Oaxaca adores children.
What does the city and its surrounding villages have to offer families with small children?
The short answer is a lot. Having raised my first child in the states and my second in Oaxaca, I feel comfortable saying that the general experience of having small children in Oaxaca is better than that of the U.S.. In Oaxaca, people everywhere dote on kids, and they are generally well-received in restaurants and at cultural events (although if you’re strict about not giving them candy, you might have to fend off many a “do-gooder”, as well-intentioned people here seem to have a constant supply of lollipops stashed in their bags to hand to your children).
Actually, if there has ever been a moment when one of my children has acted out in public (which of course, never happens, right?) the only sideways glances I’ve gotten have been from U.S./European tourists. Oaxacans generally seem to accept crying/fussing/loudness as part of being a kid, and therefore part of life. If I look like I have my hands full in the grocery store or on the street, people will often even step in to entertain one of the kids. And babies… well everyone in Oaxaca wants to hold your babies.
Here is a list of places I’ve found to be appealing to little ones (or to grown-ups who need a break). (Keep in mind that this is based on personal experience and opinion, and definitely does not reflect everyone‘s reality nor is it a comprehensive list.) I also understand that someone who lives here most likely has some different needs than someone just visiting and in the market for purely culturally-enriching activities, although our common ground is that nearly everyone with a small child needs a break at some point.
1. Restaurants with play areas.
- Gelato in Colonia Reforma. This is an ice cream place geared specifically toward kids–so much so that they have little (to no) “adult food” to offer. It’s relatively cheap though, as 50 pesos will buy you a small ice cream and entry into their ball-pit/play area. They let babies into the play area, although parents are not allowed inside and the bigger kids can easily knock them over. I’ve found that staff inside the play area aren’t the most attentive to babies, so I’d recommend this place for older toddlers and up. There’s an arcade area on the top floor.
- Tres Bistro in the Zocalo. This place is super-centric and has a real “adult” menu, specializing in Oysters and seafood. It’s pricey and the restaurant is on the fancier side for kids (table clothes and lots of glassware), but they have a hidden play-area that requires a strange crawl to half-a-floor below the eating area. The kids are out of sight, although staff can see them via a camera in the playroom, so I’d recommend it for kids who are old enough to play on their own.
- Los Chavales in Colonia Reforma is an Argentinian restaurant with a newly added playspace, where on-staff nannies actually take care of the kids while you eat. This is perfect for enjoying an adult outing once your baby or toddler is old enough to wiggle around and not want to sit through a lengthy meal.
- Pizza Leggera This playplace is rather bare and the pizza is passable, although if you’re into really thin crust it’s a functional option with free high speed Internet where the kids are contained.
- Cobrizo doesn’t exactly have a playplace but it does have a small grassy area outside of the restaurant with swings and a play structure. I’m including it upon a friend’s suggestion because they offer free chips with bean dip as an appetizer and ice cream after your meals, which her 6 year old loves!
- La Palapa Raul in Tlalixtac has a playground outside, so you’d have to accompany your little ones but at least they’ll be entertained.
- Hacienda Santa Marta is an extensive buffet out in Nazareno Etla with an expansive grounds and a unique airplane-turned-playground slide. It´s a great place to try the smorgasbord of options available in Oaxaca, where the kids will happily run around outside until it’s dessert time. Word for the wise: drinks get pricey, as they´re not included.
The best part about parks and open spaces for small children in Oaxaca is that they’re free, and while Oaxaca could definitely use more urban green space, its parks have a lot to offer little ones with excessive energy.
- The Zocalo is almost always bustling with activity. It might not be the ideal place to play during protest season, but during the rest of the year you’ll find children running around and tossing giant inflatable plastic bag-like balloons into the air for hours. They often have free activities, book fairs, and music and/or dancing in the evenings, so check with the touristic stands located in the zocalo or by Santo Domingo for up-to-date information.
