Overlooking the scenic Oaxaca Valley, the mountaintop Monte Albán archaeological site—once the capital city of the thriving Zapotec indigenous group of Mexico—is a testament to Oaxaca’s rich cultural heritage and beauty.
All who come to Oaxaca City cannot miss out on a half-day excursion to Monte Albán. It’s simply one of the top things to do in Oaxaca.
Because of this, it is unlike many Mayan ruins across Mexico in style, significance, location, and design.
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Monte Albán reigned for 1,300 years as the powerful capital of the Zapotecs. However, as you’ll come to discover, the Olmecs and Mixtecs were no strangers to Monte Albán.
As such, the archaeological site of Monte Albán has transitioned through several phases and peoples in its 1,500-year-old existence.
In this guide, I’ll detail how you can visit Monte Albán from Oaxaca, whether self-guided or with a tour. Either way, visiting Monte Albán is pretty easy to do from the city.
Read more below to get a sneak peek of the Monte Albán ruins and learn how you can explore this ancient Zapotec capital overlooking the Oaxaca Valley and surrounding mountains!
Guide: Monte Albán in Oaxaca, Mexico
⏰ Hours: 10am to 3:30pm
🚙 Directions: Located 20-minutes southwest of Centro Oaxaca on Carretera a Monte Albán.
🌞 Best Time to Visit: November-April for the best weather, but the grounds are greener after the rainy season from May-October.
⚠️ Notes: Due to the health crisis, only 400 visitors maximum are allowed each day. No drones allowed. The on-site museum is currently closed.
Admission into the Monte Albán archaeological site costs $85.00 MX pesos per adult. Children under the age of 13 enter for free.
On Sundays, Mexican nationals and internationals living in Mexico get free admission—so don’t forget to bring your ID or residency card!
Getting to Monte Albán From Oaxaca
Monte Albán is actually very close to the city of Oaxaca, taking only 20 minutes to reach by car. It is about 4.5 miles or 7km from the Zocalo. Here’s how you can get to Monte Albán by bus or taxi.
- Bus: The cheapest way to get to Monte Albán, with the teal-green city buses costing only $0.08 pesos per person one-way. You can grab these as they pass by the main square (Zocalo).
- Taxi: Taxis are the most convenient yet most expensive option to reach Monte Albán. On the Didi app, one-way journeys will set you back nearly $200 MX pesos (around $10 USD). On the way there, we paid $150 by asking a random taxi passing by our street (we live outside the city center, though). On the way back from the ruins, we paid only $100 pesos (but I think we got lucky with a really honest man).
- Group Trip: If you book a half-day tour of Monte Albán online, then your round-trip transportation from your hotel in Oaxaca will be included in the cost.
Can you walk or hike to Monte Albán?
A lot of people wonder if you can hike or walk to Monte Albán, with it being only 4.5 miles away. (We were seriously contemplating this ourselves.)
While the road to get there is pretty straightforward, it does cross a busy intersection and then winds aggressively up and around the mountain. There is little shade the whole way and it’s not a very pleasant or scenic walk from what I could tell.
I was glad to have not expended all my energy just getting there via walking/hiking because it already takes 2–3 hours to visit the ruins on foot, in the sun, which is tiring enough as it is.
Getting Back to Oaxaca From Monte Alban
Unless you came to Monte Albán with a tour, you’ll need to get back to the city center by either bus or taxi.
Taxis on the Didi app are not likely to come from town to pick you up out here, so you’ll need to rely on negotiating in person with one of the few taxis on standby in the parking lot waiting for tourists who need a ride back into town.
That said, the first (actually, the only) taxi guy available quoted us $200 pesos. Since we had paid $150 on the way there, we didn’t want to overpay and kindly declined. So we waited for the bus instead which is supposed to come every 15 minutes.
But right before it arrived, another taxi pulled into the parking lot and dropped off a family. I had Paul quickly go over to ask, and the driver initially offered only $100 pesos. Moral of the story? Patience pays off!
Where to Stay Near Monte Alban
All of the best places to stay fall in the heart of Oaxaca, just about 4 miles from Monte Albán.
- Selina Oaxaca (Budget): the usual clean, bohemian-style rooms you’d find at Selina!
- Hostal de Las Américas (Budget): simple, modern private/dorm rooms with breakfast included.
- Pug Seal Oaxaca (Luxe): for vacationers looking for luxurious comfort in the heart of downtown (breakfast also included).
If you are a digital nomad in Oaxaca or a solo traveler, both Selina and Hostal de Las Amércias are fabulous options.
What to Wear to Monte Alban
Make sure you wear a sun hat, sunglasses, and breathable clothing that covers your shoulders when visiting Monte Alban.
Apart from a few trees, the Monte Albán archaeological complex is wide open and in full sun all day. It is easy to overheat quickly so pack and drink plenty of water. You will be exposed for around 2–3 hours and the Mexican sun does not play jokes.
Do not make the same rookie mistake I did when you visit Monte Alban. While I did wear loose, breathable clothing (a romper), it had thin spaghetti straps and I didn’t bring a hat. Meaning, I was frying. Thankfully, I had cloaked myself with a high SPF sunscreen before leaving (however, it almost wasn’t enough and I did start to burn).
