The 2 mountain chains of the Sierra Madre converge in Oaxaca state, and then run down in a single line to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, creating great mountaineering and hiking terrain. In the south, hilltop pine forests slowly give way to lush tropical forest and then jungle on the coast, with steamy inland lagoons with resident alligators.
There are 15 indigenous groups living in Oaxaca, and the smaller villages have their own local politics, several languages and a strong culture that seems almost trapped in time. They also produce the vast majority of handicrafts, including the state’s famous black pots and hand-woven blankets which you see on sale in Oaxaca’s markets.
Most people go through the laid-back, pretty Oaxaca city at some point on their journey through Mexico. Here you can see some of the region’s finest churches and markets, explore ancient Mixtec and Zapotec sites (like Monte Albán), and take part in numerous flamboyant fiestas. Oaxaca is also the artistic centre of Mexico, with several state-run and private galleries, and its art and language courses are the main reason that so many tourists come here to study.