The smell of handmade tortillas stuffed with stringy quesillo (Oaxacan cheese) and squash blossoms fills the air. Vendors push through the crowds of shoppers carrying sacks of dried chile de arbol on their backs yelling, “Chiles! Chiles!” Women with colorful traditional clothing sit on the floor with produce spread out in front of them while chatting in their indigenous languages.
It’s just another day at a Oaxaca village market. Oaxaca market days are how the local economies function in smaller communities around the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.
People from rural areas throughout the surrounding valleys and mountains pack up their goods and travel to larger towns where shoppers gather to buy products they can’t find in their own villages.
The towns of Tlacolula de Matamoros and Ocotlán de Morelos host the biggest and best market days in the Central Valley: the Tlacoula market and the Ocotlan market.
Most travelers refer to them simply as village market days, but locals call these markets tianguis (flea market) or dia de plaza (main square day).
This travel guide to the Tlacolula market and the Ocotlan market covers everything you need to know to visit these Oaxaca market days, including how to get there, what to expect, what to buy, what to eat, and things to see around each town.
Looking for more things to do in Oaxaca? Check out all our Oaxaca posts and these:
- Oaxaca’s Must-Try Foods and Drinks
- The Ultimate Guide to Oaxaca de Juarez
- How to Visit the Monte Alban Ruins
- See the Stunning Mosaics at Mitla Ruins
- Should I visit Ocotlan or Tlacolula Market?
- What to Expect at Oaxaca Market Days
- Tlacolula Market
- How to Get to Tlacolula Market from Oaxaca
- Ocotlan Market
- How to Get to Ocotlan Market from Oaxaca
- What’s the Difference? Tlacolula Market vs Ocotlan Market
- More Oaxaca Market Days
- What to Pack for Oaxaca Market Days
- Final Thoughts on Ocotlan and Tlacolula Markets
Should I visit Ocotlan or Tlacolula Market?
Since we lived in Oaxaca de Juarez for over a month, we had enough time to visit the best Oaxaca city markets and both village market days at Ocotlan and Tlacolula. But if you can only choose one, here are some tips on which market to visit.
Read Next: The Best Oaxaca City Markets
If you’re short on time and find yourself in Oaxaca on a Sunday, visit the Tlacolula market. Tlacolula is on the same road to the Mitla archeological ruins, so you can stop by multiple spots (like mezcal tasting in Matatlan) on that same day.
This half-day tour from Oaxaca to Tlacolula market, includes touring the market, visiting San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya village, and exploring the Yagul ruins.
If you’re in Oaxaca on a Friday and have more time to explore, visit the Ocotlan market. Wander around the charming town, admire the colorful murals, and get away from the tourist crowds that flock to Tlacolula.
This tour from Oaxaca to Ocotlan, includes a guided tour of Ocotlan and its market, and stops in two other Oaxacan towns, Jalieza and Tilcajete.
It’s worthwhile to visit both the Ocotlan market and the Tlacolula market. Many people like the Tlacolula market because it’s the biggest in the area and it’s close to other Oaxaca attractions, but we preferred the Ocotlan market because of its charming town, colorful church and murals, and lively plaza.
What to Expect at Oaxaca Market Days
As has been the tradition for centuries, farmers, vendors, and artisans from small villages and rural communities near Oaxaca gather in larger towns once a week to sell their goods, socialize, and buy products they can’t find elsewhere.
There are villages market days for every day of the week, but the Ocotlan market and the Tlacolula market are the most popular ones to visit as a day trip from Oaxaca.
Early in the morning on market days, the central streets are closed off and temporary market stalls are set up and stretch on further than you can see, wrapping around many blocks in a labyrinth of commerce. The mouthwatering aroma of Oaxaca’s regional dishes fills the air and you can hear the locals chatting in their indigenous languages, like Zapotec, Triqui, Chinantec, Amuzgo, or Mixe.
Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Oaxaca de Juarez
The stalls have nearly anything and everything you could ask for, from hats to street food to brooms to live turkeys. Fresh produce is abundant. The larger stalls have crates stacked up of tomatoes, avocados, onions, garlic, cilantro, squash, flowers, oranges, bananas, apples, and a variety of other local produce. Smaller vendors will simply lay out a sheet on the ground and stand nearby, perhaps offering just garlic or a few types of herbs.
Other vendors run around carrying what they sell and will come straight up to you to convince you to buy them. If you’re not interested, just say,”No, gracias.” and divert your eyesight elsewhere.
