The state of Oaxaca is situated along the Pacific Ocean in the southeastern part of Mexico, where the Eastern and Southern Sierra Madre mountain ranges converge. The population is estimated at 3,500,000.
The state spreads over 100,000 square kilometers of land and is bounded in the north by Veracruz and Puebla, in the east by Chiapas, in the west by Guerrero and in the south by the Pacific Ocean. The state is divided into 571 municipalities.
Oaxaca is ideally located some 5,000 feet above sea level, which makes for a mild, almost perfect climate throughout the year. Besides its mountains, some of which peak at 10,000 feet, Oaxaca also boasts spectacular valleys and beaches which are home to people of myriad ethnic origins.
The rugged topography of Oaxaca has played a crucial role in the development of Oaxaca’s cultural and ethnic diversity. The most numerous and best known people are the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, but there are sixteen ethnic groups that are officially recognized. These cultures have survived better to the present than most others in Mexico, and have been able to preserve and maintain their distinct languages, customs and traditions due to the state’s rugged and isolating terrain. Most live in the Central Valleys. Oaxaca is considered the most ethnically complex of all of the country’s 31 states.
The city of Oaxaca (pop. 375,000) is the governmental capital of the state and also considered to be the center of Mexico’s southern indigenous heartland. Located in the Central Valley in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, Oaxaca, with its beautiful colonial architecture and stunning archeological sites has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Despite its natural beauty, Oaxaca is the second most marginalized state in Mexico and challenges regarding health, education, and poverty among the indigenous population are severe.