Things To Do In Oaxaca Mexico Travel Photography Tips Too

by forsomethingmore
(Last Updated On: August 31, 2020)
Old woman in Oaxaca market things to do in Oaxaca
By Ted Dawson – Ted Dawson Photography

Countless Things To Do In Oaxaca, Mexico

As I sit here at my computer I’m realizing I don’t do much writing…really none. Beyond the many text messages and work emails in my daily life, creative writing isn’t really something I do. I’m definitely not a poet, I could write a poem probably, but I wouldn’t even know where to start. Thus I hope you’ll bear with me as I write this guide on things to do in Oaxaca.

Sometimes, I’ve found, having less options in my creative process actually allows me to do more. For example, the haiku format – it would help me to actually write a poem because it leads me to work within a defined structure. So much easier for me to get creative that way. Travel photography is the same for me. Using a defined structure is the approach I take to my travel photography. Below is both the story of my wife and my time in Oaxaca as well as my professional photography tips on how to best capture photos in the diverse settings that Oaxaca has on offer.

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My Ideal Travel Photography Setup

Below is what I consider the ideal setup for travel photography.

Photo Tip

-To walk around with: 2 Camera bodies, one fixed with a fast zoom lens like 24mm-70mm ƒ/2.8  and the other with a prime lens, maybe a 105mm ƒ1.4.
-To keep in your bag: maybe a tripod, 14mm-24mm ƒ/2.8, 70mm-200mm ƒ/2.8, 58mm ƒ/1.2 (for nighttime) and the illustrious 600mm ƒ/4 (for wildlife).

Sounds nice right? You’d be ready for pretty much every contingency and probably get some amazing images. Of course, you’d also want to utilize the latest tricks to improve your photography, but that goes without saying. With the two bodies you could swing out another lens without having to stop. When reading Endurance, the story of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition, I heard a valuable message. Upon arrival on the island, Shackleton was faced with a decision: preparedness vs speed. He chose to bring the minimum gear and thus prioritized speed over everything else. His ethic informs my own, and so far, I’ve been pleased with the results.

Oaxaca Off The Beaten Path

Oaxaca is a Pacific state in Mexico with a longstanding history of artisanal handcrafting. It is an understatement to say there are a lot of things to do in Oaxaca, or better yet experiences to have. It seems like every village we visited had a specialty, whether it be pottery, weaving or Mezcal to name a few.

things to do in Oaxaca check out a street market

Oaxaca is lesser known than the big resort towns such as Tulum, Cancún or Cabo San Lucas, but that is exactly why we found it so appealing. Much of Oaxaca is still off the beaten path. Part of that means you’ll be best off if you take some time to learn Spanish. While you’ll find the occasional person who speaks English, it will happen less often than in a lot of other places in Mexico.

view of Oaxaca from the air things to do in Oaxaca

Map of Things To Do in Oaxaca

Below is a Google Map that shows all the information I cover in this guide. It includes places, markets, restaurants and things to do. Make sure to zoom in to check out all the fine details. Lastly, click on the menu button (hike Lamma Island and either Yung Shue Ha or Sham Wan) for more details on each pin.

For a few more options specific to Oaxaca City, you can use this map as well.

Oaxaca Arrival Tips

Oaxaca’s airport (OAX) is pretty small and mostly harmless. If you’ve travelled outside of the U.S. before, you’ll do just fine. But do prepare yourself because it felt a bit disorganized. The process of filling out immigration paperwork was a little hectic, but you’ll do well if bring your own pen and take an extra minute to find English language paperwork which wasn’t in any particular area.

Once you get through immigration and security you’ll find the tiny arrivals hall. Not much here, but furthest down on the right is the taxi/van window. Come prepared with your Airbnb address or wherever you are staying. I practiced saying the address on the plane, so hopefully I would be understood and able to ask for help if I got lost. The shared taxi vans are the way to go. A private cab is many times more expensive, and these guys work very efficiently. Pay with a credit card and save your cash for street food. 

