Oaxaca is one of the 31 states in Mexico and is located in the southern part of the country. It has a population of around 4 million people and is known for its rich indigenous cultures, colonial architecture, archeological sites and delicious cuisine.
Oaxaca has over 570 municipalities but only a handful of major cities. The three largest and most important cities in Oaxaca state are:
Oaxaca de Juárez
Oaxaca de Juárez, also simply referred to as Oaxaca City, is the capital and largest city in the state of Oaxaca. It has a population of around 260,000 people (2010 census data). Oaxaca City is located in the Centro district in the Central Valleys region of the state, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Some key facts about Oaxaca City:
- It was founded in 1521 and was one of the first Spanish colonial cities established in what is now Mexico.
- The city has preserved its colonial-era architecture and layout very well, with the historic center designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Major attractions include the main square called the Zócalo which is surrounded by the Cathedral, the Governor’s Palace and other historic buildings.
- Other sites such as Monte Albán archaeological site, Mercado Benito Juárez market and cultural attractions like museums, art galleries and craft villages are located in and around the city.
- Oaxaca City is a popular tourism destination and is famous for its festivals, especially the Guelaguetza festival that showcases indigenous culture and traditions.
- It has a relatively small metro area of under 500,000 but serves as the commercial, political and cultural center for the entire state.
So in summary, Oaxaca City is the largest and most important metropolitan area in the state, with rich history and cultural significance.
San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec
San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec, commonly referred to as simply Tuxtepec, is the second largest city in Oaxaca state. It has a population of about 150,000 residents (2010 data) and serves as the economic center of the Papaloapan Region north of the capital.
Here are some key facts about Tuxtepec:
- It is situated on the banks of the Papaloapan River, giving it access to riverside trade and transportation.
- Tuxtepec has hot and humid climate typical of the costal plains, with very fertile land suitable for growing crops like bananas, sugarcane, coffee and pineapple.
- The city’s economy centers around agricultural processing, production of palm oil and rubber, and food manufacturing.
- Tuxtepec is the second most important commercial center in Oaxaca after the capital, with busy markets selling local produce.
- The city has the second largest metropolitan area in the state, with population of over 180,000 in the municipality.
- Tuxtepec has ancient history dating back to the pre-Hispanic period but modern development began after 1870s.
- Key sites include the Catedral de la Virgen de la Asunción church, Parque Juárez and the Regional Museum of Papaloapan.
In summary, Tuxtepec is the second most populous and economically vibrant city in Oaxaca state after the capital.
Puerto Escondido is port city located in the southern part of Oaxaca state, along the Pacific Coast. It has an estimated population of around 44,000. Here are some details about Puerto Escondido:
- It is situated in the municipality of San Pedro Mixtepec Distrito 22.
- Puerto Escondido is a popular tourist destination, known for its beaches like Playa Zicatela and Playa Marinero.
- It has a laidback, vacation town vibe with hotels, resorts, restaurants and nightlife attractions.
- The climate is tropical, hot and humid year-round which is perfect for beach holidays.
- In addition to tourism, fishing and agriculture are important industries in the economy.
- Puerto Escondido attracts large numbers of international tourists from US, Canada and Europe.
- It hosts events and festivals like surfing competitions at Zicatela Beach which has big waves.
- There is small expat community of foreigners living there, especially Americans and Europeans.
In conclusion, Puerto Escondido is the major coastal tourist city in Oaxaca located on the Pacific Ocean.
Other Notable Cities
In addition to the top three major cities, here are some other important and sizable cities and towns in Oaxaca state:
- Salina Cruz – A port city on the Pacific coast with population around 77,000.
- Juchitán de Zaragoza – Important commercial center with 90,000 residents.
- San Pablo Huixtepec – Mid-sized town of 61,000 people.
- Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán – Industrial and economic hub with nearly 52,000 inhabitants.
- Santa María Atzompa – Agricultural center with 46,000 residents.
- Santa Lucía del Camino – Suburb of Oaxaca City with 44,000 population.
- Pinotepa Nacional – Commercial and fishing town with over 40,000 people.
While not as large as Oaxaca, Tuxtepec or Puerto Escondido, these cities and towns still represent important population and economic centers in the state.
Demographics and Population Distribution
Here is some background on the demographics and population distribution in Oaxaca state:
- Has a total population of around 4 million people, ranking 8th amongst Mexican states.
- The population growth rate is about 1% annually.
- About 33% of the people live in poverty, higher than the national average.
- Indigenous ethnic groups like Zapotecs and Mixtecs make up over 50% of the population.
- The Central Valleys region has the highest population density.
- Oaxaca de Juárez accounts for 23% of the state’s population.
- Above 70% of the residents live in urban areas.
- Population is concentrated in a few major cities while rural areas are sparsely inhabited.
In summary, Oaxaca has an ethnically diverse population with uneven distribution, concentrated around a handful of large cities and towns while rural mountainous areas are less densely populated.
Transportation Infrastructure Connecting the Cities
Here is an overview of the key transportation infrastructure that connects the major cities and towns in Oaxaca:
- The Pan-American Highway (Federal Highway 190) runs across the state and connects Oaxaca City, Tehuantepec City, Salina Cruz, etc.
