The bus is finally back in working order, so Friday night we spontaneously headed out of town for some Saturday exploring. Just 45 minutes south of the city of Oaxaca are two archeological gems:
According to the offical brochure, Mitla’s names comes from the Nàhuatl word Mictiàn meaning “Place of the Dead,” or “Underworld.” In the local dialect, Zapotec, it is called Liobaa, which roughly translates to resting place.
The ruins are said to have been constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries. Historians estimate some 10,500 inhabitants were present during the time the largest buildings were under construction.
The detail and precision of the rock work would be a marvel with modern tools, but to stand there and comprehend that they were build without refined equipment is a total mind bender.
Closeup of the Fretwork inside the rooms. Apparently this is the only site in Mexico with this type of stonework.
Heading down into the tombs. There are four tombs you can see from the inside, if you’re willing to crouch down to go through the roughly three foot high entrance. Muggy down there! I was in and out, but the kids loved it.
You’re able to walk through these maze like walls, finding your way out isn’t always that straightforward! Kids LOVED this!
That moment of truth in all family travel, where we pushed too long and didn’t have snacks. Rookie Mommy!
Because I’m a terrible travel blogger I don’t remember the name of this place. But it’s a mezcal distillery located between Tule (whose claim to fame is a tree with the world’s stoutest trunk) and Yagul. It’s right off the side of the road and easy to spot.
Everything about this place is fantastic. Probably my favorite meal we’ve had in Mexico so far. Diego and I got some sort of deep fried tacos, and the kids had the most delicious black bean tamales. We finished off with bananas fried in mezcal.
We had a fantastic time, and to me, this is what family travel is all about. The kids are so curious and trips like these lead to so many natural learning opportunities. We talked about history, astrology, engineering, religion, Christianity and Catholicism. It’s all so tangible when you’re standing right there, and it literally brings history to life.
I can’t recommend a day spent exploring the ruins highly enough. If you want to go, here’s what you need to know:
Both sites are open Monday through Sunday 8am to 5pm. There is ample parking, restrooms at each. Mitla has food for purchase, and Yagul does not.
Admission Price: Children are free and adults were 47 pesos a piece (roughly $3USD a current exchange rates.)
How to get to Mitla:
It is 42 km from Oaxaca to Mitla, going East on Route 190 (about 45 minutes.) This road is in good condition and well marked. Once you arrive at the town center, there are signs marking the way toward the “zona arqueológico.” Up by the church there are many artesian vendors and a few street food offerings as well. I personally didn’t find the town of Mitla that exciting or memorable, but the ruins were stunning. To visit both sites in one day makes for a nice relaxing pace with a leisurely lunch thrown in.
How to get to Yagul:
Further east along Route 190 is the turn-off north for Yagul, there’s another archaeological site fabled to have been where the ball courts and priests’ quarters. The landscape is covered in candelabra cactus and agave. Apparently Yagul was a large Zapotec and later Mixtec religious centre and the ball court is said to be the second largest discovered in Mesoamerica; as well as one of the most intact. It’s possible to take a bus to Mitla from the Oaxaca second-class terminal and ask to be put down at the paved turn-off to Yagul (five minutes after Tlacolula terminal). You will have to walk 1 km uphill from the bus stop to the site and you can return the same way or walk 3 km west to Tlacolula along Route 190 to catch a bus to Oaxaca.
If you’re driving, road that leads up to the site is quite bumpy and poorly maintained, but it’s a short distance, and seems to detour the big tour buses, which makes for a rather serene experience. There was one other family that was leaving as we arrived. We literally had the whole place to ourselves and it felt pretty magical. The children enjoyed wandering through the maze like walls too. This was my favorite of the two sites, but both are worth a visit. This would be a great site to bring a picnic to, the views are extraordinary.