Buildings of the North Platform at Monte Alban.

© Siempreverde22/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Monte Albán Ruins

Top choice in Valles Centrales

The former capital of the Zapotec people is today an illustrious ruin, but for over a thousand years it served as the second-largest ceremonial site in Mesoamerica, after Teotihuacán. Sitting atop a flattened hill, 9 miles west of present-day Oaxaca, Monte Albán's setting is spectacular. The site is known for its expansive Gran Plaza, ancient ball court, excavated tombs, astronomical 'observatory' and, uniquely, its mysterious danzantes (carved stone figures depicting what are thought to be dead or tortured prisoners of war).

At the entrance to the site are a good museum (explanations in Spanish only), a cafe and a bookstore. Official guides offer their services outside the ticket office (M$500 to M$600). The heart of the site, the Gran Plaza, is wheelchair accessible via an elevator and special walkways (ask at the ticket booth for the elevator to be activated). Explanatory signs are in Spanish, English and Zapotec.

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