10 Best and 10 Worst Things About Living in Oaxaca, Mexico

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After 6 months of living in and enjoying Oaxaca, Mexico, I wanted to share some of our experiences for those of you thinking you may like to make it a future destination.   So – here’s my list of 10 Best and 10 Worst Things about Living in Oaxaca Mexico to aid in your decision making:

Let’s get the worst over.

10 Worst Things about Living in Oaxaca, Mexico

1. Water or lack thereof

– Although Oaxaca gets loads of rain during the wet season, the city does not have the structures necessary to catch the water and so this precious resource runs off.  Couple this situation with the fact that Oaxaca’s tenuous political climate results in groups stopping the delivery of water and what you have is life where water is rationed and often does not arrive on schedule.  In our 6 months of living with a cistern plus three rooftop tanks, we ran out of water 6 times despite our “turn it on – get wet – turn it off -soap up – turn it on – rinse off – turn it off ” showers and “If it’s yellow let it mellow – if it’s brown flush it down” toilet policies.  It is not fun to live in a house without water.

2. Political unrest

– regular demonstrations by groups (teachers and pueblo groups mostly) result in major streets being blockaded and the zocalo being inaccessible.  When the streets are blockaded getting in and out of town is very difficult and sometimes impossible.  Sometimes blockades are announced ahead of time and sometimes not.  It is easy to be caught in a never-ending traffic jam unexpectedly.  In election years (this happened to be a particularly big one with state and national elections happening simultaneously) the protests are multiplied.  We were unable to enjoy the zocalo for the last two months of our stay.  Bummer.

3. Garbage collection

– I will never understand Oaxaca’s garbage collection policies.  If you move there, ask a neighbor when the garbage truck comes and they will kindly tell you the hour.  On that hour you mustbe in the street with your garbage.  The truck will arrive ringing a loud cow bell.  There will be men on the back of the truck who appear they are there to take the garbage.  No!!!  They will hop off the truck and watch you dump your own garbage in.  Then they will hop back on and ring the bell again as they drive away.  Our garbage truck came at 5:30 am every morning – so on those days that I didn’t need to dump garbage we still got to hear the cowbell at 5:30.  If you don’t believe me, here’s a video of garbage collection on my street.

4. Noise pollution

– Mexican’s have a very different relationship to noise than we do in the U.S. or than what I’ve experienced in Europe.  The garbage truck was not the only entity that made a loud noise on our street.  Every vendor and service seemed to have their signature noise to alert you of their presence.  The gas truck, the knife sharpener, the atole woman, the elote woman, the popsicle man, the water man, the list goes on.  One of our favorites was the doughnut man who arrived at 11:00 pm every evening yelling, “DOOOONNNAAAASSSS”.

5. Filth

– Oaxaca is not a clean place.  Streets are often littered.  Although the historic centered is kept clean the remainder of the city is quite dirty.  One of the issues seems to be a lack of trash receptacles for well meaning people to use.

6. Graffiti

– Now, I can appreciate good art and some graffiti is good art .  However, names and words messily scrawled on historic buildings or otherwise beautiful churches are just an eyesore.  Unfortunately, on some roads of Oaxaca, people appear to have walked down the street with spray cans just writing whatever came to mind.  Often as part of protest marches, the marchers carry spray paint and mark buildings as they go along.  The result is not appealing.

7. Begging and Vending

– Beggars and vendors in Oaxaca vary from children to elderly and/or disabled people.  Often they are on the streets simply holding cans for money.  This is not bothersome although it is sad.  Others, however, are much more aggressive in their approach and will persist even after you have said no.  The worst, however, were those who came to our home with lies or con games to try to get money from us at our door.  The stories usually had to do with needing money for a relative who just went to the hospital or needed oxygen.  I fell for it once – not the second time, or third, or sixth for that matter.

8. Clothing

– Here I am not talking about the handmade clothing which can be beautiful and well made.  I am talking about everyday clothing you might look for in a department store, such as a t-shirt or pair of jeans.  The clothing in Oaxaca is over priced and of terrible quality.  I once tried on a dress at a department store only to find that it had a 2 inch hole in it.  When I went with the clerk to find another in my size the second one had a 5 inch hole.  The clerk was not at all surprised by this and said I should just sew it.  At one point I needed to buy my daughter a pair of lycra pants for dance.  They lasted 3 classes before falling apart.

9. Personal Space in Public

– In public places such as grocery store lines there is no concept of personal space (at least by the standards we use in the U.S.).  More often than not, the person behind me was standing up against me.  Man or woman – it just didn’t matter.  Personally, I really didn’t like it.

10. Driving Behavior

– If you venture out as a pedestrian in Oaxaca you must understand that you do not have the right of way in the minds of most drivers.  Oaxacan drivers are aggressive and do not want to stop or even slow down for pedestrians.  You must be very aware when you’re in the streets.

