As we were planning our trip to Mexico, we quickly honed in on Oaxaca. It is the handicraft capital of Mexico, which enticed me completely. Oaxaca City is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to churches all over the city and multiple markets, there is a wonderful pedestrianized area between the main plaza and the beautiful Santo Domingo cathedral. This main area was clean, well-lit at night, and always felt safe and welcoming (other parts probably were too but we kept our circle of exploration pretty small with the kids). We were there during Semana Santa, Holy Week, a major Mexican holiday time leading up to Easter. There were beautiful altars set up throughout the city and gorgeous, simple wreaths made from the heart of palm for Palm Sunday.
I loved the vibrant colours everywhere, in the handicrafts, on the walls, among the crowds on the zocalo each night. And speaking of the zocalo at night, we highly recommend buying one of the big plastic tubes full of air to toss around in front of the cathedral. Those things can be anywhere from 2-10 feet long, and it is surprisingly fun to join the local kids in throw and catch. The simple things in life are oh so good.
As in Puerto Escondido, we had no trouble eating well. Don't miss the traditional dishes, particularly those featuring mole (swoon), and be sure to finish your meal with a delicious cafe de olla. You should probably start the meal off with a donají (mixed drink with mezcal) for fun too.
We stayed in the beautiful Hotel Casa de las Siete Balcones, found via TripAdvisor. It was right on the pedestrianized strip in the heart of Oaxaca. Again, no car needed (which is good because who knows where we would have parked it). The hotel is very small (only 7 rooms), staffed with incredibly friendly and helpful people. A simple continental breakfast was included, and all other meals must be found off-site. They were very accommodating, even providing cereal for our early risers over an hour before breakfast was offered each day. The staff also helped organize a half-day tour with a local tour operator to visit the ruins and pyramids of an ancient Zapotec city about 20 minutes away.
Although the kids preferred the beach and the pool in Puerto Escondido, I fell in love with Oaxaca. The climate was perfect (dry warmth, 80s during the day, 60s at night), the people were friendly and the scenery was lovely. I would like to return to attend a language school there. We definitely found we needed my broken Spanish on this trip, but people were kind and very forgiving of hideous grammar. They were happy I tried and didn't worry too much about perfection. My kind of holiday.