red taxi in Oaxaca

Where to Stay Oaxaca City

When we arrived, we stayed near the Zócalo, the main square. The city is pretty easy to navigate. It’s a grid with a big square in the middle. We liked to stay on one of the streets like Colón or Morelos. You’ll be walking distance to the main square but not right on top of it. We preferred Airbnb. There are so many inexpensive options near the Zócalo, and you also get the opportunity to meet your host which can sometimes end up being your best resource for off the beaten path recommendations. We stayed in a few different places within the city and beyond, and our relationship with our hosts proved valuable.  Oaxaca City is completely walkable. There are taxis, but you probably won’t need them. If you use one, just be prepared that they will likely not speak English and only take cash.

night life in Oaxaca things to do in Oaxaca

Things to Do in Oaxaca City

In the city you’ll find a lot of things to do including day trips out of the city. Take your time, savor pleasing rhythm of the city, and of course, make sure you have your camera.

General Street Markets

We enjoyed the many street markets. We spent hours walking in circles enjoying the sights, sounds, foods, and arts and crafts. Definitely try:

Craft Markets

Speaking of arts and crafts, you can check out the Mercado de Artisenias in town where you can find a catch-all market of all the handicrafts of the surrounding areas, though I still suggest you take day trips to these places and get your handicrafts from the source.

Those well-traveled among you will already know this, but I’ll mention that the smells around these street markets can be hit and miss. I found it challenging at times. 

things to do in Oaxaca include eating at food markets

Places To Eat in Oaxaca

Street Food Markets

We found some of our favorite eats in Oaxaca simply by wandering through the local markets. In the Zócalo main square, the food is touristy. Don’t eat there. Go eat at the street markets.

things to do in oaxaca include live music in Oaxaca City

Again, the street markets are full of authentic and affordable food options. To name a few, check out:

These all are tried and true. Definitely try a Tlayuda and some chocolate atole. In the back of Sanchez Pascuas market is where you’ll find all the tamales! We didn’t find this place until the end of our trip, and it was a very authentic experience. Don’t expect anything beyond basic service or anyone to speak English, but this is the real deal, and we loved it.

chocolate atole
chocolate atole

Ultimately, for street food there’s no single best place to look. Definitely wander the streets outside the Zócalo, and keep an eye out for Hambuguesas, Tacos and Elote (street corn).

The tacos to look for are the tacos Al Pastor (pictured below). 

Restaurants

Casa Oaxaca is a high end restaurant serving modern interpretations of classic Oaxacan dishes as well as pre-hispanic foods. Boulnec is a great place to eat if you want some more Western food during a long vacation, excellent quality.

Street Photography Galore

bright and exciting street market in Oaxaca

“If you want to get into street photography you’ll need to overcome the fear of photographing strangers… Push through and you’ll end up with a constellation of microcosmic moments.”

All over Oaxaca, you’ll find a cornucopia of opportunities for candid portraiture. That is, if you’re interested in street photography, and if you dare. If you want to get into street photography you’ll need to overcome the fear of photographing strangers.

man and woman on scooter

This can sometimes be an awkward or uncomfortable experience, but if you push through you’ll end up with a constellation of microcosmic moments. I seek to capture the fleeting happenstance moments that occur throughout the day. These are random occurrences that oftentimes give you only one opportunity to nail the shot.

boy holding candles

My Travel Photography Setup

My philosophy for travel photography is to prioritize speed over preparedness. What I propose is a travel photography method aimed at getting the shot above all else. Some call it “spray and pray” which doesn’t really fit my methodology. I’d describe it as something more deliberate, maybe like buying 5 lotto tickets instead of one. Two to four good hits should do the job. And, I know it sounds like I am trading quality for quantity, but if you try this, I believe you’ll find that quantity has a quality all its own.

Photo Tip

When I travel, this is what I bring.
Nikon D7500
Nikkor 18mm-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 VR “super-zoom” lens
Nikkor 35mm ƒ/1.8
-Travel tripod
-Two batteries
-A laptop or a smartphone

My super-zoom lens is a compromise in many ways but the upside is extreme versatility. Taking a page out of Ernest Shackleton’s book, I propose we let go of all that gear you think you need, and focus instead on getting every shot you can. Camera companies want you to think that having better gear is going to make you a better photographer. I disagree, I believe better gear will only improve the photos you’re already taking.

