The historical centre of Oaxaca is compact, making it easy to navigate on foot. Drop your bags off at the hotel and walk off the jet lag by exploring the city streets. Start at the Zócalo – the city’s main square – and make your way to the humming Mercado Juárez, where the air is thick with smoke from barbecues sizzling with sausages and nopales (slices of cactus).
Take a seat at one of the many street eateries and order a tlayuda – the Oaxacan equivalent of a calzone – an oversized tortilla stuffed with cheese, beans and salsa, then folded in half and grilled. For the adventurous, a local favourite snack, chapulines (crispy fried grasshoppers) are tastier than they look, while a cold chocolate drink made with the famous Oaxacan chocolate is a treat.
After lunch, head towards the 16th-century Santo Domingo Church, one of Mexico’s most lavishly ornamented Baroque churches and easily the most attractive building in the city. Next door, the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca houses some beautiful treasures, such as a 500-year-old human skull inlaid with turquoise mosaics, and its rooms look out over the cacti of the Ethnobotanical Gardens (jardinoaxaca.org.mx), which are worth a stroll.
At dusk the square in front of the church fills with families and street food vendors selling things like elotes – chargrilled corn on the cob slathered in sour cream, cheese and chilli powder – and nieves – snow cones flavoured with papaya and tamarind juice. Have a snack and park on the steps to people watch before making your way to Restaurante los Danzantes (losdanzantes.com), one of the city’s most popular restaurants (book ahead) for its contemporary take on Oaxacan cuisine – think giant chillies stuffed with with huitlacoche (corn fungus), goat’s cheese and mashed plantain.