Oaxaca: the Heart of Mexico / el Corazon de Mexico
"Oaxaca, the State Capital, declared Humanity's Cultural Patrimony by UNESCO, owes its fame to the beauty and harmony of its architecture, the richness of its cultural traditions, the wide variety of its typical foods, and its soft temperate climate, spring-like throughout the year."
Please also visit an award-winning travel web-guide for the city and state of Oaxaca, http://oaxaca-travel.com/. There you will find over 1000 photographs and over 400 pages of text describing natural and cultural attractions, including Huatulco, Puerto Escondido, the Guelaguetza, Mitla, Monte Alban, and more. Their website also contains travel tips, activities, local events, maps, weather forecasts...
Oaxaca "Enchantment and Memory"
It has peaks almost 10,000 feet (more than 3,000 metres) high, caverns among the deepest in the world, virgin beaches, hidden jungles, and luminous valleys that house populations where, as a crucible, cultures of all people who once lived in its midst come together. Zapotecs, Mixtecs, and the fourteen other ethnic groups still present in its culture and customs; even the Spaniards. Oaxaca is the most diverse state in Mexico.
According to Mixtec tradition, a healthy individual is someone who is happy, at peace, willing to work and eat; their eyes are luminous, and live harmoniously with their family, neighbours or authorities. Any individual can attain such health state. The hard part is to do it away from Oaxaca, its valleys, its beaches, its marketplaces, its fiestas, its different languages, its mysteries, and its light.
Every year, thousands of sea turtles arrive at its shores, not far from tourist centres, such as the Bays of Huatulco (Bahias de Huatulco) or Puerto Escondido, where visitors from around the world enjoy the warm Pacific Ocean waters at luxurious hotels. In Oaxaca there are two places declared as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, the Historical Centre and the Monte Alban archaeological area. It houses pre-Hispanic and colonial treasures unparalleled in Mesoamerica. It enjoys all features of progress, communications, transportation, and health codes, especially in its capital city, without losing that air of innocence, of a community anchored in thriving times so characteristic of Oaxaca. This is due, most of all, to the presence of its ethnic populations: sixteen indigenous groups who speak more than 150 different dialects, preserve their legacy and way of life with pride and contribute cultural plurality and that most greatest of treasures: its people.
Close to the City of Oaxaca, the state capital, stands the oldest tree in the world: el Arbol de Tule, measuring 42 metres in diameter, and over 2,000 years old. This tree has witnessed a great part of Oaxacan history. The Christian era was just beginning for the Western world when a superlative cultural empire thrived in Monte Alban. It was a city inhabited by wise men, warriors, astronomers, and farmers. This cultural empire governed the destiny the people of the clouds, which later become known in Nahuatl, as the Zapotecs. Zapotecs believed that the world was ruled by a power without beginning or end, unknown, and all mighty. The supreme deity, human beings, and nature formed an indivisible whole and their interaction had to be most respectful, balanced, and grateful. Years and seasons were marked on a 365-day solar calendar, while another, a ritual calendar of 260-days, marked life codes and the times when the world self-destructed and renewed itself as if shaken by a purifying cosmic fire.
The Mixtec splendour followed the Zapotec decline, and was displaced in turn, by the Aztecs momentum, without becoming completely extinct. When the Spaniards arrived in Oaxaca, they found a cultural mosaic extending over rugged terrain and inhabited by people whose lives were ruled by rites and traditions. In 1542, Hernan Cortes wrote a letter to the King of Spain protesting the obstacles found in Oaxaca for his conquering endeavours. "This land", he says referring to the valleys occupied by Mixtecs and Zapotecs " is so mountainous that cannot be travelled even on foot." Of its people, Cortes narrates that he sent troops in two occasions against them, "but were incapable of victory because the warriors were ferocious and well armed." Later, Cortes, bewitched by Oaxaca, would confess his passion for the same lands that seemed rugged and wild to him. "I thank God for allowing knowledge of these places," said the Spaniard, who obtained from the King the title of Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca.
In colonial times, Oaxaca came to occupy a prominent place in the New Spain development. Animal farms provided wool for the Puebla looms, haciendas cultivated sugar cane with which the most famous sweets were prepared for the Viceroyalty. There, the best horses in the continent were bred; gold and silver were mined; the tints derived from use of grana cochinilla (cochineal grain). Treasures from Peru, Guayaquil and Guatemala, and silk and spices from the Philippines arrived at the Huatulco and Salina Cruz ports. The development of cities, ports, sugar mills, and industries, parallel to the glory and hardships of the evangelical work did not derail the indigenous population's beliefs or way of life. Instead, the ethnic population integrated their values, scarcely modifying them, with the symbols and practices of the new faith. In 1577, the Bishop of Oaxaca, Fray Bernardo de Albuquerque, narrates that Felipe II, had difficulties with his work in a land where people spoke 22 different languages, lived more scattered and disperse than in Vizcaya and Navarra, and feed on idolatries at their mother’s breast.
Century upon century, the pre-Hispanic past has been transmitted from parents to children and still lives and it is manifest in the fiestas, markets, music, clothing, speech, and gastronomy. In the importance given, still, to communal work, exchange rituals, reciprocal help, and the close link between daily life and the rituals reaching the sacred spheres.
Tradition, ritual and magic are expressed through the dances, medium used secularly to propitiate and dominate the will of mysterious powers, according to a study performed by the researcher, Dr. Margarita Dalton. In each community, the elder's council, town councils and wise people have maintained and nurtured customs related with dances and music, which unavoidably accompany men and women when they must act upon the powers of the universe to propitiate rain, good hunting or good harvests. When they celebrate weddings, welcome the new-borns or bid farewell to a dead loved one. The dancers, says Dr. Dalton, do not dance for their own or the audience's enjoyment: his or her dances are prayers invoking the aid of the supreme powers, which they consider dominate the world.
The dances, different in each region and community, evoke strange and profound rhythms though usually accompanied by recognisable music, born, maybe in Maid or in Durango, in Napoles or Zaragoza. The masks serve the dancer to take on the personality of the bull, tiger, a European, or the devil. The customs are the owner's pride and joy and the most colourful, brilliant and distinctive note, not just of the dancers, but of all the indigenous communities and Oaxaca itself.
