Oaxaca’s Mixteca region is not at first an obvious tourist destination: the pre-Hispanic sites here are far less spectacular than those in the Valles Centrales and there are no artisan centres to compare with Teotitlán or Arrazola. However, the colonial buildings are widely regarded as some of the country’s most important, there’s stunning mountain scenery and the low number of visitors means that you are likely to have vast crumbling monasteries and Mixtec ruins to yourself; the main appeal is their aching, faded glory and the spine-tingling sense that you’re witnessing a scene that has remained relatively unchanged since before Cortés.
Broadly the region divides into two – the barren hills of the Mixteca Baja and the mountainous, pine-clad Mixteca Alta. Toll Hwy-135D, one of the country’s best roads, cuts through the Baja’s deforested hillsides en route from Oaxaca to Mexico City. The Mixteca Alta lies off to the south, where Hwy-125 climbs into and through the sierra before eventually descending to the Pacific coast. The Mixteca Baja’s highlights are three vast Dominican monasteries – Yanhuitlán, Teposcolula and Coixtlahuaca – imposing relics of Mexico’s imperial past. All three have been expertly restored and can easily be visited as a day trip from Oaxaca if you have your own transport; it’s less easy if you’re relying on public transport, though still possible.