Oaxaca at Christmas

Christmas in Oaxaca, Mexico is one of the most magical experiences we have ever had. There is no place better to spend the end of December in Mexico than in Oaxaca. The weather in Oaxaca at Christmas and New Years time is amazing and the city is vibrant and festive. I’m back with the second part of our last hurrah in Mexico.

Immediately following our trip to Yucatan, we flew through Mexico City and continued on a 10 day trip to Oaxaca! We timed our trip to see the spectacular Christmas traditions in Oaxaca. So read on for way too many pictures, our favorite places and tips for planning your own trip to Oaxaca at Christmas.

Oaxaca Itinerary in December

  1. Mexico City to Oaxaca, Noche de los Rabanos (December 23)
  2. Explore downtown Oaxaca; Candela Christmas Eve Processions (December 24)
  3. Monte Alban, Mayordomo Chocolate Factory, Festivities at Zocalo (December 25)
  4. Sto. Domingo Church and Cultural Center, Jardin Etnobotanico, Rufino Tamayo Museum, Basilica de la Soledad
  5. Day Trip to Arrazola (alebrijes makers) + organic market
  6. Day Trip to San Bartolo Coyotepec (black pottery)
  7. Trolley tour + Parque el Llano
  8. Day Trip to Dainzu, Hierve el Agua, Mitla
  9. Day Trip to Teotitlan del Valle, Arbol del Tule
  10. Flight out

Amendments I would make:

If you are really excited about seeing Noche de Rabanos plan to be in town a day earlier. The line start forming in the morning!

If you only have two or three days you can still see the highlight in Centro area and plan a half day to Monte Alban. Maybe add in a trip to nearby Arrazola.

This was a really great itinerary for us with two small children: a few activities every day and a mix of city days and day trips. If we had more time, and older children, I might also add hiking in the mountains outside of Oaxaca to our itinerary.

Mexico City

We timed our flights so that we would have several hours in Mexico City on the way to Oaxaca. After completing a quick errand, we went to the Museo Soumaya.

Entrance is free and there is a nice selection of art to spend an hour or two out of the Mexico City bustle. The museum is modern and accessible with the floor curving around from one to the next.

Noche de Rábanos

Oaxaca Christmas festivities begin on December 23rd with Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radishes). As soon as we landed, we stopped to drop off our things at the hotel, and headed straight to see the radishes.

They grow the radishes all year in order to carve some of the larger masterpieces. Many are nativity scenes and have religious motifs, but we also saw several pre-Columbian themes.

To say that it was crowded is a huge understatement. To get closest to the creations people had been standing in line for hours! That said, it was such a unique cultural experience, that we’re really glad we made it in time to view this Oaxacan tradition.

Christmas Eve in Oaxaca

Our first full day in Oaxaca, we spent getting acquainted with the Centro, downtown Oaxaca. There are so many little museums, churches, shops and restaurants, that it was impossible to see them all, even given our long itinerary.

We happened upon the Stamp Museum (El Museo de Filatelia de Oaxaca) and it was such a cute little find with a nice outdoor courtyard. They also had little activity books for the kids.

Oaxaca de Juarez, as it is officially called, lies at around 1500 meters. That means that the days get warm, even hot, but nights cool down significantly. We loved the stunning blue skies we got most every day!

Calendas

The highlight of the Christmas festivities, was most definitely the nativity processions taking place on Christmas Eve, called calendas.

Different churches and groups put together floats with mostly nativity scenes. There are also giant puppets, all proceeding toward the Zocalo (main square).

Monte Alban

For Christmas Day we planned a day trip to see the ruins at Monte Alban. The city was quiet, although there were several restaurants open to get breakfast.

Less than an hour drive from downtown Oaxaca, lies this UNESCO World Heritage site. We had a lovely time exploring, and climbing the pyramids at this archaeological site, which was inhabited for over 1500 years!!! Our baby carriers certainly came in handy!

view from Monte Alban

Christmas Day in Oaxaca

Back in Oaxaca, we had to drop in to Mayordomo, a producer of chocolate. The showroom of the chocolate factory, mostly showed how they grind the cocoa, and the rest was a huge gift shop of chocolate of all types.

However, the adjacent cafe was a gem. The hot chocolate and tamales were excellent!

That evening we went back to the main square outside Oaxaca Cathedral to revel with the crowds. There were many families out and street vendors everywhere.

At night, we came upon a concert in the El Llano Park, and stayed for a short bit before it was time for bed.

raw cacao at Mayordomo
raw cacao at Mayordomo
Oaxaca Cathedral on Christmas Day
Oaxaca Cathedral on Christmas Day
Feliz Cumpleanos Jesus concert in Oaxaca
Feliz Cumpleanos Jesus concert in Oaxaca

Walk Around Oaxaca de Juarez

The next day we stayed in town. We explored the Sto. Domingo complex- consisting of the church, a cultural center, and adjacent to it a botanic garden.

The Sto. Domingo Cultural Center, housed in a former convent consists of a center with a small museum of local art: some by contemporary artists, and some folk art.

The Jardin Etnobotanico was such a cool little garden in the middle of the city, showcasing the native plants of Oaxaca. You can only visit via guided tour, so check the website for current times for English, Spanish, French or German tours.

In the afternoon we headed over to the western part of the Centro, to visit the Museo Rufino Tamayo. This museum consists of mostly pre-Hispanic artifacts.

From there, we saw a stunning sunset in the plaza adjacent to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, a basilica dedicated to the patron saint of Oaxaca.

