Oaxaca, Mexico, on a budget is easy, with clean accommodations, eating in good restaurants and seeing the sights, without risking safety, health, security.
Being a budget traveler in Oaxaca, Mexico, has different connotations for different tourists. For some it means lodging in hostels, buying food in supermarkets or the cheapest street fare, and using second class buses to visit sights in the central valleys. For other frugal travelers it’s staying in an inexpensive Oaxacan hotel with clean room and private bath, eating on the street and in budget restaurants, and recognizing that sometimes a tour company, taxi, driver or guide in the end is more economical where time is limited and one wants to experience as much of Oaxaca’s cultural diversity as possible. In any case, it’s easy to avoid illness and safety and security concerns while traveling the Mexican state of Oaxaca, on a budget.
Budget Accommodations in Oaxaca; Hotel, Hostel or Bed & Breakfast
Start with travel websites such as tomzap.com (specializing in three Mexican states, including Oaxaca) or tripadvisor.com, to get some idea of what budget accommodations in Oaxaca cost. Often budget hotels and bed and breakfasts offer their best rates to walk-ins, off the street. For most hostels it’s the same, booked in advance or on the spot. Since frugal travelers to Oaxaca tend to arrive at the ADO bus terminal at the north end of downtown, it’s often easy to find accommodations from that location, where agents and lodgings have flyers, brochures and maps ready to be picked up as travelers to southern Mexico depart the buses.
Arriving by bus in Oaxaca early in the day makes finding cheap accommodations much easier, since there is not the concern for safety and security in terms of night arrival and having to walk the streets to find lodging. While downtown Oaxaca is safe at night, including the area around the bus terminal, it’s prudent to try to do one’s initial walk-through during the day, especially if toting luggage or backpack. If arriving in Oaxaca after dark, consider having the first night’s accommodations booked in advance, even if it initially throws off the budget.
There’s a 200-peso-a-night hostel across the street from the bus terminal, although one can find hostels which cost less scattered throughout downtown Oaxaca. The lower end lodgings of the Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast Association might fit the bill for some, since association members must comply with standards for service and cleanliness. Alternatively, within a few blocks of the bus station there are budget hotels in the 350 peso range (i.e. northwest corner of Pino Suárez and Constitución).
Restaurant, Market and Street Food in Oaxaca: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner or Snack, Cheap, Safe and Within Budget
Here are commonsense rules for eating on the street, in restaurants, and in markets throughout southern Mexico, to reduce the likelihood of health issues arising. They apply to budget travelers to Oaxaca, as well as mainstream tourists.
The most popular and reliable budget lunch is comida corrida, a complete meal which includes soup, main course with sides, dessert, and agua del día, a juice made with seasonal fruit, water and usually sugar. Price and selection are usually stated out front of the restaurant, ranging from 25 to 45 pesos. They’re generally safe since many downtown working Oaxacans rely on this type of cheap meal on a daily basis. That’s all they can afford. A personal favorite for a budget comida corrida is Fonda Mexicana on 20 de Noviembre, across from the market. There are three restaurants on Crespo a couple of blocks north or Independencia. But comida corrida is offered throughout downtown Oaxaca on virtually all streets for the budget conscious, Oaxacan and tourist alike.
Some higher end restaurants such as La Olla and Los Danzantes also offer comida corrida for the frugal tourist and Oaxacan, at roughly 80 pesos, admittedly expensive for a comida corrida, but well worth it.
Street stands abound. The working and middle class Oaxacans often rely on them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, because they’re filling, tasty, cheap and reliable in terms of cleanliness, therefore instilling confidence that health / gastrointestinal issues will not arise. Hot drinks include stick-to-the-stomach corn-based beverages, hot chocolate and coffee. There are also several tamale vendors. Tamales make a good choice because they are filling.
South of the zócalo one can find roast chicken restaurants offering a whole chicken with tortillas, salsa, rice and beans, for 50 – 60 pesos, a bargain meal for two. Look along Mina, Zaragoza and other streets south of Oaxaca’s zócalo for cheap spit-roasted chicken dinners.
Similar bargain meals for the budget traveler in Oaxaca are encountered in city markets (i.e. mercado de la merced & mercado de 20 de Noviembre) and in towns boasting market days (i.e. Zaachila, Etla, Ocotlán and Tlacolula).
Visiting the Sights in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca: Options for Students, Budget Travelers
Budget sightseeing options in the central valleys of Oaxaca have downsides. But frugal travelers and students should feel safe and secure. Don’t let the Mexico naysayers create undue stress and concern in terms of safety and security while traveling the roads and highways around Oaxaca.
- Tour Buses: Start at 170 pesos per day, but often you spend more time where craft producers hope to make a sale, than visiting sights.
- Taxis: Charge as little as 120 pesos an hour, but there’s no guarantee of cabbie knowledge or capacity with English.
- Tour Guides, Drivers: More costly than taxis but better chance of seeing what you want, for how long you want. Often recommended by hostels, hotels and B & Bs.
- Second Class Buses, Colectivos: The most inexpensive way to see the central valleys of Oaxaca. Ask at for terminal locations, varying depending on the day’s activities. Downside is often being dropped off at the side of the highway and having to walk to the ruin, market or other attraction.
- Spanish Language School Excursions: Often management arranges touring days for students to visit sights along a route, reasonably priced.
If travelling to Oaxaca, or elsewhere in southern Mexico, as a student on a budget or frugal traveler, alone or otherwise, consider finding like-minded travelers to share the cost of a driver or tour guide, though still more expensive than colectivos and second class buses.