Monte Albán traces its history to about 500 BCE when Zapotec builders (who called themselves the cloud people) began leveling the mountaintop and constructing terraces and other works. The city's construction was done in phases, with Phase I stretching from the city's beginnings to about 400 BCE. The second phase spanned three centuries between 400-100 BCE, and is when the city's observatories were built.
Around 1200 CE, the Zapotec abandoned the city due to Mixtec incursions. The Mixtec occupied the site until the Spanish conquest, and some additional minor structures were built during the Mixtec era.
Monte Albán is managed by INAH.
Temperatures in Oaxaca are generally warm with winter low temperatures seldom going below 15°C. November through April is the dry season in Oaxaca, which sees most of its rain in late summer, particularly September.
Monte Albán is located about 10km from downtown Oaxaca. The best ways to get there are by taxi or tour bus.
The most flexible, but most expensive way to visit the site. They will cost about $200-300 MXN round-trip from most downtown Oaxaca hotels.
- Viajes Turísticos Mitla (Autobuses turísticos), Francisco Mina 501 (4 blocks west of Mercado 20 de Noviembre), ☎ +52 951 516 6175. Departs hourly at the bottom of the hour from 08:30-15:30; return trips depart hourly from 12:00-17:00. $50 MXN round trip.
- Lescas Co, Francisco Mina 518 (lobby of Hotel Rivera de Ángel), ☎ +52 951 516 6666. Departs every 30min from 08:30-15:30. Lescas Co Travel Agency run the shuttle from the lobby of Hotel Rivera de Angel. The shuttle is also available at the Zócalo. Buy the ticket in the building labeled with a green "TOURS" sign; it's located 2 buildings south of the post office (correos), directly across from the church. While pickup is near the Zócalo, the return trip drop off will be at Hotel Rivera on Mina. The ride is scenic as it winds through the city & surrounding hills. $60 MXN round trip.
Entry to the site costs $64 MXN. An additional $45 MXN is charged for video cameras or tripods. Entrance to the site is free on Sundays, if you are a Mexican resident.
You can walk around the site and climb up the major structures. Some fencing is in place to limit access to certain structures. Interpretive signage is in place around at the site in Spanish and English. Mobility will be a problem for handicapped visitors. Local guides can be hired near the site entrance and their interpretive knowledge is well worth the reasonable fees they charge.
- North Platform (Plataforma Norte). Large, high platform with several structures (possibly temples) at the top.
- Ball court (Juego de Pelota Grande). The Zapotec used a very different layout from the Mayan ball courts at sites like Coba or Chichen Itza.
- Los Danzantes (Plaza de los Danzantes). A group of structures noted for its fascinating Olmec carvings of people in various strange positions.
- Building J (Monticulo J / Edificio J). The unusual position and architectural details indicate that the building was an astronomical observatory.
- Museo del Sitio del Monte Albán. Monte Albán's site museum is modern, attractive and well worth a visit. It has some excellent interpretive displays plus a number of relics excavated from the site in the early 20th century. A highlight of the museum is its collection of stelae. One note: in the museum, all the signs are in Spanish. Restrooms, a small bookstore, and a cafe are also available here.
- hire one of the local guides to walk the site with you
- climb both the North and South platforms
- bring sunblock
A small bookstore is in the site's visitor center. Local vendors often sell local crafts and foods outside the site entrance.
A small cafe serving light sandwiches and beverages is in the site's modern visitor center. More substantial meals are available in Oaxaca.
Nightclubs and bars are in nearby Oaxaca. Sodas and beer are sold in the cafe in the site's visitor center. You may want to bring a bottle of water with you since it can get very hot walking around the site and climbing the ancient ruins.
Lodging is available in the nearby city of Oaxaca.
Monte Albán is a safe site to visit. Some political unrest occurred in Oaxaca City in early 2007, but the city is quiet again.
The city of Oaxaca is spectacular. Mitla, another Zapotec archaeological site, is nearby.