I am not a travel guide, yet can think of a zillion reasons why you must visit Oaxaca, Mexico before you journey to your sweet rewards. Let me entice you by saying what Oaxaca brings to the table. It is a huge smorgasbord for the eyes and stomach, not to mention flea markets galore. You will be shocked at how far your wallet will take you for the most glorious and original handmade goods.

 

Oaxaca welcomed me with open arms as I traveled there for a few weeks to celebrate “Days of the Dead” orDia De Los Muertos (the real deal) and must admit so much of it was a duplicate of New Orleans, my hometown, and how the deceased are celebrated. A jazz funeral in New Orleans celebrates its revered dead and respects rebirth. The carnival custom of wearing costumes is part of the tradition, while in Oaxaca, faces are brightly painted, and women wear handmade embroidered dresses. Both New Orleans and Oaxaca are all about families welcoming back the souls of the deceased with food, drink and celebration.

 

Upon arrival you notice Oaxaca is filled with culture, energy and magical appeal. If you love brilliantly colored colonial-styled buildings, painted murals, and fantastic street food, you have arrived in paradise. This city is not well known and not on a beach, but that is no detraction from its allure. Instead, you will experience an incredible foodie Nirvana. It is in the southern center of Mexico so many people do not flock there. You can get a 5-star, $100 meal for only $25. Coming from someone who is on high alert for stomach issues regarding street food, even that is fabulous, and you must stop at all the abuela vendors. Their cooking is supreme!

 

What I love about this place is that you don’t feel you are in Cancun or a touristy spot. This place is totally Un-Americanized.  Oaxacan people embrace their culture, so travelers are in for a huge treat as they experience authenticity for real. The Zapotec community is known for creating natural dyes and if you are into textiles, you’ll leave your clothes in Oaxaca when departing for home and fill your suitcases with textiles. They take your breath away. Stash some of their coffee in your suitcase as well. The soil and mountains of Mexico produce the best coffee you ever tasted!

 

Food in Oaxaca is different than any other Mexican food. Always simple and fresh, it comes from its indigenous roots. Your palette must be ready for the complex and adventurous. No picky eaters allowed, you will miss and not appreciate the entire experience. Fresh ceviche, huge prawns, Oaxacan cheese and tortillas, mole and chocolate…only the beginning. It is pure heaven to sit outside a lovely restaurant surrounded by native flora and fauna when a huge bowl of guacamole topped with quesillo arrives. The local birds will visit and flutter about you in admiration! There is no other food like it due to the climate and ingredients, and, the adoración that goes into it!

 

Wear the most comfortable shoes you own as the best shopping in Oaxaca are flea markets and nothing can hold you back from this adventure. It is a warm, casual city so pack little because I promise your suitcases will be stuffed when you depart. Black pottery, jewelry with turquoise, coffees and chocolate are just the beginning. If you appreciate art, culture and history, the homemade handicrafts are totally amazing and extremely well-priced. And don’t skip the tiny ally ways with vendors selling original textiles. I almost skipped one tucked away behind a fire house, ran back and bought a huge handful of rolled up rugs, tablecloths and everything textile. Should you have a love affair with folk art, you are totally in the heart of it. Galleries, museums, and shops will have your eyeballs spinning.

 

Should you want to experience the most magical portion of Oaxaca, be there from October 31 to November 2 for Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos). Just like my hometown, Oaxacan altars, “ofrendas,” are mind boggling. Skeletons, giant sand art and tapestries, snacks and carnival rides are all set up outside the cemetery. This is not a time for sadness or tears but celebration. There is a carnival like procession of Oaxacan people in costumes with music and dancing toward the cemetery. Remember this represents the cycle of life and death and it is to be celebrated.

 

Every box on my travel list is checked regarding Oaxaca. Lovely, kind people, a historical vibe, sumptuous food, handmade shopping goods and most of all, rarely crowded. Why, you ask? It’s one of the best well known travel secrets. So, shhhhh, don’t advertise it. Let it remain untouched with history and culture.