Hey there, Ramblers and Rovers! The Mexican city of Oaxaca is famous not only for the smoky taste of its mezcal but for its cultural diversity and archeological heritage. In this travel guide, we explore the ancient Zapotec city of Monte Albán on the outskirts of Oaxaca City. It’s one of the main draws for tourism… and no wonder! This ancient city was cut into the site of an ancient mountain by the Zapotecs using only stone tools!

Perched atop a scenic hill overlooking the Oaxaca Valley, Monte Albán is an ancient archaeological site that offers travelers a fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of the Zapotec civilization. Founded over 1,500 years ago, Monte Albán served as the political, religious, and economic center of the Zapotec people, making it one of the most important archaeological sites in Mexico.

In this travel guide, we’ll explore how to best enjoy Monte Albán, along with location-specific travel tips to help you make the most of your visit.

History of Monte Albán

Monte Albán, nestled atop a scenic mountain in the middle of the Oaxaca Valley, holds the legacy of the Zapotec civilization, dating back over 2,000 years. Founded around 500 BCE, Monte Albán emerged as a bustling urban center and the capital of the Zapotec people, renowned for their advanced knowledge of architecture, astronomy, and governance. Strategically positioned to overlook the surrounding valley, Monte Albán thrived as a political and religious hub, controlling trade routes and fostering cultural exchange with neighboring civilizations.

The city’s layout reflects meticulous urban planning, with grand plazas, temples, and palaces dominating the landscape. Massive structures, elaborate stone carvings, monumental staircases, and ballcourts adorned the city, showcasing the Zapotecs’ artistic and engineering prowess. Monte Albán’s influence extended beyond its borders, shaping regional politics, trade networks, and cultural practices.

Despite its grandeur, Monte Albán faced challenges, including environmental degradation, social unrest, and external pressures. By around 750 CE, the city began to decline, gradually abandoned. After being re-explored during the late 19th century, Monte Albán has since captivated archaeologists and visitors alike, offering a glimpse into the ancient past and the enduring legacy of Mesoamerican civilizations.

Today, as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Monte Albán stands as a testament to the ingenuity, creativity, and resilience of the Zapotec people, inviting travelers to explore its majestic ruins and unravel the mysteries of its storied history.

How to Best Enjoy Monte Albán

Take a Guided Tour

Consider joining a guided tour of Monte Albán to gain insight into the site’s history, architecture, and significance. Knowledgeable guides can provide context and interpretation as you explore the ancient ruins, helping you to appreciate the cultural and historical significance of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

Explore the Main Plaza

Start your visit by exploring the main plaza of Monte Albán, a vast open space surrounded by impressive pyramids, temples, and ballcourts. Admire the grandeur of the South Platform, which features intricate stone carvings and panoramic views of the surrounding valley, and imagine the bustling activity that once took place in this ceremonial center.

The city was designed to catch rainwater, which would drain into cisterns used for storing the precious resource during the dry season.

Climb the Pyramid of the Sun

Ascend the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest structure at Monte Albán, for breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. From the top of the pyramid, you can see the layout of the ancient city below, with its terraces, plazas, and ceremonial buildings stretching out before you.

Visit the Ballcourt

Explore the Great Ballcourt, where ancient Zapotec athletes once competed in ritual ballgames. Admire the monumental stone rings and carved reliefs that adorn the ballcourt’s walls, and learn about the significance of these sporting events in Zapotec culture.

Explore the Museum

After exploring the archaeological site, visit the Monte Albán Museum to learn more about the history and culture of the Zapotec civilization. The museum houses a collection of artifacts recovered from Monte Albán, including ceramics, sculptures, and jewelry, providing further insight into the daily life and rituals of the ancient inhabitants.

Don’t forget to interact with the locals

Many of the tour guides and souvenir vendors who work in Monte Albán belong to indigenous communities, so be sure to interact with the locals in friendly ways. Showing a bit of curiosity and appreciation for their culture goes a long way.

Travel Tips for Visiting Monte Albán


Monte Albán is located approximately 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city center of Oaxaca City. Travelers can reach the site by taxi, bus, or guided tour, with transportation options available from the city center.

Weather and Gear to Bring

Oaxaca City enjoys a mild climate year-round, but temperatures can be hot and sunny at Monte Albán, especially during the peak hours of the day. Be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water to stay hydrated and comfortable while exploring the site.

Monte Albán is situated on a hilltop, so be prepared for uneven terrain and steep inclines as you explore the archaeological site. Wear sturdy walking shoes with good grip to navigate the rocky paths and stairways safely.

Guided Tours

Guided tours of Monte Albán are available in English and Spanish and typically last around 1-2 hours. Consider booking a tour in advance to ensure availability and to maximize your experience at the site.


Don’t forget to bring your camera or smartphone to capture the stunning views and architectural details of Monte Albán. Photography is permitted at the site, so you can document your visit and share your experiences with friends and family.

Buy Souvenirs from Locals

There are plenty of locals selling indigenous-themed souvenirs at the site, many of whom belong to indigenous communities such as Zapotecs or Mixtecs. Buying a souvenir or two greatly supports the livelihoods of these communities.

Exploring Monte Albán offers travelers a unique opportunity to step back in time and uncover the mysteries of Mexico’s ancient past. Whether climbing pyramids, admiring stone carvings, or learning about Zapotec culture in the museum, a visit to Monte Albán promises an unforgettable journey through the history and heritage of Oaxaca City.

We hope that our journey inspires you to travel Oaxaca on your own rambling and roving adventure!