What I Generally Use

Generally, I use the Nikkor 18mm-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 VR during the day because of its relatively slow aperture but wide zoom range, and I use the 35mm ƒ/1.8 prime lens at night for its fast aperture and superior optics. I know the gear-heads out there will argue that super zooms like the Nikkor 18mm-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 VR isn’t a very sharp lens. You’re right, but if you’re like me, 90% of my photos will be shared via email, FaceBook or Instagram. All these platforms apply aggressive compression algorithms which strip most of the sharpness from my photos anyways. If you have enough light, stopping down the lens to ƒ/8 for ƒ/11 helps a lot which is where the VR (vibration reduction) helps, or use a tripod. The lens is sharp enough, but if you’re a pixel peeper you’ll always find something wrong with the image.

Photo Tip

Here is how I recommend you capture street photography.
-Use your fast prime lens set to ƒ/2.8.
-Set your shutter speed around 1/125” (if light permits get your shutter closer to 1/500”).
-Use single point continuous AF.
-Use spot metering
.

A great spot to hone your street photography craft is in the Zócalo. Walking laps here will allow you to uncover hidden treasures. When I was there it seemed like every day was some sort of holiday. You’ll often see dancing, music and performances going on.

things to do in oaxaca include street art in Zócalo

Oaxaca Tourist Traps

Getting back to the city, in the Zócalo you’ll be solicited a lot for tours. The one we took, did not take us off the beaten path. I do recommend some of the activities they offer, but realize if you respond to one of these hawkers who speaks perfect English, quite likely you’ll be making major sacrifices in authenticity for convenience. Unfortunately, we learned this lesson the hard way.

In the Zócalo, we were approached by a guy selling tours who spoke great English and was offering a package of all the activities we wanted to do. He also gave us a good price. Major tourist trap. We ended up being carted around in a van all day from place to place. Yes, we went to many spots we wanted to go anyways, but we also did a lot of stuff we didn’t want to do. Firstly they picked us up and took us on the wrong tour, not the one we signed up for. The tour was 75% in Spanish, and we signed up for a tour that was in English.

Never Again

We paid for the tour, but we didn’t realize that it didn’t include anything else. Every stop along the way, we had to pay admission to enter the various sites. Our tour guide kept telling us that we would be going to a place to eat “soon,” so we held out for what he led us to believe would be some authentic Oaxacan food.

As it turned out, they picked us up at 9 a.m., and we didn’t eat until after 5 p.m. When we did eat, it was at a roadside buffet that was arranged just for tourists. The food had been out for hours before we came and yes, we had to pay for it. When it was all said and done, we spent a bunch of money on tourist traps and bad food. At the end of the ordeal, my wife and I looked at each other and said, “never again.”

How To Avoid Them

So what other options are there? I would recommend asking the host of your accommodation if they could recommend you a driver. Better yet, ask if they are available to take you on a tour themselves. While you will likely spend more money to hire a private driver, once you factor in the cost of a (bogus) tour, the cost of activities (including ones you don’t even want to do), the fact you’re on someone else’s schedule, the touristy food and the overall lack of authenticity, you will end up getting much better value.

Moreover, if you hire a private driver, you’ll go exactly where you want to go. You’ll also be able to patronize local finds for some truly authentic Oaxacan food, and you most importantly, you’ll be getting an experience that you actually want to have. If we had to do it again, we’d certainly go the private driver route.

Day Trips from Oaxaca

While you could spend a lifetime exploring all the things to do in Oaxaca City, there are also a multitude of experiences that you can tuck into just outside the city limits. And, while you’d need another lifetime to explore all of the fascinating small towns outside of Oaxaca City, the handful we experienced are a great place to start.

In total, we spent 4 days exploring Oaxaca City and the following towns outside Oaxaca. By the end of our forth day, we were ready to move on. But, enjoy these places at your own pace, and if you have the ability to linger in a place you find really enjoyable, I recommend you do so.

Teotitlan del Valle

Teotitlan del Valle – Venture to this small village for hand woven wool textiles. Most are made from local sheep, and they are dyed with natural dyes. Their speciality is rug making on hand-looms.

a loom worker in Teotitlan del Valle

San Bartolo Coyotepec

San Bartolo Coyotepec – Known for their black pottery made from local clay and polished with Quartz crystal, these works of art have a unique appearance. We found a bunch that were super affordable, but we were worried about being able to transport them home and them remaining in one piece.

El Tule

El Tule – The oldest tree in Oaxaca is certainly a tourist attraction, but if you have a few minutes to spare, it’s beautiful and worth a quick look. Don’t plan to spend more than 5 minutes of you time here, at most.

things to do in oaxaca include el Tule the oldest tree in Oaxaca

Hierve El Agua

Hierve El Agua – This petrified waterfall is definitely worth a visit. The mineral rich water from the springs above have been slowly collecting for thousands of years (similar to stalactites), and now this magnificent monument towers high above the surrounding semi-desert environment. Being an outdoor space, it feels less touristy and is a great place to hike around. There are lots of outdoor photo opportunities here.

Hierve El Agua

On the way to Hierve El Agua, you’ll see some old school mezcal operations. If you have a taste for mezcal, there’s a lot of tasting opportunities and craft distilleries all over the place. I encourage you to explore and find them yourself just as we did. The exploration will become part of your Oaxaca story.

Tilcajete

Tilcajete – In the town of Tilcajete you’ll find plenty of alebrijes, mythical spiritual protectors that manifest as Mexican folk art sculptures.

More specifically, you’ll find the workshop of Jacobo and Maria Angeles. They are the authority on all things Alebrije. The tour of their workshop is fantastic, and their work is impressive. Definitely check out their natural dyes demonstration! The prices for their sculptures are quite high, but their fine work warrants such. Regardless, with prices at and above US$1,000, they were too expensive for my taste.

Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast

During our trip we wanted to balance our time in the city with one of the most classic things to do in Oaxaca – spend some time at the beach. As I said before, Oaxaca is certainly off the beaten path from what many people often do in Mexico. Even more so is the Pacific coast. Mostly, Mexicans come here to vacation but not many tourists. Accordingly, getting down to the beach from Oaxaca City takes a little bit of planning.

How To Get To The Pacific Coast

Flying – Usually, flying requires a trip to Mexico city (with one exception). Flying to Mexico city didn’t make sense to us and was pricey.

Car Rental – It’s also possible to rent a car. The car rental situation seemed ok to me, but I try and not rent cars abroad. For me, usually the risk outweighs the reward.

Take a Bus / Minivan – The bus situation is dire. It’s cheap enough (about US$10 at the time of writing), but that’s not the problem. The bus is aptly nicknamed “The Vomit Comet.” It takes you from Oaxaca city to Puerto Escondido in 10-hours, and it goes over twisty mountainous terrain. Prepare to be hot, crowded and nearly dead by the time you reach your destination. Also know, you’ll be losing a whole day in transit.  There is another bus which goes around the base of the mountains, but be prepared for 15-hours or more of travel time.

How We Got There

Aero Tucan flight Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido

We opted for the least painful option which is a flight directly from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido. This flight is serviced by Aero Tucan. This is a 30 minute flight in a small 12 seat plane over the mountain range. The information I got about the flight described the plane as a “church bus with wings.”

Aero Tucan flight Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido

That’s about right I’d say. It’s a simple plane, and you’ll feel every beat of the propeller as you skim over the tops of the mountains. I recommend ear plugs, as it was very loud. But when compared to the “Vomit Comet,” it’s a breeze, and you don’t lose a whole day of your trip. The price? About US$150/person at the time of writing.

It’s Either Time, Money or Grief

I’ve found in my travels that you pay in one way or another – it’s either in time, money or grief. For my wife and I, the increased cost meant we had a whole day at the beach instead of a dreadful bus ride. The ride is bumpy and definitely a little scary at times, but I never felt unsafe. But, don’t think it’s going to be like a jumbo jet either. Aero Tucan can be booked online, which is a little glitchy, or over the phone. Remember again, you’re off the beaten path here, so don’t expect the normal conveniences you’re used to with major airlines. Book in advance, as the 12 seats go quickly.

