Travel Far, Eat Local
Complete Guide to Visiting Monte Albán
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
The ultimate guide and everything you need to know for visiting Monte Albán in Oaxaca, Mexico
The Main Square of Monte Albán!
Monte Albán is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and collection of archaeological ruins situated about a 15 minute drive outside downtown Oaxaca City in the souther Mexican state of Oaxaca. Monte Albán comprises the ruins of an ancient, pre-Mayan city that occupied the highlands overlooking Oaxaca valley.
Dating back to approximately 500 BCE, it served as the capital and main socioeconomic site for the Zapotec civilization, one of the earliest civilizations in Mesoamerica.
Today, the ruins of Monte Albán are a major tourist attraction in Oaxaca, and they have been preserved beautifully. In this guide, I am going to tell you everything you need to know about visiting this do-not-miss archaeological site so close to Oaxaca City.
Contemplating the Mysterious Zapotec Civilization
Getting to Monte Albán
Monte Albán is situated approximately 15 minutes outside of bustling downtown Oaxaca City, which makes it super accessible! The main way to get there is by private car, taxi, tour group, or local bus.
Private Car/Drive Yourself - By far the easiest way to get to Monte Albán and assuredly the most expensive. We had a rental car because the following day we left Oaxaca for Puebla, so I would not recommend renting a car just to drive to Monte Albán. It's too expensive, you'll have to navigate the quagmire that is mandatory Mexican third-party liability insurance, and pay a relatively high price just for a few hours. But if you have one for another reason, use it to get to Monte Albán. IMPORTANT!! Keep in mind there are multiple routes to get to Monte Albán from Oaxaca City, and not all of them are created equal. Google maps will give you two to three different routes -- one is a longer route, which takes main roads, and slightly shorter routes that will take you through some of Oaxaca's less fortunate neighborhoods. DO NOT TAKE THESE SHORTER ROUTES. They are nearly straight uphill on very narrow, winding roads with blind switchbacks and a lot of traffic. We bottomed-out our rental car quite badly at one point turning onto a steeper portion of the road. Although it is shorter on paper, which is why Google will tell you to go that way, it ends up taking much longer with the slow pace and constantly having to dodge oncoming cars and trucks.
The route you SHOULD take is pictured below, using route 190 and Ignacio Bernal street.
Use this Route if You Are Driving to Monte Albán
Local Taxi - Another very easy and convenient option. Oaxaca City is chock full of taxis, and you will not have any problem securing one off the street to get to Monte Albán. Hailing taxis in Oaxaca is safe, and they are very accustomed to taking tourists to this busy archaeological site. Unfortunately Uber does not exist in Oaxaca. Additionally, there are many taxis waiting in the parking lot when you get there, so you will not have a problem finding a ride home either.
Tourist Bus/Organized Tour - Many, MANY tour companies operate day trips to Monte Albán. You will come to understand this quite quickly, as walking down the streets or through the Zocalo comes with near-constant bombardment by vendors trying to sell "all-inclusive" day tours to Monte Albán. We obviously did not do this, and realistically, I would not recommend an organized tour to this site. It's super close to Oaxaca, you can easily do it on your own, and it's really not complicated at all, especially with respect to other large tourist sites you may have visited (Giza Pyramids, Valley of the Kings, Ha Long Bay, etc etc). Now, if you would prefer a guide to walk you around and give you more in depth history about the site, then these tours might be a nice option for you.
Local Bus - Definitely the hardest way to get to Monte Albán but also definitely the cheapest. For around 6 Mexican Pesos (~ $0.25 USD), you can grab a bus from downtown Oaxaca City (usually around the Zocalo), but it will not take you all the way. You'll have to get off down the hill that Monte Albán sits atop and walk straight uphill from there, which is almost an hour walk from what I've read. If you're tight on cash, physically fit, and down for an all-day adventure, have at it! If you like being home and eating dinner before 11pm, I'd stick with one of the above options.
How is this Only 15 Minutes from Downtown Oaxaca City?!
Prices, Costs, and Operating Hours
If you are visiting Mexico from the United States, you will be pleasantly surprised when you see the exchange rate and prices for goods/services. Monte Albán is no different.
Current entrance fee, as of February 2021: 55MXN (Mexican Pesos) or approximately $2.70USD
They are currently operating limited hours due to COVID, so they are open daily from 10am - 4pm. Before the entire world fell apart, the hours were 8am - 4pm, but there is no telling if/when they will go back to those hours.
Monte Albán sits atop a large hill/plateau, and there are ZERO trees or areas of shade. You will be exposed to the full brunt of the sun, which can be quite strong throughout the year, so plan to bring hats, long sleeves if necessary, and LOTS of sunblock. Oh and lots of water too (which you can purchase before you enter the site)!
Not Many Trees Here 🌳
Photography and Filming at Monte Albán
Photography and filming are OK at Monte Albán, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, drones are not allowed, and this is enforced quite strictly. They are signs on the way in, and if you are coming with a camera/recording equipment, they will ask if you have a drone and search your bag, if you have one.
Mexican authorities take this pretty seriously, as they want to preserve their archaeological sites. I brought my drone but left it in the car for this reason. Other than that, the only thing to know is that you will have to pay a small fee (in addition to the entrance fee) in order to film anything -- photography alone is not an additional cost. The additional fee is 45MXN. This is par for the course at many historical sites around the world, and the fee is nominal (about $2.20USD). I paid it, and was able to vlog and record some awesome video while there. Totally worth it.
Other than that, bring your camera and have at it!
Monte Albán will be a major highlight of your trip to Oaxaca, I guarantee it! Unlike other sites of ancient ruins around the world, at Monte Albán, there are not many restrictions as to where you can walk, sit, or view. You can freely walk the grounds, take photos and/or video; you can climb most of the impressive pyramidal structures, and even sit atop them! It's so amazing and the views of downtown Oaxaca and the surrounding Oaxaca Valley are breathtaking. Also, it did not feel "touristy" either. Granted, we went during COVID, so tourism numbers were low to begin with, but there were not many touts outside trying to sell stuff; no one bothered us inside the ruins; and we happily walked the grounds without hassle. You will not be disappointed, I guarantee it!!
I hope this guide helps you in planning your trip to Monte Albán! If you have any additional questions or comments, I'd love to hear them! Leave a question or comment below, or feel free to reach out at email@example.com. Cheers!