The traditional attires are surprising and bewitching. Its designs, colours, and textures are a blend of colonial techniques, indigenous symbols, and the captivating colours of the silks imported from the Orient. There are flamenco ruffles, bobbin lace, grecas with the mysteries of Mitla, embroidered batiste, and linen patterned to the Spanish fashion of the XVII century. Each stitch reveals an idea and a job. Colours are obtained from nature: reds from the grana cochinilla, an insect that lives in the Nopal cactus that once boiled and triturated, provides up to sixteen shades of red; blue, born from the indigo plant fermentation; black, from huizache; yellow, from rock moss; and purple, from a type of sea snail, who is captured, milked, and once its essence is used, it is returned to the sea.
The most appropriate venue to display and observe, teach and share, are the fiestas. In Oaxaca, they celebrate all of them: Christmas, All Saints Day, Constitution Day, Workers Day, the Virgin Day (each town has its own Virgin), or local saint, national Heroes, historical victories and defeats, Easter, and of course, the New Year. There are special days to celebrate teachers, mailcarriers, physicians, and journalists. In addition, each neighbourhood has a community celebration, and each family its respective births, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and sweet-fifteen parties.
The greatest celebration in Oaxaca, the Guelaguetza, is the institutional form of reciprocity. The two first Mondays after July 16, representatives from each community celebrate a fiesta whose name means mutual present or offering. It manifests signs and codes from pre-Hispanic tradition, and adorns with music and dances the sharing of the harvest and activities of each region: different types of pineapple, mango, sarapes, baskets, beverages, breads and coffee grains rain over the guests as a symbol of their general disposition to share, exchange and survive together.
The trading place par excellence is the market. The writer, D.H. Lawrence, who lived in Oaxaca, understands Oaxacan markets as a space created for the communion of people. Human beings, writes in his book, "Market Days in Oaxaca" have created two excuses to get closer and mingle freely in heterogeneous masses without suspicion: religion and the marketplace. An armful of wood, a blanket, a few eggs, and tomatoes are enough to sell, buy, bargain, and trade. Exchange, most of all, human contact. This is the reason of their love for bargaining, even if the difference is equal to 0000 cents.
Markets follow one another and multiply. Sunday in Tlacolula, Monday in Miahuatlan, Tuesday in Ayoquezco, Wednesday in Etla and Zimatlan, Thursday in Ejutla and Zaachila, Friday in Ocotlan, and Saturday in Oaxaca. Stalls are organised by unions, customs, families, or by chance. Women wrapped with their prodigious huipiles rule most of the stalls, which generally sell only one type of product, so it is necessary to through the entire market to obtain a complete representation of the world.
Cortes loved Oaxacan marketplaces, whose origins can maybe be found along with the first harvest, the first ever toil. The main space in Monte Alban is a square, a market place. The Spaniards founded the City of Oaxaca over an axis in which the public and religious power, and the market were organised. Buy, sell, trade, and especially, take communion.
Colonial temples had to compete, on one side with the marketplace life explosion, and on another with the exuberance of Mother Nature, whose colours and forms could not be imagined in the sober Spain. Temples had to be taller than the savins, bigger than marketplaces, and richer than the richer mines. And that is exactly what they are. Such was their madness. In 1546, Gonzalo de las Casas, a distant relative of Cortes, made Francisco Becerra Trujillo (author of the first project for El Escorial) come from Spain to direct works for the church of Yanhuitlan. Six thousand indigenous people worked incessantly during twenty-five years in this construction of prodigious architecture, finished with magnificent caissons of Arab inspiration. Spanish direction and indigenous manufacture.
The Spanish baroque found a perfect site for its ingenious excesses in Oaxaca. The greatest example could be the Santo Domingo temple in the capital city, since not in vane it was dedicated to the patron founder of the Order most distinguished for his evangelical works in these lands. The altarpiece monumental, a gem among colonial gems, is made of gold.
The Dominicans took their building fervour to an extreme throughout the Valley grounds, especially in the Mixteca region. In Cuilapan, they blended all the renaissance architectural European styles. In Tlacolula, they even made an iron pulpit. In Teposcula, there is an open chapel, considered a masterpiece, luminous and ingenious.
It was another Dominican, Friar Jordan de Santa Catalina, who founded the San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya Church, which he kept apart from the richness of the rest of the Order and completely dedicated it to meditation. Consequently, its cells are lugubrious, low, and dark. Friar Juan de Cordoba spent 25 of his 100 years of life. It is said that he never touched any type of currency, only wore shoes to say mass, and wrote the first Zapotec language dictionary. The indigenous people of the region still consider him a saint.
Oaxaca, land of visionaries, enlighten people, artists, dreamers and poets. The philosopher Nietzsche wanted to live in Oaxaca. The French surrealist, Andre Pieyre de Mandigares, dreamt, after loving Tehuantepec women, with a small female angel, who appeared to him, enveloped in a shinny armour over a white lily field. John Lennon visited the high peaks of Huautla, the mountain with small mushroom that connect with the deity, and the caverns that reach the core of the earth. Benito Juarez was born in Guelatao, Ixtlan, Oaxaca, on March 21, 1806. And Porfirio Diaz, who was State Governor, during his exile in Paris asked his wife everyday, Dona Carmelita, for news of Oaxaca; how was it possible to live without the light and sky of Oaxaca; without the fiestas and market places, without the food of Oaxaca.
In Paris, Don Porfirio hated the French food, and missed the richness, the imagination, the variety, and poetry of the Oaxacan cooking. Oaxaca is home of the "siete moles" (seven moles), fresh cheese, meat cooked underground, the most delicious tamales in all of Mexico, the most incredible sweets, the chocolate Atole, the coffee made in a pot (cafe de olla), the yellow bread, and all the imagined and imaginable corn varieties. Anthropologist Kent Flannery suggests that the Valley of Oaxaca could have been the first place in America where corn was domesticated and cultivated. History states that Oaxacan cooking can only be explained from the mix of indigenous traditions, the splendid Aztec table, the colonial baroque, a complex technique, and the addition of an indispensable ingredient, which has become unusual among others in the world - time.
