By Persis Love
Nestled in a valley at the foothills of the dusky Sierra Juárez, the capital of Oaxaca state attracts expats with its lively cultural output, affordable and relaxed pace of life, and direct flights to the US.
Oaxaca de Juárez’s historic centre, with its cobbled streets and well-preserved colonial architecture, and nearby archeological site Monte Alban are protected world heritage sites. Buildings of note include the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán with its attached monastery now home to a museum about local history and culture.
Today, the city’s global profile is growing and the number of international passengers arriving in Oaxaca airport increased by 51.4 per cent in the year to October 2019. Direct flights from Oaxaca to US cities including Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston are also drawing expats to settle in the city.
The cost of living is favourable for those living off dollars, euros or sterling: the price of daily goods is lower than in the US and Europe, with groceries costing more than 70 per cent less than in New York, according to the comparison site Numbeo.
Local agent John Harvey Williams, of Real Estate Oaxaca, says about 80 per cent of property in the upmarket neighbourhoods of Centro, Barrio de Xochimilco, Reforma, San Felipe del Agua and Barrio de Jalatlaco is bought by foreign buyers, mostly from the US. Around half of purchases are for a primary home.
Williams says a two-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs around US$100,000, while a four or five-bedroom house with a garden is around US$700,000. However, he says the city’s popularity is increasing and he expects prices to rise by at least 10 per cent in 2020. Prices in Oaxaca state grew by 7.1 per cent year on year in the first nine months of 2019, compared with 8.9 per cent in Mexico as a whole.
The city’s thriving contemporary art scene overlaps with its tradition of intricate artisanry in the form of textiles, ceramics and alebrijes (sculptures of imaginary creatures). A network of printmaking studios such as Espacio Zapata and Burro Press attracts artists from across the world, with a constant stream of exhibitions and workshops.
There are numerous public arts spaces and museums including Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO), a graphic arts institute, which was founded by the late acclaimed artist Francisco Toledo. It has an extensive library of art books, film screenings and exhibits by contemporary Oaxacan artists. The city also hosts an annual international film festival, Oaxaca FilmFest, and is the stage for literary and musical events.
The birthplace of mole, the traditional Mexican sauce with variations made from different peppers, nuts and chocolate, Oaxaca de Juárez is a centre for contemporary fine dining. Origen restaurant is run by Rodolfo Castellanos, the winner of TV series Top Chef Mexico in 2016, while Criollo is a modern take on traditional Oaxacan food with dishes such as plantain tamales in black mole.
Weekend hiking trips are possible in the mountain ranges to the north and south of the city. The Sierra Juárez, 60km to the north of central Oaxaca, is rich in flora and inspired Oliver Sacks’ Oaxaca Journal.
A collection of villages known as the Pueblos Mancomunados, including Benito Juárez and Latuvi, have established an eco-tourism network with cabins, guides and mountain bikes available to hire, which make navigating the area easy.
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Photographs: Dreamstime; Alamy; Araceli Paz