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Paula Cunningham, St. Louis - USA
My husband, 9 & 14-yr old sons and I visited Oaxaca for two weeks in June. This was our fourteenth trip to Mexico and our second trip to Oaxaca, but the first with the kids. I hope to include practical tips here that will help other families traveling to Oaxaca with kids.
We left St. Louis at 7:00 and arrived in Mexico City at 1:15. At the airport we had trouble cashing traveler's checks, so changed some dollars into pesos at a rate of 8.9, the best rate of our entire trip. We didn't want to wait until 4:00 for the UNO bus to Oaxaca, so we spent the first night in Puebla, which made a nice (and needed) break in our journey. We took a bus from the airport directly to Puebla, which was very simple, saved us the taxi fare to the bus station, and eliminated some confusion.
I would be glad to answer any other questions you may have.
- BUS FROM MEXICO CITY AIRPORT TO PUEBLA
As we exited customs in the airport, we turned left, walked past the exit where we normally would get a taxi to gate (Sala) D, and caught the Estrella Roja bus to Puebla (every 30 min.). Tickets were 60p ea. (about $7.). Left airport at 2:10, arrived Puebla at 4:00.
The Puebla bus station is HUGE, with two floors. We got really confused. There was a kiosk where you could make hotel reservations, which we didn't do, and should have. I bought ADO tickets for 8:00 am to Oaxaca the following day for $137p each. Finally, exhausted, we took a taxi to the Hotel Colonial. It was full! We tromped around downtown for an hour, and finally went back to the first available room we found right on the zocalo at the Hotel Royalty - a jr. Suite for $375p ($42), breakfast included. If you stay over in Puebla, I would definitely recommend making a reservation first, or stopping at the kiosk in the bus station (which makes a reservation for you for 10 pesos and a 25 peso deposit, which is deducted from your room price.)
The Hotel Royalty was very nice and we could watch life on the large zocalo right from our room, however it was very noisy at night from the traffic and marimba band below. Our room was huge (the only large room of the trip) and had TV in English (for the kids). The food was excellent in Puebla. The Hotel Royalty has a sidewalk restaurant under the portales where you can watch the parade of people and listen to a good marimba band while eating. Around the corner from the hotel was a street market that stretched at least 10 blocks and sold sunglasses, pocketknifes, Nike shirts, Tommy Hillfiger tank tops, assorted snacks, and all types of other things. The kids enjoyed this market. There was an African Safari park on the outskirts of town, but we didn't have time to visit it.
- BUS TO OAXACA
The ADO bus trip to Oaxaca took about 4.5 hours through beautiful mountain scenery. The kids enjoyed watching Air Force One. Cokes, coffee and water were provided on the trip, and we took some snacks.
Since we were travelling with kids, we tried to find hotels with television in English so we could occasionally leave them in the room in the evening, and with a pool or game room. The hotels were all more expensive than we had expected. The previous two years we had travelled to Guanajuato, then to Michoacan, and we seldom paid over $35 for a nice hotel for a double room. In Oaxaca we didn't find anything in this price range, and almost always were charged for a triple, rather than a double room. None of these hotels were air conditioned, but all had fans.
We stayed one night at the Calesa Real, Garcia Vigil 305, at corner of Bravo and Matamoros, (about 3 blocks north of the zocalo) for 639p for a triple - $72! Our room was on the second floor, with a window opening onto an air vent (it was hot!), TV in Spanish, a king sized bed and a sofa bed that didn't open out! The boys enjoyed swimming in the small but beautiful pool.
We stayed 3 nights at Hotel Gala, Bustamante 103, half a block south of the zócalo's southeast corner, for 350p for a double. The staff was friendly at this modern, beautifully decorated 2-story hotel. Our room was small w/2 double beds, TV w/3 channels in English, and a window opening onto the street. At night it was hot and very noisy.
For the remainder of our stay we moved to the HOTEL HACIENDA LA NORIA, La Costa 100 esq. Periferico. 435 pesos for a triple, plus 16% IVA tax, so room was around 500 pesos ($60). This was our favorite place because the kids could walk right out of our room into the bricked courtyard/pool area, and there were grassy areas for them to play on. It was beautiful, with stucco walls painted gold, tile roofs, lots of brick pathways, flowers and grass. Each room had an ornamental tree outside the window to shield the view. Our room was much cooler that in the other hotels because of all the shade, and was only a few steps away from the pool. 2 pools (one a wading pool) formed a mushroom shape. Lots of chairs and 2 umbrella tables were provided for seating, and the restaurant, La Canasta, with both indoor and outdoor seating, was on the opposite side of the pool. The pool was large, the staff was very friendly, and the entire place was well maintained. I walked the 10 blocks downtown several times, otherwise we took a cab for 12 to 15 pesos. Many Mexican tourists stayed here, and our kids made friends with some kids in the pool, while we enjoyed meeting their parents. Another big advantage was that we could catch a bus or collectivo directly in front of the hotel to any of the towns along the Mitla route, saving us cab fare to the bus station. Also one block away was a shopping center and money exchange. A pizza/chicken restaurant was located here, so the kids could get a fix of familiar food. There was also a bakery and a juice bar. I highly recommend this hotel for families travelling with children.
- RESTAURANTS - 2 things to remember: be sure the restaurant is open before you take a taxi there, and make sure you know the address. Why do I always forget! Three times we arrived at restaurants that were closed, and twice the taxi drivers didn't know where they were located! From now on I will always call first.
The kids tried lots of new foods. They didn't care for the hamburgers, which tasted different from home, but stocked up on quesadillas, chicken, and bacon sandwiches. They discovered that any restaurant would make them a bacon sandwich if nothing else on the menu appealed. They also liked all the different foods we ate from little food stands.