Each Oaxacan dish involves many hours of work in front of the stove. Tamales, for instance, demand washing, broiling, soaking the wrapping leaves, toasting, and grinding hot peppers, cooking, cleaning and crushing the corn, make the filling, coating, filling, preparing the cooking container, folding, tying, accommodating, cooking and finally, serving. The only way, in which the writer Italo Calvino can explain the luxurious Oaxacan cooking, is attributing authorship of such complicated recipes to the nuns of the colonial temples. Entire lives, writes Calvino in "Bajo el Sol Jaguar"- dedicated to search new ingredient medley and dosage variations, to the attentive combination patience, to the transmission of a detailed and punctual knowledge. Guests of a sacred architecture specialist of excessive and overflowing sensations, refined women, cloistered, needing nothing, had only to design recipes dictated by the market possibilities and their imagination, while an army of servants worked in their execution. The burning imagines Calvino- of more than 100 varieties of indigenous pimentos judiciously chosen for every dish, offered perspectives of blazing ecstasy.
The Oaxacan Mole requires at least of thirty-one ingredients. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz used to make it. In her time, it was prepared with toasted cilantro, four roasted garlic cloves, five nutmeg sticks, six pepper seeds, cinnamon and pasilla hot peppers browned in lard. Everything is ground, fried with pork meat, chorizos, and hen, and once ready, seasoned with roasted sesame seeds. A huge undertaking for a sauce, that today, has about two hundred varieties.
Oaxacans also eat flowers: rose petals in ice cream; bean flowers in Mole, pumpkin flowers in "empanadas" (turnovers), cocoa flowers in Tejate: carnations preserved, and bugambilias in Horchata. There cannot be greater communion with nature, a greater poetic sense of existence.
Living in Oaxaca is an aesthetic experience. Tourists and travelers quickly perceive Oaxaca's fascination. The sky, the light. We recommend visiting Monte Alban at sunset, when the rocks acquire a reddish colour, clouds accelerate their crossing over the mountains, and the echo produced by the disposition of the old temples increases in gravity. Art in nature and the attire, the wood, the cloth, the stone and the food. And the people, the memory of centuries through the people. Magic Oaxaca. According to the Mesoamerican tradition, which pays homage to Ometeotl, God of Duality, paradise has already been granted to the human race, but to conquer it, personal effort is needed. Sometimes, one is already predisposed: is able to feel, perceive, and discover places like Oaxaca.
City of Oaxaca "World Heritage Site"
Oaxaca, the State Capital, declared Humanity's Cultural Patrimony by UNESCO, owes its fame to the beauty and harmony of its architecture, the richness of its cultural traditions, the wide variety of its typical foods, and its soft temperate climate, spring-like throughout the year. Its name comes from Huaxyacal (the apex of the guajes, a variety of acacia, of Huaxin, guajes, and yacatl, summit). The Aztecs applied the name to the summit where they built a fortress in 1486. At arrival, the Spaniards founded, next to the old fort, the new Villa de Antequera, and a few years later, returned to the old Aztec fortress to erect, in the same guaje summit, a city that, in 1529 would be founded, built, and peopled as Villa de Oaxaca.
The Spaniards commissioned the city's design to one of the best town planners of the Empire, Alonso Garcia Bravo, architect of Mexico City and Veracruz. Garcia Bravo laid out the city with cord. He began with the creation of a Plaza Central or Zocalo (Square), oriented by the cardinal points, and established according to a simple symbology: A Cathedral was built on one side of the square (over the Aztec's place for their dead), on the other side, all municipal buildings, the basis for civil power. Thus, it was thought, the square would irradiate throughout the city, the balance between the terrestrial and the sacred, the Church and the civil power.
The city flourished during the Viceroyalty. It was taken by Morelos in 1812, and was under the General Bazaine forces in 1864. It witnessed the birth of the guerrilla uprising organised by Porfirio Diaz, State Governor. Aside from these episodes, Oaxaca has lived away from military history. The Spaniards designed it without walls, without defences, trusting that the Zocalo's magic strength would protect it from all evil. As in effect, it has done.
The Zocalo continues to be, besides one of the most beautiful Central Squares in Mexico, the Life Centre of Oaxaca. The arcades that sustain the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) and the surrounding buildings house restaurants, terraces, portals, and coffee-houses. People sit at the little tables, deep in conversation, from very early in the morning under the shade of enormous laurel trees from India. The conversation can be accompanied, depending on the moment, by chocolate for dunking, "cafe de olla" (coffee made with cinnamon and cane sugar), Mezcal with lemon and Mezcal worm salt, tequila, fruit juices, or excellent beer. It is common to see "yerberos" [herb salespeople], "loteros" [corncob salespeople], "sanadores" [healers], cricket vendors, different types of artisans, or "pulsadores". The herb person offers sweet basil, "estrella de mar", and nutmeg. The healers mitigate insomnia with floripondio and "pulsadores" cure fright and loss of the soul. According to Elliot Weinberger, Octavio Paz's English translator, the Zocalo in Oaxaca is the perfect place to do nothing at all.
In the middle of the Zocalo, between the Palacio de Gobierno and the Cathedral, stands, surrounding by laurels and bougainvillaea, the last European contribution to the magical equilibrium of the square: a romantic little kiosk where Tuesdays and Thursdays (sometimes on other days) the State Government Band plays all type of music.
The Zocalo extends toward the Alameda, and in the opposite direction, toward another smaller plaza. The original symmetry is almost intact. The vacant spaces have been occupied by a myriad of small stalls which offer fantastic animas of brilliant colours, amaranth seeds, sesame seed blocks, Spanish knives, cloth dyed with purple snails, cocoa ground with sweet corn, garbanzo beans in honey, crickets in guacamole, or fruit flavoured sherbets.
