Pretty much all of the “what-to-do while visiting Oaxaca” lists you’ll find online will include this activity, and after visiting the Cultural Museum of Oaxaca, I’m looking forward to sharing with you the reasons I wholeheartedly agree with all those lists.
How to Get to the Cultural Museum of Oaxaca
The museum is open Tuesday – Friday 10 AM – 3 PM and is located to the left of the main entrance of the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and as of December 2022, masks are still required for entry. The entry fee is a very reasonable $85 MXN or $4.40 USD.
From the city center, head north up the walking street, Calle Macedonio Alcalá, and you’ll definitely know when you get there, it’d be hard to miss. The outside of the church is stunning, with its New Spanish Baroque architecture – I highly recommend walking the entire outside perimeter. It’s four square blocks and while part of the walk you’ll just see a stone wall, it’s worth seeing all angles of the building, and photo opportunities abound.
The church portion of the building is open to the public from 7 AM – 1 PM and 4 – 7:30 PM, except for on Sunday. Masks are required, and make sure to be quiet and respectful, as there are people there for religious reasons. We didn’t linger for long, as ornate religious art isn’t really our cup of tea.
Inside the Museum
While a lot of the informational signs for the exhibits are in Spanish only, there are a few in English, at least enough to understand what you’re looking at. Most of the displays focus on pre-Hispanic indigenous treasures, found in 1932 by Alfonso Caso in Tomb 7 at Monte Albán in one of the richest archaeological finds ever.
Now this might sound strange, but my favorite part of visiting the Cultural Museum of Oaxaca was actually the large open courtyard right past the entrance, and the numerous views from the many open windows at each end of the long arched hallways. Some of the views were so clear and vivid, thanks to a constant cerulean sky, they almost didn’t seem real.
There was also a special exhibit before exiting (not sure how long it will be on display) featuring the Xolo, or Mexican Hairless Dog, entitled Xolos, Compañeros de Viaje (travel companions). As chihuahua owners, we were pretty excited about this as it was an unexpected surprise to see such a fun, colorful exhibit in an archaeology-focused museum. I mean, who doesn’t love small loyal puppers?
Visiting the Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca
As you might have noticed in the above pictures, there is a beautiful garden that can be seen from the windows of the Cultural Museum. That is the Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca, and you definitely don’t want to miss it, especially if you’re already visiting the museum.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, ethnobotany is the study of how people of a particular culture and region make use of indigenous plants. The focus on the interaction between plants and people really caught our attention, as did the aforementioned view of the gardens from the windows of the museum.
Tips for Getting a Ticket (Guided Tours Only)
It took us more than one try to gain entry to these beautiful gardens showcasing some of Oaxaca’s incredible biodiversity – it is the most biodiverse state in Mexico. As of December 2022, the only way to see these gardens is with a guided tour. English speaking tours only run three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 11 AM and run for 1.5-2 hours. Entry is a very reasonable $100 MXN or $5 USD which is a donation to help them continue their efforts.
They mentioned during the tour they are hoping to receive more funding to eventually make it a more public space, but with their current limited staff, guided tours are best for the preservation of the plants. Spanish speaking tours run more frequently at half the cost. Given the wealth of information you receive throughout the tour, I would advise taking the tour in your spoken language.
The tricky thing is each tour can only accept 25 people, so only 75 spots each week for an English-speaking tour. On our first attempt (a Thursday), we arrived 20 minutes before the start of the tour and were told it was already full. I asked how early you are allowed to arrive (as they don’t sell tickets in advance) and was told that people usually start arriving 1 hour before the start. On our second try, we arrived a little over an hour early, and of course, this time, people didn’t really start filling in until about 30 min before the tour. If you only have one possible day to go, I would definitely show up pretty early as they have a waiting area inside.
Inside the Garden
There’s plenty of cacti, maize, vanilla, guaje, and agave, to name a few of the species you’ll see. You’ll walk on a designated pathway through five or six main regions of the garden, stopping at each to discuss the importance of the plants in relation to human development.
They have a really interesting greenhouse for the plants that need more humidity, and the garden is designed on an 7m incline, with the plants needing more water at the lower end so that rainwater naturally runs down to them. They also collect rainwater from the roof of the church which flows down into an underground cistern.
I don’t want to give too much away, but there were so many fun facts to learn, like that the color of Campari actually comes from cochineal bugs that are removed from the prickly pear cactus. The same dye actually helped finance the building of the church, and was at one time, comparable to silver in value.
Whether you value beautiful outdoor views, the wealth of historical and cultural knowledge, or stunning architecture, visiting the Cultural Museum of Oaxaca and Ethnobotanical Garden is well worth your time and money. For a little under $20 USD for a couple to visit both of these places, and roughly 4 hours of time, this is THE starting point for your visit to Oaxaca.
2 thoughts on “Visiting the Cultural Museum of Oaxaca and Ethnobotanical Garden”
[…] The most interesting thing is that the city was gradually abandoned, and no one really knows why. It was still viewed as a sacred place by the Mixtec people who later arrived in the valley, and they actually buried high status individuals in a Zapotec tomb with a significant offering. These numerous treasures, found in Tomb 7, are displayed in the Cultural Museum mentioned in an earlier post. […]
[…] definitely want to take advantage of the museums of Mexico City, the Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca, and a street food tour on your trip…so make sure to leave room in your budget for […]