For a long time it was my dream to visit the state of Oaxaca. I imagined the day I would visit the place I had so much heard about and taste its delicious food, of which I only knew what we get in Mexico City through some restaurants and fondas. Finally, last year I decided to visit the Green Antequera (as the city is also known because of the green stone that was used to build many of its buildings) for day of the dead, one of the best times of the year to learn more about local traditions around Mexico.
I was in Oaxaca city for 6 days in which I enjoyed its colonial architecture, blessed climate, and delicious gastronomy. During that visit I also visited some places outside of the city such as Monte Alban, Hierve el agua and Tule (I’ll write about these places in the near future). I can say with all certainty that this was my favorite trip last year. I’ve been back to Oaxaca three times already since that first visit and am planning to be traveling here very often this year.
To understand Oaxaca better one must know a little bit about its history, geography and people. The state of Oaxaca is located in the southwestern part of Mexico. Its territory is 93,967 km2 (36,281 sq mi) and it is bordered by the states of Puebla and Veracruz to the north, Guerrero to the west, Chiapas to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Oaxaca’s terrain is one of the most rugged in Mexico because three important mountain ranges convert here: Sierra Madre del Sur, Sierra Madre de Oaxaca and Sierra Atravesada. There are valleys, canyons and ravines in the middle of these mountain ranges. However, one of the most important tourist destination of the state is its coast. There are 533 kilometers of coast and 9 main bays. Huatulco, Puerto Angel and Puerto Escondido are some of the best known destinations.
Oaxaca is known internationally for its ethnic diversity. The most important ethnic groups of the state are Zapotecos, Mixtecos, Mazatecos and Mixes. Several smaller groups are scattered throughout the state and are an important part of the state’s cultural diversity.
In spite of this diversity, the word Oaxaca doesn’t come from any of these groups languages. Oaxaca comes from the Nahuatl Huaxyacac, that means the place of huajes (a tree from the Leucaena family that grows in the area). This name was given to the region by the Mexica (Aztecs) conquerors that arrived during the 15th century. Spanish conquistadores adapted the word to the current word: Oaxaca.
The state’s capital is Oaxaca city and it’s located in the region known as the Central Valleys in the middle of the state. The city was founded in 1521 by conquistador Hernan Cortes, but it was until 1526 that the Spanish crown recognized the village. Oaxaca’s historic center still preserves the colonial architecture and the city’s original layout of their cobblestone streets. In 1987 the city of Oaxaca and the archeological site of Monte Albán were listed under the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
The city and state of Oaxaca have enchanted me that I am dedicating a section of this blog to its different regions, culture, peoples and gastronomy. There is so much to write about this wonderful and beautiful state. This is only the beginning so please stay tuned!