Monte Alban Mysteries: Exploring the Enigmatic ‘City of the Clouds’

monte alban oaxaca
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Monte Alban Mysteries: Exploring the Enigmatic ‘City of the Clouds’

The Zapotec capital of Monte Alban Oaxaca is one of the most fascinating pre-Hispanic cities in the Mesoamerican area.

It is so because of its monumental dimensions and its strategic hill located in the heart of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.

At the foot of these hills also lies the Verde Antequera, the colonial city that is today the capital of the state, Oaxaca de Juárez.

Three great rivers that have given life to these lands for centuries converge here.

Given all this, a tour of the Etla valley to the north, the Grande or Zimatlán valley to the south, and the Tlacolula valley to the east, is a true journey through the extensive original Zapotec territories.

Where is Monte Alban Oaxaca?

This archaeological site is located in Oaxaca city, pretty straightforward to visit (only 8 km from downtown).

How to get there:

Arriving by Tour is the most comfortable option to get to Monte Alban.

If you don’t want to worry about the trip, parking, etc., I recommend looking for this Tour: Excursion to Monte Alban.

If you decide to go by car, you have to take the road to Pedro Ixtlahuaca.

After crossing the river next to the Technological Institute of Oaxaca, you must continue along Dr. Ignacio Bernal street.

From this stretch, you will begin to see the signs of the archaeological site, and from my own experience, I can tell you that it is well signposted.

On the other hand, if you want to go by public transportation, the easiest way is to take a cab from Oaxaca, which takes approximately 20 minutes.

Monte Alban Oaxaca History

monte alban oaxaca
Source: JuanSalvador /

According to several studies on this topic, it is probable that Monte Albán was founded in the 5th century B.C., at the initiative of one of the groups that inhabited the lowland villages.

The capacity of this community to control social, political, and economic affairs allowed the development of an urban project as perfect as ambitious, which led the population to settle on top of the hills mentioned above.

In addition to giving its inhabitants preeminence over the towns in the valleys, this mobility gave them the strategic protection and dominance they were undoubtedly looking for.

The exciting thing is that they moved along with their dead, who were reburied in the tombs of Monte Albán; that is, the new city was built on top of them, thus acquiring the status of a necropolis.

Travel guide to Monte Alban: What to expect

monte alban oaxaca
Monte Alban on a Mexican 20 pesos banknote – Source: vkilikov /

In this archeological site, you will learn a lot about the Zapotec culture, and believe me, it is interesting.

Among the things you can do:

  • Visit the archaeological site (I recommend you do it with a guide)
  • See the small museum
  • Buy a Hat: There are some very good quality and cheap hat stands. Get one, or two

What else to see

  • The Great Plaza, main ceremonial nucleus
  • Stelae, which have texts on their surface
  • The Ball Game, which plays an important role in rituals and ceremonies
  • The Palace, of which it is not clear what specific function it had, but among the options, it could have been a guest house or a residence for priests
  • The tombs

NOTE: The Spaniards were the ones who named it Monte Alban, but in Zapotec, it means “Sacred Mountain,” and in Mixtec, “Close to the sky.”

Monte Alban Schedules

As for the opening hours, you can enjoy this panorama every day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Cost– Entrance fee: 80 pesos (4 dollars approx) Guides: 500 pesos per group (25 dollars approx).

Warning! Cameras are an additional cost, and no tripods or mini-tripod are allowed.

They are extremely strict and quite rude about these things, so, if you can, use your cell phone to take pictures.

Should I get a tour or visit on my own?

It’s up to each traveler, and I firmly believe that it’s up to you to decide.

But again, here are a few reasons why you might be interested in the Tour:

  • If you don’t want to worry about parking
  • If you want to avoid transportation problems like getting lost or driving in traffic. They pick you up at your hotel and bring you back
  • You won’t have to worry about getting a guide because it’s already included
  • If you want to avoid lines, the tour includes the entrance to the archaeological site, they will provide you with the tickets

When is the best time to visit Monte Alban Oaxaca?

monte alban oaxaca
Tomb 104 from Monte Alban, Oaxaca (anthropology museum Mexico City) – Source: Istvan Polonkai /

You can visit at any time of the year, and the place is so big that even in high season doesn’t feel crowded.

Because this magical place is located in the valley of Oaxaca, you will not be cold at any time of the year, so when to visit depends only on your availability.

Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to have good sunscreen and a cap in your bag because the sun is quite intense. A bug spray won’t hurt you either.

I hope you get a chance to visit this wonderful place. It is worth every penny. And please don’t forget to share your experiences with us!

Stay safe and healthy. Vamonos!

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