View of the Sierra Mixe in Oaxaca

Oaxaca Photos

La Tierra del Sol (The Land of the Sun) in pictures

Oaxaca is a land of light – on ochre and maroon and turquoise walls; on dancers; on plazas and huge laurel trees. It is also a land of color: market stalls heaped with mangos and cherry-red chapulines (fried grasshoppers); the swirling skirts of traditional dancers; street art and brilliant sky and jacarandas blooming lavender. In Oaxaca, you don’t plan: you wander. Around a corner, a calenda led by a full brass band. Around another, a streetside stand packed with people eating tacos. People gather on the pedestrian streets and in the Zocalo and everywhere there is a sense of community, fiesta, and conviviality. Everywhere you go, you see mountains. Oaxaca will cast its spell on you, especially during the blue hour – la hora azul – when the streets teem and the heat dims and the city seems to glow from within.

This collection of Oaxaca photographs from the past decade makes me so happy! These are some of my favorite pictures of all time. Enjoy!

Photos Oaxaca: Jacaranda in bloom in Oaxaca
Photos Oaxaca: Jacaranda in bloom in Oaxaca

Photography in Oaxaca:

This is an absolutely biased opinion, but I think Oaxaca is a paradise for photographers. Sunlight is abundant here, as are fiestas! People are always celebrating something and they welcome photographers with open arms and maybe a bit of mezcal. I consider myself lucky I was born in this state. To this day, I still make it a priority to visit at least twice a year. Over the past decade, I have been fortunate not only to photograph the city of Oaxaca but also across many different regions of the state. In photographing Oaxaca, I have come to understand my roots in more complex ways, and be proud of them. 

My Favorite Oaxaca Photos:

Film Photography in Oaxaca

As a photographer, I consider Oaxaca one of the best places to photograph using analog photography. The bright light makes it possible to work with low ISO speeds. Some of my favorite films to photograph in the state are Ilford SFX200 for black and white and Kodak Portra 400 for color photography. Thanks to the Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo, you’ll find yourself in good company while photographing in the city, as this museum has for the past 20 years formed generations of great photographers, many of which are still using film to this day.

Can you buy black and white film in Oaxaca?

Yes, you can, but be prepared to get it at a premium. Look for “Central Fotográfica,” a small photo lab located a few blocks south of the Zocalo. 

Can you still develop film in Oaxaca?

Yes, the Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo has a working black and white lab where you can develop your own film or have the technician develop it for you. I absolutely recommend their work. Photography goods, however, are in short supply in Oaxaca, so I’d definitely recommend you bring your own negative sleeves and paper if you need contact sheets. I don’t recommend having color film developed in Oaxaca. The labs I have tried have all returned my film scratched. 

Is Oaxaca safe for photographers?

Oaxaca is still one of the safest places in Mexico to photograph. However, when traveling to Mexico as a photographer, I’d recommend having all your gear insured and making sure your insurance covers international travel. Luckily, I have never had any crime issues while taking pictures in Oaxaca, but my equipment has sometimes been in danger of being broken at the carnivals by the sneaky devils!

Devil at San Martin Tilcajete Carnival in Oaxaca

Where is the best place for photographers to stay in Oaxaca City?

The best place to stay in Oaxaca as a photographer is the Hotel Marqués Del Valle. This hotel is located in the heart of Oaxaca City: the Zocalo. You can practically take photos all day from your balcony. If you are feeling more adventurous, try some of the multiple airbnbs around the city (this is a secret, but my favorite one is Comala). Some of my favorite neighborhoods to stay and photograph in are: Centro Historico, Barrio de Jalatlaco, and Xochimilco. 

When is the best time to visit Oaxaca?

I have found that the best times to visit Oaxaca for photography are:

  • In February/March, right before Lent. Plan on being in Oaxaca the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday as there are multiple carnivals around the city. My favorite one is the Carnaval de Tilcajete. 
  • In July, to photograph the Guelaguetza, the largest indigenous cultural event in Mexico. The Guelaguetza, or; lunes del cerro, is held in Oaxaca City on the two Mondays following July 16. This event brings dancers from all 8 different regions of the state. My favorite event to photograph around the Guelaguetza is the desfile de delegaciones, in which all dancers parade around the city. This event happens on the Saturday before the first Monday on the Hill. 
  • In November for the Day of the Dead. This is a must for me. The city is covered in marigolds and everyone is celebrating at the markets and cemeteries. I always try to arrive around October 31st and stay at least until November 3rd. Be prepared to be well rested as you might be photographing 20 hours a day.

This gallery of pictures of Oaxaca was collected over the last 10 years of travels to the state. If you are interested in a print, please send me a message and we can discuss further details.

2 responses to “Oaxaca”

  1. Alvin Keyes Avatar
    Alvin Keyes

    Hi. Thank you for your post. I plan to visit Oaxaca this summer. However, it most likely will be early to mid-August. Do you have any suggestions for things I should look for to photograph? Thank you.

    1. jlsantiago Avatar

      Depending on your interest, you can always find something to photograph. I was in Oaxaca in mid-August last year to photograph Guacamayas (Military Macaws) in el Canõn del Sabino; after that, I went to a Fiesta del Pueblo in a small Village in the Sierra Mixe. What are you specifically looking to photograph? (festivals, portraits, nature, birds, mezcal process, artisans)

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