- El llano is a good spot if your kids have a bike or some skates. If not, there are usually vendors that rent electric cars for a reasonable price, and who sometimes have bikes on hand as well. There is a roller skate company in Col. Reforma that teaches kids to skate in the Llano if you’re in the mood to purchase blades or skates. Sometimes there are easels set up where children can paint a picture for a small price, and perhaps you’ll come across a jumpy house or a ball pit. There are always snacks, balloons, and bubbles on sale on the perimeters of the park should the need call.
- The old shaded playground in the Fortín was split into two smaller parks when they recently built a parking garage for the Guelaguetza stadium. The “upper lot”, despite being alongside a highway, is far enough to back to not make it an imminent threat and my 18 month old has already mastered several of the structures (although they have structures geared toward older kids and fitness equipment for adults as well). The structures are all new and in great condition, but here’s no shade, so it’s definitely a place to go before the sun gets hot (or even better, once it sets in the afternoon).
- Parque Colosio in San Felipe has a lot of green space, some courts/fields and a dirt track around the perimeter. There is also fitness equipment and some (outdated but definitely usable) playground equipment. It’s a good place for a picnic if you’re in the area, though bring a blanket, because ants.
- The park behind the baseball stadium is a classic. Lots of structures in great condition, and a free carousel and train (although they have specific hours of operation which seem to change, so I would say those elements are hit or miss). There is some shade to sit under and snack, but most of the actual play structures are in the sun, so bring hats/sunscreen.
- El tequio next to the airport is a giant, complete with fields, a walking trail, various types of structures and fitness equipment, and a big zone for skating/wheels. It makes for a great family afternoon, and you’ll often see kids’ birthday parties being held there–cake, piñata, and all–beneath the shade of one of its many trees.
- Las Presas (the reservoirs) in Huayapam have both always been fun, although one side has now been particularly revamped to include ecotouristic things like a small zipline and upgraded gazebos for rent for afternoon BBQ/grill sessions. The other side still has restaurants and paddle boats/canoes or horses for rent. They boast beautiful views and a fun hike for older kids, although depending on your little ones it could be difficult to keep them out of the water.
- What´s more fun in the heat than heading to a waterpark? Vista Hermosa in San Agustín Etla has various pools and slides for different level swimmers, as well as a restaurant and bar and several grassy areas. I´m not sure what their official policy is but I´ve seen families bring everything from a keg of beer to a “garrafón de agua”, so I assume that they allow outside food/beverages but also sell a variety of fairly-inexpensive things on-site. Pack hats and lots of sunscreen, as some of the pools are in the direct sun. You can get there easily by taxi or in a combination of colectivo/moto-taxi, but make sure you ask them specifically for Vista Hermosa water park (balneario) lest they bring you to the overlook point of the same name.
- Jaguar Xoo in Tlacolula used to be a massive area that you could walk around at will, but the last time we arrived, they had remodelled and separated the jaguar conservation area from the zoo section, the latter of which has guided tours available. (It seemed to make sense, since the objective of a conservation area is not necessarily compatible with that of a zoo.) I have heard from a friend with a 3 year old that the resulting tour was enjoyable for kids and adults alike, but we missed the boat on the times and haven’t actually taken one ourselves. Regardless, a trip out in that direction has a lot to offer, from Teotitlán and its gorgeous textiles to the enormous Tule tree and a whole lot of nieve flavours, so you can´t lose.
- Several of Oaxaca´s outlying villages have cabins for rent, although my daughter and I have always loved Benito Juárez in the Sierra Norte, since several of their cabins are equipped with kitchenettes. This saves bundles on restaurant costs and makes life generally more pleasant if you´re travelling with small children. The kitchens are bare, but definitely suitable for preparing snacks and “in-between” meals, and the temperatures are generally cool enough to make a refrigerator unnecessary. Call first if you’re intent on reserving a cabin with cooking capabilities. The cabins each have two bedrooms, which is also handy if your bedtime routine is complicated. The village has several guides available for guided hikes, horses for rent, and an amazing 3-tier zipline that spans from one mountaintop to another. My daughter loved it so much at age 6 that the guides happily let her ride several times (although as adventurous as she was, even combined with a 6 year old classmate to a single carabiner they didn’t meet the weight requirement to make it across and the guide had to climb out to retrieve them). The zipline involves a hike, so if you’re up for something more accessible or for younger kids, Centro ecoturístico La Cumbre Ixtepeji has a smaller one on-site next to their cabins (although they don’t have kitchenettes).