From the Zocalo, the city proceeds in an orderly manner on streets extremely clean of flowing traffic, animated by the fantastic music of the traffic guards whistles. The main street is closed to cars; it connects the Zocalo with the Santo Domingo Temple and it known as "Andador Turistico" (Tourist Boulevard). The Contemporary Art Museum is located there, many of the old colonial houses, various galleries, restaurants, and the most distinguished jewellery and handcraft stores. At the end of the Tourist Boulevard stands the exceptional Santo Domingo Temple, splendid example of Mexican baroque, with its altarpiece covered in gold, its impressive interior decoration, and the installations that include the State Regional Art Museum.
The Oaxaca temples are the most lavish of Southern Mexico. The image of the city’s patron saint, Maria Santisima de la Soledad, at one time had a crown made of pure gold, with 600 sparkling stones and diamonds. The Cathedral has fourteen lateral chapels of unique beauty. Then, La Merced, San Agustin, San Francisco, the church of the "Sangre de Cristo" [Blood of Christ], San Felipe, Santa Monica, and so many others that the city seems more like Salamanca, such is the profusion. However, the similarity with the Castilian capital ends with the numbers. In addition to singular Mexican baroque interiors, we find the original facades, now trimmed for fear of earthquakes, erected in green quarry stone. For this reason, some have called Oaxaca the city of the green temples and everyone admires the marbled effect acquired by churches after a rainy afternoon, as soon as the sun appears again.
Mirror of the State, the city's museums have many of the most valuable regional treasures, such as the jewels of the Tumba 7 (Seventh Tomb) of Monte Alban. It counts also with the best representation of Oaxacan paintings, renown because of the work of Rufino Tamayo, Rodolfo Morales, and Francisco Toledo. Through its markets, exhibits and disseminates one of the richest and varied art productions in Mexico.
Of all the markets in the capital city, maybe the most famous is the "20 de Noviembre" [20 of November], specialising in foods and much visited by Oaxacans and capable of seducing, as the indigenous markets, just through the different aromas. At the entrance, you will find "chicharrones", "cecina", "tasajo" and "tripitas secas". Then come the chocolate and bread vendors. All the way to the end are the "barbacoas" [barbecue] and eateries, where it is possible to enjoy a snack or a full meal at anytime. Meals such as, "tasajo de hebras", followed by eggs in sauce with epazote leaves, "enmoladas", "bean chilaquiles", "quesillo", and to finish, "frijolitos con hierba de conejo" and "chochollotes", and a great cup of "atole blanco de granillo".
In the Benito Juarez Maza Market there are also fruits, vegetables, sherbets and fresh juices, "huipiles", skirts, embroidery, silks, "alebrijes", the fish vendors that occupied an entire street, the fruit vendors and the "quesillo" distributors, the Oaxacan cheese, formed of delicious strings that wrapped round and round to make a circular form. In the Abastos Market, there is everything - fabrics from San Antonio, basket and figurines from Ocotlan, sculptures from the Isthmus, jewellery from Mitla, pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec. It is located next to the Bus Depot. There are many other markets Sanchez Pascua, Democracia, la Rayita almost as many as there are churches.
From Oaxaca is very easy to travel to great cities with pre-Hispanic wonders (Monte Alban, Mitla, Yagul, Lambityeco), Santa Maria de Tule and its millenary tree, and the towns where the magnificent former Dominican convents stand: Yanhuitlan, Teposcolula, Coixtlahuaca, Tamazulapan, Tlacochahuaya, or Tlacolula. A half-hour commercial flight connects the city with the coast’s paradises - the Bays of Huatulco (Bahias de Huatulco), "Puerto Escondido" [Hidden Port] and on the new highway Mexico City is less than five hours away. Oaxaca is the centre of a state overflowing with attractions that express everyone’s best, in its capital city. Beginning with a magic square formed around the Zocalo, the Plaza designed to last a lifetime and get to know the world, with no more effort than choosing the right place at the right distance, correct and balanced, of the Palacio de Gobierno and the Cathedral.
The Coast of Life "Virgin Beaches, Luxury Hotels and Ecological Refuges"
Nine of the eleven sea turtle species in the world arrive to the Mexican coasts and the destination of four of those is the Oaxaca littoral where they nest and reproduce. Located there is the only research, preservation, and supervisor centre of sea turtles in the world.
Sea turtles know how to choose. The Coast of Oaxaca is a paradise with unexplored bays, luxurious hotels, mangrove lagoons, sport beaches, idyllic angler's towns, and golf courses. In these coasts, long ago driven by ships looking for gold from Peru, or silks from China, loaded with legends and treasures, tourism has but prospered. The last of the Pacific's paradises is found from Bahias de Huatulco (Bays of Huatulco), to Puerto Escondido (Hidden Port), ready to welcome those who want to discover it.
The Oaxacan littoral is ferocious and prodigious. The Sierra Madre del Sur (a mountain chain) reaches the sea and produces a unique coastline of impressive cliffs and placid bays. Rivers and streams descend from the mountains to confuse the beaches and palm groves with lagoons, brooks, and mangroves. The beaches, dozens of mostly unexplored beaches, are surrounded by tropical vegetation. The inland forests protect small villages established on the plains, or atop small hills, where life proceeds unperturbed by the tourists that have recently discovered Bahias de Huatulco, Puerto Angel (Port Angel), and Puerto Escondido, and justly enjoy one of the last calm and peaceful paradises of the Mexican Pacific coast.
Huatulco could have been the American key to the real Indies. When the Spaniards arrived in this place that had once been a crossroad in the road that connected the wealthy Zapotecs of Zaachila with Tehuantepec, Cortes thought, first, that Huatulco was a good base to reach the treasures of Peru, and when he abandoned the idea, that Huatulco could be the best port of the New Spain to reach the Orient. Between 1526 and 1560, Huatulco lived off that dream. The cocoa's commercial success and the commercial traffic with Peru, and the capital city of the Viceroyalty, via Miahuatlan, Oaxaca and Tehuacan, turned Huatulco in a flourishing and prosperous empire, never lacking residents, merchants, artisans, and shipbuilders.