Photo Tip

Here is how I recommend you capture photos out of the window of the plane.
-Sit on the opposite side of the rising sun. (This way you’ll get the soft morning light on the mountains.)
-Use a shutter speed that’s pretty high due to vibrations and movement ~ 1/1000” or faster.
-Set your manual focus to ∞.
view from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido on Aero Tucan

Pacific Cities, Beaches and Places To Visit

Of the many things to do in Oaxaca, bouncing from beach to beach along the coast is something we thoroughly enjoyed doing. It was whimsical, relaxing and all around lovely. We merely scratched the surface of what Oaxaca’s Pacific coast has to offer, but the places below will give you a great start.

Puerto Escondido

Puerto Escondido – Out of the 3 pacific cities we visited, Puerto Escondido was our favorite. There are touristy parts, but it is nothing compared to the popular resort towns.

Brisas de Zicatela

Brisas de Zicatela – We stayed in Brisas De Zicatela, casually known as “La Punta” (the point). It is not near the main drag, but a short scooter ride or taxi will get you there. I think it is one of the least busy beaches along the pacific coast. It’s an Ubudian beach town with surfer vibes and low-key energy, but a bit more high energy than Ko Yao Yai Island in Thailand. We stayed at an amazing AirBnb which was an excellent deal for the ocean view, outdoor kitchen, pool and A/C. While we weren’t on a shoestring budget, we also didn’t spend frivolously. We definitely benefitted from the relatively tucked away La Punta, as the prices for accommodations were much less expensive.

Beach hut on La Punta is one of the things to do in Oaxaca

La Punta

La Punta – Our accommodation was on Heroes Oaxaqueños Street. Practice saying that or no cab driver will understand you It’s pronounced, wa-ha-CAIN-yos. Heading down to the beach is an easy downhill walk during which you’ll see some of the local boutiques and cafés. When you get down to the cross-street, make a left, and check out some of the restaurants. We ate at a few different places but we really enjoyed “El Salvador” which is on the beach and has umbrellas and tables.

things to do in oaxaca include eating Fish tacos on the beach

A Sweet Deal

We worked out a deal to have the seats and umbrella for free as long as we ordered some food and drinks. This is where your basic Spanish will come in handy. The shrimp tacos were incredible. A note on service, in these off the beaten path places the service at restaurants is quite slow. Order way before you are hungry, as your food will take a LONG time to come. Also, ask for the check well before you’re ready to leave, especially if you are paying by credit card. It might take 20-30 minutes to pay the bill in some cases, even if it is not busy.

A Sunset Adventure

Ready for a small adventure? Head down the beach around sunset until you get to the point at the end of the beach – La Punta.

sunset near Heroes Oaxaquenos is one of the things to do in Oaxaca

You’ll see a rough trail headed up the rocks. Up there is a great viewpoint.

things to do in oaxaca hiking to a great viewpoint nearby to Heroes Oaxaquenos

Continuing down, you’ll see caves and rocks to climb on. I don’t take my full-size camera on adventures like this. I’m a believer that the best camera is the one you already have. No camera, no shot. My backup camera for adventures is my iPhone 11Pro. It has 3 lenses, and it’s splash proof, so I don’t worry about it. With good technique, the iPhone is an excellent camera. Post processing in Lightroom mobile (iOS/Android) doesn’t hurt either.

a cave near Heroes Oaxaquenos is one of the things to do in Oaxaca
beach cliff view
things to do in oaxaca ocean at sunset

Zicatela

Zicatela – Around Puerto Escondido are a few areas that are worth checking out. For more variety head over to Zicatela. I wouldn’t recommend staying there, as La Punta is much more quaint, but the main drag of Zicatela is worth checking out. Cafecito is a great restaurant that accepts credit cards. We loved the whole snapper with garlic. 

fried snapper with garlic

Carizalillo and Playa Principal

Carizalillo and Playa Principal – There are many other beaches beyond Zicatela. Some of the most popular include Carizalillo and Playa Principal. If you’re looking for travel off the beaten path, I don’t recommend these. In my time on the coast of Oaxaca, I spent a lot of time looking for and going to other beaches only to find out that the quiet little one right by my AirBnB, Brisas De Zicatela, was the best. These more popular spots have fees for chairs, slower service and a lot more people. One good thing is you’ll get more food offered to you as vendors pass by. The peanuts, coconut ice cream and spicy pineapple are amazing!

things to do in oaxaca a coconut ice cream vendor on the beach

The best restaurant experience we had was at El Espadin. It isn’t close to anything, so practice your Spanish, and tell the taxi where you want to go. We opted to rent a scooter which is only economical if you intend to use it a lot and are very comfortable on a bike. I would not recommended renting one if you’re a beginner. The food was top notch, and the service was excellent. The views at sunset were fantastic – ten out of ten for sure. Also, it’s not as expensive as you’d think. For appetizers, entrees and drinks, the bill came to about US$40 total for two people.

El Espadin at sunset

El Pescador

The unicorn of restaurants is El Pescador. We failed to find, it but we were told it’s a local hangout for fishermen bringing in the catch of the day and often eating there too. As best as I could understand from our cab driver, it isn’t open late, since fisherman wake up early. So, plan to check this out during lunch time. We showed up around 7 or 8 pm and there was nothing there. From the dirt floors it appeared to be a very modest establishment. I hope you can experience it!

Laguna Manialtepec

Laguna Manialtepec – This is by far the most popular outing from Puerto Escondido. It’s a brackish lagoon brimming with wildlife. The sunrise bird watching tour with Lalo Ecotours was the highlight of my trip. We were led by a two man team. Our guides were highly experienced, and they gave us a fantastic tour of the lagoon. There were wildlife photo opportunities galore. Our tour was just me, my wife and a Canadian couple. The early morning departure filtered out the party animals, and it also reduced the size of our group. For the photographers among you, pop on the zoom lens you brought, and get ready to hammer away on that shutter. For each shot, try and get off 5 frames or more to make sure you get at least one keeper.

Photo Tip

To capture wildlife shots:
-Put your camera in Sport Mode.
-Alternatively, you can use the following manual settings:
-Shutter Priority (1/2000′)
-Auto ISO
-Spot Metering
-Group AF
-Continuous Servo AF
-Shutter release continuous

Bioluminescence Experience

At night there is a bioluminescence experience at Laguna Manialtepec. It was an amazing experience, but it was also touristy to the point that it almost ruined the experience. When we went, I had high hopes of many photo opportunities. However, as the less discrete people on the tour were using flashlights randomly and even using a flash which blinded everyone, it proved nearly impossible to get any decent shots.

Bioluminescence is very delicate and hard to see. Our eyes eventually adjusted, but the others’ lack of consideration tarnished the experience. A couple people even brought an infant out on the boat at night which had no place on a tour like this, and they repeatedly dipped their child in the water as it screamed constantly – definition of a tourist trap.

In retrospect, I think a private boat would be best way to really enjoy this. From a photography standpoint, it was extremely challenging since the light was so weak and the boat was moving, but I did the best I could to handhold 2” exposures and guess and check with my camera settings.

Mazunte

Mazunte – Continuing south along the coast, the next stop for us was Mazunte. It’s is about 1 hour south of Puerto Escondido. We took the Dolphinas which are mini vans that service the Pacific coast. These are very inexpensive and efficient. I think it was US$5-$10 a person to get nearly all the way to where we wanted to be.

Once you’re nearly to Mazunte, you’ll get dropped off at a gas station populated with taxis. Simply ask one of them to take you to your accommodation.  The town itself has a nice little main strip, Rinconcito, which leads to the main beach. Come back to Rinconcito at night to experience some local culture and street food. Mazunte definitely has a more hippy, hula hooping, yogi kind of vibe. The main beach isn’t too touristy though because all the tourists are up at Zipolite. I wouldn’t say it’s off the beaten path, but it also isn’t a tourist trap – a happy medium.

Playa Mermejita

Playa Mermejita – We stayed right by Playa Mermejita (Little Mermaid). What a hidden gem that beach is, though I didn’t realize that right away. I only fully appreciated it after sampling the other beaches in the area. Another thing to realize about Mazunte is that it doesn’t really make sense to get around by taxi since the town is so small. However, keep in mind that the further away your accommodation is from the town center, the more walking you’ll be doing. For us, it meant walking for 15-20 minutes in the heat on a mostly dirt road.