- Magic Park was a gem when it first popped up (despite the fact that its themed rooms were gender-segregated, which a friend’s son contested and consequently won a favorable response). The upkeep hasn’t been great though and especially for babies/toddlers, the installations are outdated and unkempt enough to make it a less-than-attractive option. For kids who no longer put everything in their mouths, I’d say it’s a passable option with Internet if you’re desperate to get some work done.
- Poing Poing is another one of the “originals”, and while I find it overwhelmingly hot, noisy, and often crowed, the kids absolutely love it. It has a baby area and often has 2×1 deals on certain days which results in some savings if you have an even number of kids. Oh, and it has Internet.
- Woki World Kids recently popped up in the new Plaza Violetas in Colonia Reforma and is well-kept. The bottom floor has a space for babies with a nanny on staff, so you can sit and get some work done on-line as long as your little one lets you (they’re within your sight). There is a two-story play area for kids 2+, although the staff has said that adventurous under-twos are also allowed in if they’re independent enough. The place seems small for bigger kids (over six would be my guess) although it’s clean and contained for younger ones. The last time we went they were still remodelling an upper floor to include a princess-themed dress-up room (insert sarcastic face here) amongst other things.
- Fun Funny popped up on the way to Etla as you just emerge from the cerro, on the left side of the highway before you get to the Pepsi plant. They are off the beaten path and out of the shopping malls, which makes them a relatively-cheap option. Kids play for 50 pesos for as long as they’d like, and adults are allowed to enter the play structures with them. There is Internet on site, and limited snack options available. There is a smaller area for younger kids so they don’t get lost in the mix, and a miniature zipline.
- La Biblioteca Infantíl (Children´s Library) in Xochimilco is a shady place to enjoy some downtime. They have several book rooms, one with beanbag chairs and floor mats, and a playroom for kids. The library also offer free classes for children, although sign-ups are competitive so you definitely have to be on top of your game. They have a small theater in the back that shows family-friendly movies or performances at scheduled times, and a permaculture garden worth checking out.
- MIO (Museo Infantil de Oaxaca- Oaxaca Children´s Museum) is a new addition to the city, with a great library area for children who are old enough to enjoy it as a quiet space, some workshop spaces made out of old converted traincars, a fun nature-themed outdoor playground and even some chickens. They offer free activities on the weekends, which are posted on a schedule at the entrance. My 18 month old isn´t old enough to enjoy any of the playground equipment yet, but the MIO has a unique and innovative setting to stroll around if you have children of mixed ages.
- Centro Cultural San Pablo close by the zocalo is an architectural marvel with a beautiful library/study space inside, a restaurant and a café on site, and a great book/play room for young children to spread out and read comfortably or play with toys. They often have live orchestral music in the evenings or other regional offerings, and their yard sometimes boasts a play structure or a carousel. Their museum space sometimes has some very visual child-friendly exhibits.
- Several of Tlayudona´s hosts offer family-friendly experiences, ranging from art or culinary activities in some of Oaxaca´s most notable child-friendly locations, to hands-on theater and performance activities. We can help you plan a unique and memorable personal experience for any and all ages that appeals to your family´s interests. Check out our experience archives or contact us directly to organize something outside of our list. Our monthly calendar also lists experiences that we have scheduled and that you can reserve directly from our site, and each event lists the ages and stages to which it applies.
- The main drag from Colonia Reforma (and the “fuente de 7 regiones”) down to Niños Heroes has been closed off to cars each last Sunday of the month to allow for safe bicycling and rollerskating, which makes for a fun experience for you and your children in Oaxaca. Hopefully it’ll be a longstanding tradition.
So now that you definitely have a few places to start, we hope you thoroughly enjoy the time you spend with your children in Oaxaca.
We’re curious to hear about any additional ideas you have for our list based on enjoyable child-friendly experiences you’ve had in Oaxaca, so feel free to post in our comments section.