Skip to Content

Tourism in Oaxaca 

Disclaimer: Some posts on Tourism Teacher may contain affiliate links. If you appreciate this content, you can show your support by making a purchase through these links or by buying me a coffee. Thank you for your support!

Tourism in Oaxaca is big business. But why is this industry so important and how should it best be managed? Read on to find out…

The geography of Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a state located in the southern part of Mexico, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the south, the state of Guerrero to the west, the state of Puebla to the north, and the state of Chiapas to the east. 

The state of Oaxaca covers an area of approximately 95,364 square kilometres (36,820 square miles) and is characterised by its diverse geography. It has a rugged coastline, with steep cliffs, coves, and beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Inland, the landscape varies from mountainous regions to valleys, plateaus, and highlands. The Sierra Madre mountain range runs through the state, with peaks reaching heights of over 3,000 metres (9,800 feet) above sea level.

One of the most notable geological features in Oaxaca is the Valley of Oaxaca, a large valley surrounded by mountains and hills. The valley is home to the state capital, Oaxaca City, as well as many smaller towns and villages.

Oaxaca is also known for its diverse ecosystems, including tropical rainforests, cloud forests, and deserts. The state has several rivers, including the Papaloapan River, which is one of the largest in Mexico, and the Atoyac River, which flows through the Valley of Oaxaca.

Due to its varied geography, Oaxaca has a rich biodiversity and is home to many unique plant and animal species. The state is known for its vibrant culture, with a mix of indigenous and Spanish influences that can be seen in its architecture, cuisine, and art.

Tourism in Oaxaca 

The tourism industry is an important part of Oaxaca’s economy, attracting millions of visitors each year. Oaxaca is known for its rich history, cultural heritage, and diverse landscapes, making it a popular destination for both domestic and international tourists.

One of the main attractions in Oaxaca is the city of Oaxaca de Juarez, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is known for its colonial architecture, vibrant markets, and traditional cuisine, including famous dishes such as mole and tlayudas. Other popular attractions in the city include the Santo Domingo de Guzman Church, the Oaxaca Regional Museum, and the Ethnobotanical Garden.

Oaxaca is also home to a number of archaeological sites, including the ancient Zapotec city of Monte Alban, which dates back to 500 BC. The ruins of the Zapotec city of Mitla are another popular attraction, known for their intricate stonework and decorative motifs.

The state is also famous for its traditional crafts, including textiles, ceramics, and wood carvings. Visitors can learn about traditional artisan techniques and purchase locally made handicrafts at markets and workshops throughout the state.

Oaxaca’s diverse landscapes also offer a range of outdoor activities, such as hiking in the Sierra Norte mountains, surfing along the coast, and birdwatching in the wetlands of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Despite its popularity, the tourism industry in Oaxaca faces challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, limited access to financing for tourism development, and concerns about the impact of tourism on local communities and the environment. However, efforts are being made to address these challenges and promote sustainable tourism in the state.

Statistics about tourism in Oaxaca

Now, lets demonstrate how significant tourism in Oaxaca is but highlighting some of the key statistics:

In 2019, Oaxaca welcomed over 2.3 million visitors, with 1.9 million domestic tourists and 428,000 international tourists.

Tourism is a significant source of revenue for the state, contributing over $1.6 billion USD to the local economy in 2019.

The majority of visitors to Oaxaca come from other parts of Mexico, with the largest number of international visitors coming from the United States, followed by Canada, Europe, and South America.

Oaxaca is the second most visited state in Mexico after Quintana Roo, home to popular destinations such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

The tourism industry in Oaxaca employs over 170,000 people, representing approximately 10% of the state’s workforce.

The average length of stay for international tourists in Oaxaca is around six days, while domestic tourists tend to stay for shorter periods.

The majority of tourists to Oaxaca come for leisure purposes, including cultural, historic, and nature-based tourism.

Oaxaca’s top five visitor attractions are the Monte Alban archaeological site, the city of Oaxaca de Juarez, the Mitla archaeological site, the Hierve el Agua natural springs, and the Tule Tree, one of the largest trees in the world.