In 1560, Huatulco's success moved to its neighbor Acapulco, the definite base for the ships that would connect the New Spain with the Orient for centuries. Huatulco, much to its chagrin, became a place almost completely forgotten by everyone, with the unfortunate exception of the pirates. In 1579, Francis Drake pillaged what was left, and in 1587, the Thomas Cavendish incursions where equally devastating, though today he is remembered for his contribution to the Cruz de Huatulco (Huatulco's Cross) legend.
Cavendish ordered that the wooden cross in front of the port of Huatulco be destroyed. The axes broke, saws lost their edges, several cables snapped, and not even fire was able to down the cross. The episode was promptly considered a miracle. Where had that cross come from? A new surprise: indigenous people attributed the cross arrival to a white, bearded man, dressed in a tunic, that had come from the sea carrying the cross centuries before the Spaniard's arrival. In fact, Aztecs had named the place Cuauhtolco, which means the place where hardwood is adored.
The Cruz de Huatulco also resisted the loss of dozens of pieces, which became relics in churches throughout the country. However, while the fame of the Cross increased, Huatulco lost all option for development. In 1848, Benito Juarez asked for funds to open a road that would connect Oaxaca to Huatulco, but it would be over century before Huatulco was again inundated with merchants, artisans, ship's owners, and people from all over the world. In 1984, the Federal Government began working on the construction of the tourist complex, Bahias de Huatulco, that thanks to the efforts of the National Fund for Development of Tourism (FONATUR) would transform in a few years what was once " because of its economic underdevelopment", a virgin paradise.
Today, the nine warm Bahias de Huatulco, that include not less than 36 beaches in addition to inlets, coves, and other smaller refuges, where there is no lack of international conglomerate presence. Pools, underwater expeditions, sport fishing, yachts, a great golf course and the peacefulness of the beach shelters (Palapas in Mexico), dispute over the guest's interest who have at night a modern and safe access to boutiques, restaurants, seafood eateries, discos (La Crucecita), and the possibility of traveling toward inland villages, or continuing exploration of the other paradises found along the coast.
Close to Huatulco is the Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga (Mexican Tortoise Center), the only one of its kind in the world. Located next to the Mazunte beach from the Nahuatl word Maxontetia, meaning "I ask you to please lay your eggs", as the residents used to beg the turtles the Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga performs the triple task of investigating sea turtles, welcoming visitors interested in observing the miracle of turtle life on the beach, and attempting new growth plans for the economic development of the Coastal villages. These villages used to live off turtle exploitation before the advent of industrial procedures for their capture and its subsequent ban. Mazunte has a Museo Vivo de la Tortuga Marina (Live Sea Turtle Museum) and administers several bungalows for those who desire to witness the reproduction of thousands of sea turtles in the beaches of Oaxaca.
To the East of Mazunte is Puerto Angel (Port Angel), home of the Universidad del Mar (Ocean University), and the starting point to visit the beautiful and hidden nudist colony of Zipolite. As soon as the peacefulness of Zipolite is left, civilization is back. There is Puerto Escondido (Hidden Port), whose development international surfing championships, big hotels is balanced by the proximity of Manialtepec lagoons, and Lagunas de Chacahua National Park, where three types of mangroves, and the rare black iris grow, albatross and the pink spoonbill nest, and in a week, up to 155 bird species have been sighted, and the celebration of the Festival Costeno de la Danza (Coast Dance Festival) in Puerto Escondido, reminds us, with its rhythms, "jarabes", and popular rituals, that we are sill in Oaxaca.
Art and Museums "The Appearance of the Invisible"
Art flows in the veins of Oaxacan people and is reflected in its history, in the works of great contemporary artists, and artisans' creations. Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo, and Rodolfo Morales are the great Oaxacans in modern painting. Tamayo was born in Oaxaca, lived in Mexico and New York and is considered one the most important Mexican artists of the century. Morales, "constructor de pueblos" (builder of towns), according to Carlos Monsivais, was born in Ocotlan, travelled throughout Europe and the rest of America with his paintings, and finally returned to Ocotlan, where he has produced fascinating, unique, and universal pictorial works. Toledo was born in Juchitan, studied in Paris, and as Morales, soon missed the magic of Oaxaca and returned to the capital city after showing his portentous and poetic imagination world-wide. Many young Oaxacan painters have followed the example of the above mentioned, and explore with their work the landscape, the traditions, the myths, and the stones of Oaxaca at the same time revealing their affinity for American of European vanguards that partly define their form or styles. But, overall, all of them share a unmistakable pride for their cultural heritage, for depicting history in anther time and another place, for expressing "la aparicion de lo invisible" [the appearance of the invisible], according to the definition penned by the Mexican writer, Juan Garcia Ponce. A great many works of these new and renowned artists mentioned is exhibited in Oaxaca. It is displayed in museums where it is not uncommon to find famous world designers and artists that come to the land of light and magic to be inspired by the treasures of Monte Alban, the handcrafts of Ocotlan or Arrazola, or the so called "magic surrealism" of Oaxaca.
Cultures of Oaxaca Museum ("Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca")
- City of Oaxaca, inside of the former Santo Domingo convent.
Formerly known as "Museo Regional" [Regional Museum]. The museum is composed of two floors that house seven rooms for temporary exhibitions, an auditorium, and bookstore. The room where the most important changes that the ancient indigenous people of Oaxaca have suffered since the sixteen century up to the present is located in the lower level. There is a collection of pre-Hispanic musical instruments that flourished in Oaxaca from primitive times to the amazing manifestations of the Mixtec culture. This room leads to the ethnography room. The room that vigilantly protects the Tumba 7 treasure of Monte Alban also holds objects made of precious stones.
Museo de la Soledad
- City of Oaxaca (Independencia, 107).
Indigenous articles and garments. The image of the Virgin is exhibited in one of the rooms, and surrounding her, a great quantity of bridal bouquets, blossoms and veils, among other objects. In another chamber there are old objects dating from the sixteen century. Four dresses and crowns worn by the Virgin, sacerdotal robes, a Christ in the Sacred Tomb of more recent creation, and many paintings the people's religious fervor.
