Visitors Guide: Monte Alban

Monte Albán, Oaxaca, México

What is Monte Alban?

Monte Alban is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the state of Oaxaca, México and the ruins of an ancient Zapotec city founded in the 6th century B.C.

Historical records reveal that this metropolis was founded by the Zapotecs in the 6th Century B.C., erected on a mountain range overlooking Oaxaca City.

Monte Alban served as the Zapotec capital for 13 centuries, from 500 B.C. until 800 A.D.

Culture and history enthusiasts from all over the world flock to the site to explore impressive architectural ruins, including underground passages and 170 tombs.

Monte Albán Oaxaca, México

What was Monte Alban known for?

Monte Alban is the most significant historical site in Oaxaca Valley, given its architectural and political significance as a bustling metropolis back in 400 B.C.

It emerged as a thriving capital under Zapotec rule, mainly because it offered the most suitable terrain for agriculture, allowing human settlements to grow.

For over 1,500 years, Monte Alban existed as a ceremonial, economic and political hub for multiple ethnicities, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs.

The ancient ruins offer valuable insight into Zapotec and Mixtec architecture, town planning strategies and ingenious measures to ensure earthquake-resistance.

Today, the site is known for its ancient ruins, including canals, dams, pyramids, temples, terraces and over 150 tombs.

The embankments were carved out of the rugged mountains, and the structures were adapted to build earthquake resistance.

The site also features a court for playing tlachtli, an ancient ball game.

Oaxaca Airport Transportation

What was the original name of Monte Alban?

The site, sprawling over 4 miles, features ancient canals, pyramids, temples, and rustic structures constructed around a great plaza.

Monte Alban’s architecture is a fusion of two cultures: Zapotec and Mixtec, preserved as a glorious specimen of Teotihuacán architecture.

What does Monte Alban mean in English?

Monte Alban means “white mountain” in English.

Is Monte Alban Aztec or Mayan?

Monte Alban is an ancient Zapotec site, later occupied and renovated by the Mixtec people in the 14th Century.

It is neither Aztec or Mayan; it predates the Aztec Empire by a thousand years.

What is the history behind Monte Alban?

Monte Alban has witnessed the rise and fall of multiple civilizations with a vibrant history spanning 1,500 years.

Home to the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs, this ancient metropolis had a population of over 25,000 people at the pinnacle of its glory.

Historians reveal that Monte Alban was first inhabited by the Olmecs, who created the iconic monument of Los Danzantes, featuring 140 stone carvings depicting war prisoners.

The Zapotecs are credited for building the majority of the structures found at Monte Alban today, who inhabited the site from 800 B.C. to 500 B.C.

Over the centuries, the architecture of Monte Alban was heavily influenced by Teotihuacan culture.

The site was once home to over 2,000 terraces, exquisite palaces connected by steep staircases, pyramid-like structures and ornate tombs.

Monte Alban was also the site of ritualistic ball games, which often culminated in the violent deaths of the losing teams.

In 800 A.D., the Mixtecs arrived and drove the Zapotecs out of Monte Alban, transforming the metropolis into a well-fortified seat of power.

Around 1400 A.D., Monte Alban featured structures blending Zapotec and Mixtec cultures with seamless grace.

Monte Albán Oaxaca, México

Is Monte Alban man-made?

Monte Alban is a man-made site with multiple structures and mounds literally carved into the mountain.

This archaeological site offers invaluable insight into ancient architectural influences and engineering processes, such as temple designs, pyramid constructions, and ensuring safety in earthquake-prone regions.

When was Monte Alban abandoned, and why?

Historians fail to provide a detailed account of Monte Alban’s collapse, offering multiple explanations, including the city’s declining political influence and the fall of Teotihuacan – an important trading partner.

Historical records reveal that the decline began in 7th Century A.D., as the walls and structures of Monte Alban began to crumble, and city dwellers began to relocate to the valleys below.

Monte Alban lost its prestige as the imperial capital after being abandoned by the Zapotecs in 800 C.E., reducing its status to a commercial community of tradesmen.

As the Mixtecs began burying their ancestors and tribespeople in the tombs constructed by the Zapotec, the former metropolis turned into a graveyard surrounded by ruins.

