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English tours of the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca during Covid

Taking the two-hour English tour of the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca is a popular must-do tour while you’re in the city. As a result of the pandemic, however, the garden has introduced measures to reduce the number of people in tour groups and entering the grounds. This post will cover everything you need to know about taking the English-language tours of the garden so you don’t get left staring at cacti through a locked gate.

What is the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca?

Oaxaca is one of the most culturally, linguistically, and botanically diverse regions on the planet. The people that have lived here for millennia have given the world some of its most important food staples. The first archeological evidence of domesticated squash and beans and the second earliest evidence of corn were all found in Oaxaca. From the tropical coast, to dry plateau’s, and the high cloud forests, this region has more endemic species of wild plant life than any other part of Mexico. The Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca is a living expression of the state’s cultural and biological diversity.

English-language tour details:

Where: Reforma 501, Ruta Independencia, Centro  – Google Maps

When:  Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am.

Cost: $100 pesos. Kids 12 and under get in free

Duration: 2 hours

The website of Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca

However! There is important information that is not on their website…

What the Garden's website does not tell you:

I stayed at the Hotel Casona in Centro so I could take part in a nighttime walk of Oaxaca’s urban ghost stories (sidenote: there are a lot of ghosts roaming the city at midnight). In the morning, after the shiniest plate of enmoladas swimming in chocolate mole, I walked up towards the Ethnobotanical Gardens, located behind the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, expecting to have coffee on the terrace of Tierra del Sol, which looks down on the entrance to the garden. But when I arrived shortly after 10am for my coffee, there was already a line-up at the gates for the 11am tour. There was good reason for the lineup: a sign posted at the entrance said only 25 people would be allowed in for the group. By my count, when I got in line, there were 23 people. The woman beside me said it was her third time trying to get in.

The front entrance to the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca. The building façade is from its days as a cavalry base in the 1800s. There are a few trees in front, a street food stall, some people walking around, and a lineup of tourists is visible at the gated entrance, behind which you can see some plants of the garden.
The front entrance of the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, 10:15 am. A lineup already formed for the 11 am tour.

The good news is, they ran two groups and everybody got in. I do not know if that’s typical, though, since it had definitely not happened other times. And by the way people were lining up an hour in advance, they understood there was a chance of not getting in if they didn’t. If you have lots of time in Oaxaca, you can show up around 10:30 and try your luck. If you really want to see the Garden and your schedule is tight, get there early. Prepare for a hot wait in the midday sun.

Staff began letting people in around 10:30 am and had everybody sit in rows of chairs and benches in the shade. There’s a watercooler and washrooms there. They then collected names, sold the tickets for the tour, and offered free sombreros to borrow.

Even when you can find some shade behind a cactus, the tour is hot and sunny. Come prepared. You can bring a bottle of water or mezcal with you. Just make sure you take the bottle out with you.

A man in a hoodie and face masks collects names on a clipboard. Another man in a face mask hands out large-brimmed sunhats.

This is not a botanical garden. It’s an ethnobotanical garden because it’s impossible to separate the people from the land and the plants and animals that all coexist, thrive, and evolve on it together. They have and continue to shape each other.

A pink and purple orchid with a central petal wrapped around the stamen, with two points on it like ears, and three wavy petals flaring out from the base of that curved petal, all hanging from a long slender stem, jutting out from a tree, blurred in the background

Look up for surreal pink flowers floating on treetops and delicate orchids hiding amongst the branches.

Illustration from a Mixtec codex of the first Mixteca being born from a sacred tree.

The ceiba tree is sacred to many cultures. Some believed it connected this world to the spirit world. In Mixtec stories, it is the tree from which the first Mixtecos emerged. In the garden, you can pay your respects to a beautiful, tall, ceiba tree. You may be familiar with the fibre that comes from its seed pods: kapok, which has often been used to stuff meditation cushions.

What will you learn on the tour?

So much! I don’t want to take away the fun of having your mind blown by all the amazing plants and stories, but two things to make sure you check out: 

Hold the grass seed pods that humans cultivated into corn.

Painstakingly, over generations, the peoples of the Oaxaca and Puebla regions turned a wild mountain grass, teosinte, into one of the world’s most popular and necessary crops: corn.

A small green pod open in a person's hand, show a single row of tiny green seeds inside.

Don't hug the tree that cactuses evolved from.

This one surprised me so much, I had to share it: did you know that cactuses evolved FROM trees. When you see a tree outside, that’s just a primitive plant that hasn’t figured out how to cactus yet. The garden has a variety of plants through which you can see the evolution of the cactus. Above is the delicious nopal cactus you can find all over menus in Mexico. Note how much the trunk looks like a tree.

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