Contemporary Art Museum of Oaxaca ("MACO Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca"
- City of Oaxaca (Casa de Cortes).
The House of Cortes is among the oldest and most representative examples of civil architecture in Oaxaca. The house was acquired by the Federal Government to institute the Urban Historical Museum of Oaxaca. It is currently home of the Contemporary Art Museum of Oaxaca (MACO). It has 14 exhibit rooms, six of which hold permanent exhibits: Oaxacan artists such as Rodolfo Nieto, Francisco Gutierrez, Rodolfo Morales, and Rufino Tamayo. MACO also hosts other exhibits, conferences, and cultural activities.
Rufino Tamayo pre-Hispanic Art Museum ("Museo de Arte Prehispanico Rufino Tamayo")
- City of Oaxaca (Ave. de Morelos, 503).
It contains approximately 1,000 pre-Hispanic pieces corresponding to the early, middle, and late neo-classic, classic, and postclassical periods (from 1600 BC to 1521 AD). This museum includes three stages of art: Pre-Hispanic, Colonial, and Modern. Pre-Hispanic art comprises the entire collection, subject of the exhibit. The building itself represents Colonial art. Modern art, the museology.
Community Museums ("Museos Comunitarios")
The Union of Community Museums of State of Oaxaca combines 13 towns of the Central Valley region and the Sierra Mixteca, in the heart of the ancestral Zapotec and Mixtec cultures. These communities have open to the public museums that exhibit archaeological patrimony that helps understand the history of indigenous people. The objective of this museum is to rescue the community's patrimony, invigorate their cultural manifestations, and reinforce the population’s identity. Residents in each village organise to find financing, perform needed research, collect objects, set up exhibits, and build the museums. Currently, the following Community Museums are open to the public: San Jose el Mogote, San Juan Mixtepec, San Martin Huamelulpan, San Miguel del Progreso, San Miguel Tequixtepec, San Pablo Huitzo, San Pablo Huixtepec, San Pedro and San Pablo Tequixtepec, Santa Ana del Valle, Santa Maria Cuquila, Santa Maria Yucuhiti, Santiago Suchilquitongo, Teotitlan del Valle, Tepelmeme de Morelos, San Miguel Tequixtepec, and San Pedro Yucunama.
Festivities "The days which belong to everyone"
All celebration days are observed in Oaxaca, profane and religious, local and international, individual and community-related. The schedule for the parties can be as busy as for the market with which celebrations share a meeting place and custom's scenario.
The most important fiesta is "Guelaguetza". This is a celebration of the mutual offering, but many of them have a sense of "Guelaguetza", participation, and community. The fiestas revisit the past through dances, typical attire, customs, calends (processions with paper lamps and huge fabric marmots with candles inside), or the altar for the dead, for the Day of the Dead, very dear to the traditions of some indigenous communities that used to build their houses over the graves of their ancestors.
The meaningful moments varied in each one according the type of celebration (processions, fireworks, food, presents), but there is usually dancing and music. The marimba and orchestra sounds, pre-Hispanic dances (the combat between the gentleman Tiger and the gentleman Eagle). Colonial forms (Dispute between Moors and Christians), or magic elements, such as the mysterious sounds of Mazateco of Huautla, the place of the eagles. And of course, multicolor dresses, flowers, footwork, witty rimes, and endless flirting. Life is expressed and celebrated in every neighborhood, and every city, and often, in Oaxaca.
The Gift of all Peoples of Oaxaca
Guelaguetza is a Zapotec word meaning present, mutual offering. Since ancestral times, Zapotecs have practiced the "Guelaguetza" custom: a present as a symbol of participation in society. It is celebrated with the most important celebration in Oaxaca: Lunes del Cerro (Monday of the Hill) on the next two Mondays after the fiesta for the Virgen del Carmen (July 16) that brings together the entire state to represent, in the central act, a fabulous show of music, dance, and song, and for a grand finale, the most representative products of the region are thrown to the audience.
The celebration of Lunes del Cerro dates back to pre-Hispanic rituals in honor of Centeotl, the corn Goddess. When the Spaniards arrived, Franciscan and Dominican orders forbade worship to Centeotl, destroyed the altar situated on the Daninayaoloani slopes, the Buena Vista Hill, today called Cerro del Fortin. In its place, they built a catholic temple in honor of the Virgen of Monte Carmelo, today called Carmen Alto Temple. During Mexico's independence and revolution, the celebration honoring the Virgen del Monte Carmelo continued among the people, who would climb the mountain for a picnic after the religious services. In 1932, on the City of Oaxaca 400th anniversary, representatives from all parts of the State paid homage to the State Capital with music, dancing, great shows, and a "Guelaguetza" representing the City. These dances had a big impact on Oaxacans, who decided to repeat it in the Cerro del Fortin during the Lunes del Cerro celebration. In 1953, they incorporated permanently the traditional Guelaguetza and the Lunes del Cerro celebrations, and in 1974, they inaugurated an auditorium with a capacity for 11,400 persons.
The big fiesta, one of the most spectacular in America is accompanied by several parallel activities; among them the parade of delegations, election of the Centeotl representative, chosen among communities most knowledgeable about the tradition of its people, and the Bani Sui Gulal (Repetition of Ancient Times), that narrates in the form of a play, the history of Lunes del Cerro.
On both Lunes del Cerro (the first and its octave), the Guelaguetza starts in the auditorium with the huge chirimias, marmots parade that precedes the modes woman of Oaxaca, the market woman, and its most typical musical expression: Jarabe del Valle. Then come the regional representatives with their incomparable typical attire, and popular dances. The dance offering concludes with the Danza de la Pluma (The Feather Dance), music and dance commemorate the indigenous struggle against the Spanish conquistador. At the end of each dance, every village showers the audience with samples of its typical products, and when the festivities are over, the spectators can enjoy "trompadas", "pepitorias", "gollorias", "cocadas", "turrones", and "alegrias", offered by the vendors at the foothills.