OK, so now that that’s done,  I’d like to share the 10 Best Things about Living in Oaxaca and the reasons I would be happy to go back and stay.

Top 10 Best Things About Living in Oaxaca Mexico

1.The People –

The Oaxacan people are genuinely warm and loving.  We were welcomed not only as tourists but as individuals with whom deep friendships could be made.  In our 6 months we had the fortune to make many true friends with whom we will stay in touch.  In fact, 6 of those friends even accompanied us to the airport when we left just to say goodbye.  We dearly miss them.

Tlacolula Market Bread

Tlacolula Market Bread

2.The Food –

Oaxaca is the “Land of the 7 Moles” but the variety of dishes available goes far beyond these amazing sauces.  From the simplest food on the street or in the local markets to gourmet food in the more expensive restaurants, we feasted our way through 6 months.  Fresh foods are also readily available in the “Tianguis” (traveling street markets that go from neighborhood to neighborhood each day).  Even better, the prices are cheap.  Oaxaca is also known for it’s chocolate.  Be sure to try a cup of it!

Market Woman Tlacolula

Market Woman Tlacolula

3.The Culture –

There are over 16 indigenous tribes in the state of Oaxaca.  Of those 16, the largest is the Zapotec.  Each has their own language – but if you can imagine, the Zapotec language alone has over 40 dialects.  This only illustrates the wide variety of cultural influences that make up this region.  What our family really appreciated is that the Oaxacan people proudly keep their cultural traditions.  It is common to witness folkloric dance groups, people in their indigenous clothing on the streets, native languages being spoken, traditional handwork being done.  It is a treasure for any person wanting to experience rich cultural heritage.

Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua

4.The Amazing Day Trips

– The variety of cultures and food of Oaxaca is  paralleled in the variety of experiences one can have taking a day trip from Oaxaca City.  In less than an hour to the north you can reach a dramatically cooler mountain climate complete with tall pine trees and the feeling you have transported yourself to Germany.  To the east in less than 2 hours is the dramatic stone waterfall, Hierve el Agua, the rugmakers of Teotitlan del Valle, and El Tule, the world’s widest tree.  To the south in 1/2 hour you can visit the wood carvers of Arrazola who create the famous painted animals called “alebrijes” or the potters of San Bartolo de Coyotepec who create beauties of black pottery.  If you’d like to take a longer trip, the beautiful beaches of Mazunte, Puerto Escondido, and Huatulco can be reached in 1/2 day’s drive.

5.The Climate –

The climate of Oaxaca cannot be beat.  A typical day may be sunny and in the 80’s farenheit (mid 20’s celsius) in the afternoon, receive a strong rain shower towards evening and cool enough to wear a light sweater in the night.  April and May are a bit hotter and the winter months cooler but the majority of the year enjoys this mild climate.  The air of Oaxaca is also quite dry with the exception of the rainy season.

Mazunt beach

Mazunte beach

6.The Geographic Variety –

As I mentioned in day trips, you can experience cool mountain air or a hot beach all within half a day’s drive from Oaxaca city.  The land is majestic and expansive with the majority of the state being covered by mountains.  Tall pine trees can be found at higher altitudes, arid and cactus covered areas in the basin, and tropical flora and fauna near the beaches.

7.The Prices –

Current exchange rates and the struggling Mexican economy make Oaxaca a very reasonably priced destination and one that lends itself to nomad-ing.  Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico so prices are low even by Mexican standards.

Puppets for Carmen Alto festival

Puppets for Carmen Alto festival

8.The Holidays –

Oaxaca’s rich cultural heritage comes to life in their many holidays and festivals.  Consider visiting in July for the Guelaguetza celebration of dance and music, in November for the Day of the Dead, experience the Noche de las Rabanas on Christmas Eve or the processions of Holy Week in the spring.  These are Oaxaca’s major festivals.  However there are other minor holidays year round as well.  In fact, there seemed to be a celebration nearly every week of our stay.

Capilla de Cuilapam

Capilla de Cuilapam

9.The Historic Buildings and Archeological Sites –

Oaxaca is one of the oldest cities in Mexico. In addition it is the home of Monte Alban, one of the largest archeological sites in Mexico and home of the ancient Zapotec and Mixtec peoples. From the elaborate interiors of its numerous churches to the intricate stone work of Mitla, Oaxaca offers a feast for any fan of architecture.

Zapotec Rug Maker

Zapotec Rug Maker

10.The Hand Crafts –

If you have ever visited a Mexican imports store and marveled at the crafts produced in this country you may not realize that many of the things you are admiring are from the Oaxaca region.  The many indigenous people have honed their crafts over generations to the point that their products are true pieces of art.  Black pottery, fantastic painted wooden animals, world class wool rugs that are naturally dyed, beautifully embroidered clothing, green pottery, are just some of the offerings of this area.  Even the most frugal of us will be tempted by the amazing opportunities to buy something unique.

Wrap Up

In spite of the many challenges of living in Oaxaca, the positive aspects made this a very rewarding place for us to live for 6 months.  The overall review from myself and my three daughters was overwhelmingly positive.  If you’re willing to live in a place where life may not always go as easily or smoothly as what you’re accustomed to back home, the rewards can be great!

68 responses to “10 Best and 10 Worst Things About Living in Oaxaca, Mexico”

  1. Vsols says:

    What a great description of your life there! Any place with good food is going to be worth it to me. I'm so sorry I wasn't able to come down to visit!

    • Hi Victoria,
      So glad to have you on the blog. Yes, if you love food (as I know you do!) Oaxaca is a great place to go. The people don't mind spending hours or even days making one recipe and the results are well worth it. I also wish you could have visited us!

      • Va. says:

        Thank you for the info. I am to marry a man from Oaxaca and hope to live there one day. I grew up with grandparents that were pioneers, simple lives and wonderful. One had well water and an out house, the other it was running water(A spring 1/4 mile walking to and from, bucket in hand) and a path(better know your leaves and take a big stick to make sure there was no snake when you went to squat). It is what one wants to make of it and if you wish to learn to adapt.

    • Felix says:

      My first time going to oaxaca is the best place I been too

    • ATC says:

      That is BS about a dirty city. People in general are very clean conscious, sweeping in front of their homes and stores.

      • Ema says:

        I walk barefoot all over the Oaxaca Valley and the world. I agree that in comparison to many cities i’ve been in, it’s not very dirty. On a scale from Halifax, Canada to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oaxaca is about smack in the middle.

        To be frank, there are indeed periods of days or even a week every year or so when there is legit offal in the streets. That happens when the transportistas blockade the main dump near the airport, and the streets literally become the dump.

        Otherwise it’s like you say, ATC, the people have a very strong sense of the need for cleanliness, and many sweep and mop daily in front of their entrances, even in the rougher areas like down near Montoya or out in Santa Lucia or Donají. I rarely worry about stepping on anything (and my nose alerts me to dog scat.)

        For me the biggest negative is the noise pollution, and this blogger didn’t mention the ones that actually bother me (i find the vendors’ din endearing most of the time). These are the street dogs (not so big a problem in the mero mero center of town) and the fireworks and distorting loudspeakers for events that don’t need loudspeakers.

        Still, like the blogger, my overall impression is very positive. Now to finish my rainwater collection installation…

    • Robert says:

      Been going to Oaxaca for more than 20 years. Last 5 years have been the best! Don’t agree that it is dirty–actually find it cleaner than many US cities. Many people take pride in keeping the city clean. Begging is rare in my experience; street vendors however are ubiquitous and often persistent especially in larger public areas but I would not include that in the top 10 worst. People need to make a living and 99% of the time “no gracias” is enough for you to say to end the encounter if that is what you want. Water and garbage collection are area specific. The Historic Center does not get enough water. Other areas like La Noria, Jalatlaco, San Felipe del Agua, and Colonia Reforma don’t generally have those problems. Be sure to check with any booking before deciding. Garbage can be a problem, but many landlords have arranged with the street cleaners to take their garbage, and that option is always available for a very small tip (if you live in a stand-alone house you’ll have to make those arrangements yourself, if you live in an apartment, talk to your fellow tenants.
      Positives outweigh the problems by a HUGE amount.

  2. joanna_haugen says:

    I haven't spent much time in Oaxaca, but I agree completely that the food is fabulous! I can't wait to go back!

  3. Ayngelina says:

    I absolutely loved Oaxaca and although I only planned to stay 5 days I was there for 10 and it was hard to leave.

  4. Driftingcowgirl says:

    Carmen, This was a fabulously written article: specific enough to be enticing but also broad enough to be informative and poetic. The food in particular sounds delicious… after your balanced review I now know the cons but have a craving to go where I didn't before!

  5. Jennifer Clark says:

    I spent three weeks in Oaxaca this summer, studying at the Instituto Cultural, better known as the Casa Chata. I absolutely loved everything about being in Oaxaca. Your 10 best and 10 worst so accurately described the city. I could relate to everything you said except the garbage pick up. I did not have the “privilege” of dealing with that aspect. Tho there was a garbage workers protest going on while I was there and the garbage piled up for a week!
    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I too would love to go back there soon.

    • Judy says:

      Hi Jennifer Clark,
      I’m writing about your experience at Instituto Cultural. I’m thinking of coming for Spanish classes too. I’ve seen a bunch of different language schools in Oaxaca. How did you pick that one?
      Great description, Carmen!


  6. rjeka hotels says:

    Thank you friend for the information

    The article is very professionally written. I enjoy reading every day

  7. Jim Moses says:

    You complain about “begging and vending”? Wow…perhaps you should burn your money and try and make a living from scratch in that place you called “home” for a lousy six months.