In recent years, Oaxaca has seen growth in adventure tourism, including activities such as zip-lining, mountain biking, and rock climbing.

Tourism in Oaxaca is largely popular due to its range of tourist attractions. Here are the major examples:

Monte Alban: This is one of the most important archaeological sites in Mexico and the former capital of the Zapotec civilization. Monte Alban is located on a mountaintop overlooking the Oaxaca Valley and features impressive stone structures, plazas, and a ball court.

Hierve el Agua: These natural springs are located in the Sierra Norte mountains and are known for their mineral-rich water and petrified waterfalls. Visitors can swim in the pools, hike the trails, and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

The city of Oaxaca de Juarez: This colonial city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its historic architecture, colourful markets, and vibrant cultural scene. Highlights include the Santo Domingo de Guzman Church, the Oaxaca Regional Museum, and the bustling Benito Juarez Market.

Mitla: This ancient Zapotec site is located near the town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla and is known for its intricate stonework and decorative motifs. Visitors can explore the ruins and learn about the site’s history and significance.

The Tule Tree: This massive tree is located in the town of Santa Maria del Tule and is believed to be over 2,000 years old. The tree measures over 40 metres in circumference and is considered one of the largest trees in the world.

The Guelaguetza Festival: This annual cultural festival is held in July and celebrates Oaxaca’s indigenous communities through music, dance, food, and art. The festival is a highlight of Oaxaca’s cultural calendar and attracts visitors from around the world.

The Benito Juarez National Park: This natural park is located just outside of the city of Oaxaca and features hiking trails, waterfalls, and scenic viewpoints. Visitors can explore the park’s diverse flora and fauna and enjoy a picnic in the lush surroundings.

The Oaxaca Coast: Oaxaca’s coastline stretches for over 500 kilometres and features pristine beaches, quaint fishing villages, and opportunities for surfing, fishing, and swimming.

The Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden: This garden is located next to the Santo Domingo de Guzman Church in the city of Oaxaca and showcases the region’s rich biodiversity and traditional plant uses.

The Museum of Oaxacan Painters: This museum is located in the city of Oaxaca and features works by famous Oaxacan artists, including Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo, and Rodolfo Morales. The museum is a must-visit for art lovers and showcases the region’s vibrant artistic heritage.

There are many types of tourism in Oaxaca, here are the most common:

Cultural tourism: Oaxaca is known for its rich cultural heritage, and cultural tourism is a popular activity in the region. Visitors can explore colonial cities like Oaxaca de Juarez, traditional indigenous communities, and ancient archaeological sites.

Adventure tourism: Oaxaca’s rugged landscape and diverse natural features make it a popular destination for adventure tourism. Visitors can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, zip lining, and other outdoor activities.

Gastronomic tourism: Oaxaca is famous for its traditional cuisine, which features complex flavours and unique ingredients. Visitors can sample local dishes at restaurants and markets, take cooking classes, and learn about traditional food production methods.

Ecotourism: Oaxaca is home to diverse ecosystems, including mountains, forests, beaches, and wetlands. Ecotourism is a popular activity in the region, and visitors can enjoy bird watching, wildlife spotting, and exploring the natural beauty of the area.

Beach tourism: Oaxaca’s coastline stretches for over 500 kilometres and features pristine beaches that are popular with tourists. Visitors can enjoy swimming, surfing, fishing, and other beach activities.

Religious tourism: Oaxaca is home to many important religious sites, including churches, cathedrals, and shrines. Religious tourism is a popular activity in the region, and visitors can learn about the history and significance of these sites.

Art tourism: Oaxaca has a rich artistic heritage, and art tourism is a popular activity in the region. Visitors can explore galleries and museums, attend art festivals and events, and purchase locally made art and crafts.

Wellness tourism: Oaxaca’s natural beauty and traditional healing practices make it a popular destination for wellness tourism. Visitors can enjoy yoga, meditation, massage, and other wellness activities, as well as learn about traditional healing practices like temazcal and herbal medicine.