Some areas are full of small restaurants where the aromas of soups and stews fill the air – and your nose will lead you right to them. Quesadillas (often called empanadas in Oaxaca) can be found on most corners. Sometimes the best food spots are tucked in a 5-foot opening between two larger vendors. Fruit and juice stands sit on mid-sized carts, displaying an array of colors and different aguas frescas (water infused with various flavors and usually a bit of sugar).
Read Next: Oaxaca’s Must-Try Foods and Drinks
And of course, the textiles and other hand-made items are everywhere. The fruit brings a splash of color, but the textiles are nearly sensory overload. Beautiful dresses made with neon green and yellow. Shirts laced with intricate pink and black. Layers upon layers of hats, stalls full of belts, leather bags, wood carvings, and much, much more.
The Tlacolula market day is on Sunday in Tlacolula de Matamoros, about 30 kilometers from Oaxaca. This village market is the one of the largest markets in Oaxaca and has been around for centuries.
Every Sunday (except Easter) the streets in the town center are closed off to vehicles and endless rows of blue and green tents are setup in their place. The market is packed with thousands of vendors and shoppers from the surrounding villages wearing their Sunday best.
The Tlacolula market has a little bit of everything: locally produced mezcal, fruits and vegetables, freshly baked pan de yema (yolk bread), textiles woven on waist looms, hand forged iron tools, pirated movies, household utensils, and aguas frescas.
Some must-try foods at the Tlacolula market are Tlacolula-style barbacoa (goat meat stew with a red broth), moles, tlayudas, chapulines (crickets), and nieve de tuna (ice cream made from bright pink cactus fruit).
If you’re shopping for souvenirs at Tlacolula market, you should buy local mezcal, chocolate, hand-woven textiles, hand-made straw baskets, and Oaxaca’s famous black pottery.
Mercado Municipal Martín González
Tlacolula also has a large, permanent municipal market building with two stories called the Mercado Municipal Martín González . Inside there are many food stalls (similar to Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca de Juarez) and market vendors (breads, produce, and textiles). Here you can try the local version of barbacoa, tlayudas, chapulines, and other typical Oaxacan dishes.
One of the restaurants is very popular with tourists due to its owner who is a Frida Kahlo impersonator that offers photo opportunities.
Iglesia La Asunción de Nuestra Señora
The Tlacolula church is called La Asunción de Nuestra Señora and was founded in the 16th century. It’s known for its silver retablos, doors with ironwork, and chapel which is a pilgrimage site believed to grant miracles.
How to Get to Tlacolula Market from Oaxaca
Tlacolula de Matamoros is about a 45-minute drive southeast of Oaxaca, on the road to the Mitla archeological ruins. The cheapest way to get to the Tlacolula market from Oaxaca is by colectivo (shared transport vehicle that stops to pickup and drop off people along the way). The colectivo to Tlacolula departs from the northeast side of Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos, the large baseball stadium. It should cost around $25 pesos one way (about $1.25 USD). You can also take a taxi for about $300 pesos one way.
This day trip from Oaxaca to Tlacolula market includes a guided tour of the market, the town of San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya village, and the Yagul ruins. This is a good option for those that want to learn more about the history, culture, food, and handicrafts because the tour guide will touch on those topics and answer any questions you may have.
The Ocotlán market day is on Friday. This village market known for catering more to farmers, due to its metal work, farming tools and livestock sales. Rows of machetes, hammers, stakes, plows, and other useful farming equipment line the streets; some built for utilitarian purposes and others with complex designs suitable for family heirlooms. Large stalls with amazing leatherwork caught our attention as well, including horse saddles, whips, and leather bags of all sizes.
The main reason we prefer the Ocotlán market over the Tlacolula market is the charming town. When visiting the Ocotlán market, you can also explore the town’s other attractions and landmarks.
Parque de Ocotlan
Parque de Ocotlán is the central meeting area/plaza and has a handful of sculptures with benches all over. It’s a great place to grab a traditional Mexican drink, like tejate (made from corn and cacao), sit on a bench, and people watch. Temporary market stalls and restaurants surround this park, so you can also grab a bite to eat.
Rodolfo Morales Murals
There is an expansive mural painted by Rodolfo Morales in the building on the southern side of the plaza. Entrance is free and you can spend a good twenty minutes taking it all in. The colorful characters are all detailed and tell a story of their own.
Rodolfo Morales is a well-known Mexican painter from Ocotlán. His connection to Ocotlán and Oaxaca is very strong. Many people in the area adore this artist and his brightly-colored paintings.
Iglesia de Santo Domingo
A lovely church, Iglesia de Santo Domingo, is just south of the park. The interior is stunning. Sharing the name of the iconic Santo Domingo in Oaxaca City, this church is quite big and has tons of ornate pieces within. A museum featuring Rodolfo Morales’ work is located inside of the ex-convent of the church.
The large, grassy area directly in front of the church is where you’ll find families selling livestock on market days, including goats, chickens, turkeys, and more.
San Bartolo Coyotepec
Another benefit of going to Ocotlán is that the town of San Bartolo Coyotepec is on the way. San Bartolo Coyotepec is known throughout Mexico for its black pottery. And San Bartolo’s market day is also Friday! Get an early start if you want to see both markets before they close in the afternoon.
Make sure to visit the State Museum of Popular of Oaxaca, Museo Estatal de Arte Popular de Oaxaca, in San Bartolo Coyotepec for some amazing local art and beautiful exhibits.
How to Get to Ocotlan Market from Oaxaca
Ocotlán de Morelos is about a 1-hour drive south of Oaxaca, along the road towards the beaches of Huatulco. Even with Kristina’s native Spanish, we found it difficult to find colectivos going directly here. Let us know in the comments if you know of the pickup spot.
There are is an Ocotlan transportation agency in Oaxaca with nice, air-conditioned vans for a reasonable price. The departure point for this these is near the northeast corner of Bustamante & Xóchitl.
This day trip from Oaxaca to Ocotlan includes a guided tour of the town of Ocotlan and its market, and stops in two other Oaxacan towns, Jalieza (known for its textiles produces by waist loom) and Tilcajete (known for its colorful handicrafts).
What’s the Difference? Tlacolula Market vs Ocotlan Market
The Ocotlan and Tlacolula markets are similar in many ways, but they vary slightly in size (Tlacolula’s market larger), the goods they offer, and the things to do around town.
Both mercados (markets) have stalls stretching for many blocks selling an incredible amount of products and both will leave you with a lasting memory of the true cultural experience that is visiting the bustling Oaxaca market days.
There is one thing that Tlacolula has more of than Ocotlan: tourists. That’s because Tlacolula is closer to Oaxaca (about 45 minutes away compared to an hour for Ocotlán) and on the way to other tourist destinations, like the petrified waterfalls at Hierve el Agua, the mezcal factories in Matatlán, and the ruins in Mitla.
Ocotlan and Tlacolula are both about the same distance from Oaxaca and you can take a colectivo, taxi, or tour to either market.
More Oaxaca Market Days
There are village market days for each day of the week near Oaxaca and so many amazing markets in Oaxaca city. Here’s a list of the daily markets along with each one’s specialties:
- Teotitlan del Valle (Monday): wool textiles made on waist looms with natural dyes
- Santa Ana del Valle (Tuesday): wool textiles made on waist looms with natural dyes, plus a small museum
- Etla (Wednesday): Oaxaca cheese (quesillo), tasajo, bread, and other regional specialities
- Zaachila (Thursday): livestock, local fruits and vegetables, and meats
- Ocotlan (Friday): livestock and farming tools
- Oaxaca (Saturday): largest market in all of Oaxaca, sells anything and everything
- Tlacolula (Sunday): second largest market, mezcal, tejate, mole, barbacoa, flowers, livestock, tools
What to Pack for Oaxaca Market Days
Be prepared for lots of walking around in sunlight and perhaps a bit of rain. It’s also wise to use a secure bag that can’t be pickpocketed easily. Here are some Oaxaca village market days essentials:
- Travelon Secure Bags (Kristina’s favorite brand for anti-theft purses)
- Darn Tough Socks (Michael’s favorite for long days on your feet)
- Packable Day Backpack
- Cash and small change
Final Thoughts on Ocotlan and Tlacolula Markets
You can’t go wrong with visiting either Ocotlan or Tlacolula market. Ocotlán has more to offer around town, but both market days are full of enough stalls to keep you entertained for hours.
If you have a Friday free, appreciate artwork, and want to see the black pottery in San Bartolo Coyotepec, go to the Ocotlan market.
In either case, get out there, see what the market-day excitement is all about, and get lost under the blue tarps. You won’t regret it!
What sounds better to you: the colorful murals at Ocotlán market or the Frida Kahlo impersonator at Tlacolula market? Let us know which Oaxaca market day you like best in the comments below.