  8. anony says:

    Well, the only problem I have with you Top 10, both best and worst is, they don’t reflect Oaxaca. They reflect Mexico. I lived in Guadalajara and Michoacan. I spent some time in DF as well. The best and worst are simply living in Mexico. 

  9. jesss says:

    which city doesnt have homeless? all do, which city doesnt have trash? they all do, personally Ive been to hollywood, and they even have trash there, so

  10. Andrew says:

    Quit your whining….You talk about political unrest….Get out there and stand with them proudly.. .The teachers make peanuts and they are out there for the benefit of the children. This spoiled rotten whining from Americans( or other foreigners) usually Americans makes me sick. If you can’t stand the heat, then get the hell out of the kitchen.

    • Kimberly says:

      Andrew, I grew up in Mexico, spent 5 years in Puebla, and 12 in Oaxaca. Trust me when I say that the teachers protests are not for the benefit of the children, and have badly hurt the economy of Oaxaca, and it’s not the individual teachers choice whether or not they wish to protest. Because of the union laws, if a teacher does not join the protest they stand to lose their job. Growing up, the yearly teachers protests were something I greeted with amusement, and just the way life is. However, in 2006 they were joined by a political protest group and spent the next 6-8 months destroying my beautiful city. Oaxaca lost millions of dollars during those months, and the majority of the people disliked the protests, and suffered from them. It was bad enough that riot police from Mexico City had to intervene.
      ……So yes, I’d have to say out of all of the cons Carmen mentioned regarding living in Oaxaca, the political unrest is the one I’d have to agree with the most.

      • joseph sidoti says:

        your city?

      • Kiley says:

        Thank you for sharing this perspective and experience. Its easy to ignore the actual consequences of how protesting can hinder the very city they strive to seek to change positively. Passion is stronger than reason…especially when fuled by political stances and opinions. Its easy to loose sight of what the purpose for action truly means to them, personally. Honestly, I feel that “political unrest” sounds far more tolerable than monumental political failure! 😉 What I appreciate is that the citizens of Oaxaca are given the privilege of political involvement to protest and vote! They also actively exercise that incredible right, which is easily taken for granted. Its a “downfall” that has potential for people to have a stronger louder voice in their ability to create awareness or urgency, or share knowledge and facts. Its also a privilege, not an excuse to break laws or cause panic. Its a slippery slope, but so very necessary. Stay home and enjoy the perfect weather if you can’t get through temporary protestors. Humans are designed to adapt, not focus on why they can’t change situations that inconvenience them for that brief moment. Waste of precious time, not normally given, for an opportunity do what they hold to be just as important. Its a favor instead of a disservice. Its all about perspective. Always. The world still goes on without you….

    • Russell Marquis says:

      No offense, but you don’t want to participate in this kind of a protest for a couple reasons. First, most foreigners obviously don’t understand the very unique local and regional nuances of Mexican politics, labor laws and traditions. Second, and probably most important, it is against federal law for foreigners to participate in a political protest in Mexico. And yes, I have heard of foreigners being arrested for this type of activity, although rare.

      In my experience it is the ignorance of Americans, not the whining (though sometimes not mutually exclusive) that makes me ill.

      De todos modos, que le vaya bien!

  11. Lucy says:

    you start with the negatives. Your review sounds very American..

    You should do your research before you travel to an Emerging country yes i said Emerging. You want the same standards as the U.S. Do you realize that people make peanuts a day and you complain about the services…You are the visitor, humble yourself and do not compare Oaxaca to Europe or the States ..they are all their own entities…

    I have travelled extensively all over the world. I found my most enriching travels to be where the customs are different from my own. Upon arrival to my home, I felt more enriched and also realized at all the conveniences that I have in my life in the U.S.

    Maybe you should travel to Dubai in a private jet, there will be nothing to complain about…oh yeah I forgot Dubai is built to please..

    • Lucy loves Oaxaca says:

      Forgot to mention,,just returned from Oaxaca and loved it!!!participated in workshops, met the locals and mingled. Ate the Best TAmales in my life, and trust me I have had at least a million. Make sure you try the Tamales de Mole Negro….give yourself a treat!!!

    • Kenny Mann says:

      This article is clearly written for Americans and other foreigners considering living full time in Oaxa. I found it very informative. Nowhere does it state the author expected the same service s etc. As in the US or other areas. She simy described her own experiences and that is legitimate. She did not show a ny lack of understanding or mame any dispRaging comments…she merely desc riber life there so that outsiders can know what to expect. Nor did she say one word about not appreciating the different customs, foods, etc. Quite theopposite! Garbage collection, noise, water issues and political protests have nothing to do with indigenous culture ..well, maybe noise does…but only with infrastructure. There is no reason at all to get so worked up and nasty about it.