- Highway 175 connects Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido to the south.
- Highway 185 links Oaxaca City with Puerto Angel on the coast.
- Tuxtepec is connected to the capital via Highway 175D.
- Oaxaca City has an international airport with flights to major Mexican cities and some US destinations.
- There is a small airport near Puerto Escondido mainly for domestic flights.
- A major freight railway line connects the interior cities with the Pacific coast ports.
- Local public buses provide affordable transportation between cities and towns.
In summary, a network of major highways, smaller state roads, airport and railway infrastructure connects the important cities and towns in Oaxaca state facilitating trade and movement.
Economic Activities in the Major Cities
Here is an overview of the key economic activities and industries that drive the major cities in Oaxaca:
- Oaxaca City – Services, tourism, government/administration, education, light manufacturing, retail, handicrafts.
- Tuxtepec – Agriculture and agro-industry, food processing, rubber, oil palm, commerce.
- Puerto Escondido – Tourism, fishing, real estate, restaurants, retail services.
- Salina Cruz – Energy production, seaport, petrochemicals, naval base, fishing.
- Juchitán – Market center, retail sales of regional produce and products, fishing, energy.
- San Pablo Huixtepec – Manufacturing, textiles, agro-industry, warehouse services.
In general, the major economic engines are agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, energy production and most importantly tourism driven by the major cities and ports. The state capital Oaxaca City has the most diverse economy based on services, administrative functions, tourism and light manufacturing.
Tourist Attractions in the Major Cities
Some of the top tourist attractions located in the key cities of Oaxaca include:
- Historic city center with colonial buildings, squares, markets and cathedral
- Monte Albán – Famous Zapotec ruins set on a hilltop
- Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca – Museum of Oaxacan cultures
- Museo Textil de Oaxaca – Textile museum with displays of local weavings
- Museo Rufino Tamayo – Modern art museum
- Churches like the Basilica de la Soledad and Iglesia de Santo Domingo
- Nearby villages like San Bartolo Coyotepec known for pottery
- Playa Zicatela – Famous surfing beach with big waves
- Bahía Principal – Picturesque bay with calm waters perfect for swimming
- Playa Marinero – Relaxed beach popular with families
- Bioluminescent bays like Manialtepec Lagoon
- Chacahua National Park – Protected coastal area rich in biodiversity
- Río Papaloapan – Scenic river offering rafting, fishing and boating activities
- Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua – Large coastal lagoons abundant with birdlife
- San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec Cathedral
- Regional Museum of Papaloapan located in former train station building
- Magic Towns like Valle Nacional and Playa Vicente with historic buildings and craft shopping
In summary, Oaxaca’s cities cater well to tourists with a variety of cultural sites, museums, beaches, archeological ruins and vibrant colonial architecture and street life to experience.
Analysis of Economic Development in the Cities
Oaxaca’s urban areas display a mixed level of economic development. Here is an analysis of some key factors:
- Inequality – There is a visible level of income and development inequality between upper and lower classes.
- Poverty – Poverty affects around 30% of urban population, especially indigenous groups.
- Employment – Jobs are centered around low-wage sectors like commerce, services and manufacturing.
- Tourism Potential – Major opportunity for tourism growth exists, need more infrastructure.
- Industrialization – The cities are not highly industrialized compared to other Mexican states.
- Infrastructure – Relatively good roads connect the cities but public transport is underdeveloped.
- Investment – More public and private investment needed for sustained economic growth.
In conclusion, Oaxaca’s urban economies show promise but also major gaps in terms of poverty, inequality, industrialization and infrastructure that need public policy initiatives and investment to address.
Future Economic and Infrastructure Development
Oaxaca has significant potential for future growth and development in its urban economies and infrastructure by undertaking the following measures:
- Invest in highways, public transport, airports and telecom infrastructure.
- Develop more industrial and technology parks near the major cities.
- Promote the state as both domestic and international tourist destination.
- Support higher education and technical training programs.
- Build renewable energy projects to meet growing power needs.
- Expand port infrastructure and stimulate exports.
- Offer financial incentives and tax breaks to attract companies.
- Improve urban housing, sanitation and public services.
- Increase funding for healthcare, education and social welfare.
With strategic investments and policies focused on infrastructure, industry and human capital development, Oaxaca can promote broad-based and sustainable economic growth driven by its major cities and towns.
Oaxaca state in southern Mexico has three predominant major cities – the capital Oaxaca de Juárez, the port and tourism hub Puerto Escondido and the agricultural center Tuxtepec. These cities serve as important population, economic and cultural centers in the state and have distinct industries and tourist attractions. Oaxaca’s urban economies show gaps in development but have strong potential for growth driven by tourism, services, manufacturing and technology. With government initiatives to reduce poverty and inequality, build infrastructure and attract investment, the cities can drive job creation and inclusive development. Overall, nurturing the continued growth of Oaxaca’s urban areas will be key to advancing economic progress and improving living standards across the state.