Monte Alban is just south of Oaxaca City and is a must-do on a trip to the city. It’s only a few miles from downtown and you can either take a tour or go it alone by taxi or bus. However you get here, just make sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore these incredible ruins.
What is Monte Alban?
Monte Alban is a UNESCO World Heritage, pre-Columbian archaeological site. It was inhabited as early as 500 BC and over a 1500 year period had the Olmec, Zapotec, and Mixtec civilizations using the site for different purposes. The site has terraces, dams, canals, artificial mounds, a ball court, and structures which many refer to as pyramids.
The ruins are said to be the most important ruins in the whole state of Oaxaca and it’s easy to see why when you visit. The area is vast and there are so many different buildings.
When is the Best Time to Visit?
I visited Monte Alban during the last week of July and it was so lush and green. Oaxaca has a wet season that runs from about mid-May until the start of October, but when it’s not raining, it is incredibly hot. It didn’t rain when I was there, but it rained shortly after I left. If you do want to come during the “green season” you’ll have fewer crowds and lots of color. Just be sure to arrive early so that you miss the rain.
From October to February it will dryer, but by the end of winter, the grass won’t be very green and it can get super-duper hot. That being said, there’s never a bad time to visit these incredible ruins.
What to Bring and Wear
A camera is a must, even if you just use your phone. This site is extraordinary and is worthy of many a snap. Most sites in Mexico claim to charge for the use of cameras that are larger than a cell phone. I’ve never once been charged for using my DSLR and I’ve never had a problem using it. That being said, if you are bringing a DSLR or something larger, you may be asked to pay between 35 and 40 pesos to use it.
I brought my Nikon D3300 and 30mm lens. I wish I’d had a wider lens, so if you have one, definitely bring it for your photography here. When I wanted a wider shot, I ended up using my iPhone.
I also recommend packing a hat. Even with the cloud cover, it was still incredibly hot. Bring plenty of water to sustain you for the day, although you can pay over the odds to buy one once you arrive. Sunscreen is also a must. There is very little shade at Monte Alban, so if you want to avoid sunstroke and sunburn, don’t leave your hat and SPF behind.
Monte Alban is pretty flat other than the steps that you can climb up. I wore shorts, a really light linen t-shirt, and my beloved Rainbow flip flops. I was perfectly comfortable and I think I would have been uncomfortably hot and sweaty if I’d worn socks and sneakers.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Monte Alban?
The entry ticket to Monte Alban is 70 Pesos as of July 2017. That’s just under $4 USD at the current exchange rate. If you are going with a tour and it doesn’t cover your entry fee, try to have exact change.
If you want to go on a tour, tours cost between $10 and $30 depending on what you want to have included (lunch, drinks, entry fees, etc). I went with Bamba Experience and their Monte Alban Tour costs $14. It didn’t include the price of lunch or any entry fees. It did include a bilingual guide and transportation for the entire day.
How to Get to Monte Alban
The easiest way to get to Monte Alban is to take a tour. Tour companies will pick you up at your hotel or Airbnb and drop you back off in the center of the city at the end of the day.
If you wanted to go it alone there are three options. You can hire a taxi for the day to drive you there, wait for you, and drive you back. They can charge anywhere from 200-500 pesos ($10-$25). This might be a good option if there are a few of you and you split the price.
The second option is to take a shuttle. The one shuttle company, Lescas Co Travel Agency, run a shuttle every half hour. You can book with them at their office which is in the zocalo, right across the plaza from the cathedral. A return ticket for the shuttle bus will cost 70 Pesos ($3.50).
The final option is to take the 6 Peso (25¢) bus. It drops you off at a bus stop that is a one-hour walk from the ruins. It’s entirely uphill and speaking as someone who took a van up the hill, I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are incredibly fit. Especially because it is probably going to be very hot outside.
If you choose to go it alone, you can still hire a guide outside of the entrance for a negotiable fee.
Souvenirs at Monte Alban
Like any good tourist site, there are tons of people selling souvenirs outside the entrance. You’ll find hats for very cheap here in case you didn’t bring your own. There’s jewelry, shoes, t-shirts, and little replica statues.
Our tour guide told us that most of the things you find outside of the entrance are imports from China.
If you want to support a local artisan, wait to buy your souvenir from one of the guys walking around inside the park. There are several older men walking around tryng to sell sculptures and carvings that they’ve made themselves. They live locally and this is their only source of income.
What Else You See If you Take a Tour
Every tour company that runs a tour to Monte Alban also stops at several other places. From what I could see during my week in Oaxaca, every tour basically stops at the same places.
We started the day at Monte Alban, then headed to a wood carving village where locals are making Alebrijes, colorful carved creatures, mostly mythical ones, which are actually from the Oaxaca region (although you’ll see them at markets all over the country).
Most tours then stop for a buffet lunch somewhere which costs roughly $150 and has tons of different Oaxacan-style dishes like mole, memelas, and absurdly delicious Oaxacan chorizo.
You then visit Cuilapan de Guerrero, a 16th-century Dominican monastery. The building is really beautiful and wandering around it is quite peaceful.
The last stop of the day is to San Bartolo Coyotepec to which is home to the popular regional black clay pottery. I must admit, this was one of my favorite stops. We got to watch how the pottery gets made and then of course, have a browse through the gift shop. I may have bought a pair of earrings.