a colorful land of unique traditions

Oaxaca is large state in the southwest of Mexico that extending down from through mountains and valleys to the Pacific Ocean. It is divided into hundreds of municipalities, most of which are governed by the system of usos y costumbres (customs and traditions) and have local forms of selfgovernance.

Currently the state has sixteen recognised indigenous cultures, most numerous being the Zapotecs. These cultures have survived due to Oaxaca’s mountainous terrain that made travel more challenging.

Most of what is known about prehistoric Oaxaca comes from work in the Central Valleys, which includes Oaxaca City and the key archaeological sites of Monte Alban and Mitla, where signs ofsettlement date back as far as 11,000 BC. The Zapotecs were the earliest to gain dominance over the Central Valleys, but there was ongoing struggles between the Mixteca and Zapotecs.

The first Aztecs didn’t make a significant impact in Oaxaca until the 1500s led by Moctezuma, and although their imapact was extensive, it was not long before the Spanish Conquest would arrive and change the face of Oaxaca and Mexico. The Spanish came to Oaxaca looking for gold, and their early reports led Cortes to seek the title Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca.

The Dominicans landed in Oaxaca in 1523 and began converting the Zapotec residents. Built by the this Catholic order, Santo Domingo Church in the centre of Oaxaca is now a definite highlight when visiting the city. It took over two hundred years to complete.

The facade of the church depicts the founder of the Dominican order while the ceiling upon entering the church depicts the family tree of the order's founder. In its restored state, the interior is beyond opulent, decorated with 60,000 sheets of 23.5 karat gold.

The modern state of Oaxaca was created in the early 1800s, and the name comes from a Spanish transliteration of the Nahuatl word Huaxyacac, referring to the guaje trees that grow in the City. In 2010 this area was made a UNESCO World Heritage due to the earliest known evidence of domesticated plants on the continent.

Oaxaca also has the most biodiversity, with more than 8,400 registered plant species, 738 bird species and 1,431 terrestrial vertebrate species, accounting for 50% of all species in Mexico. Agave is currently becoming one of the regions most prevalent crops due to its hardy nature, resistant to rough terrain and drought. As you travel along the ‘ruta de mezcal’ it opens up in to plantations of espadin, the most common type of agave found most often in mezcal.

Visiting Oaxaca can be the best kind of sensory overload. Colourful paper flags flutter above cobbled streets, as parades (known as calendas) led by brass bands, dance to celebrate every possible occasion.The aroma of fresh tortillas waft from corner stands and new fine dining and drinking establishments are popping up almost weekly. Its an exciting time to be in this wonderful place.

Oaxaca de Juárez is one of those places that remain in the mind and in the heart of those who visit. The memory of having walked through its streets, its squares and markets, accompanied by a rhythmic music, leaves us with that feeling of wanting to return soon.