      • James Wangsness says:

        Thanks Kenny for pointing out that the author presented–in a very unbiased, non-judgmental manner–some aspects of Oaxaca that people thinking of moving there would be interested in hearing. Having traveled to many parts of Mexico, I had an idea of what she’d be talking about before I read the article. And the city in question could be interchanged with thousands of others around the world and most of what she said would apply. What really matters most is keeping the proverbial open mind and realize you can’t change any of it, just enjoy the good parts and focus on that; and that it IS OK to crab a little about it; but then move on.

      • Joan S says:

        I agree heartily with your understanding of the author’s purpose. The article seemed quite objective, and at the same time, appreciative of Oaxaca lifestyle.

    • James Wangsness says:

      Dubai? Nothing to complain about? Firstly, the author was not complaining or criticizing. She merely gave an objective account of what she experienced and how it impacted her life, which seems to have set you off and put you on the defensive.

      Back to Dubai. Ugh. If you haven’t been there, go. You sound like the type who’d find plenty to complain about 🙂

    • Fred S. Howard says:

      I am a Spanish major and would like move to Oaxaca. Can anyone please help me find organizations that would sponsor or assist me. Thanks!

  12. Priscilla says:

    Thanks for this! We are researching places to live in Mexico & we’ll be visiting Oaxaca in just under a month. These lists were really illuminating & informative, & honest. Obviously I expect things to be different in Oaxaca, but it’s helpful to know what kind of differences/challenges to anticipate, as well as what to look forward to. So thank you!!

  13. Neil says:

    I have hoped for years to visit and eventually live in Oaxaca. I expect to make my first visit this year. I will stay for two weeks and plan to get some dental crowns also while I enjoy my stay. Could you give any leads regarding affordable dentists in the area? Thank, Neil

  14. MARIO VASQUEZ says:


    • Michael says:

      Mario we are building a home in oaxaca city would like to find out about your property in mazunte thanks michael

  15. Wojtek says:

    My stay in Oaxaca resulted in eating too much… so delicious and variety. Being a travel blogger has its price, but at least couple of pictures were taken: http://backpackista.com/oaxaca/

  16. Kyle Traveler says:

    Oh man, don’t go to India if you think Oaxaca is dirty. Oaxaca and Mexico feel so clean to me.

  17. John Scherber says:

    My new book looks at Americans and Canadians in Mexico
    who’ve chosen to avoid the big expat colonies in San Miguel de Allende and Lake
    Chapala. It ends with three conversations with expats who have settled in Oaxaca. What they’ve found is both diverse and surprising. The book is called Into the Heart of Mexico: Expatriates Find
    Themselves Off the Beaten Path. There’s a sample on my website:


  18. Brenda says:

    This is only specific to the city and the culture there is obviously different from the states.This is only worst things for you but most can be seen in many cities. Cities are dirty crowded and have noise. Just saying. The smaller towns are better to venture and visit.

  19. michal hall says:

    The “bad things” about living there were so miniscule in comparison to the good things! I understand that for any foreigner these are adjustments, you cannot lie to yourself and say that (at least for people raised in the U.S.) that these are complaints for mostly if not all of us. Adjustments of course. But still, I could not help thinking once I got to the good part of the list that is swallowed up every possible complaint. And yes, I think all of need to be more sensitive toward people’s desperation in wanting money form foreigners and the gringos that voluntarily make their home in this poor state. Although they bother you, you might see it is an awakening to the fact that you are living in a drastically different world than you see in the U.S., or any country with a hugely stronger economy, and wonder how else to see these people. Maybe turn your simple annoyance or aggravation into deeper thinking about where you are and why they are asking you for money.

  20. Jörg says:

    Spending there just 3 days I wouldn’t have come up with these “worst” things at all, but it is good to know how life would be on a permanent basis 😉 One great thing I experienced and managed to capture in a linear composition – the warm and friendly nightlife on the streets: http://panoramastreetline.com/nightlife-street-scene-P5017

  21. Solange says:

    Dear ti
    This summer the police clean all te downtonw in oaxaca. And the goverme t change all the structure regarding of the teachers to avoiid the walkouts and demostration of the workers union. I’m from Puebla Mexico, and I love to Oaxaca to visits ans rest. The food isamaizing and the city has a lot of culture and is nice to walk in the evening. Today has a lot of security.

  22. Kevin says:

    I’ve spent about 10 months in Oaxaca over a couple different years and would like to compliment the author. Those that accuse her of expecting everything to be like the developed world are out of line. She is just pointing out that things are different, so be prepared. I can attest that it is not fun hearing the garbage truck at 6 a.m. every single day, or dogs barking off and on all night, or church bells ringing at 6:30 a.m. That to me is the biggest difference, the Mexican “relationship with noise” as she so artfully puts it. Obviously the good outweighs the bad or I wouldn’t keep going back, and I don’t expect these things or the locals to change to fit my ideas about how things “should” be. But it’s fair to point out the things that may surprise and/or frustrate a foreigner.

