but steep descent to get down there… which means a sharp climb to get out. Food is available though consider bringing some of your own too, if you have a big appetite. The grounds include a gorgeous trail to Arbol de la Luna. Highly recommended and a great spot to spend a rest day.
- 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, though Barrio de Jalatlaco is an especially popular spot. A little further out is Barrio de Xochimilco – it’s the oldest part of Oaxaca and is also artistic, colourful, and crammed with coffee shops. Drop me a line if you are in town!
- Even small settlements have simple tiendas – the major ones are marked on the map – so there’s no need to carry too much food at any one time.
- Many villages and towns have great local restaurants, offering have tlayudas, memelas, quesadillas, or tacos. In short, you won’t go hungry on this tour. We’ve marked a few favourites on the map. If you don’t want to bring your stove, bring a re-usable container for take-outs, like a Stasher bag or some stout zip lock bags.
- You’ll want to carry at least a few bottles of water with you. Depending on the season, I’d recommend having the capacity to run around 3-4L, as campsites will invariably be dry. When you stop in restaurants, ask to fill your bottles and offer a few extra pesos, to save buying plastic ones. Otherwise, you can refill all your bottles at the start of the day from a 20L, re-usable water jug (a garrafon, approx 30 pesos) found in many local stores. This works out especially well if you’re 2 or more riders – although they’re larger than you’ll need, they’re both an economical and eco-friendly way of filling up.
- Bring a filter for mountain streams, too.
- 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, homemade delights. Further up the street, Hierba Dulce is an excellent vegan restaurant with a broad menu of traditional dishes – I firmly believe 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. Next up is the excellent Mercado Sánchez Pascuas market, which has a bulk store downstairs, as well as great produce. 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 one of my favourite hang out spots 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. Ancestral, also close by in Xochimilco, is a restaurant serving beautifully presented, traditional Oaxacan fare.
- 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 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. It’s available all around town and in a number of villages in the Mitla Valley.
- 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.
Day Rides and Route Alternates
In addition to the various bikepacking routes to be found in Oaxaca (linked above), bookend your trip with dirt, gravel, and singletrack loops, rewarding ways of gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the area.
The Monte Albán and Cuilapan Rural Ramble is a challenging, roughstuff day ride that passes by the Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán en route to the Ex-Monastry of Cuilapan – a complex set in Oaxaca’s Valle Grande and Ejutla area. You can trim it down to the single loop, but I recommend the full figure of eight, as it’s 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.
For a much shorter version with some short sections of trail, there’s also Monte Alban and Atzompa Rough ‘n Ruts. It’s a good little loop to see Monte Alban and Atzompa (currently closed), and get back into town with plenty of time to spare. Just note some of the trail may need to be walked, depending on rider confidence and bike setup. Either way, I recommend checking out Monte Alban! It’s an incredible Zapotec site and a highlight of visiting Oaxaca City.
Venture into the Etla Valley and visit the acclaimed Centro de las Artes de San Agustín, housed in a former textile factory, by following San Agustín Etla: foothills out, railroad back day ride. It connects rolling dirt roads to San Agustín with a former railway line on the way back, making for a nice variety of surfaces. There are singletrack options too if you want to spice things up.
If you rode the route clockwise and didn’t get a chance to check out Teotitlan del Valle and its beautiful textiles, then the 75km Teotitlán, via Hualapam, Dainzú, and Tule is sure to add great memories to your purchase. It links up predominantly mellow trails, rural roads, and remote two-track, via the archeological site of Dainzu.
And for a fresh perspective of the area, this short loop is a great way of getting out for a few hours, connecting dirt roads out to San Felipe Tejalapam, leave you time to wander the streets of Oaxaca after lunch. There are several permutations to this – here’s my favourite.
Lastly… the full route includes a very interesting and ‘unorthodox’ way out of Oaxaca. But if you need to save time, here is a much shorter version, that is considerably more direct. It does mean riding the highway for a stint, however.
With thanks to Larry at www.oaxacamtb.com sharing his vast wealth of dirt road routes near Oaxaca City, from which much of my own knowledge is based.
Half day ride in San José del Pacífico
Tempted to spend more time in the cloud forest? Here’s a pleasant little half day loop to the nearby village of San Mateo del Hondo, just in case you need extra validation for spending a second night in San José del Pacífico…
Have a few more days to hand?
With the right bike, this route pairs especially well with the Hebras de Ixtepeji singletrack route, which is a 2-3 day exploration into the Sierra Norte mountain range. Not so keen on trail riding? Here’s a dirt road alternative into the Sierra Norte that hits up some of the same spots.
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