We looked into a scooter rental, but the rental options we saw looked like they were in poor condition. I’m guessing they had been ridden for a long time and then were put away wet so to speak. We searched around in Zipolite for scooters, but there really weren’t many options there either. To get from beach to beach, you can take a “collectivo” (a shared taxi) for cheap or even hire your own.

things to do in oaxaca ride a jeep taxi

Given the remoteness of Playa Mermejita and the somewhat far out location of our accommodation, we ended up having a fantastic, unspoiled beach right in our backyard – all the more convenient! Well developed beaches are peppered with tourists and riff-raff.  Take the interesting walk down to Mermejita, and look at the niche hostels, yoga studios and idiosyncratic dwellings. There’s not much down there which is precisely the appeal. There’s one semi-restaurant which seems to be staffed by one person and was empty when we were there. They have whatever is seasonally available to eat and drink along with hammocks and tables in the shade.

Practice Your Spanish

Going off the beaten path requires a basic Spanish vocabulary, as you shouldn’t expect much in the way of folks speaking English. It was a beautiful and quiet place to spend a scorching hot afternoon marked by periodic dips in the ocean to cool off. During our sunset walk on the beach, we saw a handful of people on the beach.

sunset on the beach is one of the things to do in Oaxaca

We also met this sweet pup who showed us the coconut husk he had been carrying around.

cute stray dog eating coconut shell

At the south end of the beach is a lookout point to check out called Punta Cometa. You’ll also see access trails along the road you would have taken if you walked here from town.

Since Mermejita is one of the least utilized beaches in the area, it is also a perfect candidate for some astrophotography. The lack of light pollution and foot traffic assures you’ll have all the variables in your favor.

beach at night with starry sky
astrophotography of the beach

Photo Tip

To do night photography/astrophotography:
-Use your tripod.
-Use your widest lens.
-Focus to ∞.
-Try a 30” exposure at your widest aperture.
-Adjust your ISO until you get the desired result
.
(For the shot above, I opted to use my 10.5mm ƒ/2.8 prime lens)

Playa Zipolite and San Augustinillo

Playa Zipolite and San Augustinillo – Next, we took the collectivo to Playa Zipolite. We passed by San Augustinillo which is its own thing altogether. Zipolite is a known nude beach with a much looser vibe than Mazunte. The beach was nice for a sunset walk which we really enjoyed. We had the privilege of seeing some of the local inhabitants along the way including a fully-nude man flying a kite. What a powerful expression of freedom that was, though I wouldn’t do that myself.

Before you leave Zipolite you must have dinner at El Alquimista (The Alchemist). They served us one of the best dinners we had in Mexico. It is a high end beach restaurant with tables right on the sand. As we watched the sunset over the water, we enjoyed watching the staff light little candles in all the nooks of the rocks on the beach. The food and the service was fantastic.

Bays of Huatulco

Bahias de Huatulco – Our tour of the pacific coast of Oaxaca continued as we headed south to Bahias de Huatulco (Bays of Huatulco). It’s actually comprised of nine bays. However, it was not nearly as easy to travel here as it was to travel from Puerto Escondido to Mazunte. We had asked around and learned that we could take the Dolphinas vans south but that they do not go all the way to Huatulco. And, while we were willing to figure out a taxi from there, it didn’t end up going exactly as we had planned.

We called a taxi to pick us up at Mermejita since cabs never go down there. They took us to the gas station out of town which had been our port of entry when we originally arrived. Right away, the cab drivers started hawking us to give us rides. We politely said no as they continued to tell us of the difficulties of getting where we wanted to go. We held out nonetheless. It turned out to be a lot less clear what was going on as time passed. We saw a couple of small busses and vans coming by, but there was no information on them and given our limited Spanish skills, we had no way to ask any questions.

Negotiations Ensued

After a long while, we started negotiating with the taxi drivers to take us all the way to our AirBnB in Huatulco. We finally agreed on a price after about an hour of back and forth. We reluctantly jumped in the cab and headed off. I think it cost us US$50-$60 plus a tip. I guess whatever money we saved with the Dolphinas was balanced out on this side of the trip. It was a long time to sit in a cab – a little over an hour – but we did go directly to our destination without delay. The drive included nice scenic views of small towns along the way.  

