Wedged between stark elemental features – blue skies and an ochre, parched terra – Monte Albán sits on a flattened promontory, exemplifying nearly 1500 years of pre-Columbian civilization. Monte Albán rises 400 meters (1300 feet) above the valley floor of Oaxaca, and a wave of history, dominated by the cultures of Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs sweeps through its pyramidal structures. Shrines, palaces, terraced platforms, tombs and mounds are scattered across this significant archaeological site, each pointing to Monte Albán's central role in Mesoamerican civilization. At the core of this complex is the Main Plaza, a monumental structure that is dominated by a series of stairs that amble up its southern platform, while small temples, residences and ballcourts are strewn across its surroundings. Several stone structures indicate that morbid sacrificial activities and ceremonies were conducted here. One of the earliest examples of these structures are the Danzantes, a set of figures that harken to the Olmec culture. A few important stone etchings and carvings found on the site have been encased within an on-site museum.
The Árbol del Tule is a gigantic ahuehuete, or cypress, tree located in the town of Santa Maria del Tule, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) east of Oaxaca City. This legendary tree measures 36.2 meters around and is anywhere from 1200 to 3000 years old. The tree reportedly grows on a sacred Zapotec site. Aside from its sheer size and age, the other interesting feature about the tree are the many animal shapes formed by its gnarled bark, with sightings ranging from jaguars to elephants. The tree now is the centerpiece of a plaza that was built around it to showcase the tree.
This multi-screen cinema is located in the Ciudad Universitaria, south of the Centro Historico. The theater shows the most current new releases. Also at the theater you can enjoy anything from sandwiches to caramel corn, along with all the perennial international movie theater favorites, like popcorn (including caramel corn!), hot dogs, soda and candy. This is truly a state of the art cinema and a great movie watching experience.
Teotitlan del Valle is a small town located 32 kilometers (20 mi) east of Oaxaca City. The town is best known for specializing in all things weaving. Initially, however, Teotitlan began at least 2000 years ago, founded by the Zapotecs, making it one of the oldest inhabited towns in Oaxaca. Wandering through the town, you will undoubtedly have many chances to stop in to the seemingly endless amounts of workshops, homes and shops peddling this woven art. Especially interesting in the workshop of Isaac Vasquez, who will give demonstrations about different stages of the weaving process. Other notable features of the town are the community museum, Balaa Xtee Guech Gulal and the Teotitlá Church, built over an ancient Zapotec temple.
San Bartolo Coyotepec is a small town located 15 kilometers (9 mi) south of Oaxaca City. The town is well known for producing a unique product, barro negro, or black pottery. Perhaps the best place to see some of this signature craft is Doña Rosa, whose namesake pioneered the technique of creating large bowls, jugs and pots without the use of a potters wheel. Doña Rosa passed away in 1980, but her shop and her legacy remain. Besides all the pottery stores and workshops throughout the town, also located in San Bartolo Coyotepec is the beautiful and modern designed museum, which displays fine examples of not only the barro negro, but other local artwork and textiles as well. San Bartolo also hosts the annual Fiesta de San Bartolomé, held every year in August.
The Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, commonly referred to Iglesia de Santo Domingo or simply Santo Domingo, is located just a few short blocks up the Andador Turistico of Macedonio Alcalá from the Zócalo. The church itself dates back to 1572, when construction began, but wasn't fully completed for another 200 years, although it became functional in 1608. The spectacular interior is not to be missed, covered in gold gilt, and featuring the entire genealogical tree of Santo Domingo de Guzmán.
Also called MTO, this museum showcases a wide range of designs, techniques and creative processes used to produce textiles in Oaxaca as well as other parts of the world. The museum encourages the constant exchange of knowledge about these processes and products by holding conferences, workshops and exhibitions.
The Oaxaca Cultural Center museum (Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca) is adjacent to the Templo de Santo Domingo, in the former convent section of the building. Visitors enter into a spacious courtyard, from which you will be led to the Biblioteca (Library) de Francisco Burgoa, featuring an impressive collection of centuries old works. Upstairs, rooms feature treasures excavated from various archaeological sites of the region, including impressive rooms full of artifacts recovered from Monte Albán. This museum is one of the most comprehensive histories of Oaxaca you will find in the entire state. The museum also features an ethnobotanical garden, which visitors can only visit on a guided tour.
The Teatro Macedonio Alcalá is named after violinist and composer Macedonio Alcalá Prieto, remembered today for writing the waltz, “Dios nunca muere,” the unofficial state anthem of Oaxaca. The theater first opened in 1909 with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida. Built during the Porfiriato period of Mexico's history, the building exhibits the elaborate French style typical of the time. Today, the theater is open daily to visitors and also hosts various events such as ballet, opera and classical music concerts.
Oaxaca City's historic Zócalo, or main square has been the center of the city since the mid-16th century when Spaniards laid out plans for the city. The north and south sides of the square are flanked by the Cathedral and the Palacio de Gobierno, now a museum. The east and west sides are lined with restaurants like El Importador where you can sit and have a drink or a meal and do some people watching. In the center is a gazebo where there are often evening concerts.
The Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca, or UABJO as it is more commonly known, is the main institution of higher learning in Oaxaca. The Univeristy features many different departments, some of which are not located in the main campus area, the Ciudad Universitaria. Also part of the university is a large sports complex featuring soccer fields, basketball courts and baseball fields as well as a running track.
Although a Palacio de Gobierno has stood on this spot since the Zócalo's construction in the 16th Century, this version was built in 1832, to replace one that was destroyed by earthquakes. Today, the Palacio is being converted into a museum, and the main draw is the large, colorful mural by Arturo Bustos, featuring depictions of important people and events from throughout Oaxaca's history, dating back to the indigenous people before the arrival of the Spanish.