Isthmus of Tehuantepec

The southern half of the 200km-wide Isthmus of Tehuantepec (teh-wahn-teh-pek), Mexico’s narrow waist, forms the flat, hot, humid eastern end of Oaxaca state. Indigenous Zapotec culture is strong here, with its own regional twists. In 1496 the isthmus Zapotecs repulsed the Aztecs from the fortress of Guiengola, near Tehuantepec, and the isthmus never became part of the Aztec empire. An independent spirit pervades the region to this day.

Few travelers linger here, but if you do you’ll encounter a lively, friendly populace whose open and confident women take leading roles in business and government. Many fiestas feature the tirada de frutas, in which women climb on roofs and throw fruit on the men below!

Of the three main towns, isthmus culture is stronger in Tehuantepec and Juchitán than in Salina Cruz, which is dominated by its oil refinery. All three towns can be uncomfortable in the heat and humidity of the day, but evening breezes are deliciously refreshing.

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