8 Hikes in Oaxaca You Just Have To Experience For Yourself

Surrounded by mountains, the list of hikes in Oaxaca unsurprisingly runs long. In nearly every direction, there lay a web of treks and trails to explore, each one offering something slightly different from the rest. 

Expect cave art and cloud forest, ancient trading routes and permission-only peaks. Oaxaca is a land and a landscape made for the adventurous. So dust off those hiking boots and give these eight Oaxaca hiking trails a try. 

1. Hiking in the enchanted forest of Ixtepeji

Location: Sierra Norte / Fitness Level: All Levels

Just 45 minutes outside of Oaxaca City, the enchanting forest of La Cumbre Ixtepeji awaits. 

This Oaxaca hike is teeming with birdlife and spectacular views of Oaxaca at its various viewpoints along the trail. Most of the routes (former logging roads) in this impressively-maintained forest meander under the shade and shadows of its dense and ancient pine and oak trees. 

The forest and trails are protected and maintained by the nearby community of Santa Catarina Ixtepeji. Their respect and reverence for this slice of outdoor paradise translates to all who visit. 

You can pair this Oaxaca hike quite easily with a visit to the nearby towns of Yuvila, known for its bread and chocolate, and Las Ánimas, known for its production of wooden spoons and utensils used for preparing many of the typical drinks of Oaxaca, including the always tasty chocolate caliente

La Cumbre also happens to be a paradise for mountain bikers. Its pristine hiking trails double as adrenaline-pumping and crowd-free downhill and enduro mountain biking trails full of jumps, obstacles, and of course magical forest scenes to sip in from the bike saddle.

2. Soak in the Views from the Sacred Peak of El Picacho

Location: Central Valley Region / Fitness Level: All Levels
Located 31 km from Oaxaca City, this mammoth peak towers over the rug-weaving Zapotec community of Teotitlan del Valle. Look for the gorilla’s face in its profile and you’ll easily pick it out on the drive in. 

Hike Oaxaca’s nearby El Picacho and its zigzagging dirt path to the summit, you must get special permission from the community and pay a small fee of 30 pesos. You can get this permission and pay your fee at the community museum located in the center of Teotitlan del Valle.

The trail up to El Picacho and its three-cross peak is covered in cacti and dry brush, but it’s the 360° views of the Central Valley and surrounding mountains that will distract you the entire way. 

This is a great Oaxaca hike to time for sunset too, as it’s relatively short and close enough to town to easily catch a ride back to Oaxaca after.

Every May, town locals make the pilgrimage up this sacred mountain and hold mass under the three crosses to celebrate the Día de la Santa Cruz.

Prayers and rituals are also dedicated to the Zapotec god of lightning, thunder, and rain – Cosijo – and the Aztec god of rain – Tláloc – in preparation for a successful growing season for their crops.

Combine this Oaxaca hike with a day of mountain biking and experiencing the local culture and traditions of Teotilan del Valle.

3. Wander Past Waterfalls at San Pablo Cuatro Venados

Location: Etla Valley Region / Fitness Level: All Levels

If it’s a waterfall hike that you seek in Oaxaca, San Pablo Cuatro Venados is the Oaxaca hike on this list for you. 

Just 40 kilometers from Oaxaca City along the western rim of the Etla Valley, this small community and ecotourism park is rarely visited by outsiders, meaning you can expect quiet paths through pine forest and likely a private plunge too in the waterfalls’ icey pools. 

Along the 10-kilometer route, there are two gorgeous falls, so it’s best to don your swimsuit for this Oaxaca hike and squeeze a towel and dry clothes into your hiking pack too.  

Though this Oaxaca hike can easily be done in a day, there are cabins on-site should you wish to spend the night under the stars and setting of the mountain pines. 

Do expect the temperature to drop quite a bit from day to night. Bring layers to keep warm once that sun sets and your feet stop moving.  

Pair this hike with some mountain biking for a full-day adventure outside Oaxaca that you’ll never forget. 

4. Hike the Box Canyon and Biosphere of Santiago Apoala

Location: Sierra Mixteca / Fitness Level: All Levels

Further beyond Oaxaca City but doable if you make a trip of it, Santiago Apoala is a gorgeous destination to add to your Oaxaca hiking list. It’s a 3.5-hour drive away from the city, but worth every kilometer. 

Apoala is nestled inside of a beautiful box canyon and a government-declared natural biosphere. 

It offers not only dramatic views from the hiking trail, but a glimpse of small town Mixtec culture before and after your hike, cascading waterfalls and scenic lagoons to explore, hillsides riddled with caves you can access with a guide, and canyon walls just begging to be climbed with the proper gear. 

