Native markets in Mexico are always among the most popular tourist destinations, and the weekly gathering in Zaachila, in the state of Oaxaca, is no exception. Unlike many other Mexican markets, however, the one in Zaachila includes a unique and colorful livestock exchange.
The Colonial Capital City of Oaxaca
The state of Oaxaca (pronounced “wah-HA-kah”) consists of nearly 37,000 square miles of forested mountains, high plains and valleys bordering the Pacific Ocean. The rich history of the state is reflected by 16 indigenous languages still spoken there, with the pre-colonial Zapotec and Mixtec predominate.
The capital of the state, also called Oaxaca, sits 5,000 feet above sea level in a high valley. Oaxaca has long been popular with tourists from around the world, offering an enormous range of attractions, including the famous archeological site of Monte Alban and unique native handicrafts, from the black pottery of Coyotepec to the whimsical hand-carved and elaborately painted wooden alebrijes of Arrazola and San Martin Tilcajete. Birders are also drawn to Oaxaca for the hundreds of migratory and endemic species found throughout the area.
Another reason tourists return to Oaxaca is to visit the colorful weekly native markets (tianguis) that are held in eight separate towns and locations in and around the capital city. Unlike the outdoor markets that operate daily, these weekly gatherings are as social-oriented as they are commercial. Fresh fruits, vegetables, clothing and handicrafts are common to all of them, but the market in Zaachila offers a photogenic livestock exchange as well.
The Historic town of Zaachila near Oaxaca
As Monte Alban faded from prominence around A.D. 750, regional city-states grew both in population and power. One of the more significant of these was Zaachila, which lies some 10 miles south of Monte Alban and the present day capital of Oaxaca. Today, the town of Zaachila has been rebuilt over the original archeological site, and many of its residents are descendents of the Zapotecs that inhabited the city centuries ago.
One of the original pyramid tombs is open to the public, accessible through a narrow staircase, and is worth a visit. The primary reason to visit Zaachila, however, is the weekly market held every Thursday, together with the nearby livestock exchange.
Getting to Zaachila from Oaxaca
By far the easiest way to find Zaachila is by bus, public or tourist, even if one has access to an automobile. Zaachila is only 16 kilometers from Oaxaca, but getting on the right road (and staying on the right road) is confusing and problematic. However, considering the other attractions found south of Oaxaca, a car can be useful. Heading south out of the city, one should avoid the airport highway and angle west across the Atoyac River bridge. Turn left (south) just after crossing the bridge. This road continues south toward Zaachila, but one may have to stop and ask directions before finding the right route, which is far from clear.
Exploring the Native Markets of Mexico
Colorful native markets are found throughout Mexico, including the southern state of Oaxaca. The Thursday market in Zaachila, however, offers the added benefit of a lively and delightful livestock exchange, as well.