Tlacolula Market Visitors Guide + What To Eat

During my third trip to Oaxaca recently, I visited somewhere new to me, Tlacolula Market held on Sundays only.

This vibrant mercado had been on my radar for some time. However, there’s so much to do in Oaxaca that my past two trips got taken up by eating delicious local food, wandering the idyllic streets, and taking day trips to more popular destinations like Hierve el Agua.

Now I’ve finally visited the beautiful Tlacolula Sunday Market near Oaxaca, I’m going to share everything you need to know including how to get there and what to buy, eat, and see!

Tlacolula market oaxaca
The vibrant, local Tlacolula Market

I loved this market because it’s an authentic place to experience local Mexican culture and far from a tourist trap! Sure, you’ll see some foreign travelers but the majority of visitors are locals coming to shop for fresh produce and eat tasty local dishes.

Vendors wear local clothing and sell traditional items used in Oaxaca long before the Spanish arrived. In fact, this is one of the oldest continuous markets in Mesoamerica, established by Zapotec and Mixtec peoples.

Today, locals will typically travel to Tlacolula from other towns in Oaxaca state to sell their goods – from fresh produce to woven rugs – at this vibrant tianguis (the local word for street market).

Sunday is market day in Tlacolula so don’t make the mistake of visiting another day!

Where is Tlacolula Market?

Tlacolula Market is in the small town of Tlacolula de Matamoros, 21 miles (34km) from Oaxaca City. There are a couple of ways to get there…

How to get to Tlacolula Market from Oaxaca

For visiting this popular Oaxaca Sunday market, the main options are car, private taxi, shared taxi, or local bus. Here are all the details for each one…

By car

If you have a car (or hire car), you can drive from Oaxaca to Tlacolula de Matamoros in 45 minutes. To make the most of the freedom a car brings, you could tag on some other attractions in the area such as Hierve el Agua and Mitla ruins.

I’d suggest visiting Hierve el Agua first because it gets busy, then after Tlacolula Market driving back to Oaxaca via Teotitlán del Valle (known for woven goods) and the famous Tule Tree (the world’s widest). This would be a busy day with some fantastic Oaxaca sights thrown in. You could also stop at a mezcal distillery to see how the famous beverage is made, and try some if you’re not the designated driver.

Bus stop getting from oaxaca to tlacolula market

By public transport

I recommend heading to this bus stop in the northeast of Oaxaca (near the Jalatlaco neighborhood). I’d read you can go from the Second Class Bus Terminal near Central de Abastos market but, on visiting, I couldn’t find a bus going there and ended up being directed around on a wild goose chase. Eventually, a helpful local flagged a shared taxi for me.

Unless you speak Spanish and feel confident with the colectivo taxi system, I don’t recommend going from the Second Class Bus Terminal/Central de Abastos area because it’s very hectic and not clear where journies depart from.

With that in mind, here are the specifics about the types of vehicles traveling to Tlacolula Market from Oaxaca…

Local bus

Both these and the colectivo taxis depart from the same place so I recommend hopping on whichever arrives first. The bus departs from this stop near Jalatlaco (pictured above) and the red and white shared taxis (pictured below) depart just a few steps away at the corner.

Look for a sign in the window saying Tlacolula de Matamoros or Mitla (which is further down the highway meaning they’ll pass Tlacolula).

Buses function like they do anywhere: wave one down and grab a seat. You may be asked to pay the driver but I find more commonly, someone will come around to collect money when the bus is moving. The ride costs 22 pesos each way as of 2023.

Colectivo taxis

Colectivo taxi

These red and white taxis operate ‘colectivo style’ meaning you’ll be sharing with other passengers. Once you’ve identified by the sign on the front where they’re going, wave to the driver and hold up the number of fingers that you require in seats. So, if there are two of you, hold up two fingers. If they have the space, they’ll pull up and let you in.

You might think ‘Hmn, there aren’t enough seats left’ but these taxis commonly let in a lot of people. I once shared the front passenger seat with a random local dude and there were four in the back!

The ride costs 35 pesos each way as of 2023. You pay the driver when you get out.

Tip – make sure to have small bills or coins. In my experience, the drivers will have change from 50 or 100 but probably not a 500 note!

Private taxi

If there are a few of you, it may be cost-effective to get a regular taxi rather than a shared one. I was given a quote of 250 pesos (but you could try haggling a bit lower). Between four, that’s around 60 pesos each; not too much more than the 35 peso colectivo… And probably worth it to avoid being trapped in a stranger’s armpit!

Whatever mode of transport you take, you’ll be dropped on the highway by the gas station in Tlacolula. Start walking up the adjoining road and you’ll begin to see the outdoor market stands.

The return journey from Tlacolula to Oaxaca

To get back to Oaxaca, simply cross the highway you arrived on and wait for a vehicle on the other side. Both the local buses and shared red & white taxis leave from here. A local bus was leaving just as I arrived so I hopped on.

