How to Visit Monte Alban Ruins in Oaxaca
Visiting Monte Alban Ruins is one of the must things to do when traveling to the city of Oaxaca. Read our guide on how to get to Monte Alban Ruins independently or with a tour including tips on everything you need to know before your day trip.
Oaxaca is the city which makes it on every traveler's itinerary, but with plenty of things to see and do in Oaxaca and its surroundings, you better allocate at least three or four days for your trip to the place with the strongest indigenous culture in Mexico.
Apart from wandering the city's streets and making a one-day trip to Hierve el Agua, there was one more must-do thing we had on our list when we arrived in Oaxaca, visiting a large pre-Columbian site, Monte Alban ruins.
The city is well-known for the Zapotec culture, and the Zapotec civilization is also responsible for constructing Monte Alban, which is the most popular half-day trip from the city.
Here's our travel guide on how to get to Monte Alban ruins, how much things cost, what to see and where to stay in Oaxaca.
HOW TO GET TO MONTE ALBAN
Monte Alban lies on the hill towering 400 meters above Oaxaca, 10 kilometers from the city, so there are several options how you can get to the ruins. We traveled to the archeological complex with a shuttle bus, but here are all the ways of transport you can choose from.
Taxi | The most expensive, but at the same time, the most comfortable way how to reach Monte Alban ruins is by taxi. Usually, one way costs Mx 150, but you can bargain and get as low as Mx 100. In case you opt for a taxi, make sure to set off early from Oaxaca because later in the afternoon it is harder to find a cab in Monte Alban.
Shuttle Bus | Several travel agencies in Oaxaca run regular shuttle buses from the city center to Monte Alban. We went with Lescas Co Travel Agency which has an office on the main square opposite the cathedral, but any other agency in the center provide tourists with a very similar service. Another popular place to arrange a shuttle bus for Monte Alban is Hotel Rivera del Angel. We did not book anything in advance we only had to wait a bit as the van leaves the city every hour on half an hour. The return tickets cost Mx 70 - 80 and only transport is included. The driver will then tell you what time should you wait on the parking lot to get back to Oaxaca (we had two and a half hours to spend on the site which was just right).
Guided Tour | If you prefer to be picked up in your hotel and want to learn more about the ruins, you can take a guided tour from Oaxaca. This is the easiest, but quite expensive way how to get to Monte Alban, but on the other hand, you will get a guided tour.
Public Transport | Another option is to take public transport which is cheap only Mx 6, but the last stop is still one hour walk to Monte Alban uphill. To jump on the bus you need to flag one down with a sign Monte Alban driving around Zocalo (the main square).
Walk | Well, this is the cheapest but the most hardcore way how to get to Monte Alban. The road climbs from Oaxaca all the way up to the ruins, so you can expect grueling 10 kilometers (and then the same distance back). You know, that usually when it is possible to get somewhere on foot we go for it, but honestly, we don't think it is worth it here to save a couple of dollars. First, most of the road is dusty, there is quite a traffic, and you would have to walk through the poor neighborhood which is not the safest not only because of the people but because of strayed dogs.
BRIEF HISTORY OF MONTE ALBAN
According to archeologists, Monte Alban was founded in 500 BC, and during centuries the city became the capital of Zapotec culture and one of the most important and largest cities in Mesoamerica at that time.
The city had its peak between 200 AD - 600 AD when almost 35 000 people lived there, but it lost powers in 800 AD, and the site was abandoned only to be found by Mixtec people later, who used it as a sacred burial site.
It is possible to see a clear influence of Teotihuacan culture here, which gives us evidence that those two cultures were in contact. Monte Alban was also one of the first sites with clearly visible differences between the upper class and lower class who lived on the sides of the hill while the elite lived on the top.
WHAT TO SEE IN MONTE ALBAN RUINS
Just after we bought a ticket, we went to the museum first, not only to find out more about the history of Monte Alban and the area but also we did not feel good that day, and museum was the only place where we could find some shade and take rest after the curvy, 45 minutes long drive from Oaxaca.
The museum was pretty interesting, so have a look inside if time allows.
Then we went inside the complex where we spent approximately two hours.
Here are some of the best structures you can see in Monte Alban Ruins.
