Monte Alban was once one of the largest cities in ancient Mesoamerica built by the Zapotec people over 2000 years ago and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site that is absolutely worth visiting on any trip to Oaxaca. We highly recommend a hiring a tour guide. We went with a teacher from our Spanish school who had extensively studied the history of the area and his perspective was so much better than just reading the plaques as we went.
The grounds are only accessible on foot which allows visitors to climb to the tops of some of the structures for breathtaking views of the entire site and the surrounding valley. We visited on a rainy morning which created a beautiful backdrop for pictures and added to the mystery and wonder of the place. You’ll see below we went a few days after an earthquake which had caused some of the walls to fall in one area. It was disheartening to say the least- our tour guide definitely teared up at the sight of it. Overall, Monte Alban was one of the coolest places we’ve visited outside of Oaxaca and we’re so glad we included it in our trip.
Here are a few of our favorite photos.
When to go: The site opens daily (except holidays) at 9am. We highly recommend going as early as possible to avoid the crowds which roll in around 11. The space is large enough that other people being there doesn’t really impact your ability to explore, but have the place to yourself really lends itself well to letting your imagination paint a picture of what life must have been like in 100 BC.
Total time: We spent 3.5 hours there which was enough time to explore every nook and cranny while taking lots of photo breaks. We don’t recommend allowing for less than 2 hours.
Getting there: Monte Alban is about 20 minutes outside of El Centro, Oaxaca by car. You can get a bus that runs regularly or you can hire a taxi.
Getting in: It is roughly 100 pesos for admission to the grounds plus the adjacent museum.
Getting a tour: We went with an teacher from our Spanish immersion school who doesn’t do additional private tours, but there were many tour guides waiting at the front gate who spoke English and Spanish.
Getting around: The area is relatively large. Expect to do some walking, especially up and down quite a bit of stairs on the sides. We wore hiking shoes because was rainy and muddy though casual sandals would probably work during the dry season.
Other recommendations: We strongly recommend bringing water, a hat, and sunscreen. There is a snack bar there where you can purchase water going in, but there is very little shade. Even in the rain we were a little toasty at the end of the tour. There are men stationed throughout the site selling little handmade trinkets, so you may want to bring a few extra pesos if you would like a souvenir. If not, a simple “gracias” will tell them you’re not interested.