If you want photos of Zapotec ruins without tonnes of tourists milling around in the background, Yagul is your kind of place. The ruins (known as 'Pueblo Viejo' by locals) are finely sited on a cactus-covered hill, about 1.5km north of the Oaxaca−Mitla road, 34km from Oaxaca. Unless you have a vehicle, you’ll have to walk the 1.5km; caution is advised on this isolated road.
Yagul was a leading Valles Centrales settlement after the decline of Monte Albán, and most of what’s visible was built between AD 750 and 950. The beautiful Juego de Pelota (Ball Court) is the second biggest in Mesoamerica (after one at Chichén Itzá).
Patio 4, down to the left as you enter the main part of the site from the ticket office, was surrounded by four temples. On its east side is a carved-stone animal, probably a jaguar. Next to the central platform is the entrance to one of several multichambered underground tombs.
The labyrinthine Palacio de los Seis Patios (Palace of the Six Patios), above it, was probably the leader’s residence. Its now creamy-yellow walls were originally plastered and painted red.
It’s well worth climbing the Fortaleza (Fortress), the rocky hill towering above Yagul. It's topped by several ruins, and the views are marvelous.