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Anatomy of a Trip, Oaxaca: Monte Alban


At the crest of a hill, the panorama of Monte Alban is revealed.

During the months of preparation for my trip to Oaxaca, I wrote “It remains to be seen if archeological sites are in my future but, as an activity of which I’ve never partaken, I really should give it a go.  Two, called sights I “won’t want to miss”, which always means to me I may very well want to miss them, are Mitla and Monte AlbÁn.  A report may or may not follow, depending.”

I may very well have missed them both, but during dinner with Janet and Jeff, who I’d met in a coffee shop a couple of days earlier, they mentioned that they planned to take the shuttle bus to Monte Alban and I shamelessly invited myself to join them.  It seemed a much better idea when it included the prospect of hours of good conversation.

On the appointed day, I walked to their hotel, where I’d have been staying, too, except for a wandering dance troupe who’d booked the last rooms in the middle of my hypothetical stay.  Disappointed, I’d found Casa Rua, second choice but I was happy there.  Meeting my companions, I took the opportunity to see the great city view from the rooftop terrace and then we headed for the address on the other side of the Zocalo for our rendezvous with the Monte Alban shuttle.


 The roof garden of Hotel Azucenas

The address given for transport to Monte Alban turned out to be the Hotel Rivera del Angel Oaxaca, a surprisingly spacious and modern place in an otherwise congested part of Centro, south of the Zocalo.  The travel agency across the marble lobby was the obvious place to inquire, we were greeted and asked if we were there for the 10:30 shuttle.  Although it was then 10:45 we said yes, bought tickets and were directed to the large parking lot behind the lobby just as the “10:30” van pulled up to let us board.  We found seats among the other passengers who, it seemed, had been waiting for us, too, and we were off.



The grand pre-Columbian archeological site of Monte Alban was built into a mountaintop 6 miles southwest and 1300 feet above what is now the city of Oaxaca de Juarez.  Leaving the busy city, we proceeded up a narrow winding road through what is essentially a rural suburb of Oaxaca and it took us about half an hour to arrive at the parking lot, a short walk below the visitor center and entrance to the site.  We bought our tickets and walked uphill through the park-like approach to our first sight of the splendor of Monte Alban.  I hope the photos I took begin to convey the enormity of the size and beauty of the place.  The day was warm and the sun intense but a breeze was blowing and, when I stepped into the shade of trees scattered among the huge stone ruins, it was cool and I could stop and contemplate what was all around me.  I felt enormously privileged to be there, something I haven’t often felt.


 From UNESCO’s World Heritage List:

“Monte Alban is the most important archaeological site of the Valley of Oaxaca. Inhabited over a period of 1,500 years by a succession of peoples – Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs – the terraces, dams, canals, pyramids and artificial mounds of Monte AlbÁn were literally carved out of the mountain and are the symbols of a sacred topography. The grand Zapotec capital flourished for thirteen centuries, from the year 500 B.C to 850 A.D. when, for reasons that have not been established, its eventual abandonment began. The archaeological site is known for its unique dimensions which exhibit the basic chronology and artistic style of the region and for the remains of magnificent temples, ball court, tombs and bas-reliefs with hieroglyphic inscriptions.”

Walking down into the site...




 ...and approaching the massive stone structures.



 Stairways come into focus,…









 ...then doorways,...







...and carved figures.





  The Visitor Center and Museum:









Next week, Centro Cultural de Santo Domingo.

Click here for links to all episodes of 'Anatomy of a Trip: Oaxaca'


To read others of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.


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