Oaxaca life

A Guide to Prepare for Life in Oaxaca

Painted front of a home in Jalatlaco.
Painted front of a home in Jalatlaco.

Ask a question in Oaxaca and you’ll often find that you get a similar answer: “It depends.” Be it an inquiry around the time someone will arrive at your home or the best place to buy produce, in this city, there are definitely variables at play. This is also true when preparing for a voyage to Oaxaca, as comfort levels and personal needs depend on the individual. To shine some light on a few of these areas, please see the sections below.

What to Pack
In order to avoid overage fees and lost bags, it’s best to keep things to a minimum when assembling baggage. That said, there are a few staples that should definitely make the final packing list, including good walking shoes, sunscreen (limited selection and expensive in Oaxaca), raincoat, umbrella, bug spray, reusable water bottle, Spanish – English dictionary (hard to find in the city), clothing that you can layer, books or a well-stocked e-reader (books are expensive in Oaxaca), medications and hygiene products, and of course, the very necessary addition of earplugs to muffle the continuous melody of barking dogs and fireworks. If you prefer to be plugged in, bring an unlocked smartphone with you, as you can easily buy SIM cards from a range of carriers. Cheap local phones can also be purchased, if you don’t need the additional benefits of a smartphone.

Tilt-a-whirl in El Llano Park in Centro.
Tilt-a-whirl in El Llano Park in Centro.

Cost of Living
As with any city, the living costs in Oaxaca vary from extremely economical to posh high-end. A moderate traveler can expect to spend between $500 – $700 USD per month. These costs can be reduced by sharing accommodation, cooking at home rather than eating out, along with putting in a bit of time and effort when searching for housing. For food, the local markets are a great source for fresh produce and are often cheaper and better quality than the larger supermarkets.

Street art mural in Xochimilco.
Street art mural in Xochimilco.

Finding Housing
The best deals are found in person on the streets of Oaxaca. Once favorite areas are pinpointed, those in search of housing will want to walk up and down the streets looking for signs in windows. Brief details and a phone number will usually be included on this signage, and rents are generally negotiable, especially with longer stays.

Outside of roaming the streets, the best resources for finding housing in the city are the Oaxaca Lending Library, Café Brújula and the local language schools, as they all have posting boards inside. The best ways to look for housing online are Airbnb, CompartoDepa, Couchsurfing and Oaxaca Times Classifieds.

Painted bug in Centro.
Painted bug in Centro.

The three main choices for accommodation, from economical to expensive, are hostels or homestays (living with a local family, often with shared kitchen and bathroom), shared apartment, and private apartments and houses. For a smooth transition in the way of arrival to the city, it works well to book a place in advance for roughly three weeks in order to allow for the necessary time for a housing search. For those who are coming to the city to attend a language school, they can often arrange housing for you.

Alligator mural in Centro.
Alligator mural in Centro.

Length of Time
Whether it is a stay of three weeks or three years, Oaxaca is a safe and vibrant city full of art, music, history, culture and sumptuous cuisine. Many who have planned to come for the short-term, have fallen in love and stayed much longer – an affliction that can affect almost anyone. With this in mind, when asked how long you will be visiting Oaxaca, one can default to the infamous reply: “It depends.” Who knows, those spicy chapulines may just encourage you to stay.

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