Monte Albán | Visiting an Archeological Treasure

Words and images ©  PAUL MARTINEZ

Words and images © PAUL MARTINEZ

Located on the outskirts of Oaxaca City is The extraordinary site of MONTE ALBÁN, one of the world’s great archeological treasures.

The legacy of the advanced Zapotec culture that dominated parts of Mexico well over a thousand years ago can be witnessed at Monte Albán. Its founding dates back to around 500 BC, with most of the city being abandoned by 950 AD and ultimately restored in the 1930’s. Today, it’s a large flattened mountain top; full of monuments and views over the valley that are sure to impress all who visit.


Located just 5 miles from downtown Oaxaca is the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán. It's among the top things to see when visiting Oaxaca City, making a trip to this UNESCO World Heritage Site an absolute must. You can take the short trip by chartering a bus or taxi, or opt for a stress free tour guide.



Although a tour may not be your top choice when visiting tourist attractions, we recommend going this route because of the valuable knowledge and expertise that a our guide provides.

Bamba Experience offers great Oaxacan tours, such as the Monte Albán and Indigenous Villages day tour.

They pick you up from your hotel, allowing ample time to eat beforehand and not have to fuss with bus schedules or haggling with taxi drivers.

Once getting picked up, you'll get to mingle with fellow travelers and like-minded explorers. After visiting Monte Albán, digest what was just experienced while you make your way to a few indigenous villages.

First, you’ll visit a shop amidst a community known for their traditional handcrafts (which Oaxaca has become famous for). Then, the tour continues to Cuilapan, located just southwest of Oaxaca; it’s one of a the few Mixtec towns in the Valles Centrales and the site of a historic Dominican monastery.

Lastly, you’ll make your way to the village of San Bartolo Coyotepec. Where the biggest workshop producing barro negro pottery or "black clay" is located—Alfarería Doña Rosa.

It’s a style of pottery synonymous with Oaxaca and distinguished by its color, sheen and unique designs.


If you would prefer to do it on your own and not see some indigenous villages, there are local buses all around the Zocalo that head towards Monte Alban. Sure, you’ll pay less but you’ll also walk a ton more—just look for the buses with Monte Alban on the front.

It's 6 pesos one way and they will drop you off at a platform an hour walk away from the site. Just bring some water, as the walk is all uphill and strenuous.



Monte Albán has a history that traces back to about 500 B.C. when Zapotec builders began leveling the mountaintop to make way for their city. The city's construction was done in phases, with phase one stretching from the city's beginnings to about 1 AD when “Building J” (believed to be an observatory), was built. The second phase spanned two centuries from 1 AD to 200 AD. When at the point of around 800 A.D. the Zapotec people abandoned the city for reasons unknown. The Mixtec people later entered the Valley of Oaxaca in 1200 AD and used the site to bury their elite.


From the minute you arrive to Monte Albán, you'll first stroll past a few stands selling handcrafts, headwear and snacks. It can get very hot and there's little to no shade, so either bring a hat or purchasing one from the vendors is highly suggested. Once you make it past the entrance, you'll be briefed on the history of the site and allowed time to roam freely at your own pace.

Edificio J

An arrowhead-shaped structure constructed around 100 BC filled with tunnels and staircases, which unfortunately you can’t go inside.

It stands at a 45 degree angle, unlike other Gran Plaza structures and is believed to be an observatory. Figures and hieroglyphs carved on the building's walls also recorded Monte Albán’s military conquests.


Juego de Pelota

The stone terraces of the deep Ball Court, constructed about 100 BC, were probably part of the playing area, not seats for spectators.

Gran Plaza

The Gran Plaza is the heart of Monte Albán; consisting of structures that were once used as temples and elite residential quarters.

Plataforma Norte

The North Platform is almost as big as the Gran Plaza, and offers the best views of Monte Albán. It was rebuilt several times over the centuries.

*Our tour guide provided by Bamba Experience was incredibly insightful and professional. Everything was explained in great detail, and provided the perfect amount of time to roam and explore the grounds.



Depending on the time you decided to visit, the weather can vary in Mexico. Oaxaca has a wet season that runs from about mid-May until the start of October, but when it’s not raining, it can get incredibly hot. The warmest month of the year is April, with average high temperatures of about 90°F; while the coldest month is January.

If you take our advice and visit this sacred site with the help and expertise of Bamba Experience, your entrance fees will be covered. If not, entry fees cost around $70 pesos, with additional fees sometimes being charged for video cameras or tripods. Entrance to the site is free on Sundays, if you are a Mexican resident.