At night, the auditorium fills again to welcome the representation of the founding of Oaxaca: the legend of the Zapotec Princess, Donaji. She was given as a hostage to Mixtecs to preserve the peace of in the Oaxaca Valleys. As Verdi's Aïda, the Zapotec heroine had a tragic faith: she accepted death, and loss of her beloved, Mixteca Prince Nucano, before betraying her people. Donaji favored a Zapotec attack to liberate her, but it failed. In retaliation, her captors decapitated her. The legend says that death did not take Donaji's beauty, and it is intact in the grave she shares with her beloved in the main altar of the Cuilapan de Guerrero.
Calendar of Events
Holy Week ("Semana Santa")
March (City of Oaxaca)
The festivities start on the Friday before Palm Sunday with installation and visit of popular altars that are placed in honor of Mary in family homes. Among other celebrations are Palm Sunday, Good Tuesday, Thursday and Friday ceremonies, and the solemn procession that begins on Good Friday, from the atrium of the Basilica de la Soledad and continues through the Historical Center's main streets.
Lunes del Cerro
On the two consecutive Mondays after July 16th (City of Oaxaca)
It is held in the Guelaguetza Auditorium, in the Cerro del Fortin. There are parallel activities and festivities during the Guelaguetza celebration.
All Saints Day ("Dia de los Muertos")
November 1st and 2nd
Graves are decorated with flowers in all cemeteries. Families build altars at home with flowers, fruit, and food, Mezcal, cigarettes, or any other favorite of the dearly departed. It is believe that, on that day their spirits visit and take the offering's essence.
Virgen de Juquila
December 8th (Santa Catarina Juquila)
It is small image of the virgin that belonged to Friar Jordan de Santa Catalina who gave it to an Amialtepec indigene. In Amialtepec started the custom to worship the image. The celebration in her honor is a great popular fair.
Virgen de Guadalupe
The celebration in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe is a national religious festivity that commemorates the legend of the Virgen del Tepeyac, Patron Saint of Mexico. In Oaxaca, the celebration begins with a greeting song (mananitas), and ends at nightfall, after mass, with fireworks and snacks.
Virgen de la Soledad (Virgin of Solitude)
December 18th (City of Oaxaca)
The Santa Maria worship began during the early years of colonization. She is the Patron Saint of Oaxaca. December 18th is a day of religious jubilation, with fiestas, bell tolling, music, liturgical services, and fireworks.
Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radish)
December 23rd (Zocalo, City of Oaxaca)
An authentic verbena of unique content and strong popular flavor, during which ingeniously crafted images made out of radishes (cultivated in the region) are exhibited. It originally took place in the Trinidad de las Huertas neighborhood, and now comes from San Antonino Castillo Velasco and other communities.
December 24th (Zocalo, City of Oaxaca)
The eve of December 24, marks the end of the traditional "posadas" (Christmas parties) celebration. "Posadas" reenact the efforts of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph to find shelter in Bethlehem. On this night, all catholic temples in the city prepare a Christmas float or of a patron saint of their neighborhood. At 11:00 p.m., the floats converge in the Cathedral.
Puerto Escondido / Beaches
These beaches are in the municipality of San Pedro Mixtepec, located by the sea, west of the coastal region. Climate is humid, with an average annual temperature of 82F (28C).
During the past century, it was known as "Punta Escondida" (Hidden Point), which at the time, was just a small fishing village with an important commercial port from which aromatic coffee and precious wood was shipped. When commercial activities starting fading, it became a fishing village again. It was not until the thirties that this settlement became a real town. The name was changed from "Punta Escondida" to "Puerto Escondido" (Hidden Port).
During the sixties, Puerto Escondido was aided greatly by the construction of a Highway leading to Acapulco. Tourism started to flourish, due mostly to its quiet nature and beautiful beaches, gently bathed by the Pacific Ocean.
With time, tourism has increased, foreigners, for the most part, and a handful of adventurous Oaxacan youngsters that have been visiting Puerto Escondido, despite the treacherousness of the roads that lead from the capital city to this beach site. A little later, hotels and resorts were constructed. Small palapas (large, umbrella-shaped beach shelters), where fishermen offered exquisite sea food specialities, have been disappearing, giving way to modern tourist developments. Currently, Puerto Escondido is one of the most important tourist sites on the Oaxacan Coast.
Since 1982, with the construction of better roads and highways, Puerto Escondido has become better communicated with the State's capital city, and other important communities, helping it become an important tourist attraction. Willingness of the Federal and State governments has helped promote tourism in Puerto Escondido, and it is now one of the most important attractions on the Mexican Pacific Coast. FONATUR (Mexico's tourist development and promotion department), played a major role in making this possible, through research and organisation of effective advertising campaigns, aimed at promoting Puerto Escondido. Several key components were developed, such as the construction of a luxurious resort, modern residential zone, upgrading constructions in the downtown area, and most importantly, the construction of a national airport, which was formally inaugurated in 1985. This communicated Puerto Escondido with the nation's capital, as well as a few other cities from abroad.
Puerto Escondido is thought to be the oldest tourist attraction in the region, and the centre of great tourist activity, both nationally and internationally.
To go to this little corner of Oaxaca, means to experience its wonderful beaches, where one participate in almost every water sport. Surfing is extremely popular at Zicatela beach, with its enormously high waves. In addition to the natural attractions this site offers, there is also a great variety of cultural riches, and always cheerful and colourful folklore.
Due to the great flow of tourism generated, Puerto Escondido has been reinforced with outstanding service infrastructure, covering all tourist-related fields. This allows visitors to feel pampered, enjoying a most rewarding vacation experience, through the combination of natural and cultural attractions.
The Perez Gazca trail has an excellent array of marvellous Mexican handicrafts, especially Oaxacan. The most common handicrafts are textiles, typical clothing like dresses, gowns, loose-fitting blouses, shirts, vests, wraps, tapestries, handbags, bags, jackets and hammocks. Leather articles are also available, and include handbags, wallets, hats, belts, sandals and machete sheathes, among others. Sea shell articles, such as jewellery boxes, key holders, ashtrays, pen holders and picture frames can also be found. Carved stone jewellery is on display, including jade, malachite, mother of pearl, river pearl, obsidian, and aquamarine necklaces and earrings, all with beautiful designs. There are marvellous pieces of silver, brass, bronze, and silver-plated jewellery. Some pieces, made of combinations of these minerals and stones, are even more beautiful. These may be amber, obsidian, aquamarine, and black or red coral. Some pieces worth mentioning are necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets, medals, chains, key-holders, brooches, and many others.