    • James Wangsness says:

      I enjoyed your level-headed comments, Kevin. We share the same frustration over excessive noise, which is just a part of the culture: louder is better. This all fits in with the notion that personal space is public space. But sometimes it really is too much, especially when you’ve checked into a hotel or hostel that looks idyllic, but the dream is quickly shattered once the roosters start crowing and/or music is blasting from who knows where. This is why I would never make a booking in advance for a long stay. I would stay in a hotel for a couple of days and explore the lodging options.

  23. Blanche Gardner says:

    I have always wanted to move to Mexico. It is my dream. I am surprised by their garbage collection. Actually it make me laugh. I imagine myself every morning at 5.30 staying on the street waiting for this truck. It sounds really funny. Greetings!

  24. natie says:

    How is the internet access??? I am planning to be there for several months and want to make sure I can use my computer. Thanks so much!!!!!

  25. Luisa says:

    Hi – I really enjoyed reading this – my family and I (I am English they are Colombian) are wanting to travel for a while and I am an Englih teacher – do you know of any bilingual or International Schools in the region?

  26. Jane says:

    I just returned to the states after spending two and a half weeks in Oaxaca. I am one person who could just not get passed the horrible traffic, the toxic air pollution, the graffiti, the deteriorated buildings, the bad smells probably from sewage, the beggars in the street especially seeing children working or begging, the water, having to throw your used toilet paper in a bin, and the loud noise, noise, noise. The culture, crafts, food (I don’t particularly like Mexican food however), and lovely people just couldn’t make up for the unpleasantness that my husband and I experienced.

  27. Robyn says:

    I just returned from Oaxaca and I have to say that I left a big part of my heart there. The culture, colors, warmth and kindness of the people were so wonderful. An entirely different value system than here in the US – very refreshing. I didn’t experience filth at all, but yes, aging building, many of which were being restored. Vendors were easy to graciously deflect and just trying to make a living, so no problem there. I even bought a few things from them at different points. I felt safe and walked about on my own, in the evening. It was lovely!

  28. Kyle Gann says:

    Thanks for the detailed info. We had a wonderful week in Oaxaca once. Now, post-election, we’re looking for a place to move to outside the US, and this was my wife’s first choice.

  29. Brenna DAmato says:

    Thank you so much for your article. My husband is Mexican and we currently live in Tlaxcala, Mexico, though I am from Saint Louis, MO USA. We are looking into moving and I came across your article in my research. I wanted a place with the “tranquilo” lifestyle I have come to love in Tlaxcala but with a beach and a few more things to do. Everything from the cons and the pros are exactly what we are used to in Tlaxcala, making Oaxaca sound like the perfect place for our next family home.

  30. I’ve been twice to Oaxaca Juarez – three months and then five months – and I fell in love with the city. I’d move there, if I could. Outstanding city, very vibrant,very strong culturally, great people, great food. The author of the article didn’t mention its museums and art galleries – and they are great (check on internet). Same about restaurants, cafes, and bookstores (great selection, no trashy literature). And there is no word about one-hundred-years-old, beautiful Teatro Macedonio Alcala – with opera, concerts, and the yearly Muestra Internacional del Cine – the presentation of the new, most interesting films from all over the world.

  31. Brian Gifford says:

    We spent a wonderful week in Oaxaca Jan 11-18, 2017. Highly recommended.

    One place not mentioned is the Ethno Botanical Gardens beside the Santo Domingo Church, which has a collection of plants representing the incredible bio-diversity of Oaxaca state. There are 2 hour tours in English every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday at 11 am. Well worth taking – a fascinating view of both the diverse plants and how humans have used and changed them over centuries.

    Regarding the political protests, I am interested in politics and I recommend looking more into it for anyone else who is. As recently as June 2016 there were protests that led to at least 6 deaths caused by the authorities. We felt very safe there. But recognizing what’s going on in the background is part of understanding the place – especially given what’s happening in the US now. The effect of NAFTA and various local and national administrations are important background to understanding what life is like for Oaxacans and why there are political protests. In 2006, between 500,000 and 1 million people took to the streets, an extraordinary display of resistance against a corrupt and brutal local governor. The Amate Book store on the Alcala pedestrian street has a great collection of books in English about politics, art, etc.

    • Denise says:


      I am intrigued by your post, especially your comments about the political climate. My partner and I are planning a visit to Oaxaca. I’d be interested in where you stayed during your visit and if you connected with locals. Any and all advice is welcomed.



  32. Paul Bayse says:

    I have traveled in various parts of the world and no place is as nice as Oaxaca. I have visited Oaxaca every year for the last 27 years. The weather is the best of any place I have ever been and the people are the nicest that I have ever known. Yes, it is a little noisy but if you are going to visit another country, different culture, one must accept their life style. I love Oaxaca and plan to visit in two or three months. I usually stay for 3 to 4 months at a time. Enjoy coffee in the zocalo with many mexican friends.

