Of all the mezcal producing regions, Oaxaca is by far the most known and popular place to travel. Infrastructure is relatively well developed and it is very easy to get there as it is served by major airlines (United, Aeromexico, Volaris, Interjet). Currently, there are only two US cities that have direct flights to Oaxaca, Los Angeles and Houston, and with most other flights connecting through Mexico City.
The city of Oaxaca is quite charming with its parks, zocolo (main square) and colonial architecture. It sits in a high valley surrounded by mountains. It is a center of art, food and indigenous culture, and often leaves visitors with a sense of magic. In planning your trip you want to allow yourself at least two full days in the city to explore the historic center, museums, markets and artisan shops. And of course you want to eat.
Mezcal has been produced in Oaxaca for at least 500 years, with most of it produced in small towns or pueblos outside of the city of Oaxaca. A vast majority of mezcal comes from the town of Matatlan in the Tlacolula Municipality, a 45 minute drive from Oaxaca and an easy drive, bus ride or collectivo (shared taxi system). Working with a tour guide means you can visit other mezcal producing towns like Santa Catarina Minas, Sola de Vega, Ejutla, Miahuatlan, San Baltazar Guelavia, San Juan del Rio and San Luis del Rio as day trips. You can also work with a tour guide to plan trips that can take you into the Mixteca or Sierra Norte – these generally are overnight trips and are fairly rugged.
Darinel has been creating mezcal tours with Experience Mezcal for several years. He has not only a great knowledge of mezcal, but terrific relationships with producers all over Oaxaca. You can book multi-day tours or the special Pechuga camp through Experience Mezcal or directly with Darinel here.
Leon has been a presence on the mezcal scene forever, working with Los Amantes, Cafe Central and now Txalaparta. His breadth and depth of knowledge is as extensive as his charm. He and his partner Edgar Augusto León Bohórquez can customize tours based on your interests so definitely check them out! He can be reached here.
Andrea Hagan is obsessed with food and mezcal so it’s only fitting that she has launched her own touring business which features meetings with the local cooks and distillers who she has come to know over years of expeditions into the Oaxacan landscape. Check out Susan’s write up of their tour for more information, they also have an excellent Instagram feed. Tours can be booked through the website.
Alvin has been a fixture in Oaxaca for some time. An expat who moved there, owns a B&B, and loves mezcal. He also writes about Oaxaca and mezcal and has been a great voice, and sometimes contrarian of what is happening in Mexico. We haven’t been on any of his tours but we’ve talked to enough people who have to want to give them a try. Contact him here.
Yes, we called him the Indiana Jones of Mezcal. No, that’s not complete hyperbole. The guy travels everywhere for mezcal. He knows tons of people in the industry. And he’s got stories to tell. He is also happy to work out some of the more far flung itineraries. Since he travels so widely he is one of the better resources for trips to any of the mezcal regions in Mexico. Get in contact with him through his FaceBook page.
Puro Burro / Asis Cortes
Created by San Francisco bartender / brand manager Eric M. Giardina and Darren Crawford, Puro Burro organizes periodic trips to palenques around Oaxaca as well as maintaining a sideline in bar ware. They’ve opened Puro Burro Cantina inside Mezcalogia in Oaxaca and recently opened Ofrenda, a great lodging option in the heart of the Centro. Asis Cortes owns Mezcalogia and is part of the family which owns El Jolgorio, Agaves de Cortes, and Nuestra Soledad mezcals. You can also ask at the Mezcalogia bar to see if they can organize a trip for you. The tours skew younger, generally they have a cluster of bartenders in attendance, and happen about once every other month.
Ulises Torrentera is probably one of the foremost experts when it comes to mezcal. He and partner Sandra Ortiz Brena are the forces behind In Situ Mezcaleria in Oaxaca and the brand El Farolito. They recently have launched the Mezcanautic 2020 tour which runs March 29-April 4 in Oaxaca. This is a great opportunity to visit palenques, taste mezcal not available in the US and of course absorb lots of mezcal information from the master. Details here: https://mezcanautic.com/
Weather in Oaxaca is fairly temperate due to its elevation. The hottest, and driest time of year is March/April/May. The rainy season generally runs from June-October, and smaller palenques may not be making mezcal in July and August because of weather, and because they are planting corn and beans. October-February is fairly mild with temperatures ranging from the low 50s to the mid to upper 70s. Cold fronts are known to come in during December and January and the higher elevations can be very cold at night. Note that most places are not insulated and that heat, and air conditioning, are not readily found.
Important dates for planning purposes:
Semana Santa – The week prior to Easter is a huge tourism week in Mexico
Guelaguetza – Mid to end July and the biggest tourism month in Oaxaca
Dia de los Muertos – End of October, it is now close to surpassing the Guelaguetza in terms of tourism
December – Between posadas, Dia de Guadelupe (Dec 12th) Dia de Soledad (Dec 17th) Feria del Chocolate (TBD) and Noche de los Rabanos (dec 23rd), there is so much going on! Christmas in Oaxaca is growing in popularity but does not reach the levels of Semana Santa, Guelaguetza or Dia de los Muertos.