Oaxaca was recently voted this phony accolade by Travel+Leisure magazine readers. Who are these readers? They are the upmarket travelers who don’t mind paying $500 a night for a bed. How can such people understand what a real city is? The photo above is a set piece for them.
Oaxaca is a great place to live, and I’ve been here for thirteen years. It has a colorful but sporadically gritty downtown, and if you have ever taken the drive in from the airport, you know what downscale urban sprawl looks like. Of it’s 300,000 or so people, many are poor and pursue a fractional existence. We’re in the midst of a messsy city-wide garbage strike now because the dump is full and can’t take any more.
OAX is not really the glamorous, historic, food-rich Mexican town that the tourists see. And yet it does have an overlay of rich chilangos who have moved here, moneyed kids who have come to study Spanish, and gringos who can fake a wealthy retirement because of the exchange rate. I’m one of the latter.
The Travel+Leisure-type endorsements we get just ruin things for us. They bring in money, yes, but we don’t want American culture or its values, particularly now.
In the eponymous capital city of Oaxaca, you can throw a rock in any direction and hit a hotel worth overnighting at. If you’re not afraid to spend a few hundred per night, you can enjoy the modern boutique beauty of Hotel Casa Santo Origen, or if you want something more old-fashioned, check in at Quinta Real Oaxaca—a 16th-century nunnery retaining a thorough throwback charm.
—where you’ll also spend a few hundred a night. Every new T+L piece or New York Times article just brings in more of these vagrant deadbeats. They descend on us like the locusts. So we, or some of us, find a perverse joy in taking their money and making fun of them. I guess that may be a form of smugness—or a way of showing that we love our city and don’t want it to change.