  33. TOM says:

    Looking to a visit soon. Heard about some friends planning to bring a car from US to Oaxaca. Is that safe, reasonable, wise, possible? Also about water… if it rains enough and just runs off and municipal sources are unreliable, can one purchase the supplies necessary to collect and store enough water for personal use?

  34. June Wallace says:

    I want to add my voice (and am thinking I should write my own blog). And, I apologize in advance for the length; I didn’t expect to write so much. Perhaps it will not get posted.

    I moved to Oaxaca a couple of years ago. I had been to Oaxaca several times years ago, and though I long for Oaxaca of those bygone days (a much, much smaller city; streets and old buildings in a far better state of repair; more local foods grown traditionally, without chemicals; many fewer people; far less tourism and tourist kitch; live traditional marimba band music in the zocalo gazebo every week; and much less noise), I still think it is a special place. Since I live here fulltime, however, I do plan to move to one of the villages for all of the reasons I mentioned.

    The people here are incredibly friendly and social: In a matter of months, I knew more people I could rely on in a pinch and who were disappointed if they did not see me every week or two (which can sometimes feel like a burden, but I have learned to just accept it and not feel ‘guilt’) than I knew in the US after a lifetime. It is actually this sense of community, acceptance and belonging that I realize I value more than anything about life here.

    Life in ‘paradise,’ however, is not perfect, as pointed out in the comments above; but, I have a slightly different perspective.

    I live in the Historic Center, blocks from the zocalo, and we are never without available water. It is supplied by the city, and though the tanks on the roof can (and do eventually) run out of water, the landlords need only to turn on a pump to fill them. The real problem is how FILTHY the water is in the Oaxacan valley. My landlords have two filters on incoming water, but I still drink, cook and brush my teeth in bottled water.

    Regarding garbage pickup: I only have to place the garbage and/or recycling out on the corner at night for pickup in the early AM. I don’t have to personally put it in the truck (and I am curious what neighborhood this woman lived in; maybe the practices have changed since she lived here). Sometimes, someone even passes by the house during the afternoon with their pushcart and large cylindrical containers, rings the bell, and asks if we have garbage or recycling. I live at the same property as my landlords, who are third-generation (at least) at this location, so perhaps this is something that has been established over the decades. Though paper and plastic are recycled, I do wish it was more comprehensive; I have been an avid recycler for most of my adult life, and often feel overwhelmed with plastic (bags, containers, etc., etc.). I call Mexico ‘a world of plastic,’ though there is a growing consciousness in the City and, especially, in the Sierra Norte (many villages even have strategically located trash cans labeled ‘organic’ and ‘non-organic.’) Unfortunately, the Southern Sierra is not as conscientious.

    I staunchly support the teachers and medical workers in their struggles, at least in my heart and mind (I cannot get involved politically, or I could be deported, which would be very problematic. The ex-pat women, however, did have a complementary solidarity march earlier in the year protesting US policies toward Mexico; no one was threatened with deportation . . .). However, after experiencing the 6+ months’ encampment last year and many roadblocks (though living in the center and not traveling beyond town on a regular basis, I was rarely inconvenienced myself), I have come to the conclusion that they need to find other tactics (my politically savvy Mexican friends tell me ‘they have no other choice’). I don’t see the encampments or roadblocks changing anything; they seem only to make life very difficult for poor village people trying to get to town to sell their goods or get to a very poorly paid job. I have even heard of people dying because their ambulance could not get through. These are the very people they need as allies, but many just feel frustration and alienation. On the other hand, there are often huge, combined marches and rallies, including students and many others – at particular times of the year (it seems like spring is the beginning of the political season) when it is evident that there is also massive support for all the various labor and political struggles.

    I also lament the way that people do not care for their city, dropping trash wherever. But, that is true in any city I have lived in the US. What is different here is that the city pays people to sweep the streets early every morning (at least in the Historic – read ‘tourist’ – Center, as the writer mentioned). I find the villages to be much cleaner. I also think the city should provide many more strategically placed garbage and recycling receptacles and to mount an educational campaign. They could/should also work on getting rid of plastic bag use.

    I agree with the comments about graffiti. There are some locations (especially near high schools, etc.) where the graffiti are actual murals (and many Oaxacans seem to have an exceptionally high level of graphic art skill). These are beautiful. But, then there is just the tagging, which is destructive and indiscriminately sprayed all over town. And, it seems like there are particular weekends when the perps are particularly active. I am deeply saddened especially when the beautiful historic buildings (though remnants of colonization) are spray-painted. It defaces the most beautiful historical physical elements of Oaxaca, and requires hazardous and toxic fluids to remove the paint. Sometimes decomposing, but historical adobe buildings are also painted, and there is no way to remove the paint without further destroying the buildings. This is sad and has no positive political/social value.

