I Moved To Oaxaca

Saturday, February 16, 2008

[This originally appeared on my now-defunct site www.cour.to and was originally posted in 2004 so please, wash it down with a bit of sal de gusano.—Suzanne]

A bit about Mexican hotels: If you're tall—say, 5'10" (1.78m) or taller—just be ready to smack your head on doorjambs and light fixtures. On the flip side, you'll have no problem seeing over the tops of crowds.

Hot water ... well, if you're a person who requires hot water for showering, you're gonna want to stick to downtown Oaxaca and the fancier hotels around the state. I find that in most towns, while many hotels advertise hot water, sometimes it takes a long time for the water to get warm. Or the hot/cold taps are reversed (and unlabeled, so's who's to know?). You could just shower in the afternoon, when the cold water will be a relief from the heat outside.

You'll also need to bring your own washcloth. We never encountered one in our hotel room during any of our travels. (If you forgot to pack one you can pick one up at Gigante or other supermercado.)

And then there are Mexican beds. I don't know what the deal is. When I still lived in San Francisco and thought I might go visit my friend in Belize, he begged me to bring down a couple of sets of cotton sheets, which I thought a strange request. I don't any more. You can get good cotton sheets here if you look, but the standard cotton sheet in Oaxaca looks (and feels) like it has a threadcount of about 60—I'm not joking!—and is often a cotton/poly blend or entirely polyester. Eugh, just what you want on a sultry night. It's also possible to buy good mattresses, but the usual mattress is futon-thin and spring-loaded. Do you recall what it's like sleeping on springs? Pillows are generally of two types: either stuffed with polyester or cotton batting. As much as I prefer cotton, the pillows filled with cotton batting feel like bricks; I find them extremely uncomfortable. When a hotel has cotton pillows I usually end up using my clothes for my pillow. All in all, it's still better than sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the floor.

So without further ado, here're a couple of places around the state I've stayed in and recommend:

I continue to hear only good things about Youth Hostel Paulina, but I myself have never stayed there. Take a look at their website. They're close to the zocalo and mercados, too, perfect for when you want to see and hear all the action.

If you don't like hostels, Posada Chencho has nice rooms and an attractive courtyard. They also serve a full breakfast, too - a nice way to start off a day of touristy activity. They're a little out of the way, so if you don't like or feel comfortable walking around, or want a quieter neighborhood, this might not be for you. They also have a website, and you can easily reserve with them via e-mail.

Still a bit of a walk from the zocalo but the Hotel Las Mariposas seems quieter than Chenchos. It's near the Llano, on Pino Suarez. Very friendly. They serve a coffee and pan dulce breakfast, or you can cook your own in the in-room kitchenette. You can also reserve with them via e-mail.

For longer-term stays rent a small furnished apartment with kitchenette from Luis and Rosa at Casa de los Abuelos on Reforma near the corner of Constitucion, just two short blocks from Santo Domingo and Alcala, the main pedestrian and tourist walkway. [Update! Luis and Rosa now have a website that accepts reservations.] The building has an inviting patio for reading or hanging out, and a little orphan book and magazine rack in case you didn't bring a book of your own. Luis and Rosa don't speak English, but they're patient and muy amable, and they provide weekly maid service, and all your gas and drinking water are included in the price of the rental, about USD$500-$700 a month

Wanna splurge? I've been inside, but not stayed at, the Ex-convento Camino Real on 5 de Mayo, half a block from Santo Domingo. Very pretty grounds, and the rooms look way nice. But it'll cost you, though if you're used to big-city hotel prices you'll be pleasantly surprised.

If you want to experience the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, also called the Sierra Norte or Sierra Juarez, you can hike, bus, or drive to the small town of Benito Juarez and stay in the community yu'u. The last time I was in Benito Juarez, the yu'u was full so they community center found us lodging in someone's extra house, which seemed pretty yu'u-like. It was cold, cold, cold at night in October at about 9,500 feet, so dress accordingly. We went to bed fully clothed, and I swear the pillows were stuffed with earth they were so heavy. But it's a really beautiful town, so I urge you to check it out.

Way up in the Papaloapan, in the north of Oaxaca, the teeny town of San Pedro Ixcatlan has a posada, the Villa del Lago. To get there you drive down the main street most of the way through town; my receipt gives its address as "s/n frente a la escuela primaria," or "in front of the primary school." It was $140 a night for a big room with two queen beds, a ceiling fan, and tv. The wasps were no extra charge. And cotton-batting pillows, alas. But they have a swell rooftop patio where you can take in the view of the reservoir and town, very nice with a couple of beers, I must say.

