Home North America Mexico Mexico City vs Oaxaca: Which Mexican City is Better?

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: Which Mexican City is Better?

Traditional Mexican dancers
Traditional dancers in Mexico

Mexico has got to be one of our all-time top holiday destinations. You’ll find pretty much everything you’re looking for, like tropical weather, delicious food, incredible sights… we could go on at you for days! There are so many wonderful cities, towns, and coastal villages to visit, but Mexico City and Oaxaca are a couple of our favorite places to head to. 

Okay, okay, we understand that not everyone has the time to visit both of these cities. So when it comes down to it, which city should you visit in Mexico? Mexico City or Oaxaca? They both share fantastic food, culture, and have loads of fun activities, but if we look a little closer, one city might just have the upper hand.

Now we’ve teased you a little, it’s time to get into the details of which city is better. We’ll be looking at food, accommodation, things to do, and more. So keep reading to find out the final verdict!

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: Accommodation

Colorful house Oaxaca
Photo credit: profehistoria/Unsplash

We are in love with the accommodation in both Mexico City AND Oaxaca, but there’s no denying that since Oaxaca is a lot smaller, there’s less choice. There are 1,451 properties listed on Booking.com for Mexico City, whereas in Oaxaca, you’ll only find 315. This doesn’t mean the quality of places to stay is any less stellar though, oh no, Oaxaca hotels are just as nice. 

Rentals in Oaxaca tend to be more quaint, and many have a distinctly Mexican feel to them. Imagine brightly colored guest houses or cute little bed and breakfasts filled with local knick-knacks. There are also some seriously jaw-dropping properties in the city’s historic center. In Mexico City, you can find everything from luxury and boutique hotels to city-view condos and historic apartments. While there’s more choice, accommodation here is a bit more hectic and there’s no escaping that urban energy. 

Winner: Oaxaca – Who can resist an authentic, quaint, and instagrammable property? 

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: Food

Mexican street food
Photo credit: RIGOYRBK/Unsplash

Food is a big part of any vacation, so there’s no judgment from us if the quality of local food is high up on your list of non-negotiables. Thankfully this is not a problem in either Mexico City OR Oaxaca. The local food is top-notch in both cities and you’ll put on more than a few pounds by the time you leave (holiday weight doesn’t count right???).

Oaxaca has become known as Mexico’s food capital over the past few years, and the local flavors are extremely diverse thanks to the influences of Oaxaca’s 17 indigenous groups. A must-try when in the city is its delicious mole (there are seven kinds in Oaxaca). 10/10 recommend slathering it on EVERYTHING, from tamales, enchiladas, tacos, even your morning cereal (just kidding).

Mexico City also has an amazing gastronomic scene, you’ll encounter street carts, family-run restaurants, and fine dining establishments, all serving up some next-level Mexican flavors. If you’re not too keen on Mexican food all day every day, then Mexico City will definitely have more international options available.

Winner: Oaxaca – The Food Capital of Mexico wins. Every. Single. Time.  

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: Price

The Palace of Fine Arts Mexico City
Photo credit: Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernandez/Unsplash

Of course, how much you spend anywhere really depends on you, but when it comes down to the basics (rent, food, transport, and activities), is Mexico City or Oaxaca cheaper? Mexico City is definitely a more attractive option price-wise if we compare it to well-known beach destinations like Cancun, but compared to Oaxaca, it falls a little short. According to budgetyourtrip.com the average traveler in Oaxaca spends 30 USD a day, whereas in Mexico City they spend 132 USD a day. 

The main culprits for this higher price are food and accommodation. There is a larger proportion of cheaper properties in Oaxaca, and (in our opinion) these budget-friendly properties also seem like they are more attractive and better value for money. Now, when it comes to food, budgetyourtrip.com also estimates that travelers spend an average of 9.21 USD a day in Oaxaca and 18 USD a day in Mexico City. YIKES, that is actually a big difference if you’re on a budget.

Luckily, if you stick to street food in Mexico City you can bring those costs down. There are stalls pretty much everywhere but some of the best markets with food to visit are Mercado de la Merced during the day and Mercado Sullivan on the weekends. 

Winner: Oaxaca – There’s a clear winner. 

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: Shopping

Loom weaving local textiles
Photo credit: Ivechula/Pixabay

Who doesn’t love a good shopping spree, and even better if it’s somewhere exotic with open-air markets filled with handicrafts and local goods! Mexico is a gem when it comes to souvenirs and beautiful handmade items. You can even purchase local spices, cigars, and maybe even a bottle of tequila to take home for Margarita Mondays (just double-check your duty-free allowance first). There is fabulous shopping in both Mexico City and Oaxaca, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to spend your hard-earned cash in either city. 

Oaxaca is well-known for its high-quality artisan crafts which range from clothing, pottery, and artwork. There are several markets in the city as well as stores selling locally-made goods. Mexico City also has some wonderful markets to choose from, but unlike Oaxaca, these markets will showcase goods from all over the country, so you may find a wider variety of styles and things to choose from. Mexico City is also a top spot for boutique shopping, visit the Roma Norte neighborhood to see works from local designers. Since the city is an urban metropolis, you’ll also find plenty of malls and shopping centers selling more familiar and luxury items. 

