At Monte Alban, you take a step back in time and since it's only 25 minutes outside of Oaxaca, it doesn't take that long to get there and explore. If you find yourself in Oaxaca City, definitely take a half day to explore this place. We havve been to a few ruins, even Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, and we were more blown away by Monte Alban.
So, if you're heading that way, here are some tips to make the most out of your visit!
What is Monte Alban: a bit of history
So, picture this: it's the year 500 BCE (do we all know that BCE means Before Common Era and it replaces BC...because I just found that out), and the people of Monte Alban are living it up in their city. It's like Wakanda, but instead of vibranium, they've got a whole lot of gold and precious gems. On top of that, they've got astronomy, math, and architecture skills.
The Zapotecs built temples, palaces, and pyramids that rival the grandeur of the Egyptian ones. Monte Alban was like the Ancient Rome of Mexico, with a bustling marketplace, a theater, and even a ball court where they played a game that was like a cross between basketball and soccer. it is said that they would have competitions there, and the winner of the competition would be sacrificed to the Gods. They actually WANTED to win to be sacrificed. Sorry, that just ain't me.
So as you wander through the ruins, keep your eyes peeled for the ball court of course, and also the observatory, the incredible views from the top of the Grand Plaza, and the glyphs and carvings on the stelae. For me, the coolest thing about Monte Alban is that without any machinery other than their brute force and basic tools, the Zapotecs cleared and flattened the top of the mountain before they built the structures on top of it. Just thinking about that blew my mind.
But as with all great empires, there comes a time of decline. By 500 CE (you know it: that means Common Era replacing AD), the people of Monte Alban had mysteriously abandoned their city. Some theories say they left due to war or famine, while others suggest that they were wiped out by disease or a natural disaster.
Today, Monte Alban is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and people come from all over the world to marvel at its ancient ruins. It's like the Machu Picchu of Mexico, a reminder of the power and creativity of the people who came before us.
Opening hours and admission fees
Monte Alban is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm, and the admission fee is just 90 pesos (about $3.50 USD). And the best part? Children under 13 get in for free 99. If you can make it there on a week day, you'll find it significantly less crowded. The most crowded day is on Sunday's because residence of Mexico are admitted for free. However, whatever day you choose to go, unless you're taking a guided tour with a group, I highly recommend getting there at 8am (even 7:45) to get first admission and see the place with a small crrowd. It's also HOT there (you saw that all caps right? That's how hot it is there), so beating midday heat is ideal.
Should you get a guide?
My answer to this would be a no. We got duped, hired a guide at the entrance (I know, I know, rookie travel move) and he just told us a bunch of made up junk. Don't make our mistake! Just look up information online before and after, read the plaques, and save your pesos.
How to get to Monte Alban
There are a few options to get there. Since we have 3 small kids and wanted to get there when Monte Alban opened, we took a taxi there. We spent 400 pesos for the full round trip: the driver picked us up at our house, drove us there, let us explore as long as we wanted, then picked us up when we were done and brought us to the city center where we wanted to be dropped off. I felt like that price was absolutely worth it.
The other options are taking a colectivo (shared taxi) from the city center. They are typically crowded and slower than just taking a taxi, but the price is absolutely unbeatable.
You can also take a guided tour through a tour agency that you find in Oaxaca.
What to wear and bring
As for what to wear, I would say breathable clothing because it gets hot. With that said, in the winter months, it's pretty cold in the mornings, so you might also want another layer. For footwear, there are really steep stairs to walk up and down, so if you're not super comfortable with uneven ground, wear good shoes or hiking boots with good grip. And, again, the sun is hot, so bring your sun hats and sunscreen!
Bring a decent amount of water, snacks (especially if you're with kids). There are food stalls in the parking lot if you want to eat after, but you don't want to rely on just that food if you're kids are asking for snacks while you're exploring the ruins because its pretty far.
Enjoy your time at Monte Alban! It's truly a treasure of a place and we're so lucky to be able to explore it and imagine what it was like.