On the zocalo we bought a small bag of chapulines for 5 pesos. I ate some and thought they weren't too bad, but Kyle really liked them! Also on the zocalo near the Terranova restaurant is an ice cream store serving great ice cream bars which are full of fruit - coconut, pineapple, strawberry, and lots of other flavors.
Be sure and try some pralines for 5 pesos.
We had a good dinner of chicken in almond sauce at Casa de Mi Abuela, on the second floor on the NW corner of the zocalo. We had a great view of the zocalo, and all the kids playing in front of the cathedral with the aeroglobos, and our kids couldn't wait to go down and buy some.
Had a nice lunch at El Naranja.
Mariscos del Jorge (for seafood) was our favorite restaurant - located beside Juarez Park in a beautiful outdoor garden setting. We had delicious red snapper for 40p ea, plus a whole fried red snapper for 80p. I drank a good German Riesling for 8p/glass, the lowest-priced wine I had on the whole trip. We watched a cook stoking up an outdoor oven, and vowed to return for a last, special meal (they closed at 7 pm). Our last day, a Tuesday, we arrived at the restaurant to find they were closed!!! We then ate at La Red, which was good, but not as good as Jorges.
Hosteria de Alcala, a block or two south of the Santo Domingo Cathedral on Alcala, is a beautiful place where we had great mushroom crepes in a red sauce for 17p.
Las Ollas had a good comida corrida for 30p. They were closed on the Sunday we visited, though.
Teotitlan de Valle - On Saturday, market day, we took a taxi to the 2nd class bus station (about 15p) and waited 40 minutes for a bus to Teotitlan - 4p ea. We especially wanted to buy a new living room area rug. When we got off the bus we walked down the first street on the right to the very small town square, where about 15 rug vendors were set up. We ended up going to an older woman's house, and buying a 4' x 5' rug for 1100p (about $125). Later we sat in a restaurant right by the bus stop, a pleasant place to wait. Many, many shops in town had rugs for sale.
Tule - Hopped off the bus on the way back from Teotitlan to view the tree. Afterwards we ate lunch in one of the many food stalls grouped together under a canopy. We weren't sure what we ordered, but it was good. Later we stood by the highway for no more than 10 minutes till we caught a bus back to Oaxaca.
Tlacolula - Took a taxi to the maroon and white collectivo taxi sitio, near the 2nd class bus station. Waited about 20 minutes, then took the collective to Tlacolula for 10p ea. Kyle sat on my lap most of the way since 7 people were in the taxi! The trip took less than an hour. This was a great market with a good selection of rugs, spices, painted animals, and a little bit of everything. We ate lunch at a chicken rotisserie near where the bus had let us out, and had a chicken with rice, tortilla and salsa fixings and 3 cokes for 49p. Kyle thoroughly enjoyed his meal.
Arrazola - We splurged and hired a taxi for 70p/hr. for our trip to Arrazola. Many of the houses in this town have workshops set up to make the carved, brightly painted animals. One of the kids didn't feel well, so it was a quick trip - we only stopped at four houses. I bought about 10 animals for between 25 and 50 pesos. Bob fell in love with a wooden cat with a raised paw waving goodbye, but couldn't talk the price down from $50 to $40. We returned a week later, and bought a different, smaller cat, the larger one was gone. At our last stop, a purple house/workshop, teenage boys were carving the copal wood with machetes in the courtyard, and a workroom of girls painted finished carvings. Animals filled 4 rooms.
Mitla - Caught a bus in front of Hacienda la Noria for 7.5 pesos. Visited the ruins for 14 pesos. Couldn't find any collectivos going to Hierve el Agua, so hired a taxi to take us there and spend several hours ($30 for taxi). The scenery on the hour-long drive was spectacular. We passed many small family-run mezcal factories, and stopped and sampled some. At Hierve el Agua we paid 5 pesos each to walk down to a viewing point to see the stone waterfall. Nearby a spring fed into a large (concrete) pool (like an infinity pool) and lots of people were swimming. We ate lunch at one of the 15 or so comedores and it was great.
Ocotlan - Took a taxi to the Estrella del Valle bus station downtown, where buses left for Ocotlan every 8 minutes for 8 pesos. Our bus was full on Friday, market day. The market is great, and you have to try the empanadas. The kids were fascinated by the poultry section, with chickens and turkeys sitting on the sidewalk waiting to be sold.
The World Cup soccer games were going on while we were on Oaxaca. On the day that Mexico tied with Belgium we were in the Juarez Park. Suddenly all the cars were honking their horns, and people were waving Mexican flags out their windows. Truckloads of teenagers all waving flags, some with their faces painted green/white/red and wearing huge sombreros, drove by shouting "Viva Mexico". This went on for an hour and was very exciting.
Taxis charged 70 pesos per hour. Usually anywhere around town was between 10 to 15 pesos. Be sure you know the address before you take a taxi to a restaurant.
In addition to buying two rugs and lots of pottery and painted animals, we bought our sons each a knife for 125p, or $14., at the Mercado de Benito Juarez south of the zocalo. The knives are very pretty, engraved on both sides, and came with leather sheathes. We bought a total of 12 embroidered hacky sacks for 10p ea, which the kids had a great time playing with (and juggling), and are great souveniers. The kids also bought some Nike shirts for about $8 and Addidas shoes. One of the wooden animals we bought had a little critter in it! I kept finding piles of sawdust under the animal, and had to seal it in a plastic bag until the bug died.
We didn't do much nightlife with kids alongs, however we did visit El Sagrario, one block north of the zocalo's NE corner. On Friday night there was a 50p minimum per person, which came to 3 drinks each. A guitar duet that we remembered from our previous trip played, then around 10:00 a rock group played. The Marquez de Valle also had a band that lots of people were dancing to.
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