The economic impacts of tourism in Oaxaca

The impacts of tourism in Oaxaca need to be managed effectively, Lets take a look at what these impacts are:

Job creation: Tourism creates jobs in a variety of sectors, including hospitality, transportation, and retail. This provides employment opportunities for local residents and contributes to the region’s economic development.

Increased revenue: Tourism generates revenue for businesses and the local government through sales taxes, hotel taxes, and other fees. This revenue can be used to fund public services and infrastructure improvements.

Economic diversification: Tourism helps to diversify the local economy, which can reduce dependence on a single industry or commodity. This makes the region more resilient to economic shocks and fluctuations.

Increased investment: A thriving tourism industry can attract investment in the region, including new hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related businesses. This can create even more jobs and contribute to further economic growth.

Cultural preservation: Tourism can provide incentives for the preservation of cultural heritage sites and traditions, which can contribute to the region’s identity and attract even more tourists.

Spillover effects: Tourism can have spillover effects on other sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and transportation. For example, restaurants and hotels may source their ingredients and supplies locally, which can benefit local farmers and producers.

Overall, tourism plays an important role in the economic development of Oaxaca, and it has the potential to contribute even more to the region’s prosperity in the future.

The social impacts of tourism in Oaxaca

The social impacts of tourism in Oaxaca need to be managed effectively too:

Positive impacts:

Cultural exchange: Tourism can facilitate cultural exchange and foster greater understanding between tourists and local communities. This can promote tolerance and respect for different cultures and ways of life.

Income generation: Tourism can provide income opportunities for local residents, which can help to reduce poverty and improve standards of living. This is particularly important in rural areas where economic opportunities may be limited.

Infrastructure development: The tourism industry can help to drive infrastructure development in the region, including improvements to roads, public transportation, and public facilities. This can benefit local residents by making it easier to access services and travel to different parts of the region.

Preservation of cultural heritage: Tourism can provide economic incentives for the preservation of cultural heritage sites and traditions. This can help to ensure that local cultures are passed down to future generations and contribute to the region’s identity.

Negative impacts:

Disruption of traditional ways of life: Tourism can sometimes disrupt traditional ways of life in local communities, particularly if it leads to a greater demand for resources like land, water, and food.

Exploitation of local resources: Tourism can sometimes lead to the exploitation of local resources, including natural resources and cultural heritage sites. This can result in environmental degradation and the erosion of cultural traditions.

Inequality and social tensions: Tourism can sometimes exacerbate existing social tensions and inequalities in a region, particularly if the benefits of tourism are not distributed evenly. This can lead to resentment and conflict between different groups in a community.

Commercialization of culture: Tourism can sometimes lead to the commercialization of local culture, which can result in the loss of authenticity and the homogenization of cultural practices.

Overall, the social impacts of tourism in Oaxaca are complex and depend on a variety of factors, including the type of tourism, the scale of tourism development, and the involvement of local communities in decision-making processes.

The environmental impacts of tourism in Oaxaca 

Lastly, the environmental impacts of tourism in Oaxaca need to be considered too:

Tourism can have both positive and negative environmental impacts on a destination, and Oaxaca is no exception. While tourism can contribute to economic growth and cultural exchange, it can also pose challenges to the environment. Here are some of the environmental impacts associated with tourism in Oaxaca:

Deforestation: Increased tourism often leads to the development of hotels, resorts, and infrastructure, which may require clearing land, leading to deforestation. Deforestation can result in the loss of valuable ecosystems, habitats, and biodiversity.

Habitat destruction: Tourism development can encroach upon fragile ecosystems, including coastal areas, forests, and wetlands, leading to habitat destruction. This can disrupt wildlife patterns, endangering plant and animal species.

Water consumption and pollution: Tourism in Oaxaca places additional demands on water resources, both for the needs of visitors and for hotels and other infrastructure. Increased water consumption can deplete local water sources, especially in arid regions like Oaxaca. Moreover, improper waste management and inadequate sewage systems can lead to water pollution, negatively impacting marine ecosystems and local communities.

Waste generation: The influx of tourists generates significant amounts of waste, including packaging, food waste, and other disposable items. Inadequate waste management systems can strain local infrastructure and result in pollution of land and water resources.

Energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions: Tourism in Oaxaca facilities such as hotels, resorts, and transportation services require substantial energy consumption, often sourced from fossil fuels. This contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating climate change and air pollution.

Natural resource depletion: Tourists often engage in activities such as snorkelling, diving, and souvenir collecting, which can put pressure on delicate marine ecosystems and contribute to the depletion of natural resources, such as coral reefs, shells, and endangered species.

Cultural heritage degradation: Increased tourism in Oaxaca can lead to the commodification and commercialization of cultural heritage, potentially eroding local traditions, languages, and practices. This can contribute to the loss of cultural identity and impact the social fabric of local communities.

To mitigate these environmental impacts, sustainable tourism practices should be promoted. This includes responsible tourism planning, environmentally-friendly infrastructure, waste management systems, conservation initiatives, and raising awareness among tourists about the importance of respecting and preserving the natural and cultural heritage of Oaxaca. Additionally, collaboration between government, local communities, and tourism stakeholders is crucial to ensure the long-term sustainability of tourism in the region.

FAQs about tourism in Oaxaca

Now that we know a bit more about tourism in Oaxaca, lets answer some of the most common questions on this topic:

Q: Is Oaxaca safe for tourists?

A: Yes, Oaxaca is generally considered safe for tourists. However, it’s always important to take precautions and stay informed about any potential risks.

Q: What is the best time to visit Oaxaca?

A: The best time to visit Oaxaca is during the dry season, which typically runs from November to April. The weather is pleasant, and it coincides with cultural festivals like Day of the Dead and Guelaguetza.

Q: How do I get to Oaxaca?

A: Oaxaca has an international airport (Xoxocotlán Airport) with direct flights from major cities in Mexico and some international destinations. Alternatively, you can reach Oaxaca by bus or car from other parts of Mexico.

Q: What are the must-visit attractions in Oaxaca?

A: Some popular attractions in Oaxaca include the historic city centre of Oaxaca City, Monte Albán archaeological site, Hierve el Agua natural rock formations, the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua, and the indigenous villages of Mitla and Teotitlán del Valle.

Q: What is the local cuisine like in Oaxaca?

A: Oaxacan cuisine is renowned for its rich flavours and traditional dishes. It includes specialties like mole, tlayudas (large tortillas topped with various ingredients), mezcal, and chapulines (toasted grasshoppers).

Q: Can I visit indigenous communities in Oaxaca?

A: Yes, Oaxaca is home to numerous indigenous communities. Many of them welcome visitors and offer opportunities to learn about their culture, crafts, and traditions. It’s important to be respectful and seek permission before entering their communities.

Q: Are there any ecotourism opportunities in Oaxaca?

A: Yes, Oaxaca offers various ecotourism opportunities. You can explore nature reserves, take hikes in the Sierra Norte mountains, visit eco-lodges, or participate in community-based tourism initiatives.

Q: What festivals and events take place in Oaxaca?

A: Oaxaca hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year. Some notable ones include Guelaguetza, Day of the Dead celebrations, Radish Night (Noche de Rábanos), and the Night of the Shining Women (Noche de las Rabaneras).

Q: Can I take part in cooking classes or mezcal tastings in Oaxaca?

A: Yes, Oaxaca offers cooking classes where you can learn to prepare traditional Oaxacan dishes. Mezcal tastings and tours are also popular, allowing you to learn about the production process and sample different varieties of mezcal.

Q: Can I buy traditional crafts and souvenirs in Oaxaca?

A: Yes, Oaxaca is known for its vibrant arts and crafts scene. You can find traditional textiles, pottery, alebrijes (colourful wooden figurines), and other handcrafted items in markets, shops, and artisanal villages.

To conclude: Tourism in Oaxaca

As you can see, tourism in Oaxaca is a very important industry that brings many benefits to the local area and community. However, in order to ensure that tourism is sustainable, it must be carefully managed.

If you enjoyed this article about tourism in Oaxaca, I am sure you will like these too: