Some locals say the place is haunted, that on some nights one can hear nuns praying or prisoners wailing as they bemoan their fate.

No matter, a stay at the Camino Real mirrors the true Oaxacan experience: colonial charm, myths, history, elegance and delightful food all wrapped in one.

The city also has a large number of first-rate art galleries, as befits a place that has become something of an artistic colony. One such gallery is the avant-garde La Bodega Quetzalli in the center of the city where the works of up-and-coming Mexican modern artists are exhibited.

Outside the city limits, visitors will find ancient crafts still thriving. The sun-drenched village of Santo Tomas Jalieza, for example, is only about 15 miles from Oaxaca but is famous for Zapotec weavers whose embroidered rugs stun with their design and bright colors.

Coyotepec, about 10 miles but a world removed from Oaxaca, is known for potters who turn the black clay in the soil into vases and art objects immediately distinguished by their gunmetal tinge and crystal-like sound.

Both weavings and vases are sold at prices that are but a fraction of what they cost elsewhere.

With all the color, tradition, activities, sights and sounds within it, Oaxaca could easily be the quintessential Mexican destination.