Is Oaxaca Safe for Solo Travel?
On my last trip to Mexico, I had no intention of visiting the Oaxaca region: my heart was set on visiting Mexico City & San Miguel de Allende. But, as so often happens, after talking to locals ~ I changed my mind. Oaxaca seemed to be the one place that kept coming up again & again, & it was the one place that Mexicans themselves wanted to visit….because of the food, the rich culture, historic Monte Alban, & also because of its safety. Similar to the Yucatan, Oaxaca is one of the safest regions in Mexico to visit, with even the incidence of petty crime being very low. We’ll talk specifics in this article, as I ponder the question: “Is Oaxaca Safe for Solo Travel?”
Where IS Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is a state AND a city, which can be a bit confusing at first. Oaxaca City is the largest city here, & if you’re flying in, this is where you’ll fly into. Oaxaca State is south of Mexico City, & north of the state of Chiapas, with a long coastline & some of the greatest surf breaks in Mexico. The region is known for its food (holy MOLE!), its rich textiles, mezcal, Hierve el Agua, the ruins of Monte Alban, & their famous celebrations for Dia de los Muertos.
How to Get to Oaxaca
Oaxaca has a major, international airport (OAX) that lies just 15 minutes outside of Oaxaca City. It offers flights all over Mexico (I flew in from Guadalajara), & flights to international destinations such as Los Angeles & Houston. If you’re traveling within Mexico, Oaxaca can be reached by bus or rental car ~ but keep in mind, this is a large region, & it can take longer to reach destinations than it appears on a map.
Hierve el Agua
Safety in Oaxaca vs. Other Parts of Mexico
For Mexico’s current status & any travel warnings, check the State Department website here. As of April 2019, there are five Mexican states where tourists are NOT encouraged to travel, due to violent, drug-related crime. These are: 1) Colima, 2) Guerrero, 3) Michoacan, 4) Sinaloa, & 5) Tamaulipas. As you can see on the map below, most of these states sit along the water, which is clearly important from a trafficking standpoint. Oaxaca though, has the lowest advisory warning within Mexico, along with the Yucatan & Quintana Roo.
Some caution is given to driving on highways in Oaxaca, particularly on its southern border with Chiapas. But the main places you’ll want to visit here have no travel warnings. Here’s an exact statement from the State Department, regarding travel in Oaxaca:
There are no restrictions on travel for U.S. [citizens] to other parts of Oaxaca state, which include tourist areas in: Oaxaca City, Monte Alban, Puerto Escondido, & Huatulco.
– U.S. State Department, April 2019
Safety Tips & Info on Oaxaca
- How Do I Get From the Airport to Oaxaca City? While Ubers were plentiful (& SO cheap!!!) in Mexico City, Uber isn’t available yet in Oaxaca. So when you arrive at the airport (OAX), you’ll need to get to town the old-fashioned way: either via taxi or group shuttle. I opted for the group shuttle, which cost less than $10, & dropped me & a handful of other travelers off directly at our hotels. The ride is about 15 minutes from OAX to Oaxaca City.
- Can You Walk at Night in Oaxaca? Yes, you can ~ but if you’d feel more comfortable, go with a group. Oaxaca is a lively place, & it particularly comes alive at night, with its many mezcal bars & quaint restaurants. The areas around the city’s two main cathedrals: 1) Templo de Santo Domingo, & 2) Oaxaca Cathedral, are typically packed with people at all hours, so if you’re worried about safety ~ stick to these areas at night (& pick a hotel that’s close to both).
- What’s the Best Way to Get to Monte Alban? The Monte Alban ruins are located about 25 minutes outside of Oaxaca City, on a nearby hilltop. I had my hotel arrange a private taxi to get there, & then to pick me up three hours after that. If you don’t arrange round-trip transport, you’ll need to grab a random cab at the site ~ which didn’t feel as safe to me. You can also arrange to visit Monte Alban with a larger group tour.
- Best Tips for Staying Safe in Oaxaca Region: Take a tour to either Monte Alban or Hierve el Agua within your first few days in town; this way, if you’re traveling solo, you’ll meet cool people to go out to dinner with, etc. Wear an anti-theft, cross-body purse when walking in town, to give you an added feeling of protection. Don’t wear valuables ~ in fact, don’t bring them to Mexico, period. Feel free to wander around Oaxaca City (which is large!), but if you start getting on streets without many people ~ head back to where the crowds are. Find a local coffee shop that you love, & make it your morning spot. Talk to your hotel about any places to avoid, & have them help you arrange transport and/or tours.
