Apartment Renting in Oaxaca, Mexico

Renting an apartment often presents a nice alternative to hotels or hostels for travelers staying in one location for a few days or longer. Hotels and hostels are more common than apartments, of course, but apartments should be considered.

Renting an apartment for a week or longer offers several advantages to staying in a hotel or hostel. One key advantage is cost: a nice apartment will just about always be cheaper if not far cheaper than a comparably nice hotel room. A second advantage is that an apartment almost by definition is far larger than any hotel room, and this is more important the longer the stay. Returning to a hotel room day after day where the only options are sitting on the one chair or lying on the bed gets old fast.

A third advantage is that an apartment has cooking facilities, which allows for additional savings; eating out daily adds up quickly. Additionally, people who have special dietary needs might prefer their own kitchen. Finally, one subtle advantage apartments have over both hotels and hostels includes allowing one to feel just a little less like a tourist and a little more like a local. Emerging from an unmarked building onto the street has a different feel from exiting a hotel.

Hostels can be quite inexpensive, and sometimes cost as little as an apartment, but that low cost comes with a price: shared dorms, bathrooms, and kitchen facilities. All can be shared, or sometimes a private room can be rented with a shared bath, or a private room and private bath can be rented with a shared kitchen. But the increased privacy costs more. Many people aren’t keen about sharing close quarters with strangers. This might be acceptable for more adventurous travelers (indeed, I shared quarters with strangers when I was younger) but most travelers want a nice, clean, quiet, and private place.

However, one advantage hotels and hostels have over apartments is that they tend to offer more service, including a desk clerk on duty most of the time, daily room cleaning, and so on. Apartments tend to be less directly service oriented. On-site manager, garbage removal, drinking water, sheets, towels, etc. might or not be part of the apartment package; you need to ask.

In Oaxaca, there are apartments that specifically cater to travelers and tourists, often associated with a hotel. They are prepared to deal with foreigners who don’t speak Spanish very well, and they also are likely to repair things that break and return your damage deposit when you leave. (Oaxacan landlords don’t necessarily do either!) There are other non-hotel affiliated apartment rentals that cater to the foreign traveler, but they aren’t always easy to find.

Finding them is not easy because there aren’t very many good ones. But here are a few tips that might help.

The first useful step, if you don’t have any local Oaxacan contacts, is to check the Internet. There are several good apartments listed that cater to foreigners and have nice, clean, tastefully decorated apartments at reasonable prices. Most are small, but they will be nice or at least nice enough. Arranging accommodations in advance is a huge relief to a lot of people, who then are able to focus their initial days or weeks on something other than trudging around looking for an apartment.

Info to seek — what is included in the price (gas, electric, city water, garbage removal, etc.), how much is the deposit, is there high speed Internet, kitchen furnished, maid service, and so on. Noise, access, security, pets, etc. Also inquire about the water tank capacity, a cistern, and its size. Apartments without adequate cisterns, especially during the dry season (Spring), can be very uncomfortable.

Be aware that apartment hunting after arriving in Oaxaca usually isn’t quite as easy and straightforward as in the US. In the US, many apartment buildings have an easily visible sign facing the street with contact info, and often basic info like how many rooms, baths, etc. And a quick phone call yields any additional basic info you need to decide if a showing is worth the time. In Oaxaca, signs out front are usually handwritten and have no info besides the phone number. So you often end up wasting time calling someone to discover it’s not worth seeing. If someone answers the phone. And if that person happens to know something about the apartment. Sometimes it takes multiple calls to get basic information.

Because there is no central listing of available rental apartments that I know of in Oaxaca, reliance on ad hoc listings is necessary. Newspapers have a small number of apartment rentals in their classified section but they tend toward the expensive. (This is not all bad: most gringos probably should look for more expensive apartments because the cheap ones are cheap for reasons prohibiting much gringo interest.) The Oaxaca Times, for example, could be checked on line before arriving.

A second place to look after arriving in Oaxaca is in the apartment listings at The Oaxaca Lending Library, on Pino Suarez just south of El Parque Llano. This is probably the best place to look, especially for nicer places that are gringo friendly.

After that, it’s pretty much walking around the streets and hit or miss. This last method is very time consuming and can be unpleasant and frustrating, especially when hot outside. I’ve looked at dozens of apartments with this method — it’s hot, apartments are far apart, sometimes the owners are 15 minutes late, etc. Often you can see within a nanosecond that the unit is nowhere near what you would consider — their definition of two bedrooms isn’t close to what you would call two bedrooms, the kitchen is grimy, etc. The primary advantage is learning the streets and neighborhoods and practicing Spanish. But gems are out there, however few and far between.

By all means consider renting an apartment if you are staying more than a few days, and especially if staying a week or longer. The extra space and the cost savings will make the search well worth the time.