Winner: Mexico City – This was a tough one, but Mexico City has more variety when it comes to shopping. 

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: Weather

Sunset Mexico
Photo credit: jb2018/Unsplash

Mexico City and Oaxaca have relatively similar weather. Their hottest month is in May when temperatures climb to 80°F in Mexico City and 85°F in Oaxaca, and they both experience their coldest temperature in January with lows of 44°F and 48°F. The rainiest months in these cities are May to October, and while it’s still possible to have a great holiday, we recommend avoiding Mexico City in July and Oaxaca in September. These are by far the wettest months and no one wants to spend their vacation stuck indoors!

For dry weather and milder temperatures, the best time to visit Mexico City is between late March and May or late October to November. Oaxaca is the most pleasant from late February to mid-May. Thankfully, both of these destinations are far enough inland and at a high enough elevation to be safe from Mexico’s hurricane season which runs between June and November. 

Winner: Draw 

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: The vibe

Traditional dancers Mexico
Photo credit: srz/Unsplash

We are all about “the vibe” of where we’re going on vacation. If you’re a laid-back person who wants to chill out, eat some good food, and catch up on your reading, then heading to a mega party destination wouldn’t be ideal. That being said, both Mexico City and Oaxaca have a somewhat chill vibe to them (although Oaxaca is more chill). Both of these cities have a rich historical background and haven’t lost their authenticity to crowds of tourists. 

The main difference between the two is that although they are both cities, Oaxaca has more of a traditional, local feel to it, due to its small size and lack of skyscrapers. Whereas Mexico City, as the country’s capital, is a hub of commercial activity, trading, and business, not that it lacks some authentic charm. However, this does make it a fantastic place for nightlife. The city has an after-hours scene for every type of traveler, from upscale bars to venues playing local music to LGBTQ+ friendly establishments. Oaxaca nightlife is less well-known, but if you are in the city on a night out, you’ll be sure to have a good time.  

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: Things to do

Oaxaca street
Photo credit: Roman Lopez/Unsplash

There is so much to see and do in both of these wonderful cities that your days will be jam-packed (if you want them to be), with loads of cool stuff. They both have a LOT of historical sites, cool museums, and markets, so bring a good pair of shoes as you might be doing a lot of exploring on foot! The must-sees of Mexico City are in and around the historic center (a UNESCO World Heritage site). This is where you’ll find the Palace of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Templo Mayor. This last site is particularly interesting as it dates back to the old Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, which Mexico City was built upon. 

A day of historic sightseeing in Oaxaca also begins in the historic center (another UNESCO World Heritage site). From there the Museum of Cultures is a great choice to learn about the history and culture of the region, followed by heading to the Templo de Santo Domingo, a stunning baroque Catholic church. If you have a sweet tooth and want to do something a little different, take yourself on a walking tour of the city’s chocolate shops so you can taste that sweet, sweet, Mexican chocolate. It could be a fun way to spend an afternoon? 

Winner: Draw – We can’t choose!

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: Day trips

Teotihuacán ruins
Photo credit: adro/Unsplash

Don’t we all just LOVE a good day trip? They are a great way to see more of the country we’re visiting without having to move around from place to place every night! Both Mexico City and Oaxaca have some amazing day trips that will leave you seriously considering booking another holiday just to see more of what Mexico has to offer. 

If you want to look at some more ancient sites, then you should go to Teotihuacán, The Aztec Pyramid of Tenayuca, and the Tula and the Tollán Ruins from Mexico City, or Monte Alban, Yagul, and the Mitla ruins, from Oaxaca. All of these sites are awe-inspiring, so unless you are a history buff with somewhere particular in mind, both cities will satisfy your ancient ruin needs!

For more natural sites, staying in Mexico City gives you a chance to visit the highlands and hike the Iztaccihuatl Volcano which has stunning views. Unfortunately, Oaxaca’s nearby gem Hierve el Agua is closed for the foreseeable future due to a local conflict. Alternatively, spend the day hiking in the Sierra Norte to enjoy the mountain scenery and view some indigenous villages.  

Winner: Mexico City – Hierve el Agua closing has tipped the scales in favor of Mexico City, and we are now dreaming of hiking the Iztaccihuatl Volcano!

Mexico City vs Oaxaca: The final verdict

We have come to our decision and we have to say that the answer to the burning question Mexico City or Oaxaca is…. Oaxaca! The food may have been the ultimate deciding factor (we said may), but to be honest, we CANNOT stop thinking about those seven moles! What’s more, the thought of wandering Oaxaca’s quaint little streets before retiring to our brightly colored guesthouse is just too tempting. 

To give Mexico City credit where it’s due, we adore the blend of old and new that can be found throughout the city, but this time, it’s traditional vibes all the way! #teamoaxaca