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Mexico City has long been known to travelers as Mexico’s design hub, yet the country’s cultural soul burns deep in Oaxaca. It's a place filled with tradition and heritage. Rather than bringing in hot spots to make a city cool, Oaxaca already is. Restaurateurs and hotel developers have noticed, and are celebrating the city with mindful additions—and an understanding of how important preservation is to a city anchored by its local heritage. From mole and mezcal, to textiles and ceramics, Oaxaca centro has remained authentic to its core, and the city’s new restaurant, hotel, and art scene is encouraging travelers to come see.
Here’s why Oaxaca is 2021’s top design destination.
Much of Oaxaca’s recent buzz has been a result of the city’s burgeoning hotel scene. In late 2019, Grana B&B, a charming boutique hotel set in an 18th-century mansion, opened its doors in the heart of the city and immediately became an oasis for travelers with creative spirits. The name itself comes from Oaxaca’s grana cochinilla, a prized insect used for natural dying. The botanical elements of this pre-Hispanic dye are what inspired the architecture and decor of the rooms and common spaces. Designed for inclusivity, the hotel boasts a communal kitchen and multipurpose room, setting the tone for creativity and collaboration. Hotel Sin Nombre shortly followed suit, opening its doors in 2020 as an urban oasis near Oaxaca’s central square. The fusion of traditional and modern architecture can be seen the moment one enters the hotel’s Moroccan-style courtyard, which comes alive with natural light. The rooms echo the same peaceful tranquility as the courtyard, but with pops of kitschy, modern art, surprising and delighting.
The most anticipated hotel opening this year was Escondido Oaxaca, the latest property by Grupo Habita. Every new hotel by Mexico’s leading hotel operator always outshines the last; Escondido Oaxaca is no exception. Architect Alberto Kalach and interior designer Decada Muebles worked in partnership with Grupo Habita’s managing partner Carlos Couturier to transform a 19th-century building in the heart of Oaxaca City into a tranquil 12-room hotel where the brutalist spaces are softened by easy, neutral colors, resulting in an almost Japanese feel. The state’s local pottery and textiles punctuate each corner of the hotel, warming up the common areas and rooms. Local restaurants, including Boulenc Bed and Breakfast and Casa Criollo, are also opening their own accommodations, as a lifestyle extension to their culinary experience.
Food & Beverage
Chefs from all over the world are lining up to infiltrate Oaxaca’s rich culinary community. Many new restaurants are offering tasting menus with locally-rooted and unique ingredients, as a means of introducing unfamiliar travelers to the taste of Oaxaca. Local-favorite, El Destilado offers 6- , 9- or 12-courses with an option to pair with bespoke cocktails. Another restaurant offering meals in the form of tasting menus with optional liquor pairings is Criollo, brainchild of Enrique Olvera, the well-known chef behind Mexico City’s Pujol. The food, space, and service at Criollo make for an unforgettable and unique culinary experience. For daytime diners, you’ll likely notice the crowds outside of Boulenc after a visit to MACO, Oaxaca’s contemporary art museum. With a fresh assortment of breads and pastries, this local bakery, favored by locals and expats alike, is not to be missed. Just around the corner from Boulenc, is newcomer Tres Hermanas with a simple, no-fuss menu that takes “hole in the wall” dining to new heights. For modern takes on traditional Oaxacan cuisine, long-time favorites, Casa Oaxaca, Pitiona, and Los Danzantes are worthy stops, as well. And finally, unmissable craft cocktails can be found at Selva Oaxaca, the speakeasy bar of Los Danzantes. At night, post up on the balcony to overlook the lively streets of Oaxaca centro while you sip.
Artist residency, Pocoapoco is responsible for drawing in crowds of creatives to Oaxaca, with its multi-disciplinary and cultural exchange program that offers a platform for creative exploration, supporting research, conversation and connection. The residency takes place in a large, beautiful home in Oaxaca centro and has hosted artists from Simone Bodmer-Turner, Cassi Namoda, and Cheryl Louise Humphreys. Navigating the rich artisanal culture of Oaxaca on your own can be overwhelming, as many of the communities are outside the main city in small villages, like Teotitlán del Valle and Santa Maria Atzompa. Because of that, Vera Claire’s Cosa Buena—meaning “a good thing"—is a non-profit organization that offers immersive retreats fostering authentic, equitable, and respectful cultural exchange as guests journey to local communities to connect with and learn from master artisans. Through hands-on workshops, lectures, and group reflections, participants cultivate a deeper understanding and respect for traditional craft, identity, and cultural heritage. Similarly, Thread Caravan hosts artisan workshops led by founder Caitlin Garcia-Aherndive, which enable travelers to dive deeper into culture and appreciate the process, rather than focusing on the end product. Retreats highlight a variety of local industries, from textiles, to ceramics, to mezcal. For travelers eager to explore Oaxaca centro on their own, be sure to visit Oaxaca’s contemporary art museum MACO and cult-favorite design studio, Rrres. And for an escape to Oaxaca’s cacti and agave fields, head to Mary Jane’s Rancho Pitayo for a majestic horseback.