In 2016 we started our six months in Mexico with one month in Oaxaca. During this time I realised that Oaxaca is a perfect holiday destination for families at any time of year. We were lucky enough to be there over Day of the Dead, which made our time even more special.
Not convinced? Then read this account I wrote about our time there and then tell me you don’t believe me!
People constantly express surprise that we’re here with the kids, and until this week, we didn’t see any other foreigners with children at all. This week we’ve spotted two other families across the zocalo. We haven’t made a beeline for each other so clearly things aren’t that bad that we need to commiserate or congratulate with others!
Life is generally as it is at home. We wake up and are either faced with two situations: kids bouncing on our heads, or kids who refuse to get out of bed because they’re too tired. We have breakfast at home and then zoom out the door to get ourselves to our respective schools. Normally Col walks with the boy and I carry the little girl for the four blocks or so until we hit zocolo. We are early enough that the street sellers are still setting up as we walk so we hop out of the way of those cleaning the streets with water, we manoeuvre around people lugging big boxes, and without fail, we stop to comment on every. single. peppa, spiderman, spongebob, turtle, dora etc etc, anything that we see. Without. Fail. Every. Day.
Then as we get closer to zocolo we walk past the mobile breakfast bars so we check out what people are having: seems to be corn, jelly/jello, sandwiches or cakes. At zocolo the kids walk, checking out every crack and new protest sign or group that has gone up over night (teachers and students still protesting shitty academic provision). We walk past two or three restaurants where, also without fail, the staff ask us, every day, if we’d like breakfast. Without fail, we smile and say no thank you! Two sides of the square and we leave the shade and hit the sun again. The kids know that once we hit the sun we will carry them. We say good morning to the cocacola truck that is unloading every day and walk on to school. At the door of my school I hand over the girl to Col and give both kids big hugs. Col then walks them to school and I abdicate any responsibility for anyone but myself for four blissful hours.
After class, Col and I have lunch together before going to get the kids from school. They usually bounce out of school, thrilled to see us but sometimes the little one is crying because school was ‘scary today’. We try to ensure we have a fun afternoon planned to detract from the fact that we’re forcing them to go to school in a language they barely understand. So our options tend to be: soft play, a park, swimming pool, coffee shop for nice drinks and a play on the square or a trip to a nice ice cream shop.
Today, Friday, we didn’t go to school as we opted for four day weeks for us all. We got up late, the kids had cereal and then we headed out for waffles and hot cakes. We’d told the kids we were planning on eating a big breakfast but they’d demanded cereal first. The hotcakes and syrup were amazing and the kids had the best strawberry and watermelon smoothie thing. Then we got the bus to Monte Alban for the second time. We all LOVE it there. It’s so big and the air is so clean and the kids can just run like loons. They run, we all run, then we climb the huge steps and explore together. We climb trees and find tickle sticks together. Amazing. What a place. I love how the kids demonstrate their excitement at life in places like this. Our small boy spotted two birds of prey and some humming birds today. And the small girl had a preying mantis climb on her arm (she didn’t love that, to be honest!).
Kids’ reaction to Mexico: Occasionally one of them will claim they want to go home to London but it never lasts long. We talk about home and school and every thing else going on in Europe and talk about how lucky we all are to be here even if somethings aren’t as easy as at home. Generally the small girl will exclaim ‘hip hip hooray for Mexico’, even if she does proclaim that Spanish is ‘impossible’ on a regular basis. The boy is very vocal about loving Mexico. They both love the heat and the opportunity to explore, they love being with us more and the certainly love that we’re a bit freer with ice creams and sugary drinks than we are at home! They definitely know how to take advantage of the heat to claim they need ice cream regularly. I also think Mexico is strengthening the bond our kids have. They have got classmates and one friend here but they’re far more reliant on each other than they have ever been before. Mostly it works. We have bickering about bed-sheets every night but otherwise, thus far, they’re revelling in each other’s company.
Mexico’s reaction to kids: They’re so blond! That’s what we hear all the time. Closely followed by ‘aren’t they cute’ (in Spanish, obv). As we walk through zocolo people always try and say hello to them or to get their attention. You can see people watching and smiling as our kids hold hands, or dance or play together. Everyone wants to offer them things to try or to talk to them. School staff have been lovely. They’re so accommodating of the fact that we’ve just dumped to non-Spanish speakers on them for two weeks. One parent told me that their daughter talks about our son all the time and says he’s really funny. I have no idea how this works because our small boy claims he doesn’t speak at school but I do know he’s a funny kid so maybe his brilliant personality shines through despite the language barrier. I’m so grateful that school has been so kind. The director has taken time to work with the kids because she speaks some English and she thought they might do better if they had some English contact at school too. And on Monday we’ve been invited to the school’s day of the dead march. It’s really kind of them to include us since we would never know about it if they hadn’t told us: the kids wouldn’t have had a clue and since they’re not going to school on Monday we’d have been none the wiser. Instead, it’s something we’re all really looking forward to doing with them.