If you head south on Hwy 175 to Puerto Angel, there's precious little in the way of services between Miahuatlan and Pochutla. Like, no gas. There are numerous roadside comedors, but San Jose del Pacifico has the only lodging, way up in the mountains. We stopped to get lunch at their restaurant (and got sick); their posted prices for the cabanas were $300-500 pesos, which seems expensive. Which is expensive, considering you could have your ass parked in a hammock on the beach for $200. If you want bracing mountain air, try Benito Juarez.

My guidebook recommended three hotels in Tehuantepec, but the day I was there the two inexpensive ones were full up. On my way out to the moderate hotel Guienxhoba on the highway I passed the Posada Colonial San Fernando and decided to give it a try. For $150 pesos a night I got a completely spic 'n' span room, ceiling fan, a tepid-water shower (which was fine; it's hot in Tehuantepec), and a queen-size bed with real pillows and sheets! Amazing. No off-street parking, but there's somebody on the desk 24/7 who can keep an eye on your car if you park out front. And they sell cold sodas and beers at the front desk. The only drawback is that it's on Av. 5 de Mayo, right off the highway, so it's noisy as all get-out. Suck it up and use earplugs, because it's a really nice place. Reserve by calling their cell phone, 044-971-719-2578.

(I have since gone back to Tehuantepec and tried the Hotel Oasis, slightly more expensive at 180 pesos, but clean, nice, and quiet. Plus, the windows were covered with a metal grill so we could leave the windows open without the cat getting out. Parking lot, restaurant, house toucan and parrots. For a kick-ass meal, go across the street to Comedor Perla. We had a top-notch comida for two for 54 pesos. For an early breakfast you're pretty much stuck with Restaurant Scaru, which is okay but pricey for what you get.)

Ah, Zipolite, with your nekkid pot-smokers and fine Italian cuisine! When I'm in Zipolite I stay at the Posada Marina Brisa, right on the beach, as practically everything in Zipolite is. No website as far as I know, but you can reserve a room with Dan via e-mail, brisamarinaca@yahoo.com, or by phone at 958-584-3193. If at all possible, don't stay in any of the ground-floor rooms, which are basically reinforced cement cells, but get one of the rooms on the upper floors facing the ocean. They're quite pleasant and have balconies strung with hamacas. Expect to pay around $200 pesos a night. Pets - well, cats - are okay, but children are usually not welcome. Note: Zipolite has quite a reputation in Oaxaca. If you don't want to give your Mexican coworkers or social circle the wrong idea about you (even if it's true), tell them you're going to Puerto Angel instead. They may suspect otherwise, but it helps maintain the illusion of respectability.

Since we drove back and forth between Oaxaca and the States a few times, we also like and recommend:

My husband swears he saw a comedor sign advertising dog tacos, but despite that Montemorelos is an okay little town with good places to stay and eat. We used the Hotel Mavira - watch for the signs 'cause I forgot to write down the address - and ate comida at Milton's, a taco and burger joint on the zocalo.

I usually avoid Mexico City traffic by taking secondary roads around the capitol. About dead center between D.F., Puebla, and Pachuca is a little town called Ciudad Sahagun. And just outside town to the north is the Hotel Plaza Motel and Restaurante Santa Lucia. I really like the hotel, which has big rooms and bathrooms, and lots of off-street parking, but I most especially like the Santa Lucia, which serves a terrific dinner, really first-rate. Their specialities are seafood and venison (venado). The was good, but their steaks are really good - everything we've had there has been really good, and the folks running it are super nice. Well worth a stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It's also a convenient jumping-off point for a day or two of exploring Teotihuacan.

If you find yourself up in the Huasteca, Tamazunchale is worth checking out. The eponymous hotel is nice, if expensive at $650 a night, but it's got functioning A/C, plentiful hot water, and off-street parking. There are other hotels in town, but they appear very budget - though it might be funny to stay at the Hotel OK on the zocalo. As for restaurants, the only one we found was the hotel restaurant in the Hotel Tamazunchale, and it made the best chilaquiles I have ever had, bar none.

Maybe it's all the well-stocked pet stores and aquariums, but I really like Tehuacan, in Puebla state, which seems to have a bunch of nice hotels for such an un-touristy town. The Hotel Monroy is on Reforma, across the street from the regional archeological museum. Rooms are around $260, but are large, spotlessly clean, and come with fluffy white cotton towels and cable tv. The Monroy doesn't have parking, but its sister hotel around the corner, the Hotel Moniett, does, and is also a very nice place to stay for about the same price as the Monroy. Both are a short walk to the zocalo. (Hotel Monroy, 211 Reforma Norte, phone 238-382-0491; Hotel Moniett, around the corner at 129 2 Poniente, phone 238-382-8462.)


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