Of all the mezcal producing regions, Oaxaca is by far the most known and popular place to travel. Infrastructure is relatively well developed and it is very easy to get there as it is served by major airlines (United, Aeromexico, Volaris, Interjet). Currently, there are only two US cities that have direct flights to Oaxaca, Los Angeles and Houston, and with most other flights connecting through Mexico City.
The city of Oaxaca is quite charming with its parks, zocolo (main square) and colonial architecture. It sits in a high valley surrounded by mountains. It is a center of art, food and indigenous culture, and often leaves visitors with a sense of magic. In planning your trip you want to allow yourself at least two full days in the city to explore the historic center, museums, markets and artisan shops. And of course you want to eat.
Mezcal has been produced in Oaxaca for at least 500 years, with most of it produced in small towns or pueblos outside of the city of Oaxaca. A vast majority of mezcal comes from the town of Matatlan in the Tlacolula Municipality, a 45 minute drive from Oaxaca and an easy drive, bus ride or collectivo (shared taxi system). Working with a tour guide means you can visit other mezcal producing towns like Santa Catarina Minas, Sola de Vega, Ejutla, Miahuatlan, San Baltazar Guelavia, San Juan del Rio and San Luis del Rio as day trips. You can also work with a tour guide to plan trips that can take you into the Mixteca or Sierra Norte – these generally are overnight trips and are fairly rugged.
Weather in Oaxaca is fairly temperate due to its elevation. The hottest, and driest time of year is March/April/May. The rainy season generally runs from June-October, and smaller palenques may not be making mezcal in July and August because of weather, and because they are planting corn and beans. October-February is fairly mild with temperatures ranging from the low 50s to the mid to upper 70s. Cold fronts are known to come in during December and January and the higher elevations can be very cold at night. Note that most places are not insulated and that heat, and air conditioning, are not readily found.
Important dates for planning purposes
Semana Santa – The week prior to Easter is a huge tourism week in Mexico
Guelaguetza – Mid to end July and the biggest tourism month in Oaxaca
Dia de los Muertos – End of October, it is now close to surpassing the Guelaguetza in terms of tourism
December – Between posadas, Dia de Guadelupe (Dec 12th) Dia de Soledad (Dec 17th) Feria del Chocolate (TBD) and Noche de los Rabanos (dec 23rd), there is so much going on! Christmas in Oaxaca is growing in popularity but does not reach the levels of Semana Santa, Guelaguetza or Dia de los Muertos.
A few things to remember before you set out:
- You will be traveling in back-country, on bumpy roads and in communities that may not have a lot of resources or infrastructure (cell phone/internet coverage, restaurants, capacity to take credit cards, atms, etc.)
- It is important to be mindful of local customs, which your guide can explain, and to be respectful of people – they are craftsmen and highly skilled at what they do. The growth of the mezcal category has placed huge demands on natural resources in Mexico and is fundamentally changing the economics of communities where it is produced.
- As consumers, we need to think about the impact our drinking habits have – touring mezcal producing regions gives you greater understanding of that impact.