A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Oaxaca, Mexico
Colorful streets, traditional food, and countless churches make up the beautiful city of Oaxaca. Although Oaxaca is the capital of the state of Oaxaca, the city oozes small-town charm. In this guide, we’ll show you the best things to do in Oaxaca as a wheelchair user.
Psst…make sure to also check out our post on 5 Wheelchair Accessible Day Trips from Oaxaca.
Navigating the streets of Oaxaca with a wheelchair
Downtown Oaxaca is small, so the best way to get around is without a car. This is easier said than done for wheelchair users, but it’s still (mostly) manageable. Let’s take a closer look at the terrain of Oaxaca.
It’s easy to mistake Oaxaca for a European city. Unfortunately for wheelchair users, much of this has to do with there being a lot of cobblestone.
Nearly every street in Oaxaca’s historical center is cobblestone. The cobblestone is typically in the form of large, rectangular slabs. It’s not the worst we’ve come across, but it’s far from smooth.
The good news is that many roads in downtown Oaxaca are lined on either side with sidewalks. Most sidewalks have a (mostly) smooth surface.
While under normal circumstances the sidewalks are wide enough to comfortably fit a wheelchair and passersby, obstacles can impede your route such as vendors, business signs, etc.
Most of the sidewalks are elevated, so if you come across a sidewalk block, you’ll most likely need to backtrack to the nearest intersection.
Drop-down curbs are common in Oaxaca. The issue, however, is that they don’t always drop down all the way.
The drop-down curbs we came across ranged from flush to the ground to a two-inch, or so, ledge.
The most touristy areas of downtown Oaxaca are made up of two flat areas, connected by streets that are on a gentle, but steady incline.
The Zócalo (main plaza) and Santo Domingo Plaza are the flat areas.
From there, a variety of streets, including the famous pedestrian street Alcalá Street, run uphill from the Zócalo to Santo Domingo Plaza. It’ll take you about 10 minutes to roll between the two.
If you find yourself exploring areas outside of the historical center, you’ll come across some much larger hills. The hills surrounding Oaxaca are part of what give the city charm, but they are best explored by car.
Parking in Oaxaca
Despite some less than ideal scenarios you’ll encounter in the streets of Oaxaca, we encourage you to roll around the city. Nonetheless, moments will come when you’ll surely need to park your car.
The availability of wheelchair accessible parking spaces is one area that “wowed” us during our time in Oaxaca. Even when the city was packed full for Day of the Dead, there always seemed to be open accessible parking spaces.
As wonderful as it is that there are so many wheelchair accessible parking spaces in Oaxaca, they aren’t all perfect.
The spaces tend to be narrow and oftentimes the design requires wheelchair users to get out in the road and wheel to the nearest drop-down curb.
Wheelchair Accessible Things to Do in Oaxaca
Now that you’ve got a grasp on what it’s like getting around Oaxaca with a wheelchair, let’s get to the good stuff- what to do while you’re there!
Below are our recommendations for can’t miss wheelchair accessible things to do in Oaxaca.
1. Santo Domingo
Normally, the main square of any given city makes the top of our “things to do” list.
Not in Oaxaca.
The Santo Domingo square is quite possibly the most stunning part of the historical center. Located up the hill from the Zócalo, the plaza is the cultural pulse of the city.
On any given afternoon or evening it’s common to see dance performances, religious ceremonies, and any number of other free, outdoor public displays.
You’ll also come across lots of street food, souvenir vendors, cafes and shops.
While you’re there, make sure to enter the Santo Domingo Church. With a ramp at its front entrance, this is one of only a few churches in Oaxaca that’s accessible.
Santo Domingo may have stolen the space in our hearts for plazas in Oaxaca, but it wouldn’t be right to go on without talking about the Zócalo.
The Zócalo, which is a Mexican term for a city’s main square, is a place bordered by restaurants and filled with trees. In fact, at first glance, you may mistake the Zócalo as a park rather than a plaza- especially if you’ve already seen Mexico City’s Zócalo.
Like any good plaza, you’ll find street vendors of all kinds. You also may come across some musical performances, although most are in the form of people doing so for money, unlike in Santo Domingo Plaza, where oftentimes performances are put on by the city.