Other materials used are wood, palm, coral, tin, paper mache, and ironwood
Since there are countless handicraft shops, visitors are able to find an endless variety of products, at convenient prices. This guarantees finding articles to their entire satisfaction.
Puerto Escondido: Is located 165 miles (265 kilometres) South of the City of Oaxaca via highway 131. Approximate travel time: [5:00]
There are a great number of natural springs spread throughout the entire State of Oaxaca. Their water springs from the soil, and is thermal, sulphurous, hot, or cold. These springs can be exploited for agricultural or recreational purposes, alike. Some are widely known, and others are not so popular because they are practically inaccessible.
We could safely say that most of the natural spas become well-known because they are near some town.
Some of the most popular are: those in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Region, in the towns of Santiago Laollaga and Magdalena Tlacotepec. Another important one is the "Balneario de Atonaltzin" which has a sulphurous water spring, and is in the town of Tamazulapan Villa Del Progeso. Others, such as "Arroyo Blanco" (White Creek) and Vega del Sol form part of the currents that deviate from a river nearby. As they are located in a tropical zone, they receive visitors from all over the country, all year round.
Oaxaca is characterised by its treacherous territory. There are three different chains of mountains that cross Oaxacan soil. When they come together, they form capricious rock formations. Together with the rivers, they have formed some of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the state.
These natural waterfalls are of all different shapes and sizes. They are part of the history and roots of the native people, helping describe mythical legends.
Throughout the world, Mexico is thought to be a country with enormous natural resources, since it has the most diverse flora in the world.
The State of Oaxaca is the most diverse in terms of biological species, with approximately 30,000 plant species, representing approximately 5 per cent of the flora on the planet.
We can find one of the areas richest in plant and animal life in the country with considerable ecosystem diversity. It has seven of the nine types of vegetation growing in Mexico: Sierra Juarez.
Equally important among its natural wealth are its forests, which still preserve great expanses of timberland with innumerable wood species such as cedar, mahogany, and oak, among others. The Chimalapas Rain Forest has many unexplored areas and constitutes a national ecological resource that we must treasure and nurture.
Caves & Caverns
The physical formation of the Oaxacan territory, which includes limestone, favoured subterranean currents in the formation of great calcareous and vertical wells that time transformed into extraordinary natural monuments.
In the State, there are caverns or grottoes of all shapes and sizes; the most important of which is the "Cueva del Cheve" (Cheve's Cave) explored for the first time in 1996. Up to the present time, 14 miles (23.5 kilometres) have been explored, and a number of bones and utensils for the celebration of Pre-Hispanic rituals have been found. The Apaola, in whose interior there is a big lagoon, is linked directly to the legend of the Mixteca nation foundation.
In the Mazateca Sierra of Huautla de Jimenez, we find a series of caverns that, because of their interior characteristics, have been subject of studies by foreign groups specialists in advanced speleology. Foremost among them is "El Sotano de San Agustin" (San Agustin's Cellar) considered one of the deepest in America and the world.
It is important to mention that among Oaxaca's great number of grottoes, we can observe numerous and capricious forms shaped by the wisdom of time aided by Mother Nature's resources.
The Pacific littoral of Oaxaca presents interesting perspectives of its lagoons. These places are paradisiac and unique surrounded by an abundant and varied fauna and flora, which lend excitement and life to the landscape.
The existing biodiversity is an important element of the lagoon system in the region. The biodiversity comprises tropical vegetation, coastal dunes, and mangroves, a hibernation zone for diverse migratory and resident birds, which present an awesome display.
Because of its importance and natural beauty, foremost among them is the Laguna de Manialtepec (Manialtepec Lagoon) and the Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua (Chacahua Lagoons National Park), which can be admired alongside the coastal Puerto Escondido-Acapulco road. It is possible to practice all types of aquatic sports and savour traditional foods under the palapas available for this purpose.
For some years now, the state has been harnessing large rivers, streams, and even small runoffs to provide water for crops and generating electrical power.
Today, dams help diversify the economy of many towns, allowing them to attract tourism instead of simply focusing on their traditional forms of commerce, agribusiness, and fishing activities.
Dams also offer the perfect setting for water sports, such as fishing black lobina in the Yosocuta Dam, or the Papaloapan boat race that crosses the Cerro de Oro and Miguel Aleman Dams, winding up at Tuxtepec at the mouth of the Tonto and Papaloapan rivers.
Delightful boat rides through these reservoirs are a wonderful way to enjoy the landscape and numerous small islands that dot the water.
The archaeological resources that the State of Oaxaca has are so plentiful that, to date, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has discovered 4,000 different archaeological sites. Sites of such overwhelming beauty have helped paved the way for the origins of Mexican culture, and remain open for visitors to enjoy. Monte Alban and Mitla are two sites that have become famous all around the world, attracting a high number of foreign visitors. Other sites worth mentioning are: Yagul, Lambiteco and Dainzu.
The origins of the Mixtec and Zapotec cultures can be traced to the Monte Alban and Mitla archaeological sites, helping to pave the way for Oaxacan culture. Most of the symbols and trails found here are almost indecipherable, including the architectural style of the structures themselves.
Sites were designed to meet the standards of a much more demanding lifestyle than what we know today. It has always been amazing how locations for development of human life and culture were so wisely chosen. These archaeological sites are definitely 'magical', for the beauty they offer can reach for your heart once you arrive. Video or photographic images could never describe this feeling. You have to experience each the sights, sounds, atmosphere and the thrill of going back in time in person.
The contents of this page (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License) are taken with great appreciation from Oaxaca Tourist Guide, www.oaxaca-travel.com. There you can find more excellent information on Oaxaca, including very complete listings of cultural and natural attractions.