By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.
On the world stage, the state of Oaxaca is noted for its cuisine, crafts, mezcal, cultural diversity and archaeological sites. And on the Pacific, Huatulco has its pristine safe beach coves, and Puerto Escondido has Zicatela with its annual international surfing competition. Yet the 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards virtually ignored Oaxaca, and with few exceptions all that Mexico has to offer.
TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com) is the world’s largest and most respected travel website, yet despite the reputation, arguably has fallen short this year. But since the rankings are based on traveler opinion, it’s conceivable that tourists to our state have spent an inordinate amount of time just enjoying what Oaxaca has to offer, consciously not voting, with a view to maintaining the state as visitors’ special little secret.
Of the Top 25 Destinations in the World, only Playa del Carmen represented Mexico, ranked as number 17. The top five were London, Paris, Rome, Crete and Bali. More significantly, Oaxaca did not rank at all within the top 10 Mexico destinations. They were, in this order, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Tulúm, Mexico City, Zihuatanejo, San José del Cabo, Cozumel and San Miguel de Allende. Really?
Okay, then what about our beaches? Once again, shut out. Only Playa Norte in Isla Mujeres represented Mexico at number nine of the Top 25 Beaches in the World, well behind Baia do Sancho in Brazil, Varadero Beach in Cuba, Eagle Beach in Aruba, La Concha Beach in Spain, and Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos. At least Oaxaca ranked within the nation’s top 10, with Playa Bacocho in Puerto Escondido taking number seven.
For worldwide fine dining, one would have thought that Pujol in Mexico City would be near the top, and Casa Oaxaca here in Oaxaca not far behind. After all, over the years each has been lauded in other international online and print publications. Yet neither made it. Perhaps surprisingly, Restaurante Benazuzu in Cancun ranked number five in the world, top spot going to Au Crocodile in Strasburg, France.
Turning to Mexico’s fine dining ratings, still again neither Casa Oaxaca nor Pujol ranked, yet three in Cancun were in the top five; Benazuzu, along with The White Box and Restaurante Careyes. Who would have thought of touristy Cancun for culinary excellence? The other two in the top five were Restaurante El Secreto in San Cristobal de las Casas and Sir Winston Churchill in Mexico City.
Mexico is teeming with culture, and while Oaxaca didn’t rank in the category of the world’s best museums, Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología took 9th place, ahead of the likes of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (16), the Art Institute of Chicago (17), Bogota’s Museo del Oro (23), and Jerusalem’s Yad Va Shem, or World Holocaust Remembrance Center (24).
For museums in Mexico, aside from first spot going to the anthropology museum, other noteworthy Mexico City fixtures that should not be missed are Palacio de Bellas Artes (2), Museo de Frida Kahlo(3) and Museo del Tiempo Tlalpan (5).
While Mexico failed to rank in the top ten worldwide for vacation rentals – high end, midrange or even affordable – that should not dissuade visitors from returning to Oaxaca. After all, the country deemed the state important enough to honor on both sides of the 20-peso bill; the front features Oaxaca’s own native son Benito Juárez, and the back the Monte Albán archaeological site.
If you want to keep Oaxaca for yourself, don’t vote in the 2020 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards. But if you want to help Oaxaca’s economy, then do participate, and put up with increased tourism.
Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).