Activities for kids: there’s a park with a great playground in the north of the city called Colosio Park. It has a few areas for playing, a baseball pitch, two volleyball courts, a hilly grassy area, an indoor play area that’s sort of like a UK one o’clock club but better, and a small cafe. They’s also Parque Infantil, on the east side of the city, just by the baseball ground. We have been there a few times and I’ve been told off for sitting on a swing while talking to my girl on her swing. It doesn’t have any facilities except loos and it has no grass but it’s a good playground and the kids have enjoyed it. It’s right on a main road though. Stromboli is a good option for indoor play when it’s raining or too hot. It’s 75pesos a child and gives them free reign of the soft play area and the other play areas. For older kids there are some ‘go ape’ bits inside for 15pesos more. It’s a bit past its best but it’s great for whiling away a few hours, especially as it has free wifi. We’ve been told about another playground in the south of the city that we’re going to try out tomorrow.
VIPS restaurant on El Lano plaza has a kids’ area in one corner and the food isn’t pricy by European standards. McDonald’s in the north of the city also has a play area (we haven’t been but we have driven past it). Macro Plaza has a play area in the food court and we’ve seen a couple of other indoor play areas that we haven’t checked out. The plaza seems to have a regular bouncy slide-castle but we can’t figure out its timetable. It’s up a lot though. And on Sundays they have painting easels set up for kids and electric cars for hire for the kids.
Mainly our kids run around on zocolo with random local kids they pick up. We watch and try not to panic too much when we find them in bushes doing god knows what.
There’s also the Oaxaca lending library that is very welcoming. It has a great kids’ section with books in English and Spanish and some bilingual books. I think we have all learned a lot from the hours we have spent in there. They do a bilingual story time for toddlers on a Friday and I think there’s a Saturday morning library sessions for kids too.
There are pools here and there but we’ve only checked out the one at San Pedro restaurant because it’s lovely and we can have good drinks and a play on the grass at the same time. And there’s almost never anyone else there so if feels like a private pool. That costs 60pesos per person.
There are plenty of interesting trips to do outside the city: from petrified waterfalls and infinity pools, to the world’s biggest tree (more interesting than you’d think) and trips in to the mountains to ancient ruins and learning about how traditional artesanias are made, there’s stuff to do all the time. There are also regular parades through town, with loud music and people chucking sweets at kids. What’s not to love?
Food: our kids aren’t always brilliant about trying new things but our girl has really risen to the challenge here and our boy is doing much better than he usually does. We have discovered that the girl will eat bugs, she loves corn (both elotes [on the cob] and esquites [in a cup with mayo, lemon, salt and cheese]), will try most salsas and salads and bread things. The boy also eats the corn but mainly is in love with anything meaty. He also learned today that jamon and jabon are two very different things and only one should go in a sandwich! Both will just about eat beans if spread thinly on a sandwich.
It’s easy to ask for food to be prepared as your kids want it, just remember to say ‘sin nada’ once you have asked for the ham or cheese they do invariably want in their sandwich. It means with nothing else so you don’t have to spend hours pulling out tomato pips, stray lettuce strands or licking off mayo or bean paste. Much easier to accept and remember, ‘sin nada’. In the markets our kids ADORE the meat bbq row. We get 1kg of beef steak cooked on the bbq for 100pesos. With it we get the most amazing cooked spring onions, bread, salsas and drinks. And we eat like democratically elected leaders (i.e. kings but with equality in mind). There is fruit everywhere. Our kids are in love with rambutan, small bananas and red bananas. And our boy has developed an apple addiction while here. If people get fed up with Mexican food there are a few Chinese buffets, the boy thought he’d died and gone to heaven when we went the other day. There are pizza options and a few European style cafes that do amazing sandwiches. There are also churros on the streets!
So basically, Oaxaca is almost a perfect destination with kids. People are super friendly, the food is lovely, the city is walkable (I’m super proud of our boy as he walks pretty much everywhere now without even mentioning that he’s tired or wants a hug) and there are options for playing once you get to know the place.
I love Oaxaca, I truly love it. The kids have settled in really well. The boy is always willing to practice his Spanish in shops and restaurants and we really enjoy just hanging out here. We leave on Wednesday to go to Tulum for a month. I’ll miss Oaxaca and am glad we’ll have a week here before we come home in April. It’s started to feel like home. Shame there are no job opportunities here.
If anyone is considering whether Oaxaca is a place to bring children then stop thinking and book your tickets. It’s incredible. And while you’re there, why not consider a trip in to the Sierra Norte, it’s perfectly possible with children along for the ride! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to feed your kids. I’ll make it easy for you with this quick list of phrases.