- Best Places to Stay in Oaxaca City: As far as safety is concerned, the hotels in Oaxaca City excel: nearly all hotels here are built in a courtyard shape, & the nicer ones have guards stationed at their main entrance. At night, the entrances are locked, which made me feel entirely safe & secure in both places I stayed: 1) Hotel Casa Ortiz ($62+/night), an elegant boutique hotel located across from Templo de Santo Domingo, & 2) NaNa Vida Hotel ($82+/night), just a few blocks from Casa Ortiz. I would highly recommend both of these hotels for other solo travelers.
Photos of Oaxaca Region
The main reasons you’ll be visiting Oaxaca as a tourist are to visit places like the crazy petrified waterfall Hierve el Agua, or the historic ruins of Monte Alban. If you’re into surfing, you may head down to legendary breaks near Puerto Escondido. Or, you may simply want to soak up the cultural richness that is Oaxaca City…..& enjoy its amazing traditional Mexican food. There’s plenty to do right in & around the city; so if you’re worried about the safety & transport, you could easily spend a week here & not run out of activities ~ or great restaurants to try.
Below is a photo journal of some of the most popular places in & around the Oaxaca region.
Is Oaxaca Safe for Solo Travel?
Read Next: Ultimate Guide to Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca!
My mom and I are looking for a great, more authentic place to visit in Mexico – and it seems like Oaxaca really fits the bill! We’re also looking to purchase many handmade gifts for Christmas etc. Two questions: are there a lot of shopping opportunities in Oaxaca (and where are they concentrated), and do you think my mom (who’s 62) will also feel safe in Oaxaca? It seems like you’re pretty well-traveled, so how do you think a less-traveled, older person would feel in Oaxaca? Thanks so much – we love your blog! It’s much more thorough than others we’ve read.
Hi Emily! Thanks so much for reaching out ~ I think Oaxaca would be an absolutely WONderful place for a mother-daughter trip! And to answer your questions, YES: there’s a TON of shopping opportunities in Oaxaca. You’ll be able to find all kinds of colorful, handmade goods: from wallets to purse, to blankets & shawls, mezcal & tequila…sooo much stuff! Many vendors line the streets around Templo de Santo Domingo all the way down to the Oaxaca Cathedral ~ & then you can simply fan out from there. As for how a 62-year old will feel in Oaxaca: I can’t say 100% how she’ll feel, of course ~ but there are many English-speaking tourists there of ALL ages, & so I don’t think she’ll feel “alone” or as if she’s the only person in her age bracket! Oaxaca is a mecca for those searching for more authentic Mexico. I think you guys will really enjoy! xoxo Noelia
Hi there! I’m so glad I found this page via google! I’ve been looking for solo travel stories about Oaxaca. Places to visit, etc. I was so afraid to travel alone there but now I’m so inspired. Just booked my flight and will be staying at Casa Vertiz, the one you recommended above. Thank you!
Your comment makes my day, Norma! I totally relate to Google’ing & researching places prior to travel ~ especially solo travel. Before I went to South America the first time, people were SCARing the crap out of me!! But a few good blogs from people who’d ACtually been there really put my mind at ease. I think you’ll love Oaxaca, & know that you’ll feel very safe at Casa Vertiz! Please let me know how your trip goes! xoxo Noelia
I plan to go to Oaxaca to photograph the Day of the Dead in Nov. 2020. I’m an older solo traveler and would like to hook up with other photographer while there. Any suggestions? I have booked an Airbnb close to the square.
Hi Bob, sounds like that will be an amazing trip! I imagine if you simply walk the streets during that time, you will meet/run into many other amateur & pro photographers! Another idea would be to look at MeetUp.com ~ see if there are meet-ups in Oaxaca specifically for photographers. Or you can also join a tour while you’re there, & ask your guide if they know of any local photographers: tour guides tend to have many, many connections ~ no matter where you are. Best of luck! xoxo Noelia
I have signed up for a couple of tours; hoping for the same results.