Tours to Tlacolula Market

If the idea of catching local transport and navigating the maze of the market seems overwhelming, consider taking a tour. I have taken plenty of GetYourGuide tours during my travels and always find them reliable with great local guides. This tour to Tlacolula also includes a stop at Yagul Archaeological Site which is an off-the-beaten-track site that I’d love to visit!

What to buy at Tlacolula Market

What I love about Mercado de Tlacolula is the wide variety of goods on offer. You’ll find affordable and authentic products that locals use alongside beautiful artisan items like silver jewelry and woven goods.

Although the latter items aren’t cheap per se (and I wouldn’t want them to be due to the artisan time and labor required), you certainly get a bargain compared to buying them at Oaxaca City boutique stores.

Artisan goods

Artisan jewelry

In addition to the covered sections of the market typically selling food and fresh produce, there’s an outdoor street running to the left of the church (when facing it) primarily selling beautiful Oaxacan treasures like silver jewelry and woven rugs and bags.

You’ll find plenty of Oaxacan jewelry in the carved filigree style that was introduced by the Spanish (who had learned it from the Moors during the Moorish Invasion of Spain). Pearls and gems are often used to embellish the already intricate items. These earrings can be SO elaborate, and very pricey!

Bags what to buy at tlacolula sunday market

Although the best place in Oaxaca to buy woven handicrafts is Teotitlán del Valle (just a 20-minute drive away en route from Tlacolula to Oaxaca), especially because you get to meet the artisans and learn about the production, this market is a great alternative if you don’t have time.

Items can be as large as full-sized rugs and as small as woven coasters. The latter are a good option if you’re keen to get a souvenir from Oaxaca while shopping on a budget.

Cheap and cheerful jewelry

Colorful jewelry

If you’re looking for cheap and cheerful trinkets, there are lots of colorful items on the first street you come to when arriving from the main highway.

When preparing to celebrate Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, I picked up some cute La Catrina earrings with tassels for just 35 pesos. Very festive!

Copal

Copal at tlacolula de matamoros market

Not familiar with the word copal? It’s derived from the Nahuatl word copalli used by the Aztecs meaning scented smoke. Knowing this, you can probably guess that copal is a type of traditional Mexican incense.

Made from the sap of native Mexican trees and thought to have medicinal and spiritual benefits, copal has been used in daily life – including ceremonies – for centuries. If you’ve visited around the Day of the Dead, you’ll probably recognize the scent as it’s typically burned on ofrendas (alters dedicated to ancestors deceased).

You can buy copal (and devices to burn it in) cheaply in Tlacolula Market.

Clay pottery

Clay pottery

Alongside filigree earrings and woven rugs, the earthy clay pottery of Oaxaca is another staple of the state. Black clay comes exclusively from the pueblo of San Bartolo Coyotepec while red clay is typically from San Marcos Tlapazola, a rural Zapotec village.

There are bowls, pots, plates, and mezcal cups, but I particularly like the clay piggy banks!

Mezcal cups

Mezcal cups

It wouldn’t be a trip to Oaxaca without a little mezcal! This smoky spirit made from agave plants is slowly becoming famous around the world, but it began life in the fields of Oaxaca.

Should you be buying a bottle to take home, you’ll want something to drink it from. Mezcal cups come in many forms but these beautifully carved wooden ones make excellent souvenirs. They’re found all over Tlacolula Sunday Market.

Alebrijes

Alebrijes shopping at Tlacolula market oaxaca

When you first visit Mexico, you may wonder what on earth these multicolored mascots are. Some resemble animals you’ll recognize while others are a mashup of mythical beasts and curious creatures you can’t put a name to.

Well, they’re all types of alebrijes. Such images and statues are a popular type of Mexican folk art, gaining popularity since the 1940s. If you find yourself in the capital, one of my favorite Mexico City museums is Museo de Arte Popular near Centro, packed floor to ceiling with enormous examples.

Large, handpainted statues can be astronomically expensive while little mini ones can be as cheap as 70 pesos.

Fresh flowers

Fresh flowers

Without my own home in Oaxaca to brighten up, I had no need for fresh flowers but I loved seeing them regardless. During my late October visit, Tlacolula Market was bursting with girasols (sunflowers) and equally sunny cempasúchils (marigolds) thought to help guide home the souls of spirits during Dia de Muertos.

Fruits and veggies

From strawberries to watermelons, endless vegetables, and mountains of fragrant garlic, there’s plenty on offer for those wanting to cook a healthy meal in coming days, although personally I think the many Oaxaca restaurants are too tempting for that!

Little avocados
Tens of tiny avocados

Oaxacan cheese

Oaxacan cheese Tlacolula sunday market oaxaca

I adore Oaxaca cheese. The OG string cheese is salty, semi-soft, mild, and fresh. Whether you eat it by itself or melted on a quesadilla, it’s utterly moreish. At Tlacolula Mercado, you can buy balls of it to take home.

Oaxaca cheese – sometimes called quesillo – is always prepared and sold in this ball shape, and unraveled it would be meters long!