Bays of Huatulco was probably the most touristy place we went. It was more difficult to avoid the tourist traps down here, but there were a few hidden gems. We learned pretty quickly that this is a big vacation destination for Canadians. As it turns out, there are a lot of direct flights here from Canada as well as a port for various cruise ships. Since we didn’t stay close to the main Zócalo of the area, known as “La Crucecita,” we opted to rent a scooter. Our AirBnB host actually recommend the rental, and it was a good decision as it gave us the freedom to explore. 

La Bocana Beach

La Bocana Beach – Like I mentioned before, the main port of Huatulco is quite touristy. If you wander through it, be prepared to be harassed by restaurant hosts and the like. It was suffocating at times. There are nine ays to explore in this area, but the only one we really enjoyed was La Bocana Beach.

Not close to anything, the scooter ride became a twice a day commute for us. A taxi will take you there, but it probably won’t be very cost effective. It is a super quiet beach with hardly anything in the way of food or drink. It’s a great walking beach where the only other passerbyers will be fishermen. Come at sunrise or sunset for an amazing view. I brought my tripod and got some great sunrise shots.

sunset at La Bocana Beach
playing in the waves at sunset at La Bocana Beach

Also consider walking around with that zoom lens you brought and getting some pics of the local fishermen.

men in evening at La Bocana Beach

And of course, I couldn’t resist a few wildlife shots.

La Entrega Beach

La Entrega – We tried a few others, including La Entrega. This spot should be avoided like the plague. We found it to be a scam ridden hell-hole of low-brow entertainment with no discretion whatsoever. During our 5-minute stop there we were lied to, harassed and had a couple of scams run on us while we stood aside to let pickups full of cops armed with assault rifles pass by. We ran to our scooter and zipped out of there with each one of our 125 cc’s. On our way out, we checked out a couple more places but trust me, La Bocana is where it’s at. 

La Cruecita

La Crucecita – La Crucecita is the quaint square of the downtown area outside the bays. It is definitely worth a walk around. There’s good people watching, and it has great street food opportunities along and just beyond the perimeter of the square. Bring your camera and a fast prime lens for some street photography. 

a dog siting at La Cruecita

If you take an evening walk down Bugambilia Street, you’ll find a local enclave of street food. We stopped by a tiny park down there and got some super authentic street food. We were almost certainly the only non-locals in the area – a very good sign for us!

man holding plate of street food

Back to Oaxaca City

Bahias de Huatulco marked the end of our tour of the Pacific coast. Remember the Vomit Comet? Well, to get back to Oaxaca you can take that at the break of dawn or fly via Aero Tucan. We opted to fly back to Oaxaca city which was a quick but bumpy 40-minute flight. You’ll have an aerial view of the mountains just in case you need another few photos to round out your portfolio. 

Many More Things to Do in Oaxaca

Oaxaca is much larger than the small part that we got the privilege to explore. There are mountain villages, silver mines and specialty handicrafts to see in each little town. Again, I highly recommend the artisan markets. Stay flexible and explore. Carry your camera as often as you can. Practice to the point that operating it becomes second nature, and you’ll be amazed at the shots you capture. Take tons of photos. Quantity has a quality all its own. Take siestas like the locals. Allow yourself downtime. Time is money, so don’t try and save a buck and lose a whole day in travel. Eat street food – lots of it! 

Go With The Flow

I heard a guy in line at DHL speaking to his wife. She said, “Why don’t you just demand a higher level of service?” He responded, “Because I would not enjoy a single moment of my time here [in Mexico].”

When you’re off the beaten path, you’ll have to let go of some convenience, but in return you’ll get authenticity and experiences that will be well worth the extra effort.

Oaxaca City
I see Tlāloc’s eyes are the
Two perfect lenses

And remember…Look around with your eyes, not just through the camera.


Things to do in Oaxaca Author Bio Pic

A third generation hobby photographer turned pro, Ted currently resides in central Vermont. Growing up in southern California his father put a camera in his hands, and it has remained there ever since. Ted believes that there is a merging of man and machine once someone has reached a level of lucidity with an art form. Eventually, the camera becomes an extension of one’s self, and at that point one is capable of “intuitive photography,” the ability to shoot based on what one feels. His approach to photography is to trust his instincts and capture the spirit of the moment. Ted shares his work at Ted Dawson Photography.


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