The first several weeks in any new destination are a bit of a blur as each day consumes our time with settling-in chores, urgent errands, shopping for food and necessities, wandering about, orienting, and figuring out day-to-day life. Here are my suggestions to ease the transition and to help you begin your life in the Ciudad de Oaxaca.
Connect With Expat Communities
Oaxaca has an active and vibrant, full- and part-time expat population which can provide valuable insight and information. To access expat communities:
1. Join the Expats Oaxaca Facebook page where you can ask questions and gain valuable insights from other expats who live in and around Oaxaca.
2. Check out the English-speaking Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL) online before your arrival, or on-site after you arrive. The OLL offers a weekly Introduction to Oaxaca program, Yoga classes, Intercambios to practice your Spanish, Bridge groups, rental housing information, lectures, and day and weekend tours.
Check out their sample calendar. Hoofing in Oaxaca provides weekly hikes to surrounding areas, an excellent way to explore the natural beauty of the area while meeting new people. They even offer transportation.
**Please note that the OLL is open only limited hours during the pandemic and has suspended all activities until further notice.
3. Take a Spanish class at one of many Spanish schools. I found the small group classes at Spanish Magic to be excellent. They teach them at a festive and colorful venue. The centrally located school allows for flexible scheduling, and they group students according to proficiency levels; plus, you’ll meet many full and part-time expats.
4. Join a Yoga or Tai Chi class, take cooking, art, or writing classes; join a music or meditation group or a Bridge or Chess club. Whatever you are interested in, you’ll likely find it in Oaxaca.
What’s Happening (Que Pasa?) in Oaxaca
A lot is happening in Oaxaca. Some of the most common sources for current events, weekly activities, and festivals include:
**Please note that many activities may be suspended because of the pandemic.
Looking for Accommodation in Oaxaca?
Whether you want to lock-in your accommodation before you arrive or rent something short-term while you check out the many barrios and housing options after your arrival, begin your search here:
1. Oaxaca Housing Rent/Buy/Sell/Trade Facebook page
5. Oaxaca Expats Facebook page—frequent listings here
6. Lending Library (OLL)—offers a notebook of current rentals
There also are rental agents to assist you. Ask for recommendations on the Oaxaca Expats Facebook page for a credible agent.
Locate Banks and ATMs
There are many banks and ATMs throughout Oaxaca, including Bancomer, Caja Popular, Banorte, Santander, and Scotiabank. The most cost-effective way to access cash from a home-based bank is with a debit card, however, you will be charged a fee per withdrawal (anywhere from MXP 1700 – 5000). Check the various bank ATM options as fees vary. I recommend the Schwab Investor checking account/card. Schwab reimburses for all international withdrawal fees, and there are no transaction fees. Oaxaca is a cash economy. You can often negotiate a better price for accommodation and services when staying long term if you pay in cash.
What About Transportation?
Oaxaca is a walkable city. You don’t need a car to visit or live here. Local buses are prevalent, cabs are everywhere and reasonably priced, collectivos (large passenger vans) will transport passengers to surrounding pueblos, even through the mountains to the coast. Long-distance bus travel is easily accessible. You can always pick up a free city map at the tourist kiosk across from the Santo Domingo church.
Locate the Parks (Parques)
Central Oaxaca and the various barrios offer many parks to sit and relax, to read, enjoy street food, meet new people, exercise, or people watch. The following are a few of the local parks to explore and enjoy:
1. Zocolo, or town square, is one of the most popular and busiest places in Oaxaca. Lined with restaurants, vendors, and musicians, it’s a great place to people watch.
2. Alameda de Leon is one of the oldest parks in the city. This plaza is located across from the Cathedral and just northwest of the Zocolo. Small food vendors in the park offer tasty street foods and beverages.
3. Cerro Fortin overlooks the city and has several kilometers of walking trails. Take the Escalera for a good bout of exercise to reach the auditorium and follow the road upward to access the trails.
4. Labastida Park is a small oasis along the main walkway from Santa Domingo to the Zocolo. You’ll find artists displaying their crafts and local musicians playing here.
5. Conzatti Park (formerly a private garden) is my favorite. This small and intimate green spot offers a beautiful and peaceful space on the north side of the city.
6. El Llano Park is one of the oldest parks in the city. It was dedicated to Oaxaca-born President Benito Juarez. A lovely place to stroll or enjoy a park bench to read or meet friends. It is a hub for exercisers in the morning where you will find Zumba, Tai Chi, HITT classes, and runners and walkers.
Most areas of Oaxaca are safe to wander about solo or with friends during the day, and many are quite safe after dark. You can easily catch a cab if you are uncomfortable being out at night. Always take precautions, however, the bad sidewalks, cobbled roads, and topes (speed bumps) seem to present the most danger. So watch your step!
In my next blog, I’ll share the best mercados and places to shop for all your needs in Oaxaca.
by: Gwen Hyatt