Exploring Monte Albán in Oaxaca
When I did a tour of the Teotihuacan ruins just outside Mexico City our guide gave us about 15 mins of guided tour fun, and then promptly ditched us (okay, he said it was so we could wander around and do what we wanted for 3 hours, but still!). The ruins were impressive. Yes, I had a panic attack while climbing up one of the pyramids and had to stop, but they were impressive. That being said I was pretty much over the experience after about 2 hours, as were the rest of the people in my group. Unfortunately our guide was nowhere to be found, so we all sat under a tree until he showed up. Yay, Teotihuacan!
When I arrived in Oaxaca a few days later and learned of the ruins at Monte Albán from my friend Suzanne, I was intrigued but felt a little meh about going. Would they be the same as Teotihuacan? I wasn’t sure. I did know that I didn’t want to be stuck there for three hours, so, when Suzanne (who does guided tours in Oaxaca) offered to take me, I jumped. Yay, a friend to show me around the ruins. This is already sounding like a better experience.
With my camera in my hands and ready for use I listened intently as Suzanne spoke about the history of the ruins, and the Zapotec tribe who built them. We walked slowly, and as Suzanne talked, I started to understand more about not just the ruins, but about the traditions of the Mexican people. I could literally close my eyes and envision what Monte Albán would have been like back in the day.
I could see the plaza being abuzz with tribespeople selling their wares, priests walking around, the rich and royal looking down on the scene from above. I could see the priests using the underground tunnels to get from one end of the city to the other and avoid the crowds. I could see the pristine and natural views of the Oaxacan valley below Monte Albán, which rests on a mountaintop.
It was such a different experience in comparison to my time at Teotihuacan. Within a short period of time I was making connections between observations I had made during my travels, history classes from when I was in high school, and things I had learned in church as a teenager. I was geeking out in epic proportions, and at one point I think I even decided I should add my own personal knowledge (which I don’t even have) by explaining the resemblance one of the pyramids had to King Solomon’s temple. Guides love it when you do that. No, really. Okay, they don’t…
In my not-so-humble opinion the ruins at Monte Albán were far more interesting. Yes, I had a fabulous guide, but it was also the layout. I loved the various layers and levels to the ruins. If it wasn’t so hot outside, and Suzanne didn’t have a family (the nerve!) I probably could have spent the entire day sitting on one of the pyramids, staring at the ruins around me.
Chichen Itza and Tulum may be the most popular ruins in Mexico, but there are many other sites that are just as interesting and worth your time. I am a big advocate for travel in interior Mexico (I think you guys have figured that out by now) and as such I think everyone needs to visit Oaxaca, and Monte Albán.
A guided tour is ideal, but you can also go on your own and catch a shuttle bus from downtown Oaxaca for about 50 pesos. The entrance fee for the ruins is 57 pesos (it’s a standard rate for ALL of the ruins in Mexico).