What to eat and drink at Tlacolula Market

Pan de muerto bread
Snacking on pan de muerto (Day of the Dead season only)

When you’re finished browsing and buying typical items from Oaxaca, you’ll probably have worked up an appetite. There are plenty of food stands at Tlacolula along the outside section as well as inside. I recommend…

Tepache

Tepache
Tepache is a refreshing drink to try in Oaxaca’s Tlacolula Market

This cold drink served by street vendors is a Mexican favorite, drunk centuries ago by the Mayans. Pineapple, brown sugar, and cinnamon contribute to tepache’s flavor while its fermented nature gives it fizz and just a touch of alcohol.

If fermented beverages are your thing, buy a cup of pulque (more alcoholic) at Tlacolula Sunday Market. Fermented juice of the maguey plant can be drunk plain or with fruity flavors. I prefer the latter because it has an unusual sour yeast-like taste alone.

Tejate

Tejate drink at Tlacolula market

While the exact origin of tepache can’t be pinned down, it’s well known that tejate comes from Oaxaca. This corn-based drink made with roasted cacao beans and sweet mamey fruit could be considered prehispanic chocolate milk!

Finally, flor de cacao gives it a layer of froth on top. Find it all over Tlacolula Market and Oaxaca generally.

Barbocoa

Barbocoa

Barbacoa is a popular Mexican dish meaning barbeque in Spanish, but it’s more than that. Meat (usually lamb, mutton, or goat) is either cooked over an open flame in a fire pit or wrapped in maguey leaves and buried underground to let the flavor infuse.

The rich, meaty result is usually served in tacos or consume (soup). Since the preparation can take hours, it’s typically a food cooked for celebrations. There’s a popular stall on the walking street leading from the highway to the main market called Barbacoa Comedor Lety that you shouldn’t miss!

Fresh bread

Typical bread from Tlacolula de matamoros

Since there’s a whole section of the mercado dedicated to fresh bread, it would be rude not to try some. during my visit around Day of the Dead, pan de muerto was readily available.

Typical pan de muertos in Mexico have a cross on the top and a light dusting of sugar. However, Oaxaca has its own regional version: a savory loaf with a colorful catholic saint inside. Thousands are made at the Tlacopan bakery in Tlacolula and delivered to Oaxaca City for the celebrations. Be sure to eat them here at the market, directly from the source!

However, there’s still delicious fresh bread outside of the Dia de Muertos season. Pan de cazuela translates as casserole bread and is made with chocolate, raisins, and a hint of cinnamon.

Chapulines

Chapulines

This final snackable food to try at Tlacolula Market may entice or repulse you. Chapulines are fried grasshoppers typically seasoned with lime, chili, and salt. Not everyone will like biting into their brittle bodies but, I have to say, they’re very snackable… A bit like popcorn!

Points of interest around Tlacolula Market, Oaxaca

The market is a bit of a maze so I’m going to point out some places not to miss…

Santa Maria Church and plaza

Santa Maria Church and plaza

This beautiful church sits beside Tlacolula de Matamoros market. Since it can be cramped and smoky in parts, the sunny square provides some respite. When on the way to Tlacolua, a Oaxaca local told me to visit Templo de Santa María de la Asunción and I can confirm it’s a peaceful, beautiful place with intricate carving and tiles on the top towers.

Mercado Municipal Martín González (inside market)

Mercado Municipal Martín González at Tlacolula market

This is one of the most interesting parts of the market complex with a wide alley dedicated to carne asada (this is very smoky) leading to a couple of rows of bread stands. Just here, you’ll also find an altar and Jesus statue, typical of Mexican markets.

Altar in market

Within this inside market, you’ll also find a food court with several sit-down restaurants. I didn’t eat here myself but my friend vouched for Antojitos Mexicanas Dona Angelica serving tasty local dishes.

Getting around Tlacolula

Tlacolula is a small town that’s easy to explore on foot, however there are colorful tuk-tuks should you need a ride. Agree a price with a driver… They’re cheap!

Tuk-tuks service the Tlacolula area but don’t go further than the highway. From there, you’ll need a car, taxi, or bus to travel further afield (see my transport section above for how to get to Tlacolula Market from Oaxaca).

Tuk tuks

Is Tlacolula Market safe?

Yes, I visited alone and felt perfectly safe. Like any big, crowded market in the world, there are opportunities for pickpockets and, if you look like an obvious tourist, you’re likely to be first on their list. Wear a secure cross-body bag and properly zip away your wallet and phone after using them.

Stick to busy areas and be aware of your surroundings… You’ll be fine!

Tips for visiting

  • Arrange a meeting spot if visiting with friends because it’s so hard to find anyone in the maze of the market.
  • Leave your bank card at home – the market is cash only! Small bills are better, too, because vendors won’t always have change from a 500.
  • There are toilets in the market that cost 5 pesos to use. They’re not the nicest but you get a wad of tissue paper for your 5 peso admission.
  • Factor 2-3 hours to explore the market and its surroundings. I’d suggest visiting in the morning so you can work up an appetite and stop for lunch.
  • Bring a cloth tote bag so you can sustainably transport home anything you buy. Another option is packing a reusable cup (I have a fold-down coffee cup) so you can try local drinks free from single-use plastics.

Thanks for reading!

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