Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins

The Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban sit high on top of a large hill, just outside of bustling Oaxaca.  In a perfect defensive position, these are some of Mexico’s most important ruins.  Monte Alban was a major seat of power for over 1,000 years, from 500 B.C. to roughly 750 A.D. ~ with ties to Mexico’s other famous site: Teotihuacan.  Today, you can still witness many of the terraces & pyramids that were built here, & explore the region’s former economic, political, social, religious, & cultural center.  We’ll discuss everything you need to know as a visitor in this “Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins!”

Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins by Oaxaca, Is Oaxaca Safe for Solo Travel? Girl Who Travels the World

Standing on top of a pyramid at historic Monte Alban. Its hilltop position gives you stunning 360 views of Oaxaca.

How to Get to Monte Alban from Oaxaca

The quickest way to reach Monte Alban from Oaxaca City is by taxi.  And it’s best to have the same driver pick you up (your hotel can arrange this).  You can also take a group shuttle with other tourists, at prearranged pick-up times.  Public bus is the least expensive ~ but you’ll still need to walk 40 minutes uphill from the final bus stop.

Oaxaca City

Monte Alban

Important Info about Monte Alban

  • Where is Monte Alban Located? Monte Alban is only 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Oaxaca City, but the drive with traffic can take anywhere from 20-45 minutes, depending on the time of day.
  • Best Way to Get to Monte Alban: Group shuttle or private taxi.  I took a taxi hired by my hotel for the trip there & back (my driver returned two hours after I entered the site), so I wouldn’t have to negotiate a taxi ride for the way back. The cost was 120 pesos ($6) each way.  Tour companies all over town offer group shuttles to the site.  If you want a guided tour of Monte Alban, ask your hotel for reliable guides, inquire at one Oaxaca’s many tour companies, or hire a guide right at the ruins. 
  • What is the Entrance Fee for Monte Alban? 75 pesos, or about $4.
  • Can You Hike up the Pyramids at Monte Alban? Yes, you can hike up a majority of them.  Just a few are roped off.
  • Are There Restrooms & Food at Monte Alban? Yes, up front in the museum you’ll find restrooms & a small cafe with lovely views of the sprawling city.  And, unlike many other ruins, there are also bathrooms inside Monte Alban (in the far corner). 
  • Best Places to Stay in Oaxaca City: I stayed at two different hotels during my time in Oaxaca, & loved both.  The first was Hotel Casa Ortiz ($62+/night), an elegant boutique hotel located near gorgeous Templo de Santo Domingo (my favorite church in Oaxaca by far)!!  The other was the delightful & charming NaNa Vida Hotel ($82+/night).  Both hotels are situated around beautiful, central courtyards ~ are quiet & felt very safe.

Photos of Monte Alban

What makes Monte Alban special as a visitor, compared to so many other ruins, is that they’re NOT crowded.  Particularly compared to Chichen Itza, which was busy by 8:30AM, Monte Alban felt very relaxed.  And you can climb most of the pyramids ~ & capture all kinds of great photos with very few people in them.  The first photo below gives a great idea of how many people to expect at Monte Alban: & you can see, it’s not crowded.  The wide open space of the main plaza adds to the feeling of openness.  And there are restrooms in the far, diagonal corner from the entrance (HUGE bonus!!) 

Machu Picchu, for example, has no bathrooms AT ALL onsite ~ only outside the ruins.

Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins in Oaxaca, Girl Who Travels the World

When I first entered Monte Alban, this is the sight that greeted me: very few tourists, & a wide open, grand plaza, surrounded by pyramids.

Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins in Oaxaca, Girl Who Travels the World

Being able to climb most of the pyramids allows for great vantage points framed by lush foliage…

Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins in Oaxaca, Girl Who Travels the World

I love using a GoPro at archaeological sites (as in this shot), as it offers a more birds-eye perspective of these vast spaces.

Why is Monte Alban Significant?

Monte Alban is by far the most significant historical site in Oaxaca, as it represents a highly-evolved civilization that lasted for nearly 1,500 years.  Terraces, dams, canals, & pyramids were all carved literally out of the mountainside itself, & are not only evidence of masterful planning: but are important symbols of sacred topography.  Aside from the impressive pyramids which flank the site & the great plazas, you can also see the site’s famous ball court, along with important tombs like “Tomb #7” ~ which, when excavated, unearthed a number of important items, including a jade-covered skull which can be seen in Oaxaca’s Museo de las Culturas. 

Monte Alban was the second-largest ceremonial center in all of Mesoamerica (after Teotihuacan), & some say that its site was chosen because it’s an important “energy center.”  And much of Monte Alban still remains mysterious today: there are numerous hieroglyphs that have never been decoded, stone monuments called “Danzantes” depicting contorted figures that may be prisoners, but historians are still unsure of their exact significance.

Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins by Oaxaca, Girl Who Travels the World

Stone monuments called “Danzantes,” may be depictions of early prisoners at the site.

Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins in Oaxaca, Girl Who Travels the World

Incorporating the pyramid’s stairs into your shots allows for good contrast & many creative photo options.

Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins in Oaxaca, Girl Who Travels the World

Make sure to get shots on both ends of the plaza!

Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins in Oaxaca, Girl Who Travels the World

Grab some sangria & a bit of shade in the cute cafe inside Monte Alban’s small museum..

Ultimate Guide to the Monte Alban Ruins

 Thanks for reading this guide!  Make sure to bring sunscreen, as there’s very little shade here.  And also make sure to visit the staggeringly beautiful Hierve el Agua, one of only two petrified waterfalls in the world.

xoxo Noelia 

Read Next: Is Oaxaca Safe for Solo Travel?

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Ultimate Guide to Monte Alban Ruins by Oaxaca, Girl Who Travels the World