How to Visit Monte Albán | 2023 Guide

Monte Albán is one of the top tourist destinations in Oaxaca state and it’s easy to see why. Located a 20 minute or so ride from the zócalo, or main square, you’ll weave up the bumpy and narrow mountain road, with an incredible view of the city of Oaxaca and surrounding areas, and at the top, a 360° view of the Sierra Madre mountains.

My first and most important piece of advice on how to visit Monte Albán, especially if you are visiting in warmer months, is go early! Visiting in December, it was still cool when we arrived at 9 AM, but quickly warmed up, and there was little to no shade cover while looking at the monuments.

Getting there early also affords you an almost completely unobstructed view – there’s something special about being one of the only people out on the flat mesa, or Gran Plaza, surrounded by these towering ruins.

women walking ledge with mountains in the background while visiting Monte Alban
You’re on the same level as the birds up herenot pictured are several camera shy hawks

How to Get to Monte Albán:

We opted to take a colectivo, or shared transport, through the company Lescas Co Tours, located in the zócalo. You can communicate with them via WhatsApp and they accept PayPal payments in advance, or you can just pay there (bring small bills). At the time of this post, a round trip ticket for one person was $120 MXN or $6 USD.

The earliest colectivo left at 8:30 AM and we arrived at 8 AM to buy our ticket. They will pick you up exactly 3 hours after drop-off and I found 2-3 hours to be the perfect amount of time to see everything without rushing. We didn’t find any other companies that offered just the transport, rather they offered half or full day tours. We just decided to explore ourselves and forego the guided tour.

The other options for transportation, other than having your own car, are taxi or public bus. The public bus is significantly cheaper, but drops you off at the entrance of the Zona Arqueológica de Monte Albán, and leaves you with a decently long walk up the road to the ticket counter. I haven’t taken a taxi yet, so I’m unsure of the exact cost, but I’ve seen one-way prices typically in the $180-200 MXN range, and that was a few years ago, so I would expect it to be more now.

As for the tickets to get into Monte Albán, it is easy and straightforward to purchase at the entrance at either a ticket window or a machine via cash or card. The entrance fee is currently $85 MXN or $4.30 USD.

Why Monte Albán is Significant

No guide for how to visit Monte Albán would be complete without telling you why the site is so historically important.

Monte Albán is the largest pre-Hispanic city in the region of Oaxaca and represents the first urban plan on the American continent. Its continuous human occupation, which included the Zapotec people who built it, spanned more than thirteen centuries. It developed a true State as its system of government, led by its priestly class, and its economy was based on tributes paid by local communities in the Valley of Oaxaca as well as cultivation of certain crops that grew on terraces built on the slopes of surrounding hills.

The most interesting thing is that the city was gradually abandoned, and no one really knows why. It was still viewed as a sacred place by the Mixtec people who later arrived in the valley, and they actually buried high status individuals in a Zapotec tomb with a significant offering. These numerous treasures, found in Tomb 7, are displayed in the Cultural Museum mentioned in an earlier post.

If you want to visit Tomb 7, it’s actually located outside the main complex, near the car parking lot. I’m not sure why this tomb was so far removed from all the other structures, and the signage didn’t really address that.

man crouching down in front of ruins of Tomb 7 while visiting Monte Alban
Kelton preparing to further excavate Tomb 7

The plaques near each structure gives you a general idea of what each one may have been used for, as well as the architectural significance of certain features, such as the use of hidden entrances/passageways. There are also a few structures which highlight their astronomical observation and how it contributed to the rise of state power through their ability to calculate agricultural cycles, upcoming rain, etc.

It’s difficult to describe the scale or take pictures that accurately portray just how large these ruins are, especially since all that’s left is mostly the foundation, but I did my best.

Is Monte Albán Worth Visiting?

A lot of the guides I read about how to visit Monte Albán prior to our visit were written before the pandemic, and a few things have changed. As expected with widespread inflation, entrance and transportation costs had increased a little, but it was still very affordable.

This was my first visit to any ruins, and I enjoyed arriving early and strolling around the plaza, picturing what it might have been like during the height of its grandeur. For me, the joy is in imagining what people were capable of so long ago, without any of our modern conveniences. I also love a good mystery, and the fact that this place was just gradually abandoned for unknown reasons fascinates me.

So, if you’re primarily interested in the history, and not just in getting a good photo, I think it’s definitely worth a morning of your trip and ~$10 USD to see. That being said, I might skip it if you’re visiting in the summer months as I think it would be unpleasantly hot, even if you go early. I would also recommend reading a bit about the history of Monte Albán, or watching an informational YouTube video, if you don’t plan on taking a guided tour – just for some context when you visit.

ruins at Monte Alban

As for me, I’m off to stretch my calf muscles after climbing all those steps, and then re-watch the film Apocalypto.

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