A downside to the Zócalo is that the cathedral isn’t accessible. However, make sure to stroll around it because the cathedral is one of Oaxaca’s iconic architectural buildings.
Oaxaca’s Zócalo is flat with brick and is wheelchair accessible by means of drop-down curbs at intersections.
Travel Tip: Pick up a Choco Mío from Mayordomo, a local chain chocolate shop on a corner of the Zócalo. This milkshake-like drink is amazingly refreshing on a warm day.
3. Alcalá Street
Alcalá Street is a long, pedestrian street in downtown Oaxaca. This is where you can admire some of Oaxaca’s most colorful buildings, colonial architecture, and mountain views.
As you can see in the photo above, Alcalá Street is cobblestone, but relatively manageable. There are also two strips of flat brick that run down the center of the street, so you can put one pair of your wheels there to make for a slightly smoother ride.
The same kind of flat brick also runs along the two sidewalks that border the cobblestone. The only downside is that it’s fairly common to come across street vendors taking up portions of the sidewalk.
Note that a number of thru streets connect with Alcalá Street. Therefore, make sure to watch out for cars when you approach an intersection.
4. Palacio de Gobierno
At first glance, the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) will seem off-limits.
But don’t let the gate and police standing guard fool you. As long as you don’t appear to be a protester, ask to enter and they’ll open the gate for you, free of charge.
There are two ledges you’ll need to go over to get inside the palace. Each is about 4 inches high. Once inside, the first floor is accessible, although there’s an occasional inch or so ledge, seemingly designed for aesthetic purposes.
The building itself is impressive, but the biggest draw to visiting the Government Palace is to observe two murals.
The murals are painted on the wall, extending up two staircases. You’ll get to see a surprising amount from the first floor by rolling up to the base of the stairs.
The Government Palace also houses an artsy Tlayuda, which they claim is the largest organic sculpture in the world.
5. Jardín Etnobotánico
If you’re looking to get a cactus fix, the Jardín Etnobotánico is for you. The Jardín Etnobotánico, which means ethnobotanical garden in English, is a wonderful wheelchair accessible activity to do in Oaxaca.
The garden sits beside the Santo Domingo Church and is surrounded by a high, stone wall. The only way to visit the Jardín Etnobotánico is by means of a guided tour.
Since the garden is home to a number of endangered plant species, they found that people were stealing the plants.
The Jardín Etnobotánico is mostly accessible thanks to a ramp at the entry and sidewalks throughout the property. The sidewalks are a combination of cement, stone, and dirt.
However, the sidewalks aren’t entirely ideal for wheelchair users. Many parts have an inch or so high metal rod dividing the path. Also, there’s one part towards the end of the tour where going up and down a flight of stairs is involved.
In this case, they can either have staff carry you up the steps or show you an alternative path so that you can avoid the steps altogether.
Below are examples of the paths.
You can view the prices and hours of guided group tours on Jardín Etnobotánico’s website.
6. Benito Júarez & 20 de Noviembre Markets
Mexico has some incredible markets and Oaxaca is no exception. The Benito Júarez and 20 de Noviembre Markets are technically two separate markets, although they merge into each other, making them hard to distinguish.
Located just a block from the Zócalo, you’ll first come across the Benito Júarez Market. This market sells everything you could possibly want, except food. You’ll find items such as clothes, toys, Day of the Dead decorations, etc.
Once you’re ready for some food, simply continue down the market and you’ll soon walk into the 20 de Noviembre Market where you can buy fruit, bread, meat, and any prepared Mexican dish your heart desires.
The width of the aisles is comfortable for wheelchair users when crowds are light. Since crowds pick up as the day goes on, we recommend going to the markets in the morning.
While in theory, it should be easy to roll the one block from the Zócalo to the markets, sidewalks are oftentimes packed with vendors. It will be tight and slow going, but doable.
7. Jardín Socrates
Yes, we’re talking about another garden here. But this time, it’s in the form of a plaza.
Jardín Socrates is a bit off the beaten tourist path, located about a 15 – 20 minute stroll from the Zócalo on Independencia Avenue. It’s a great option for people watching and getting a feel for where locals hang out.
Jardín Socrates is on a bit of a steep incline, so manual wheelchairs may need assistance returning to the main street. However, they’ve cut ramps into the stairs, making the area entirely accessible.
Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Basilica borders the Jardín Socrates and gives extra charm to the area. There’s a ramp at the basilica, so make sure to take a peek inside.
While you’re in the area, make sure to try some nieves oaxaqueñas. You’ll find lots of vendors selling this Oaxacan ice cream.
8. Templo del Carmen Alto
The Templo del Carmen Alto was formerly a convent. Close to Santo Domingo Plaza, but set back enough so many tourists don’t stumble upon it, it’s a great place to make a stop during your Oaxaca explorations.
The accessible entrance to Templo del Carmen Alto is from García Vigil Street. The convent is gated, so make sure to visit during the day for a better chance of getting inside.
Once you’re in the outdoor plaza of the temple, head around to the right of the building and a ramp will lead you inside.
The area is small, so 5 – 10 minutes will be plenty to see it. However, after your visit, make sure to head down García Vigil Street since this street offers some great sightseeing opportunities, as it’s full of colorful buildings.
If you’re a Mexican from any place other than Oaxaca, cover your ears…we found Oaxaca to have the very best food in all of Mexico.
It’s not just the restaurants, which have a quaint, colonial-style feel to them. But it’s the type of food.
Mole, tylayuda, atole, chapulines (grasshoppers), and chocolate are among some of the many native flavors and dishes of Oaxaca.
Like many stores in Oaxaca, it’s common for there to be a single step to get into restaurants. The step can vary from a couple to six or more inches.
That being said, it’s a safe bet that you’ll have a variety of wheelchair accessible restaurant options to choose from at the Zocalo in Oaxaca. A number of drop-down curbs line the block surrounding the plaza, making even the most innermost restaurants mostly accessible.
One of our favorite restaurants by the Zócalo is Café Bar Del Jardín. Not only do they serve a variety of local food, but they have accessible restrooms.
Since you’re bound to find yourself exploring Alcalá Street, a nice accessible restaurant option there is Mayordomo. This is a local Oaxaca chain restaurant known for its chocolate. However, they offer some incredible savory dishes, too. Make sure to try a dish with Oaxaca’s traditional mole sauce (not to be confused with the animal “mole” in English- mole sauce is vegetarian).
Buen provecho! (Bon appetite!)
10. Plaza de la Cruz de Piedra
This gem of a plaza is located near Santo Domingo Plaza. With brightly painted buildings and far fewer crowds than around Santo Domingo, the Plaza de la Cruz de Piedra is a great area to sightsee.
The plaza is located on a gentle incline with ramps throughout. There are some small stores and cafes around. Our favorite was a store dedicated to selling different types of cereal from around the world.
If you head to the top of the plaza, you’ll come to a street with an old aqueduct. The street is cobblestone and without sidewalks. However, it’s a residential side street so there’s only the occasional car that passes.
The aqueduct is well worth the visit. If you feel up for rolling down the cobblestone road, you’ll get to enjoy beautiful mountain scenery, colorful walls, and street art.
11. Day of the Dead
If you’ll be in Mexico from October 31st – November 2nd, try to plan your travel dates so that you’ll be in Oaxaca.
While the Day of the Dead is celebrated in many places throughout Mexico, one of the most famous areas to witness the three-day festival is in Oaxaca.
We loved spending the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca so much that we wrote a post on the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca: Your Questions Answered. The post includes a section on tips for enjoying the Day of the Dead festivities in Oaxaca with a wheelchair.
There’s no doubt about it, it’s easy to fall for Oaxaca. With so much that can be explored in the historical center, plus options for day trips, you can easily spend four or more days in the area. Speaking of day trips, make sure to head over to our post on 5 Accessible Day Trips from Oaxaca, Mexico for suggestions.
Do you have lingering questions about wheelchair accessibility in Oaxaca after reading this post? Have you already traveled to Oaxaca as a wheelchair user? Send us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!
Also, don’t forget to check out our post on 5 Wheelchair Accessible Day trips from Oaxaca for great ideas on other things to do in the area.
P.P.S.- Traveling to Mexico City? Don’t miss our post on 16 Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in Mexico City.
Laura’s love for traveling started with a trip to Jamaica. Since then, she’s spent over five years living in Latin America and four years wandering the globe. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.