Gran Plaza | The main plaza is, well, simply great. It is a large square lined with structures, and there are few structures in the middle as well. Main Square was the first place we went to once inside the complex, and it was a good choice as we saw the most impressive things at the beginning.
Los Danzantes | Inside the archeological site are several places with large carved stones, but the most famous artifact is a group of stone structures depicting a scene which can remind you dancing men, but actually, it shows captured rulers from neighboring cities who were castrated, and later most likely sacrificed.
Ballcourt | It is quite interesting that although Monte Alban city was ruled by Zapotecs and not Maya people, ballcourt is not missing here, albeit it has a bit different shape (it is much more narrow).
El Palacio | El Palacio was structure strictly used by the elite living in Monte Alban. Archeologists not that long time ago discovered a secret tunnel between the palace and other structures around Gran Plaza, so rulers or other leaders could walk around the city unnoticed.
Observatory | Same as Maya people, Zapotecs were great in astronomy, and they used their knowledge, especially for agriculture and for predicting the seasons as it was crucial for them to know when the rainy and dry season starts. This structure stands in the middle of Gran Plaza which indicates how important it was.
North Plaza & South Plaza | You can climb quite many structures in Monte Alban complex, but the views from the top of the South and North Plaza are by far the best.
The ticket for Monte Alban ruins and the museum costs Mx 75 for foreigners, which is quite cheap when we compare it with other admissions we paid in Mexico.
The site is open from 8 AM to 5 PM, so you have plenty of time to visit the ruins throughout the day. Usually, Mexican citizens have free entry to tourist attractions on Sunday, but we don't think Monte Alban is that popular that it should affect your visit.
You can hire a licensed guide at the entrance in case you want to learn more about the ruins, but as Monte Alban was the seventh ruin we've visited in Mexico, we skipped the guided option.
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FOOD AND DRINKS
There is a stall in front of the entrance to Monte Alban Ruins where you can buy cold drinks and snacks, but it is so overpriced that we couldn't believe it.
Normally, we never buy anything near tourists attractions, but while visiting Oaxaca, we were both sick, and after hours of walking on the sun in the archeological site, we felt we need something sweet and cold. But the price we were asked for a drink was so ridiculous (there is a road, so it is not hard to supply the place), that we decided not to support these people.
If traveling on a budget, we advise you to bring your own water and snack.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VISITING MONTE ALBAN
Temperatures in Oaxaca are almost the same all year round, it is hot, but what changes is the precipitation as the region experience two distinct seasons, wet and dry.
The dry season is from November to April, while the rainy season runs between May and October when you can expect showers usually in the afternoon, especially during July and August.
When visiting Monte Alban, here are five essential things you should pack.
WHERE TO STAY IN OAXACA
Oaxaca is a large city, it has over 250 000 inhabitants, so if you do not want to use public transport to get around we strongly recommend you to stay close to the historical center. There are quite many accommodation options in Oaxaca, we've handpicked three best places for every budget.
Budget | Andaina Youth Hostel - This hostel is the most popular option on where to stay for all travelers on a budget. Not only it is cheap, but it has remarkable reviews because of the perfect location and cleanliness.
Mid-range | Hotel Victoria Oaxaca - Set in a tropical garden, this reasonably priced hotel offers a great location close to the center (they have a shuttle if you don't want to walk 15 minutes to the center) and features such as a swimming pool so you will have a relaxed holiday feel.
Luxury | Marialicia Suites Hotel Boutique - Professional service, comfortable and clean rooms, great position and attentive staff, these are only a few reasons, why to stay in this hotel.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
HOW TO GET TO OAXACA
Oaxaca is almost on every Mexico travel itinerary, so it is easy to get to the city or travel to another destination from Oaxaca.
The bus terminal is approximately twenty minutes by walk from the city center, so if your backpack is heavy, take a cab. We always found best to buy a bus ticket to our next destination right after our arrival, so we booked our seats to Puebla first thing we arrived in Oaxaca.
Although you can buy tickets for ADO buses online, we always got a better rate when booking directly at the terminal. Regular ADO buses go for example to Mexico City, Puebla or San Cristobal de las Casas.
Our Tip: The most popular way how to get around Mexico is by rental car.
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
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