The People's Guide To Mexico

Book Reviews

Oaxaca Handbook

Review by P.G. Meier

Most guidebooks on Mexico devote 10, maybe 20 pages to Oaxaca. There are generally sections on the city, the archeological wonders, the beaches and one or two side trips to artisan towns. I know that I’ve always felt that these books just scratched the surface of Oaxaca. I’ve always been left hungry for more.

Well, my hunger has finally been satisfied. In the Oaxaca Handbook (Moon Travel Handbooks, Emeryville, CA, 384 pages, $16.95), Bruce Whipperman offers a complete menu of not just the valley of Oaxaca, but the entire state. An introductory section covers the history of the state as well as an overview of the people and their languages, the economics of the state, plus information about the geology, climate and the flora and fauna of Oaxaca.

Before branching out into coverage of the areas of the state the book details the hows and whats and wheres of a visit. The listings of accommodations includes not only the guidebook-standard suggestions of hotels and hostels, but also of guesthouses, homestays and tourist lodges, known as Yu’u. Food and health matters are well covered. The section on getting around is full of useful information. An example, when traveling at night on a bus, request a seat on the right side of the bus because " . . . you will sleep better on the right side (lado derecho) away from the glare of oncoming traffic lights." The book is full of details such as this.

Bruce Whipperman

Each section of Oaxaca is covered from the Costa Chica in the Southwest to the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca in the Northeast, from the Isthmus in the East to the Mixteca Baja and Alta in the Northwest. The valley of Oaxaca is extensively covered too. Although this book would be useful to a first-time visitor, it is invaluable to someone who has ample time and a desire to experience all that the state of Oaxaca has to offer. On a recent trip to Oaxaca my wife and I tried a recommendation from the book that proved to be accurate and extremely useful. Through the Community Museums headquarters in Oaxaca, we arranged for a guide who accompanied us in "colectivos" (shared taxis) to the Wednesday market at Etla, and the museums and ruins at Suchilquitongo and San José El Mogote. We shared a wonderful meal with a family in San José at their farm home. It was a wonderful day filled with new experiences just slightly off the beaten path. It was a great pleasure meeting the people who shared their villages and homes with us. I eagerly look forward to using the Oaxaca Handbook when there is more time to expand my Oaxacan horizons by visiting other parts of the state.

Whipperman has a special interest in outdoor activities and ecological tourism. He emphasizes hiking in Oaxaca’s national parks and other natural attractions. He enthusiastically writes of people working to improve the ecology of the places where they live. One sidebar covers the efforts of the Playa La Ventanilla community. The sidebar describes how residents of this village near Puerto Ángel have taken responsibility for protecting the turtles that use the beach there to lay their eggs.

Many times, guidebooks seem to have been written by committees. Oaxaca Handbook is definitely a book written by a committee of one. It is clear that Whipperman really experienced the villages and sights he describes. In each section he not only writes of the places, but also of the people and how they live. He endorses being a participant, not just being a detached visitor.

If a trip to Oaxaca is in your future this book is a must. If you are just looking to do some armchair travel, the Oaxaca Handbook is well written and filled with anecdotes that will make you wish that you did have a trip to Oaxaca planned. The Oaxaca Handbook would be a great addition to anyone’s Mexican library.
Oaxaca Tips
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Oaxaca in the Summer?
Oaxaca: I've Changed My Mind
The Best of Mexico
Order the
Oaxaca Handbook

©1972-2004 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens