The large, southern state of Oaxaca is a fascinating place to visit. Its main draw is its high population of Indians and their vibrant culture and distinct way of viewing things. The Indians belong to several different ethnic groups, each with its own language, and they don't just keep to the villages—you see them everywhere. Over the centuries, their practices, beliefs, and customs have percolated into the local culture at large to such a degree that Indian and non-Indian share a certain worldview that is a bit removed from that held by most Westerners. This is a magical region of Mexico.
In the central highlands is a large population of Zapotec and Mixtec Indians surrounding Oaxaca City. It's a land of mountains and valleys checkered with cornfields, at its prettiest during the rainy season (June-Oct), when the corn is green. The villages here are famous for their crafts, and many families now support themselves more by making handicrafts than by growing corn. But growing corn carries much more weight in their ordering of things and is part of who they are.
Their ancestors established agriculture and civilization in these valleys centuries ago. They were the ones who built and rebuilt the magnificent ceremonial center of Monte Albán high upon a mountaintop above Oaxaca City. Up there, you'll find an intriguing collection of buildings, ball courts, and plazas with designs distinctive from those of the Maya to the east and the many cultures of central Mexico to the northwest.
But my favorite part of a trip here is visiting the city of Oaxaca, a colonial city of stone buildings, plazas, and courtyards. With the pleasures of elegant surroundings, good food, and warm, welcoming people, I find myself very much at home here.