Monte Alban has been named multiple times by the civilizations that inhabited this ancient metropolis.

The Zapotecs, who founded this city, named it Danipaguache, which means Sacred Mountain.

The Aztecs named it Ocelotepec, meaning Jaguar Mountain, and the Spanish invaders named it Monte Alban, meaning White Mountain.

How big is Monte Alban?

Monte Alban is built on 2.51 square miles of mountain terrain, at an elevation of over 1,300 feet.

How was Monte Alban discovered?

Monte Alban was first discovered by the Olmecs; however, most of the ancient ruins depict Zapotec influence, while the Olmec contributions remain overshadowed.

Archaeological records reveal the Olmecs began constructing this ancient city in 500 B.C.

Can you climb Monte Alban?

Hiking up and down the site and climbing the stairs of Monte Alban is immensely enjoyable and necessary to explore all the ancient ruins found at this archaeological wonder.

The hike is more of a stroll, not requiring any strenuous effort. Explorers must climb the North and South plazas to enjoy panoramic views of the site and valley below.

Is Monte Alban a pyramid?

It would be wrong to say that Monte Alban is just a pyramid because although the site is home to a pyramid complex, its architectural style is quite diverse and rich, housing multiple structures within its expanse, including temples, courtyards and terraces.

Monte Alban is Mexico’s only pyramid complex erected on a 400-meter-high plateau overlooking the Oaxaca Valley.

How many people lived in Monte Alban?

Monte Alban was home to over 25,000 people at its peak, as the imperial capital maintained by the Zapotecs.

Is Monte Alban open to the public?

Monte Alban is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., allowing visitors an entire day to explore the ruins and learn about its ancient mysteries.

Monte Albán Oaxaca, México

Do I need a tour for Monte Alban?

Don’t want to deal with the hassle of planning your visit to Monte Alban? Sign up for a Monte Alban tour and join other fellow travelers on a day of exploring this incredible ancient site.

One of the many benefits that come along with taking a tour of Monte Alban is that you don’t have to worry about organizing any transportation or other logistics — all you have to do is arrive to the meeting point, hop in the van and go!

While you don’t necessarily need a tour to explore Monte Alban, a tour with a fully licensed tour guide will be a much more rewarding experience. With a guide, you’ll learn so much more about the site and the area that you wouldn’t really have the chance to learn if you visit independently.

While many travelers have no problem navigating public transportation or negotiating with a taxi, many of our clients prefer to be picked up in the morning, taken to the sites and dropped off at their accommodations at the end of the day in an air-conditioned vehicle with a professional, bilingual driver.

If you prefer to take a tour to Monte Alban, we recommend checking out these two Monte Alban Tours below:

Oaxaca Car Rental

How to get to Monte Alban?

Monte Alban is situated at a 20-minute drive from Oaxaca City, making it the ideal destination for a half-day adventure.

Travelers can explore multiple transportation options, including local buses, colectivo, taxis, guided tours and by rental car.


Hailing a taxi can be one of the cheapest ways to get to Monte Alban, but haggling with taxi drivers in Oaxaca is no easy feat if you don’t speak Spanish.

When it comes to taxis in Oaxaca, be sure to remember to always agree on a price before you get in the taxi and try to take a photo of the taxi number if possible in case you forget something in the car or run into another issue during the ride.

Private Shuttle

When you hire private transportation in Oaxaca, it generally includes a bilingual driver and a hassle free experience for international visitors. Especially for those who are wanting to take advantage of their time in Oaxaca and learn as much as possible during their stay.

Plus, having a private driver allows you to the ability to make stops along the way or build a custom itinerary of your own.

What should I wear to Monte Alban?

It’s wise to wear something light and comfy, such as a lightweight linen top and a pair of shorts or a pair of linen pants and sandals.

One thing about the Oaxacan sun is that it can be unforgiving, and since Monte Alban is on an open plateau it lacks shaded areas.

Visitors are advised to to apply plenty of sunscreen and to wear a hat to protect their skin from the direct sun exposure.

It’s also wise to wear hiking or running shoes since there will be steep stairways and other terrain that you might want to explore a little further during your visit.

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