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Monte Alban Travel Guide: tours, things to do, how to get there, and more!

Monte Alban Oaxaca is one of the most popular places to visit in Oaxaca, and in this Monte Alban travel guide, you will learn everything you need to know about preparing for your visit.

Monte Alban is an important archaeological site in Mexico. It was once the capital of the Zapotec civilization, which grew up in the central valleys of Oaxaca.

It is thought to have been built by the Zapotecs around 500 BCE. It was an important center of Zapotec culture and politics for over a thousand years.

Monte Alban was at its best when it had as many as 18,000 people. It was known for its complex palaces, ballcourt for playing tlachtli, plazas, pyramids, and tombs, as well as its writing system, astronomical alignments, carved monuments, and even an observatory.

The Zapotecs were known for their complex political and economic systems and their skilled craftspeople, who made some of the most beautiful and intricate pre-Columbian art.

oaxaca city

But the Zapotec culture fell apart over time, and Monte Albán was eventually left empty, which the Mixtec later found, and they reused some of the old Zapotec tombs as sacred burial grounds.

The site lay forgotten for centuries until Mexican archaeologists rediscovered it in the late 19th century. Mexican archaeologists.

Since then, many archaeological digs have been done on Monte Albán, which have been carefully fixed to protect its influential cultural history.

This archaeological site is one of the best places to visit in Oaxaca City, and in this Monte Alban travel guide, you will learn everything you need to know about preparing for your visit.

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Monte Alban Travel Guide: quick links

📜 What is Monte Alban known for? 

Monte Alban Oaxaca is known for its beautiful palaces, plazas, pyramids, and tombs, which are impressive architecture.

The city was built on top of a hill and was made to be easy to defend by having high walls and buildings in the right places.

It was also vital to the region’s cultural and political development. The city was an important center for trade and business, and many of the most powerful Zapotec leaders lived there.

monte alban oaxaca
The city is also known for how many buildings are built to line up with the sun and other celestial bodies. | Photo: Isaac Jero

It is thought that this was used for religious and astronomical purposes, and it shows how knowledgeable the Zapotecs were about the stars.

In Monte Alban Oaxaca, you will also find beautifully carved monuments that remember important people, events, and leaders.

It is said that these monuments are some of the most critical pieces of Zapotec art and masterpieces of pre-Columbian art.

Monte Alban Oaxaca draws thousands of tourists and archaeologists. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage in 1987 and is a big part of Mexico’s rich cultural history.

🗺️ Monte Alban Oaxaca Map

🚘 How to get to Monte Alban Oaxaca

Monte Alban Oaxaca by bus

The cheapest way to get to Monte Alban is via public bus. You can easily spot these buses because of their teal green color.

You can take a bus bound for Atzompa or Alamos from Calle de Tinoco Y Palacios near the Oaxaca Zocalo.

Monte Alban Travel Guide
Several cultures inhabited Monte Alban for over 1,500 years, including the Zapotecs and Mixtecs. | Photo: @historiasdeviajes_

The bus ride takes about 30 minutes to get to Monte Alban. You need to walk about 30 minutes from there to Monte Alban as they won’t take you directly to the gates. The fare is $4 USD round trip.

Monte Alban Oaxaca by rental car

One of the most popular ways to get to places in Oaxaca is via a rental car. A rental car in Oaxaca City starts at $25 USD per day (Sedan, 4-seater).

It is highly recommended to book your rental car in advance (at least a week before your trip). Discover Cars and Rental Cars Oaxaca are two of the great options.

Monte Alban Travel Guide
Monte Alban is known for its unique architecture, including stepped pyramids and plazas surrounded by terraced platforms cut out of the mountainside. | Photo: @gilbertsaurus

Parking in Monte Alban is not challenging as there are many places to park. Just take note that you need a credit card to rent a car in Oaxaca City and a security deposit is required.

Monte Alban Oaxaca via tour operator

The easiest way to get to Monte Alban Oaxaca is via tour operators. The pick-up and drop-off is already included, so you won’t have to think about taking a bus or a shared taxi (collectivo).

Tour prices in Monte Alban Oaxaca start for as low as $25 USD per person, and most of the tours already have food included.

Monte Alban Travel Guide
Its most famous structure is El Castillo, a five-tiered pyramid temple that stands nearly 65 feet tall and has been dated to around 500 BCE. | Photo: @gaeldrios

This article has an extensive list of Monte Alban tours with detailed pricing and review. Feel free to choose what suits your budget and travel type!

💲 Monte Alban entrance fee

The entrance fee to Monte Alban Oaxaca is approximately $4 USD, which you can pay upon arrival; there is no need to book in advance, and it is open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Monte Alban Travel Guide
The surrounding area around Monte Alban offers stunning views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. | Photo: @zoehuf

This is an excellent choice for those on a budget and those who want to take the adventure and get to Monte Alban independently.

FYI, weekends are free for Mexican nationals and foreign residents with valid FM cards.

🧭 Monte Alban travel guide: things to do

#1: Monte Alban Museum

The entrance to the archaeological site is where the Monte Alban Museum is. It was recently reopened and closed in 2020, but the museum has been open to the public since 1985.

It houses beautiful sculptures and ceramics made by the Zapotecs. It also has the engraved steles collection, some of which are the original pieces found on the site, and there are copies.

Monte Alban Travel Guide

Three mummified bodies were buried with their original offerings to show how vital the Zapotecs’ religious and burial practices were. The museum is divided into rooms with different exhibits.

#2: Monte Alban Observatory

The fact that the Monte Alban Observatory is situated in the middle of Gran Plaza demonstrates its significance.

It consists of stone blocks placed together to form an arrow-like structure. It was used to observe heavenly events.

Monte Alban Travel Guide
Photo: @purple_ocean

Zapotecs were experts in astronomy and utilized their skills for agriculture and season forecasting, as it was essential for them to know when the rainy and dry seasons began.

#3: Los Danzantes

Los Danzantes is located within the central plaza are carved stone monuments. Amongst these carved stone monuments, the most famous ones are the Los Danzantes which means dancers.

Monte Alban Travel Guide
Nowadays, Monte Alban is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Mexico due to its historical significance, captivating architecture and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. | Photo: @ mountain_roamer

These represent sacrificial victims, most likely lords of groups beaten in combat by the Zapotec. Los Danzantes is located close to Building L.

#3: Ballcourt 

Upon entering the Gran Plaza, the first structure you will come across is the Ballcourt.

Mesoamerican societies utilized a more severe variant of the ball game to resolve political and other social issues, their version of modern-day judicial court.

Monte Alban Travel Guide

The famous ball game in Mesoamerica consisted of putting a rubber ball through a high-mounted hoop on each wall.

When the rubber ball passed through the rings on either side of the court, points were awarded. They could use any part of the body except their hands. 

#4: El Palacio

As you continue to make your way around the Grand Plaza, you will soon see a relatively large set of stairs leading to the central entrance.

El Palacio was built during the Zapotec Golden Age. While you cannot cross this barrier, you can still observe it from the outside. It was a construction exclusive to the Monte Albano elite.

Monte Alban Travel Guide
Photo: @aliebythelake

Archaeologists uncovered a secret tunnel between the palace and other structures surrounding Gran Plaza not so long ago, allowing rulers and other leaders to move across the city undetected.

#5: North and South Plazas

The North and South Plazas are two distinct areas within the Monte Alban site.

The North Plaza was the political and religious center of Monte Alban and was the site of important events such as ceremonies, rituals, and political gatherings.

It is characterized by a large platform supporting a palace, several other buildings, and a ball court used for the Mesoamerican ballgame.

Monte Alban Travel Guide
Photo: @ivetka.2002

On the other hand, the South Plaza was the administrative center of Monte Alban and was home to several buildings, including a palace, tombs, and a building that was likely used for storage.

This area also features a large staircase leading to the top of a platform and offers excellent views of the surrounding countryside.

Together, the North and South Plazas represent the political and administrative centers of Monte Alban and provide insight into the Zapotec civilization and its way of life.

🏆 Best Monte Alban Tours

Monte Alban half-day tour

⏰ 5 hours
💲 from $35 USD

This Monte Alban half-day tour will bring you to this remarkable archaeological area and discover the unique culture and heritage of the Zapotec people.

Upon arrival at Monte Alban, guides provide detailed tours that offer insight into the history, architecture, and artifacts of Monte Alban.

The tour includes visits to various structures such as a palace, temples, tombs, and monuments, and an observatory where you can observe celestial events.

Monte Alban Travel Guide

Typically, the on-site tour is from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM, but they will want you to be early as there is a waiting time before you can enter the site, which usually takes up to 2 hours.

You’ll also have time to wander through the museum. After your visit, you’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before returning to Oaxaca for your next destination.

Monte Alban, Arrazola, Culiapam, and San Bartolo

In this Monte Alban combo tour, you will explore three of the region’s most important cultural and historical landmarks: Monte Alban, Arrazola, Coyotepec, and Cuilapam de Guerrero.

The tour begins with a visit to Monte Alban. You will see beautiful courtyards, temples, and tombs as you learn about one of the oldest civilizations in the Americas.

Monte Alban Travel Guide
Photo: @artesanias_carrillo

Afterward, you will visit and get to know the unique artistry of Arrazola – renowned for its vibrant-colored wooden carvings known as alebrijes.

Then you will head to Coyotepec, where they can observe traditional pottery-making processes. The tour concludes with a visit to Cuilapan de Guerrero – another Zapotec site home to huge pyramids and ancient stone carvings.

Monte Alban Tour: full day

This Monte Alban full-day tour will start in Monte Alban, a once powerful ceremonial center for the Zapotec people and contains some impressive structures, including a series of terraces, pyramids, tombs, and altars.

You will also visit three artisan towns in the surrounding area – San Bartolo Coyotepec, Tlacolula de Matamoros, and Zaachila.

Here you can learn about traditional Mexican crafts and artifacts, such as pottery and masks, typically made by pre-Columbian cultures.

monte alban oaxaca
Photo: @sernas_emmanuel

You will also have the chance to see how these crafts are created today with demonstrations from local artisans who still practice these techniques.

In addition to exploring fascinating ancient ruins and learning about traditional crafts, your tour provides an opportunity to taste regional cuisine during a stop at a restaurant in one of the villages.

Here you can sample recipes passed down through generations made with locally sourced ingredients such as beans, squash, and chiles. After lunch, you can browse stalls selling handicrafts before returning to Oaxaca City.

Monte Alban tour with craft workshop in Ocotlan Valley

This tour starts at the ancient site of Monte Albán, where visitors can explore the ruins of an ancient Zapotec city and learn about its history and culture.

After exploring Monte Albán, you will travel to Cuilapam de Guerrero. This village is full of vibrant colors and textures thanks to local artisans’ unique selection of textiles and handicrafts using traditional techniques passed down through generations.

monte alban oaxaca

While there, you can spend some time browsing through these shops and getting a glimpse into Mexican folk art, as it is still practiced today!

Your final stop on this tour is Barro Negro, which is famous for its deep black pottery made from clay found in regionally specific areas around Oaxaca City.

Here you’ll have a chance to watch a demonstration with one of the few remaining potters still practicing this craft and learn more about this unique style of pottery that has made Barro Negro an essential destination for tourists from all around the world who come here specifically for these pieces!

🍛 Monte Alban restaurants

Restaurante Monte Alban

📍 Monte Alban Museum and Restaurant

There is a restaurant inside Monte Alban Oaxaca, but it is usually crowded as it is the only restaurant in the area. This restaurant has an outdoor patio, so you’ll have great views of Monte Alban!

monte alban oaxaca

This is a Mexican restaurant, so expect the menu to have Mexican breakfast specials. This is an expensive restaurant compared to other great restaurants in Oaxaca City.

Monte Alban is touristy, so expect it to be overpriced (for what it is).

La Cofradía Restaurante

📍 Libertad #2, Carr. a Monte Alban

La Cofradia Restaurante is a traditional Mexican eatery that you will find between Oaxaca City and the Monte Alban highway.

monte alban oaxaca

This is a way better option than the overpriced restaurant inside Monte Alban. They can also deliver to you if you find a spot to picnic in Monte Alban.

As this is a Mexican restaurant, expect more food from Oaxaca for lower prices. This is local-family owned, so you’ll never go wrong with Cofradia!

Tlayudas el Güero

📍 Carr. a Monte Alban 5, La Fundicion

Also located in the Monte Alban Highway, Tlayudas El Guero, obviously, sells tlayudas.

monte alban oaxaca

This is a great local spot for tlayudas, assuming you are not yet tired of eating this iconic Oaxacan street food in the city.

The prices here start for as low as $3 USD, and are the best choice for a quick stop after your Monte Alban Oaxaca tour.

🏺 What is the significance of Monte Alban?

Monte Alban is an archaeological site in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico, recognized for its great significance to the country’s history.

It was once the capital of the Zapotec culture and demonstrated a mastery of city planning and engineering by this ancient people.

Monte Alban is also one of only two Mesoamerican sites inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites based on its unique cultural importance.

The ruins are an important reminder that Mexico has been home to many different civilizations, each contributing differently to Mexican culture today.

🙋 Is Monte Alban Aztec or Mayan?

Monte Alban is believed to have been built by the ancient peoples between 500 B.C and A.D 700. Thus, Monte Alban Oaxaca is a Zapotec archaeological site that predates Aztec and Mayan civilizations.

🚌 How to get to Monte Alban from Oaxaca City?

The cheapest way to get to Monte Alban from Oaxaca City is by bus. Buses run regularly throughout the day, and tickets cost around $2.50 USD.

The trip takes approximately 40 minutes, depending on traffic. Alternatively, you could take a taxi, which would cost more but offer a quicker journey of about 25 minutes.

Taxis in Oaxaca City can give you a price, and you can haggle. The easiest way to get to Monte Alban from Oaxaca City is with a tour operator, mainly because you don’t have to worry about transportation.

⁉️ Can you go to Monte Alban without a tour?

ABSOLUTELY! You can take a bus at the Oaxaca Zocalo. The shared bus costs around $4 USD and will take you to Monte Alban (30 minutes ride).

Once there, you can pay the entrance fee of $4 USD and explore Monte Alban by yourself. Just follow the tips in this guide on what to see or how to visit Monte Alban on your own.

🇲🇽 Oaxaca Travel Planning

🛫 Where can I book cheap flights to Oaxaca City?
Use the code MXINSIDER to get cheap flights to Oaxaca City upon checkout on WayAway.

🚑 Do I need insurance to travel to Oaxaca City?
Yes, you do! This is the number one requirement when traveling to Mexico. I use SafetyWing and I only pay $40 USD per month for my digital nomad travel insurance!

🛏️ Where can I find hotels in Oaxaca City?
Budget travelers, use Hostelworld when looking for accommodations in Oaxaca City. A bed in a hostel dorm starts at $25 USD per night. Booking.com is best for boutique hotels, while luxury hotels can be booked with Expedia.

🚘 Where can I rent a car in Oaxaca?
Rental cars in Oaxaca can be booked online prior to arrival. The cheapest recommendation is Discover Cars Oaxaca.

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9 Comments

  1. Monte Alban in Oaxaca, is a fascinating archeological site to explore. With the pyramids, tlachtlis, tombs palaces and burial sites, it’s not surprising that Monte Alban was regarded as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987. It reflects the cultural, political and religiously significance of the ancient zapotecs and how later on these monuments were looked after by the Mixtecs.
    I would definitely love to visit the observatory from where you can capture the celestial events. I would not want to miss the wooden artistry of Alebrijes at Arrazola and pottery making at Coyotepec.And I would definitely love to taste authentic Mexican food at one of the restaurants.

  2. This is the first time to hear about Monte Alban and I think its worth the visit because of its rich history. Happy to know that we can visit the place without a tour guide. Hope to have a chance to visit in the future.

  3. As a history-buff this is very interesting for me. I’m quite amazed at how awesome it was in 500 BCE, with complex palaces, a ballcourt for playing tlachtli, plazas, pyramids, astronomical alignments, carved monuments, and even an observatory…. Whoa! I’m stunned!!! It is good to know that you can go there by bus!

  4. Wow! I’ve seen a few photos of Monte Alban Oaxaca before but didn’t realize it was so extensive and incredibly beautiful, especially from the air! I’d love to tour it and certainly would want to spend an entire day doing so. Not sure I’d want to do it on my own, though, because I usually learn so much more from a guided tour. Thanks for adding tips for hotels and places to eat. What a great guide!

  5. After reading this article and seeing the photos, I add Monte Alban Oaxaca to my Bucket List. Especially since we spend a few months a year in Mexico. I want to learn more about Zapotec culture and see old Zapotec tombs as sacred burial grounds. I like the idea of taking a guided tour to learn more from the expert. It’s great that you provide tips on how to get there and how much it costs. I would love to see Monte Alban Observatory, Monte Alban Museum, and Los Danzantes. The view from El Palacio and North and South Plazas are spectacular.

  6. We have not yet visited the Oaxaca area of Mexico. But the archeological site at Monte Alban sounded fascinating. A great spot to learn more about the Zapotec culture. Good to know there is no need to book tickets in advance. Such an interesting variety of things to see when you visit. I would surely head high for a panoramic view over the site.

  7. Its lovely to read about places that are not so well known to explore. Its even more amazing to learn about the Zapotec culture which I have not heard before and they even pre-date the more known Aztec and Mayan. I would do the guided tour to learn more.

  8. Monte Alban in Oaxaca looks like somewhere I’d love to visit. I didn’t know anything about the zapotec people before reading this. Knowing this was an important place for them and their culture makes it more fascinating. Four dollars is an amazing price to pay for entry!

  9. I haven’t heard about Monte Alban so thank you for introducing me to it. It looks like visiting this site is very affordable with a tour operator, and it’s well worth the 25$ if you are getting transport and food for that money. I would definitely like to get there early, if there are such long queues to get in.

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