A Zapotec ceremonial center, Monte Albán crouches on a leveled mountain top. For a thousand years, the rulers of the city extracted wealth from the plains below. Today, the ruins offer panoramic views of the modern city of Oaxaca sprawling across the giant Oaxaca valley.
Monte Albán is the oldest city in the Americas. In addition to being unusually ancient (dating back to 500 BC), the site is unusually extensive. In its heyday, the city covered 25 square miles. Expanses of Monte Albán aren’t yet excavated, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to explore all the restored tombs and temples in one afternoon; the ruins encompass enormous plazas, a ball court, a mysterious monument known as the observatory, a network of underground tunnels, and a profusion of dank tombs, which were once decorated with bright frescoes and filled with treasures of gold and jade.
Admission: 57 pesos. Expect an additional charge to bring a video camera. Admission price includes entrance to the onsite museum.
Monte Albán is located 9km (5 miles) southwest of the city of Oaxaca. Buses to the ruins leave Oaxaca from Hotel Rivera de Angel (Mina 518), six blocks southwest of the zócalo. Rides leave on the hour from 8:30am-3:30pm and cost about 40 pesos for a roundtrip ticket.
Aside from a few spindly jacaranda trees, Monte Albán has minimal shade. The expanses between temples can feel vast and scorching. For this expedition, you’ll want sunscreen, a water bottle, and comfortable shoes.