My fascination with Oaxaca all began when wandering through the markets of Rosarito, in the northern Baja Peninsula of Mexico. All the incredible handmade embroidery of cloth came from this area, as did art about the dead, black pottery and two of my favorite addictions coffee and chocolate. I had to go.
2 weeks later I was on a plane via Mexico City to Oaxaca City deep in the southern central tip of Mexico. What I did not realize until I arrived was that it was not just the burgeoning cultural capital city but the entire region of Oaxaca that was rich with artisan craft. Markets were not just confined to the city limits. There were different markets for everyday of the week and artisans would gather outside of churches and alongside thousand year old spiritual ruins to trade sometimes even without money but in commodities of other resources that they needed. This place was beyond my imagination and expectation.
Here is my list of the BEST MARKETS OF OAXACA
BENITO JUAREZ MARKET
In Oaxaca City itself you will find the wonderful bustling market of Benito Juarez, which is divided into 2 large squares of stalls right across the cobblestone street from one another. One is the craft side and the other is the food side of the market. This market is exceptional because here you will find textiles, rugs, embroidery, mescal, hats, baskets, candies, leather even crispy crickets (a Oaxaca delicacy) from all 8 regions of Oaxaca. You can generally find everything you may find in the outlaying markets but for a fractionally increased price. Benito Juarez is open everyday of the week including Sunday.
Just a few blocks from Benito Juarez you will find the artisan market in Oaxaca city. Here is where you will find the best quality craft of mostly cloth within the city. Artisans send usually another family member to come into the city from outside regions of Oaxaca to trade their craft. You will find similar craft at Benito Juarez but a more extensive collection especially of embroidery. This market is quiet and relatively small, a few rows of stalls inside but it is packed with intricate designs from all 8 regions and certainly worth a visit if it is handmade craft you are interested in. Spend a bit of time in each stall, as there is variety and hidden gems at each trader’s spot you just may have to go through the stacks to find them.
MARKETS OUTSIDE OAXACA CITY
Located 44 kilometers east of Oaxaca City
Mitla is a very spiritual and important site to the Zapotec culture. The name Mitla is derived from Nahuatl name Mictlan, meaning place of the dead while the Zapotecan name is Lyobaa meaning place of the rest. The ruins here are unique because of complex building of tombs and walls decorated with elaborate mosaics of fretworks dating back to 900 BC. Mitla was the main religious center for the Zapotecan people dating back to pre- Columbian time representing the beliefs of Mesoamerican s that death was the most consequential part of life after birth. They had incredibly sophisticated systems of construction, writing, calendar, agriculture and irrigation long before the Spanish arrived. It was in Mitla that the Zapotecs built this gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
On the outskirts of the ruins is the market place composed of several dozen stalls trading alongside ancient cacti. The embroidery and cloth is extensive and you will most likely meet the actual artisan or someone from their family here trading.
Located 32 kilometers southeast of Oaxaca City.
Tlacolula market is the largest and oldest indigenous open-air market in Mesoamerica. For hundreds of years locals from the area have been gathering here to trade in crops and craft on market day every Sunday. The market stretches nearly 2 miles long and sellers from throughout the region come to trade their harvests here to other locals from the area. This is generally a food market; though you can find craft it will not be as extensive in quality and quantity. The trading happens outside the 17th century Dominican complex. There is amazing people watching to be done here and a real feast for the senses! Don’t miss it on a Sunday!
SANTO TOMAS JALIEZA
Located 29 kilometers south of Oaxaca City
Every Friday is market day at Santo Tomas Jalieza. The art market lies between the church and the courthouse. Not only can you meander through the market stalls of artisans displaying their work of belts, bags, rugs and anything else they weave on the loom, but you can even go into some of the local artists homes and observe how the products are made on the original looms.
TEOTITLAN DEL VALLE
Located 28 Kilometers southeast of Oaxaca City
The market area in this small town brings together many of the town artisans and vendors every Monday to trade their unique rugs of this area. Weaving in this village dates back to 500BC. Though the earliest weavings were made using cottons today they are loomed with wool. The designs here are incredible and extremely intricate and are from not only the Zapotec but also the Navajo and also more contemporary designs. Many of the dyes are made from natural products such as a small insect called conchinilla, plants and roots. The looms are all hand –operated, and weaving is done by both men and women.