The drive between Puebla City and Oaxaca City is an easy one, just over 4 hours on the autopista (Mexican toll roads 150D and 135D). And most people who have traveled along this route will tell you it’s a beautiful drive. But by taking this route, you’ve just bypassed some really amazing stuff.
Here is an alternative route, for those of you who want to take the time to discover seldom-visited places for yourself. Places in bold include links to more information.
Go ahead and take the autopista until you get to the small city of Tehuacan, Puebla. Tehuacan has a pretty square and there is an archeological site and a couple of museums including the interesting Museo de Agua where you can learn a lot about life in arid regions. If you decide you want to stay and explore these there are hotels in every price range, and for me Tehuacan is also a good place to splurge on a hotel with a nice pool as it always seems to be swimming weather there.
You want to take HWY 125 out of Tehuacan, if you are getting off the autopista, about 10 minutes after the toll booth, you’ll see the exit uphill with signs indicating Huajuapan de Leon. The first town you come to, San Antonio Tlexcala is home to Onyx and Marble quarries. Here they make many of the stone crafts you can find for sale all over Mexico–including the iconic onyx and obsidian chess sets. If you are looking to buy such a thing the prices in town are much much cheaper than you find elsewhere around the country. While many of the things on offer are heavy and fragile, there are also lovely small pieces such as jewelry, and most of the shops have restrooms you can use if you stop to look around.
Your first big stop should be Zapotitlan Salinas, Puebla. If you are camping your way through Mexico you will want to pre-book one of the few camping spaces in the Jardin Botanico Helia Bravo Hollis if they are booked up there are some other cabins and several clean hotels in the town. Even if you don’t stay at the Jardin Botanico you definitely want to stop there and you want to take one of their tours with their extremely well-trained guides, there’s a little dining area and some stands selling local products as well–herbal cosmetics, liquors, crafts, and the locally mined mineral salt. See my article about the salt. If you haven’t brought a sun hat with you, stop by the vendors first to pick one up as the amazing variety of cacti in the garden doesn’t provide a ton of shade. There are some other places to visit in Zapotitlan if you are really taking your time, such as the Paleoparque where you can see fossils and the Salinas where you can learn how the local salt has been mined for centuries. Zapotitlan itself deserves a full-length article, but this blog is supposed to be about Oaxaca. On your way out of town stop for a meal at Itandehui to try local cactus fruits and a variety of dishes made with prehispanic ingredients.
If you really enjoyed what you saw in Zapotitlan, Take a turn off 14km out of town to San Juan Raya. San Juan Raya also offers hikes through interesting desert landscapes, fossils, dinosaur footprints, and cactus fruits, locally made skin, body, and hair care products, cabins, great food, but also adds in a few adventure sports to entice visitors to drive 30 minutes off the main highway. These two destinations together would be a great couple of days for families with kids into dinosaurs or any outdoor enthusiasts.
Back on HWY 125 towards Huajuapan, you will pass through Chazumba, which also has a small community museum, but the highlight for me is the wonderful nieves, look for sellers with pushcarts that have bicycle wheels either at the gas station or further along the highway there the local vans, taxis, and buses stop.
For those with an interest in Mexico’s original cultures, you can take a slight detour at San Pedro and San Pablo Tesquistepec and their wonderful community museum. The archeological sight is at the top of Cerro de Caja, which is a significant hike.
If it’s late stay the night in Huajuapan, if there’s time pick up HWY 190 and go an additional 45 minutes on to Tamazulapan de Progreso and stay at either of the two pools–Atonalzin with natural sulfur spring water, and Piedra de Agua, both have cabins. Spend a day enjoying the pools.
After Tamazulapan there are three options depending on how far off the beaten path you want to go.
Option A is to continue on HWY 190 37 km to Santo DomingoYanhuitlan where you will find one of the three great Dominican Convents of the Mixteca, these all date to the early 1600s. The Exconvento houses a museum which is open from 9-5 seven days a week. After Yanhuitlan it’s just a bit further along 190 to where you rejoin the 135D toll road and an hour on to Oaxaca City.
Option B is to take the hour-long drive north to the insanely picturesque town of San Miguel Tequixtepec almost the entire town is constructed of white stone, it has a community museum and is home to an amazing 450-year-old stone bridge. For more on that see this post. It won’t take long to see the town and the bridge so you can combine this with a stop in San Juan Bautisita Coixtlahuaca, home to the second of the three great Dominican Convents of the Mixteca. with their famous capillas abiertas. The museum here is smaller, but the retablo of the church is what most people come to see. You can hop back on the toll road for about an hour and a half drive to Oaxaca City here, or head over to San Cristobal Suchixtlahuaca and then on Villa de Tejupan de la Union, and pick up the route in Option A.
Option C is the biggest detour on the way to Oaxaca. After leaving Tamazulapan de Progreso, you come to the place where the 125 and 190 highways split off from each other 125 goes south to Tlaxiaco. You could go all the way there or just as far as one of my favorite places, San Pedro and San Pablo Teposcolula. This is the home of the third and in my opinion nicest of the three great Dominican Convents of the Mixteca. In addition to the church with its capilla abierta, the ex-convent houses a museum that is open from 10-3 seven days a week, the Casa de la Cacica is well worth a visit. It’s a colonial-era construction that combines prehispanic style and colonial building techniques. It also now houses a library and cultural center. If you choose to continue south to Tlaxiaco, you can also stop in San Martin Huamelúlpan which offers a unique archeological site to visit. The drawback of option C is you must backtrack to 190 to continue on your way to Oaxaca City, so this is more like a side trip. Once back at HWY 190, you could also pick up options B and A for the full Mixtec experience. Learn more about the Dominicans in the Mixteca during the colonial era in my post The Dominican Route.