Monte Albán Tours
There are three ways you can experience Monte Albán:
- A self-guided tour
- Guided day trip you book online
- Hiring a local certified guide at the entrance of the archaeological zone
Can you visit Monte Albán without a guided tour? Of course! This is what Paul and I ended up doing, but there are pros and cons to visiting on your own.
It’s cheaper, obviously, and you have the flexibility to roam as you please; taking photos and wandering the site at your own pace.
We had read prior to our visit that there are several signposts in both Spanish and English in front of each pyramid or structure. And while that is the case, the descriptions describe nothing more than the architectural design—stuccoed walls, carved stones, a “40 meter-wide stairway leads to a patio and two pyramidal platforms.”
The most interesting part of any archaeological zone, at least for us, is the stories behind it; the hidden meanings—this is what guided tours or a certified local guide can offer.
Guided Day Trips
These tours include roundtrip air-conditioned transportation from Oaxaca, your admission fee, and a bilingual guide who will lead you around Monte Albán for 2.5 hours. While you are not required to tip, it is often suggested.
- Half-Day Monte Albán (Viator): This tour is the best-rated and most affordable option for visiting Monte Alban with a tour. You will be taken care of by the company Turismo el Convento de Oaxaca. Trip rating 4.5/5 stars with 94 reviews. You can cancel up to 24 hours in advance.
- Full-Day Monte Albán + Villages Tour (GetYourGuide): On this full-day tour, not only do you visit Monte Alban but you also visit art and crafts workshops in the small towns of Arrazola, Culiapan de Guerrero, and San Bartolo Coyotepec.
Hiring A Certified Guide
If you don’t want to book a tour in advance but end up changing your mind once you arrive, don’t worry. There are certified guides available near the ticket office at the entrance of the archaeological site who can give you a tour.
We opted out of this option, but prices seem to range around $75+ pesos per person or $250 for a small group. This does not include transportation or your admission fee—you only pay for the guide itself (plus a tip).
So, when all is said and done, the question remains:
Do you need a guide for Monte Alban?
Not technically, but I would highly suggest it if you wish to learn about the history and significance of this complex and put meaning to what you’re seeing in front of you. Just note that whether with a guide or without one, it will take around 2–3 hours to visit Monte Albán.
You can read more below for an overview of Monte Albán’s history, phases, and pyramids.
A Brief History of Monte Albán
Monte Albán was once a thriving capital city with, at one point, over 35,000 inhabitants. It was founded and ruled by the Zapotecs from around 500 BC to 800 AD — a span of 1,300 years. As such, Monte Albán was one of the most important cities in Mesoamerica.
There are at least five phases of the development of Monte Albán which have been traced from the Early Classic to Postclassic periods and are represented by the ruins of its ball game court, complex temple structures, tombs, and hieroglyphic inscriptions.
It is said that its numerous tombs, canals, dams, pyramids, etc, were quite literally carved out of the mountain and symbolize sacred topography.
Ultimately, Monte Albán underwent many structural changes including politically, economically, and environmentally. While it was the Zapotecs who dominated the region for centuries, eventually, influence from other indigenous groups—the Olmecs, Mixtecs, Aztecs, Teohuiticans, and Mayas—slowly transformed Monte Albán.
UNESCO, together with the Historic Center of Oaxaca City, declared Monte Albán a World Heritage Site on December 11, 1987.
Monte Albán Pyramids & Structures
The archaeological zone and protected area of Monte Albán are much larger than you’d imagine — it spans about 8.5 square miles (hence why it takes 2–3 hours just to walk around!).
So what can you see in Monte Albán?
- North Platform Pyramid
- Gran Plaza (Main Plaza)
- Building “J” / Astronomical Observatory
- South Platform Pyramid
- Los Danzantes carved stones
- Sunken Plaza
- El Palacio
- Tombs, Altars, Water Wells
While there are many ceremonial temples and complex structures in ruin at Monte Albán, the main crowd-pleasers are the North and South Platforms overlooking the Main Plaza and the Danzante Gallery.
Can you climb the pyramids at Monte Albán?
Yes, but we only saw people climbing the stairs to the South Platform. You can also climb and explore within/on the Sunken Court and also on the North Platform but the central stairs are blocked off.
When you enter the archaeological zone, you’ll most likely approach the left/backside of the North Platform.
From here, the best way to explore Monte Albán on your own is by visiting the structures clockwise. Stick to the eastern temples, tombs, and elite residences in ruin, then climb up the Southern Platform, and return back to visit the central and western temples. You can also do it counterclockwise if you wish!
Here is another map of Monte Albán to help orient where you can find these buildings.
Once you’re finished visiting the ruins, you’ll have more time to explore and learn about the area inside the museum. Visitors can also use the bathrooms and stop for a coffee or lunch at the on-site cafe.
Is Monte Albán on Your Bucket List?
I have been fortunate enough to see various pre-Columbian archaeological sites across Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia. But I think Monte Albán has become one of my favorite ruins, along with the Calakmul ruins in Campeche, Mexico.
Whether you are in Oaxaca for a couple of days, weeks, or months, make sure to take advantage of this archaeological gem. It will transport you back in time.
If you have any more questions about visiting Monte Albán, feel free to drop a comment below! If this guide helped plan your trip, please pass it on to friends and family!
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