The Mystery of Monte Albán; Zapotec Ruins in Oaxaca, Mexico

Located in the Valley of Oaxaca and just a few kilometers from Oaxaca City lies one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Mexico. Monte Alban founded around 500 BC is one of the earliest sites in Mesoamerica. The location continued to grow in importance and influence for hundreds of years and is believed to have remained a functioning site for nearly 1,000 years.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

monte alban, oaxaca, mexico

Today, visitors get to walk the grounds of this ancient, sacred place with access to climb up most buildings. When coming make plans for a half day adventure (3-4 hours) on site and strongly consider hiring a guide to detail the civilizations (the Zapotec and Mixtec) who lived here. Plus, the local guides will share much more about the many mysteries of Monte Alban.

Walking Monte Alban

Just like walking the streets of Oaxaca City, walking the plateaus of Monte Alban is one of the highlights of your trip to this part of Mexico. Many of the postcard images often show the structures in the more popular winter months when umbrellas solely serve to shield the sun, not the rain.  But as you’ll see in my images, I came to appreciate the plateaus, sweeping vistas and panoramic views in the green (rainy(er) season. So if you plan to make a trip to Oaxaca coincide with the Dia de los Muertos, (Day of the Dead) you too may still see a vibrant (full of life) valley.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico, Enter the Plateau

still some water from the rain

walking the site of monte alban, oaxaca, mexicothe site of monte alban, oaxaca, mexico

Traversing the site from one side to the other will leave an impression. From the initial breathtaking vistas to the final climb, the same steps used in the movie Nacho Libre, it’s a definite thumbs up. The many temples, columns, and carvings coupled with the mountain backdrop make the UNESCO Heritage site and its sights a must in Oaxaca if even a must visit in Mexico.

view from Nacho Libre stairs inside Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Thumbs up from here

With elevation essentially a mile high visitors will feel the altitude along with the heat from the sun, yet there remains a feeling beyond the physical that seems to make this site someplace special. And largely that is why it remains a mystery.

The 7th Tomb

treausre from the 7th tomb of Monte Alban, located the the museum of culture in Oaxaca City, Mexico

Some of the artifacts found inside Tomb 7

Any tour guide will highlight the 7th tomb, the only one of the multiple tombs on the site not “excavated” (raided) by gold thirsty Spanish conquistadors or others during the colonial times for the city. The impressive treasure inside, the most lavish ever discovered in the Americas, holds its own mysteries on who was buried and where the treasure originates. All of it is detailed and displayed inside Museo de las Cullturas de Oaxaca, located in the former Convento de Santo Domingo de Guzmán in Oaxaca City another must visit in Oaxaca.


These mysterious “dancing” carved stalae and wall carvings showcase another unsolved mystery of civilization. The stone structures found at Monte Alban clearly depict human figures and seem to contain Olmec influence, but also people believe some contain foreign facial features too. Not locals?

Danzantes, carved stone "dancers" in monte alban, oaxaca, mexicoDanzantes, carved stone "dancers" in monte alban, oaxaca, mexicoDanzantes, carved stone "dancers" in monte alban, oaxaca, mexico

Regardless of origin, the some figures seem “non-typical” and the hieroglyphic writings also seem to indicate the possibility of contact and influence by cultures from far distant lands. Some suggest lands and civilizations outside the western hemisphere.  Travelers?

The Location of Monte Albán

the Zapotec Ruins of Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

have to take a selfie, right?

monte alban, oaxaca, mexico

Of course visitors love the location of Monte Albán just minutes from Oaxaca City, but conventional theory remains at a loss to explain the decision to create this ceremonial city at this very location? With challenging geography (the mountains) and a lack of a water source coupled with limited tools, the lack of the wheel for transportation at the time, and also no strategic military evidence to support the vantage point.  It simply doesn’t add up? But let’s dig deeper.

One unique idea discussed focuses on energy lines conversing at this point, a similar finding at other spiritual temples and shrines around the world.  I can’t confirm these lines, but I certainly felt an energy walking through Monte Alban and can recommend you too make a point to visit and walk the line(s) to appreciate the mystery of Monte Albán in Oaxaca.


Stay adventurous, Craig

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  • Maryann

    Very interesting article about the Ruins. Where exactly is Oaxaca City located in Mexico. Is it difficult to travel there.

    • craig zabransky

      Maryann, a lot of that information can be found inside my podcast… but essentially it is about 6-7 hours south west of Mexico City and offers direct flights from Dallas and Houston or connections thru Mexico City airport.

      the podcast –

      stay adventurous, Craig

    • craig zabransky

      Also, it is relatively easy to travel here, especially with a guide. Email me if you want more details. Stay loving Oaxaca, Craig

  • william b kaliher

    Craig great article on Monte Alban and wonderful photos—man alive– i’d love to visit there again–you’ve really given me the urge to travel–thanks

    • craig zabransky

      Thanks Gringo Bill…. it is a amazing place, like all of Oaxaca. Stay traveling again soon, Craig