Sto. Domingo church Oaxaca
Sto. Domingo church
jardin etnobotanico oaxaca
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Oaxaca
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad

Day Trip to Arrazola

The next morning we walked to the Pochote Xochimilco “organic” market….that ended up just being another handicraft market with some food options.

So it was time to head to our main destination of the day- Arrazola. Arrazola is known for producing alebrijes, which are folk art creatures made of papier mache or carved of wood and painted in a bright colorful style.

We were able to step into many workshops, although most were set up as showrooms more than anything else.

Day Trip to San Bartolo Coyotepec

For our next day trip, we got an earlier start in the day, heading to San Bartolo Coyotepec. We started our day at the Museo de Arte Popular, which was a nice introduction to the art of the area, and the black clay pottery in particular.

Then we headed into the workshops. We first walked into a large shop the tour groups go to….but they didn’t want to give us a demonstration. Instead, we left and found a smaller workshop where we learned all about how the black pottery is made.

First they create the clay pot and let it dry for 20 days. They then do the intricate carving, then let it dry some more before it goes into an oven with no vent, resulting in black ceramic.

Pottery in the museum at San Bartolo Coyotepec
Pottery in the museum at San Bartolo Coyotepec
Forming the clay pot and carving it
Forming the clay pot and carving it
In the showroom of the workshop with the artisan himself
In the showroom of the workshop with the artisan himself

Trolley Tour of Oaxaca

The following day, one of our little guys was feeling under the weather, so we decided to stay in town. That’s a huge advantage in taking a bit of a longer trip and having the flexibility to change up our itinerary.

To keep things easy, we decided to take a trolley tour. It was not the best tour we have been on and most of the interesting places we had already visited.

The highlight was this fountain- Fuente de las 8 Regiones- representing the eight regions of Oaxaca, and going by the Guelaguetza (famous local cultural festival) stadium which was a bit farther out from the Centro.

Dainzu

With two more full days for touring, we wanted to pack in some of our most anticipated attractions. So the next day, we hired a taxi to take us to three destinations.

First up, the ruins at Dainzú. We really just wanted to go because that is the name of one of our favorite restaurants in Guadalajara. However, the ruins were small and in their natural surroundings so it was really nice!

Hierve el Agua

Next up, the natural rock formation of Hierve el Agua. You can easily walk in and on the bubbling water that give the place its name (bring swimming gear and towels).

For the more adventurous you can hike all the way to the top of the what looks like a waterfall (but is just rock). We stayed in the main tourist area and enjoyed the lovely views.

at Hierve el Agua
at Hierve el Agua
Hierve el Agua rock formation
Hierve el Agua rock formation
bubbling water at Hierve el Agua
bubbling water at Hierve el Agua

Mitla

The final stop on our long touring day, was Mitla. Tired from the day, we kept the walk around these ruins short. There is a typical example of a church built on top of preHispanic ruins.

Teotitlán del Valle and Arbol del Tule

On the way to Teotitlán del Valle, we stopped to see the Arbol del Tule. This tree supposedly has the thickest trunk in the world. Who knows? But, it was big!

In Teotitlán del Valle, know for its rugs, we again we walked through town and entered one of the workshops to see a demonstration on how on sources of natural dyes are produced and traditional looms. (Tip: Many rugs these days are produced with synthetic colors which are brighter, so ask before buying if that is important to you.)

We had a relaxed day in town, and were able to take in the small town atmosphere and hang out around the church plaza before returning to Oaxaca for our final night and flight out.

Arbol del Tule
Arbol del Tule
sources of natural dyes
sources of natural dyes
loom in Teotitlan del Valle
loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Planning your trip to Oaxaca

Food

And on that note, I’m going to wrap up this trip review. In terms of food recommendations- everywhere we went was fine, but nowhere was extraordinary.

I do suggest you try out a Tlayuda, almost like a pizza with beans and cheese, and tamales in a mole of course. Here are other options for Oaxaca street food!

Accommodations

We stayed at this hotel, but that was mostly a function of availability and cost as we traveled during high season.

It was fine, but if you plan a trip to Oaxaca at Christmas, book your accommodations well ahead of time! It’s not too early to start now!

Booking.com

Travel with Babies

As with many Mexican downtowns, the Centro has a lot of cobblestone streets which make navigating with a stroller not too easy. However, it was great to have the stroller for day trips to the artisan towns.

Pack your baby carrier! You will need it if you go to visit any archaeological ruins, and again makes it much easier to navigate cobblestone streets!

Map of Oaxaca Attractions

Click on the image to be taken to the full map of Oaxaca.

Screenshot of map of Oaxaca

Have you been to Oaxaca? Do you have other suggestions for warm Christmas destinations other than the beach?

13 thoughts on “Oaxaca at Christmas”

  1. Mexico, and specifically Mexico City is so high up my list. Spending Christmas travelling is something I really enjoy. I love that you spent Christmas day in Monte Alban – what a lovely quiet time to go!

  2. I love big, cultural celebrations, so that it really cool that you got to be there during Christmas! And it looks like there was plenty more to do and explore!

  3. I love spending the winter holidays in Central America. Whilst I haven’t visited Oaxaca yet, I can recognise similar traditions to El Salvador and Guatemala, especially when it comes to those giant puppets. I remember the first time I stumbled upon them, in Antigua. It was such a fun evening! 🙂

  4. I really want to go to Mexico and Oaxaca looks amazing. And it seems like this is such a nice time of year there. Not too hot and less crowds. It’s funny how it seems like more people are out in the evening than in the daytime in your pictures. I’d love to check out some of those historic sites

  5. Oddly I’ve never thought about Christmas traditions in Mexico but I’m so glad to know them now! I’d love to visit Oaxaca during the holidays

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.