Bring a tent to camp overnight along the river’s edge or rent a bunk in a cabin for a night or two. This is truly as rustic, real, and off-the-beaten-track an experience as it gets in the beautiful Oaxaca hike-friendly outdoors.  

 

5. Meander Through the Mushroom Forests of San Jose del Pacifico

Location: Sierra Sur / Fitness Level: All Levels

Consider a hike in the magic mushroom-famous mountain town of San Jose del Pacifico. While many travelers find their way here for the mushrooms alone, this mountain town’s trails are worth the three-hour drive from Oaxaca City or Puerto Escondido. 

In fact, this is the ideal Oaxaca hike to squeeze in en route to or from either city, as it’s located at exactly the halfway point between the two. 

San Jose del Pacifico sits on what feels like the roof of the Sierra Sur, meaning the views are spectacular no matter what time of day or where you stay. Its ethereal hiking trails – some with waterfalls – are shrouded in pine forest and singing with birdsong. You could spend a few days wandering its trails on your own or with a guide.

We should note that the popular psilocybin mushrooms for which San Jose del Pacifico is famous are considered sacred plants to those who still practice Zapotec tradition in these mountains. 

For thousands of years, the consumption of the mushrooms grown here have been used for ceremonial purposes, usually to mark the childhood rite of passage of surviving infancy and becoming part of the community. 

Families with their children in tow head to the forests of San Jose del Pacifico and consume these mushrooms together to celebrate and honor this moment in their son or daughter’s life.

6. Trek the Cloud Forests of Ixtlán de Juárez

Location: Sierra Norte / Fitness Level: All Levels

Tucked inside the cloud forest of the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca is this treasure of a town and trail system. 

Ixtlán de Júarez is located just 60 kilometers north of Oaxaca City and it’s home to a vast array of birdlife, butterflies, and beautiful endemic flora you won’t find anywhere else in the world, not to mention waterfalls and mountain-spanning caves with pools you can swim in.

This is a Oaxaca hiking destination that brings together history, nature, and community enterprise, as the more than 19,500 hectares of mesophilic wilderness are maintained by the local Ixtlán de Júarez community. In fact, it’s the village locals who will guide your hike along this impressively biodiverse forest’s ancient paths. 

Pines, oaks, orchids, lichens, moss, ferns and mushrooms will line the trail as you wander down trails traversed by the Zapotec people. 

These roads, once important trading routes thousands of years ago, connected the Central Valleys of Oaxaca with the towns along Mexico’s Gulf of Mexico.

7. Explore the Ancient Caves and Cave Drawings of Mitla

Location: Central Valley Region / Fitness Level: All Levels

Just beyond the town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla and its historic ruins exists a series of ancient caves best explored on foot and by flashlight. 

This hike-friendly cave system still bears the markings and cave drawings of its original inhabitants, the ancestors of the Zapotec people. 

This Oaxaca hike, about two and half hours long in total, does involve some scrambling up and down steep hillsides and squeezing into caverns of various depths and sizes, but it’s an adventure you won’t forget. 

The cave and cactus-laden territory through which you’ll hike can be traced back to the dawn of civilization in the western hemisphere and – fun fact! – it’s considered the birthplace of cultivated corn.

8. Start Your Day With a Hike Up Oaxaca’s Cerro del Fortín

Location: Oaxaca de Juárez / Fitness Level: All levels

Join locals on the steps and dirt paths that lead up and all over the wooded Cerro del Fortín. This popular early-morning exercise spot, crowned by the white-domed Guelaguetza Auditorium, offers some pretty incredible views of the city down below. 

To reach the rewarding dirt paths and panoramic views atop Cerro del Fortín, you must first ascend the 218 steps of the tree-lined Escaleras del Fortín. 

This behemoth staircase begins on Calle Crespo. At its top, you’ll find yourself staring up at an auditorium built to hold 15,000 spectators every July for the Fiesta Guelaguetza. Next to it is a statue of Benito Juárez, the Oaxaca-born ex-president and hero of Mexico.

For an even closer look at both, head through the muraled tunnel that runs under the highway, admiring the emblematic artwork on the walls, all of which painted by local Oaxacan street artists. 

Then follow either the dirt road to the right of the auditorium for an uphill and more direct slog to the top of the hill or continue left from the auditorium along Nicolas Copernico to the planetarium, observatory, and, further still, the hill-topping Christian cross. 

Reach Out For More Information About Any of These Oaxaca Hikes

If you’re in town, pop into our office on Calle Macedonia Alcala or send us an email or WhatsApp. We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about any of these Oaxaca hikes. 

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