    I also agree with the problem of traffic; I was almost hit twice this year, when I was already in the street before the car advanced to cross the intersection. The first was a young woman who practically ran over my feet, and never even bothered to look in my direction as she just charged past. In the second incident, I was right in the middle of the crosswalk; when I yelled at the driver, he yelled back at me (interrupting his phone call!) to say that he ‘had the light’ – there is no pedestrian light at most intersections. What I find interesting is that yellow cab drivers (usually not the most progressive people) are the most likely to stop to let a pedestrian cross the street! Maybe because they don’t want to alienate/threaten potential customers.

    My personal beef, and something the writer did not mention, is not ‘lack of personal space,’ which I have actually not experienced here – or it’s just not an issue for me. It is the fact that, for whatever reason, which is very difficult to discern, most Oaxacans tend to walk on the left side of the sidewalk. And they can be adamant about it to the point of plastering themselves up against the wall if you insist on holding your own ‘to keep to the right.’ Even worse (i.e., scarier and more likely to have negative consequences) is they also don’t really look to see what is going on around them. They will walk or run out of doorways with no thought that someone might be walking past. Only if they actually run into you, will they then say anything or acknowledge that you are even there (such as looking in your direction). I have had two such incidents (and many more near-misses) in the past year (One guy stepped off a street corner as I passed in the street, because there was no room on the sidewalk; I don’t know where he was looking, but he ran right into me – apologetic, of course). This is something I don’t think I will ever get used to.

  35. orizzont says:

    What an superficial, typical American description of a country which deserve respect, especially for the ancient culture…something that Americans from USA do not know and never experienced.

    • June Wallace says:

      The comments made in my post have nothing to do with ‘ancient culture.’ I have spent a lot of time in villages throughout Oaxaca, which is where the ‘ancient culture’ is very evident. NONE of the issues mentioned in my post are relevant to the villages. Quite the contrary, the villages are clean, there is virtually no traffic, people are much more mindful, and in less of a hurry.

      There was nothing ‘superficial’ about my post. It is life in Oaxaca centro. Even many locals will agree – I speak a very high level of Spanish, and am able to discuss these things with them, which I have done to try to see if my perception is just a cultural difference. I have yet to find anyone who disagrees with me.

  36. Penny says:

    But is it cheap to live there? Will I be able to find “work for keep” type accommodation?

  37. Jacqueline Hammond says:

    I am planning on living in Huatulco for 6 months beginning in October of this year and am a single 50+ woman the information in this blog has been very helpful but no mention about the language interaction is it necessary to be fluent or at least have grasp of conversational Spanish or not really an issue is English spoken among the native peoples and street vendors etc.? And what about bringing a pet (I have a very small shi tzu) Thank so many of you for your honest input.

    • Corey says:

      Huatulco is very touristy as far as beach towns go in Oaxaca. It’s a major cruise port. So finding expats there and English spoken probably won’t be a problem. I lived in Puerto Escondido for two years and currently in Oaxaca City. Taking your small dog with you won’t be a problem especially if it’s ok with the heat. Huatulco is a bit cooler than Puerto because of the Pluma Hidalgo mountains directly behind. Very nice city overall and designed like some coastal US cities. If you want a cool off head up into the Pluma Hidalgo mountains to San Jose del Pacifico, about 2 hour drive (lots of tourist busitos that will take you there). Wonderful pine forests, steep mountain terrain, and a quaint little town. There’s also several cabin places to stay the night (recommend highly!) for about $600 pesos. Buy wool clothing there cheap. Beautiful place you won’t want to miss along with Huatulco.

  38. Michel says:

    Oaxaca is a gem! I live in Paris France, know most of Mexico, and have visited Oaxaca 4x over the past 7 years. I love it so much that in 2020 i will retire part-time in the Wonderful beach eco village Mazunte! (Which was recently awarded Pueblo Magico status).

  39. Mark White says:

    This is a very interesting take on Oaxaca and an enlightening conversation to book.

    I will go to the city for the first time in late June this year, and with older relatives (and small kids). How is walking the city center for older folks (decent, not great, walkers in their 70s)? We will not venture out more than a few blocks from our hotel, which is very centrally located, but I’ve been heavily cautioned about cobblestone streets and uneven and broken pavement. Is going slow and looking down a lot a sufficient way to avoid hazards? I can hardly believe they will be the first people of their ambulatory level to take to the streets of Oaxaca…

  40. Kathryn Welch says:

    Wow, all of the comments have been very interesting and informative. I have been looking to move out of the US for a few years now. I’ve been to Ajijic and San Miguel and although both seem to be great places to live there is not much to do for fun. My son and I are planning a trip to Oaxaca this July if we can get vaccinated by then.
    I appreciate the well intended info and understand that not all areas are the same.

  41. Michael says:

    The negatives are relative to what you’re used to. New York City where I’m from is worse in almost every respect. The noise is the thing I agree with you on. Every day bells and music are not so bad. Its the firecrackers at 2am that get to me.

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