On a short vacation, choosing where to go and what to do in Oaxaca can be difficult. Within a short drive of the city are historical ruins, natural geographical wonders, and sleepy mountain towns. There are also many churches, museums, restaurants, plazas, and parks to be found in Oaxaca’s city center. But there is something special in the market in Oaxaca.
It’s not possible to spend time in this state without strolling through the best market in Oaxaca, located just south of the main plaza (El Zócalo).
Each one is unique. While you may want to grab a bite to eat or a fresh juice, there are plenty of places to shop for little treasures to take home.
Mercado Benito Juárez, Mercado 20 de Noviembre, and Mercado de Artesanías are just a short walk away from the Zócalo. We can say that a guide to Oaxaca cannot cover all the sights, goods, and foods available in these markets.
For a very low price, you can enjoy food on the streets and in the market in Oaxaca.
Oaxaca City has become a favorite destination for tourists and ex-pats alike because of its rich and varied food offerings.
Inside you’ll find women clad in colorful dresses and braids of vibrantly colored ribbons enveloping their waists – a welcome reprieve from the midday sun.
Vendors are calling out “pan!” Aguacate! Barbacoa! Tlacoyo!” and you can’t help but smile. Upon turning a corner, fresh chilis fill the air as a waft of toasted cacao fills the air. Is it pasilla or ancho?
The sight of grandmothers in their 90’s kneading a cauldron of fresh dough with bare hands is mesmerizing as they knead a giant cauldron on the cement floor, which will transform into the tortillas we know and love.
It is possible to walk slowly, soaking it all in, feeling energized and excited, and suddenly snap out of trance when you see a cart full of fluffy yellow chirping chicks about to run over. It is divine to be in a traditional market in Oaxaca.
Visiting the market in Oaxaca is one of the most fascinating things to do when traveling, as it gives a glimpse into the local culture.
Oaxaca is eminently foodie-friendly, and the market in Oaxaca can be a culture that is an integral part of the everyday life of the state. Oaxaca is both a city and a state.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when visiting the market in Oaxaca:
- You should wear your bag or backpack on your front since the market in Oaxaca can be crowded.
- Never take a picture without asking
- We can negotiate all prices
- Be prepared to carry small change and coins since some vendors may not be able to break 250 peso bills ($25 USD) – this is considered a large bill in Mexico
1. Central de abastos market
There are stalls selling everything from clothing to produce and food at this huge market in Oaxaca outside of the city center, which is the largest in the state. It can be accessed by walking for 18 minutes.
Here you can see a video of a typical walk in the market in Oaxaca, as you walk through the narrow stalls. So much to see and do!
2. Rayon Pochote organic market in Oaxaca
On-site there are three different food stalls, so this is not a market in Oaxaca, but rather a place to eat your fill. Waiters/waitresses (servers) will come to take your order from a table.
There is a large menu available, which contains items from all three restaurants on site.
3. Benito Juárez Maket (city center)
A one-stop market in Oaxaca with something for everyone, the Mercado Benito Juárez offers it all. It’s also not difficult to find, just head south from the Zócalo one block.
This market in Oaxaca occupies an entire city block and is essentially a warehouse.
You will reach the food after passing through the first few stalls. You’re in for a delicious treat if you’re unfamiliar with Oaxacan food! Oaxaca is so good that we dedicated a whole article to what to eat and drink there.
In addition to fresh papaya/orange juices and quesadillas, we’ve had amazing snacks here. Don’t miss out on the fresh waters (Aguas Frescas)! There can be as many flavors of these juice-like drinks as you can imagine, and they contain fruit, flowers, cereals, and/or seeds.
As you are in Oaxaca, you can find mezcal shops everywhere. You can usually sample some of their best items by filling up a little shot glass. There is no point in walking away empty-handed after taking a few shots. You can go to any mezcalería (mezcal tasting shops) in town when a bottle of mezcal isn’t in your budget or space in your bag.
Alternatively, you can visit the nearby capital of mezcal on your own or take a guided tour of a mezcal factory.
An ominous section of Mercado Benito Juárez can be found toward the southern end of the market.
Since the meat is displayed on counters in piles or hung from bars above the shopkeeper’s head, it may seem difficult to understand for someone who has not had much experience with Mexican street food.
Carnivorous folk is likely to eat thinly sliced and marinated beef, pork, or chicken, as well as plenty of sausages.
Last, but not least, is an Oaxacan delicacy to be found in the corridor leading to the southern exit: chapulines. Stay with us.
A salty, crunchy, and flavorful snack sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Though grasshoppers are loved by foodies all over the world, mainstream American cuisine has not taken to them. How come? It’s grasshoppers.
Grasshoppers are scooped out of large bins and sold in small bags, ranging from 1.5-inch-long larger grasshoppers to little ones less than a half-inch long.
Nearly every restaurant with authentic Oaxacan food serves them. You can buy them at most events and gatherings as snacks. We can reduce our environmental impact by eating insects!
Check out the products outside the southern entryway of Mercado Benito Juárez! A variety of beautiful tomatoes, avocados, onions, herbs, squashes, squash blossoms (fantastic for vegetarian dishes), limes, bananas, apples, papayas, oranges, potatoes, cactus, corn, and dried and fresh chilies cover the market.
That’s all there is to Benito Juárez, this market in Oaxaca. There’s a little bit of everything here!
4. 20 de Noviembre market (city center)
Mercado 20 de Noviembre is the best market in Oaxaca if all you’re looking for is food and nothing else. It’s situated across the street from Benito Juárez. It occupies the entire block of the city. Most of the food is prepared on-site.
You will find a simple juice stand in the northern hallway. On your right is the soup row. Eight different menudo stations can be found here. You may want to keep walking if you don’t like the tripe (cow stomach) in them.
Bread follows shortly afterward. Sweetbread is everywhere in Oaxaca, and it goes great with hot chocolate, another traditional food item. Water, milk, or a corn-based broth (atole) can be combined with hot chocolate.
Using specially designed wooden whisks, freshly milled cacao, sugar, and your choice of liquid are mixed to produce a beautiful froth.
The core of 20 de Noviembre can be found after you walk past the bread area. There are around 30 different restaurants in this area if you had to guess. It isn’t food carts.
There are usually permanent walls, kitchens, bars, and tables built from cement and tiles in these kinds of restaurants.
Some restaurants offer only specific drinks (juice or hot chocolate), while others offer a wide range of food and drinks. The building’s eastern side is home to three restaurants that date back generations. A favorite is La Abuelita, which is always busy.
The most popular dishes are mole and tlayudas. Chili peppers, spices, and cacao combine to form a traditional Mexican sauce. There are seven main types in Oaxaca.
There are many ways to make tlayudas (pronounced tlay-oo-das). The base is made with a large, toasted tortilla, which is topped with lard and beans (although you can request them without the lard). Local “quesillo” cheese is topped with sliced tomato and lettuce, and whatever toppings you like: mushrooms, squash flowers, sausage, chicken, marinated beef, tripe, etc. Almost endless choices.
That’s it for 20 de Noviembre. The market in Oaxaca is outstanding and a wonderful place for a quick bite. The best places are easily identified.
In places like this, it’s easy to feel sad about the empty stalls, but you’ve got to follow the crowd. Particularly if they appear to be crowded with locals rather than tourists.
5. Tlacolula Sunday market in Oaxaca
What a fascinating experience! Despite the cubrebocas (face masks), you can still smell the delightful aromas. On Sundays, locals from around the area sell their wares at this market in Oaxaca from 7 AM – 7 PM, when its size even quadruples.
As all tourists were locals from the region, you probably won’t encounter any other visitors. Our recommendation is to combine a visit to this small village with a visit to Teotitlan del Valle and Don Agave for a mezcal tasting tour, as they are in the same area.
Despite the presence of a few craft stalls, this is primarily a local food market in Oaxaca, since there are no large grocery stores in this village.
On the farm, you will find baby chicks, live chickens, and turkeys bound by their legs (you may feel sad if you haven’t been raised on a farm where this kind of thing happens). Their way of feeding themselves is part of their culture.
Zapotec women hold a live turkey wrapped in paper and tied with its feet so it does not fly away.
At this market in Oaxaca, you will see both men and women shopping; however, most women will be picking up food for the week, nearly all wearing colorful traditional clothing.
You may not want to visit this market in Oaxaca if you’re vegan or have a weak stomach, since you’ll see live animals being strung up by their legs and sold on the street, as well as raw meat hanging from the stalls.
Experience the heat from the open fires as you walk by the rounded clay ovens, and smell the mouthwatering Barbacoa.
Make sure you try the local street food such as Tlacoya, an open-faced tortilla filled with beans and quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese) and heated over a large open fire.
Tejate looks something like plaster of Paris and is a frothy, chalky beverage made from ground elote (corn) and cacao.
Along with the chilis and fresh produce, you’re sure to see stands of chapulines (grasshoppers).
The delicious fruit cacao, from which chocolate is made, is also native to this region! Chicharrón (fried pork rinds) and chorizo are also popular. The main smell is of course barbecue (barbecue), which usually consists of pork (pork meat) or beef (Carne de res).
6. Teotitlán del Valle
There are shops nearby that sell wool rugs, purses, and other crafts, along with donkeys and motorcycle buggies, which mostly travel the dirt road.
You can learn about the traditional process of making a wool rug in this village regardless of whether you’re looking to buy something.
A FUN FACT: Before the arrival of the Spaniards, rugs were made from agave fibers, which became the basis for mezcal.
A Zapotec woman is demonstrating how to make a rug in this video.
Depending on the size, colors, and complexity of the design, a rug can take anywhere from a week to five months to complete. That’s why woven rugs are so valuable!
Enjoy checking out all the different designs as you hop from store to store. There are about 12 stores with different rugs and designs, so you can find what you’re looking for. The rugs are not made in factories; they’re all handcrafted.
All of their dyes are natural and derived from plants. The process of dying does not involve chemicals.
As a result, these rugs are quite expensive (rugs can range from $100 to $4,000 plus USD depending on their size). They must have very dextrous fingers!
Did you enjoy the trip around the markets in Oaxaca? We’ve written about other places in Oaxaca you should check out if you’re planning on visiting: