Monte Albán Oaxaca: A Complete Guide To The Best Ruins 2024

Last Updated on April 22, 2024 by Ashlea J. Russell

This Is Your Guide On How To Visit Monte Albán, Oaxaca And What To Expect When You Get There.

If you’re considering a visit to Monte Albán Archeological Site in Oaxaca then I applaud you on a great idea! Monte Albán is still my favourite archeological site that I’ve visited in Mexico and was an absolute highlight of my time in Oaxaca.

If you have any interest in history or even just want to visit somewhere cool, Monte Albán is the top thing I recommend doing in Oaxaca.

Now, since you landed here you probably have questions. How do you get to Monte Albán? Do you need a guide? What’s it all about?

Not to worry. I’ve written the ultimate guide to help you visit Monte Albán and make the most of your time here.

So let’s get into it!

I highly recommend taking a tour of Monte Alban Oaxaca to get the full experience.

Monte Albán Tour

This half day tour of Monte Albán was the highlight of my time in Oaxaca! Exploring this site with the help of a professional guide is the best experience you can have and comfy roundtrip transportation makes it hassle-free.

Monte Albán Oaxaca

Although it receives a fraction of the visitors of more popular sites like Teotihuacan near Mexico City and Chichén Itzá near Cancún, Monte Albán should not be overlooked.

This place is seriously old, in fact Monte Albán is one of the oldest cities in Mesoamerica and actually predates Chichén Itzá by more than a whopping 1,000 years.

It’s protected by UNESCO because it is a fantastic example of how different civilizations evolved in the Oaxaca area over 1,500 years.

Monte Albán changed hands over the years and was modified and improved upon to suit the ruling civilization of the time and all of this can be seen and explored by visitors today.

The location of Monte Albán is also seriously impressive. The name Monte Albán literally means White Mountain (named for the flowers that grow there) and it’s believed that the early inhabitants chose this mountaintop locale strategically, for its sweeping views over the valleys and surrounding mountains of Oaxaca.

A dig team working on an excavation site at Monte Albán.

Believe me when I say the backdrop of the Sierra Madre mountains will take your breath away.

The sheer scale of the site is astounding and what we can visit today represents just 10% of the original site. Archeologists are still working to uncover more of Monte Albán and it’s not uncommon to see dig teams working while you visit.

In my opinion, no trip to Oaxaca is complete without a visit to Monte Albán.

Monte Albán Quick Guide

  • Hours: 10am – 4pm, Last entrance at 3:30pm daily (365 days)
  • Cost: $90MXN [$5USD/$7CAD] per person
  • Credit Cards: Visa and Mastercard accepted
  • Tickets: At the door or with a tour
  • Guides: Highly recommend, at the door or prebooked
  • Food: Bottled drinks, tortas (no outside food and drink except water)
  • Museum: Included with ticket
  • Parking: Free on-site parking
  • Accessibility: No – stairs and steep paths

How To Visit Monte Albán Oaxaca

Monte Albán is located just 9.7km/6 miles southwest of Oaxaca City, an easy 20 minute drive away. Its vicinity to the city makes it an excellent day trip but getting there can be confusing.

When it comes to getting from Oaxaca City to Monte Albán you have options and I’m going to cover them all here.

But whether you decide to book a tour or visit independently I highly recommend using a professional guide at the site. The history of Monte Albán is long and storied and you’re just not going to get the full scoop from a few placards.

  • I always recommend hiring a guide at any archeological site in Mexico. These highly knowledgeable pros are licensed by the government, know the history back to front and will make a huge difference to your experience.

The Best Monte Albán Oaxaca Tour

When I visited Monte Albán I decided to take a tour and I recommend you do too.

While it’s totally possible to visit on your own (I’ll tell you how in the next section) I opted for a tour because I didn’t want to worry about how to get back to Oaxaca City or negotiate a tour with the guides at the gate.

The Monte Albán tour I chose is operated by a local Oaxaca company, lasts 3-4 hours and includes roundtrip transportation in a comfy modern vehicle, a licensed English-speaking guide, a guided tour of the site and free time to explore.

  • The tour does not include the entrance ticket (this is typical of site visits in Mexico). You can purchase this for $90MXN [$5USD/$7CAD] by cash or card upon arrival at Monte Albán.

The day starts with pick ups around town which doesn’t take long because groups are capped at 20 people. Then you’ll head out of town to make the drive up the mountain to Monte Albán.

When you arrive you’ll get a briefing from your guide, purchase your tickets and begin your adventure.

My Monte Alban guide Hector pointing to the horizon with a wooden stick.

The guided tour of Monte Albán lasts roughly an hour and teaches you about the impressive history of the site spanning over 1,500 years. You’ll learn about the different people who lived here, how they managed to run a long-distance trade industry and build a city on top of a mountain with no modern machinery. 🤯

At the end of the tour you’ll have time to explore the site on your own. You can take as long as you like because the minibuses back to town run every hour so there’s literally no rush.

I can’t recommend this tour enough. It’s affordable, excellent value and makes for a fantastic stress-free and interesting experience.

Visiting Monte Albán Independently By Taxi

Although I recommend taking a guided tour to Monte Albán, you can still visit on your own. The main question is how do you get from Oaxaca City to Monte Albán and more importantly, how do you get back?

The two easiest ways to get from Oaxaca City to Monte Albán independently is by taxi and by shuttle, but we’ll start with the taxi option.

  • It is also possible to take a local bus to Monte Albán but I don’t recommend this. Buses in Oaxaca City are privately operated and have unreliable and variable schedules.

A taxi from Oaxaca City to Monte Albán shouldn’t cost more than $300MXN [$16.50USD/$23CAD] round trip. Although Oaxaca City is generally safe it is one of the few places in Mexico where I have had trouble with taxi drivers trying to overcharge me so be sure to negotiate and confirm the rate with the driver before getting in.

Taxis in Oaxaca City are cash only. Only pay a maximum of half the money when you’re dropped off and pay the rest when you are taken home.

A view looking down Carretera a Monte Albán to Oaxaca below.

If you don’t know your pick up time ask the driver for their WhatsApp information and contact them that way.

Be aware that it could take the driver up to an hour to come back for you so don’t wait until you’re ready to leave to call them back.

Depending on how many people are in your group it may just make more sense financially for you to join an organized tour group instead, so make sure you weigh your options.

Visiting Monte Albán Independently By Shuttle

The other way to visit Monte Albán independently is by shuttle. The shuttle departs daily from the Lescas Co Tours office just off the Zócalo at half past the hour, every hour from 8:30am – 3:30pm.

Return shuttles depart Monte Albán every hour, on the hour from 12:00pm – 5:00pm.

The shuttle is cash only and costs $120MXN [$6.50USD/$9CAD] round trip.

The vans are clearly marked and easy to find. The ride is comfortable and air conditioned but the shuttle may make stops so be prepared that the journey may take longer than expected.

Make sure you hold onto your ticket because you’ll need to it board the shuttle back to Oaxaca City.

What To Expect At Monte Albán

When you leave Oaxaca City you’ll head on a bit of a wide route toward the road to Monte Albán called Carretera a Monte Albán (literally “road to Monte Albán). This road is slightly meandering as it climbs the mountain to the archeological site.

  • If you take a tour or decide to go early there may to be a line of vehicles waiting to get in. This is totally normal, my tour waited about 15 minutes on the road before the gates opened.

Monte Albán Visitor Centre & Museum

The first thing you’ll see at Monte Albán is a fairly large parking lot with car and bus parking and then a staircase leading to the visitor centre.

The visitor centre consists of:

  • Museum
  • Free male & female bathrooms (with free toilet paper)
  • Ticket window/ticket machines
  • Souvenir shop
  • Jewellery store
  • Site entrance

Tickets cost $90MXN [$5USD/$7CAD] and can be purchased with cash from the ticket window or by card using one of the ticket machines (available in English).

Once you have your ticket this is the time to hire a guide if you don’t already have one.

Here you can also purchase a site map from the vendor for around $10MXN [$0.55USD/$0.75CAD] or snap a photo of the large map just inside the entrance.

A map of the ruins at Monte Albán Oaxaca.

Inside the visitor centre you’ll also find a small museum which contains artifacts salvaged from the ruins like large carved stones, pottery and figurines. The museum is a lot more interesting after you’ve visited the site and gained context about the history here, so I recommend saving it for after.

Around the corner from the museum you’ll find a small cafe/snack bar and if you haven’t brought water with you I recommend picking up a bottle now.

Monte Albán Ruins

The initial walk to the ruins is uphill and on loose stones, not a paved path so watch your step and wear comfortable closed shoes.

On this walk the guide will talk about the environment, surroundings, types of stone found here, and begin to introduce you to the history of the area.

You will enter the ruins from the North platform and pretty instantly start to feel the history and magic of this place.

Hector my Monte Albán guide climbing the stony path to the ruins.

The site is comprised of a large central plaza with raised platforms at either end, truncated pyramids, several community structures such as a hospital, ball court, underground passageways, hundreds of tombs, and more.

The guided tour of the site takes about an hour and then the site is yours to explore at leisure.

  • Some of the pyramids at Monte Albán can be climbed. If you decide to do so please be careful, climb diagonally and zigzag your way up. Always be respectful of the ruins and don’t take any souvenirs home with you.

One thing that I noticed about Monte Albán compared to other sites I’ve visited is that this site feels so open and so green! Expanses of green grass drop off into blue skies and rolling mountains in the distance give an almost ethereal quality to this ancient city.

Take your time to explore the city. Stroll through the plazas, visit the tombs, gaze out at the scenery and imagine what life would have been like here ages ago for the thousands of people who called this mountaintop home.

  • Monte Albán is located on a mountaintop and shade is minimal. It can get hot in the height of the day so be sure to bring water and rest as needed.

Beyond the main archeological site there are three other areas open to visitors that you may want to also check out.

Ashlea walking through the ruins at Monte Albán Oaxaca.

If you head back toward the parking lot and continue along the road as if you are leaving, on your right hand side you’ll reach a small ball court, likely for children, and Tomb 5.

The other hidden site is Tomb 7. If you head back toward the parking lot but follow the path along the front of the museum you’ll find Tomb 7, famed for being one of the richest archeological finds in all of the Americas.

This tomb was discovered with several skeletons and hundreds of burial offerings inside, including jewels, crystal bowls, and a turquoise encrusted skull now on display at the Museo de las Culturas in Oaxaca City.

All in all, you can expect to spend anywhere from 1.5 – 3 hours at Monte Albán before returning to Oaxaca City.

Tips For Visiting Monte Albán

However you decide to visit Monte Albán in Oaxaca there are a few tips you should follow to have the best experience. Here are my top tips for visiting this amazing site and things I wish I knew before I went.

1. Take a Tour

My top tip for visiting Monte Albán is to take a tour!

Whether you take a full organized tour of Monte Albán like I did or visit on your own, you will not regret having a professional guide share this amazing site with you.

There are some placards dotted throughout the site with information in both Spanish and English, so it is possible to skip the guide and still get some context to what you’re seeing. However, this experience will not hold a candle to hearing the story of this city as you follow on in ancient footsteps.

If you take an organized tour a guided tour of the site should be included. If you are visiting independently you can hire a guide at the entrance.

A view from the north platform over the central plaza at Monte Albán Oaxaca.

The guides are easy to spot. They are usually sitting along the wall and have tour guide licenses around their necks.

They aren’t normally pushy in my experience so you will likely need to pick one you like and head on over for a chat.

Almost all of the guides speak excellent English and will be able to negotiate a tour price with you. Everyone has their own rate so if you’re not happy, keep shopping. A tour should cost somewhere around $600MXN [$33USD/$45CAD].

2. Go Early

If you decide to take a tour of Monte Albán you’ll be visiting in the morning anyways, but if you decide to travel independently I highly recommend you go early.

Visiting Monte Albán earlier in the day will improve your experience in a few ways. Not only will there be fewer people around but the sun and heat is a lot more comfortable in the morning hours.

Also, because Monte Albán is located so nearby to Oaxaca City, going early means you’ll be back in time for a lunchtime mole tasting at Los Danzantes, a wander around the markets, or whatever else you have on your Oaxaca City bucket list.

3. Dress Comfortably

A visit to Monte Albán can be quite an active activity. You’ll be climbing stairs, walking up steep stony paths, going up and down wooden and stone steps, and walking through large grassy areas.

I strongly recommend you avoid wearing sandals or flip flops and instead opt for some sturdier, closed footwear.

Wear loose, breathable clothing you can move around in and consider a hat and sunglasses.

4. Prepare For The Heat

Oaxaca can be deceptively hot during the day and Monte Albán is no exception. It’s really important to prepare for the heat in advance to avoid any nasty headaches or sunburn.

One thing that Monte Albán really lacks is shade. While there are a few opportunities to slip into a sliver of shadow, this archeological site is largely without reprieve from the beating sun.

A view of Monte Albán seen from an airplane flying over Oaxaca.

To stay cool consider bringing a hat and maybe even an umbrella to guard yourself from the sun. Make sure you bring water or purchase a bottle at the cafe at the entrance before heading inside.

Sunblock is a must for any exposed skin and your eyes will thank you for wearing decent sunglasses.

For a little extra help staying cool I recommend bringing a portable hand fan. I never travel without mine and it has gotten me through many a sweaty situation.

Remember to listen to your body. If you feel weak or light-headed, find some shade or take a seat.

Visiting Monte Albán FAQs

You’ve got questions about Monte Albán and I’ve got answers!

Why Is Monte Albán So Famous?

Monte Albán is famous because it is one of the oldest archeological sites in Mexico and is an outstanding example of the evolution of the Olmec, Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations in Oaxaca over 1,500 years. At it’s peak, this ancient city was a bustling metropolis, home to over 16,000 people.

After constant occupation, it was eventually abandoned but the reason why is still unknown.

What Does Monte Albán Mean in English?

Monte Albán literally translates to White Mountain. It is believed that the city was named for the white flowers that grow on the trees around the site.

How Long Does It Take To See Monte Albán?

Expect to spend anywhere from 1.5 – 3 hours at Monte Albán. A guided tour of Monte Albán takes around an hour and most people spend 30 – 60 minutes exploring the grounds independently but this can vary depending on interest level.

Do You Need a Guide for Monte Albán Oaxaca?

You do not need a guide for Monte Albán but I recommend that you hire one. What makes Monte Albán more than just a beautiful place is the incredible history and the best way to learn this story is through a professional guide.

Summary: Monte Albán Oaxaca

Monte Albán is one of the main reasons to visit Oaxaca and no trip would not be complete without a stop here. Even if you only have two or three days in Oaxaca, a visit to Monte Albán is easy to fit in because it’s located so close to the city.

You don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy this day trip and even if you just go for the views, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.