You Need to Know about Oaxaca As a Solo Traveler
Oaxaca is a state in southern Mexico that has a glorious reputation as one of the most culturally vibrant places in the country. The state is mountainous, with a rugged coastline giving way to sandy beaches and typical surf towns. The capital, Oaxaca de Juárez (or Oaxaca City), is a bustling place, bursting with color. It’s the gastronomic capital of Mexico — and for good reason.
That said, the question on your head as a traveler is probably: Is Oaxaca safe? As a solo female traveler who has visited the city of Oaxaca a handful of times, I’m here to address your biggest safety concerns with these tips:
1. Choose Your Accommodations Wisely
My biggest piece of advice for a safe stay in Oaxaca City is to choose accommodations that are in the Centro, Xochimilco, Reforma, or Jalatlaco neighborhoods. The first time I visited, I stayed at the Centro, and although I felt safe, it is a noisy place to stay.
If you want to stay central but in a quiet and safe neighborhood, choose Xochimilco or Jalatlaco. Both areas are famous for their impeccable street art scenes, so you’ll want to visit them anyway. I stayed in the Xochimilco neighborhood the last time I was in Oaxaca and absolutely loved the quaint streets, colorful murals, and family atmosphere.
Reforma is also a safe neighborhood, but it’s a little further away. It takes about 20 minutes to walk to the Centro of Reforma, depending on the end of the neighborhood where you are.
2. Be wary of taxis
The first time I visited Oaxaca at the end of 2019, I was surprised by how much the taxi drivers bothered my friend and me. To be honest, I would not have recommended taking a regular taxi in Oaxaca if you had asked me then.
However, the city has taken a tough stance against harassment, and more and more women are coming forward to denounce their aggressors. I’m not sure if these two things are connected, but I noticed a shift this last time I visited Oaxaca. I was not harassed at all-not on the street or in taxis. maybe this is unique to my experience, but I hope things change.
A great way to ensure your safety while taking taxis in Oaxaca is to take quick photos of the license plate and taxi number before you get in. Make this clear-when the driver sees your vigilance, they will be more likely to behave at their best.
If you still feel unsure about taxis in Oaxaca, consider trying Didi. It’s just like Uber and allows you to file a complaint if your driver makes you feel unsafe.
3. A little Mezcal goes a long way.
Oaxaca is known worldwide for its mezcal, and there are plenty of places to try it. Since so many people flock to Oaxaca to do this, it is no surprise that there is a dense party culture here. Every day you will find mezcalerías, bars and clubs full of people drinking and partying.
If you have tried mezcal, you know that it is quite strong. If not, I’ll save you from a hangover by bringing the news.
I’ve always had a great time in Oaxaca, dancing and socializing while sipping mezcal, but it’s never a good idea to binge-drink in a foreign place.
Maybe I sound like a broken record, but be careful how much you drink when you travel. Letting your vigilance down too much can put you at risk — and no party is worth losing control of.
4. Eat Street Food Wisely
Oaxaca is the heaven of street food. From tlayudas to mole and everything in between, you could spend your entire trip eating nothing but street food and be completely satisfied with the variety you will find.
However, not all street food stands are created equal when it comes to hygiene. Especially if your stomach isn’t used to the spices used in Mexican cuisine, you might wish you hadn’t gone for that second dash of salsa verde on your roadside tacos.
To get the best chance of avoiding stomach problems while enjoying Oaxaca’s incredible street fare, look for the stands where there are long lines of people waiting to order. There is a good chance that the locals will not be in line … where she has a reputation for being unhygienic.
Another tip is to eat inside the market. Mercado 20 De Noviembre is full of small stalls, and many of them are local favorites, where you will find many people enjoying a meal. These stalls are usually cleaner than those on the street, as the market has a higher standard of hygiene.
I recommend taking a tour around the market or street food stalls near the Zócalo around lunchtime, say 2 or 3pm. See which place is the most popular, and go back around 16: 00 or 17: 00, when there are fewer customers.
5. Dress Down
Oaxaca is certainly not the place to show off any flashy jewelry or designer clothing that could make you a target for petty crime. Given that most people – both locals and tourists-dress quite occasionally, anything too glamorous would stick you out like a sore thumb.
6. Learn Some Basic Spanish
Sometimes I find that people from Mexico are surprised that I am fluent in Spanish, which makes me laugh a little. Speaking the language has opened many doors for me and allowed me to make friends easily even when I was a beginner.
For some people, learning a new language can be daunting. You don’t need to be fluent to stay safe in Oaxaca, but it certainly helps to know at least a little Spanish.
If you can master basic greetings and key phrases, you’re off to a good start. Being able to ask for help when you need it, tell a taxi driver to stop, or let a waitress know about your food allergy are all important things to be able to express in Spanish.
7. Stay at the Centro at night
Walking around all alone at night is not a great idea, but if you are going to do it in Oaxaca, stay at the Centro. It is well lit, there are enough people, and you will find pedestrian streets that are safer to walk along.
I noticed that some streets outside the Centro were dark, with unexpected alleys and generally not the safest atmosphere. If in doubt, just take a car from DiDi, or avoid going anywhere at night that you are not familiar with, especially if it is outside the city center.
8. More Money, More Problems
It’s never a good idea to walk around with large amounts of money while traveling, and Oaxaca is no different. However, ATM fees can be far too high to consider withdrawing small amounts more often. To get around this, take what you need in the morning at a bank ATM (avoid ATMs in the big markets or on the street), take a DiDi to your accommodation and lock your money in a safe. Keep only what you need when you leave your room.
Even if you only carry small amounts of cash with you when you go out, consider spreading it between your purse, purse, bra, etc. That way, if you are robbed or pickpockets, the thief will not take everything you have. Some travelers recommend handing over a dummy wallet with a little money and expired cards.
9. “No, Gracias”
You might notice that many people in the city center are asking for change. Sometimes you can also see children selling goods. Even after living in Mexico for over two years, I’m still not sure what my money would support if I were to buy from those kids or give change to people on the street. Some reports suggest that contributing to this informal market is the same as contributing to child trafficking, and that’s enough for me to avoid it together.
I know this is a complex issue, and I don’t claim to have all the answers, so use your own judgment on this. I always laugh and say “no, gracias” to the children, and then they go on their way.