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The Trip: Lost in the Land of Dulces Sueños

Nestled into the foothills of the Sierra Madre, Oaxaca City offers a chance to recharge.


The sun rises over Oaxaca and the Sierra Madre.

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The Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in downtown Oaxaca.

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The view from outside the Oaxacalli Hotel.

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Street vendors downtown.

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Columns of organ pipe cactus are arranged around a canal in the Jardín Etnobotánico, a garden built on the site of a 16th-century monastery in Oaxaca.

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A street vendor preparing tlayudas, a regional dish made of tortillas, cheese, beans, and meat

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Chili-covered grasshoppers are another regional specialty.

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Four days in Mexico City can do a lot to fray the nerves. At least that’s what photographer Alanna Hale found on a recent trip to the supersize city. So, feeling the strain of the metropolis during a two-week visit south of the border, she and her three traveling companions boarded an overnight bus headed to the city of Oaxaca for a chance to dive in to its famed culinary scene and recharge their batteries.

The city obliged. Tucked into the foothills of the Sierra Madre, Oaxaca stands in stark contrast to the frenetic capital. “It’s stunningly beautiful,” Hale says. Much of the city forms a bowl, sloping toward the central square, or zócalo—a maze of stands peddling food, drinks, crafts, and linens. “It overwhelms you with smells and these tiny little aisles,” Hale says. “They just go on forever.”

Armed with a foodie checklist provided by a bar-owner friend in San Francisco familiar with the area, Hale acquainted herself with Oaxaca’s most celebrated culinary traditions, including its mole sauces and its chapulines (chili-covered grasshoppers), for which the city is perhaps best known. “You can get a bag of them and eat them like chips,” Hale says, “but they also put them on everything—in salads, in quesadillas.” Of course, she also partook of Oaxaca’s famed mezcal.

When they weren’t eating and drinking, Hale and her party took leisurely strolls through the town’s winding streets. One exception to the free-form itinerary was a day trip to the pyramids of the Monte Albán archaeological site, which dates from 500 BC. They also made a side trip to the weaving village of Teotitlán, just outside Oaxaca, known for its Zapotec woolen rugs.

In the end, the town provided exactly the second wind Hale needed to launch her back to Mexico City and its frenetic vibrancy.

Route: Fly from SFO to Mexico City, then drive south 131 miles on Mexico 150D and Mexico 135D to Oaxaca; continue west 159 miles on Mexico 175, A Monte Albán, and Carretera a Monte Albán to the Monte Albán pyramids.
Distance traveled: 288 miles
Accommodations: Hotel Las Golondrinas (from $42 per night)


Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco 

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