15 Best Oaxaca Ruins You Must See in 2024

ancient milta oaxaca ruins in mexico

Want to see the Oaxaca Pyramids?

You’re in the right place because all the must-see and coolest Oaxaca ruins are featured in this article. From Monte Alban Ruins and Mitla Ruins, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, to off the beaten path sites — it’s all here!

The easiest, fastest, and most convenient way to see all the best ruins in Oaxaca Mexico? You’ll want to rent a car in Oaxaca City, and explore from there. When I get a car rental in Oaxaca, I always use and recommend Discover Cars.

All the ruins listed here are within about 30 minutes to two hours of Oaxaca City. Since many of them are quite remote, they aren’t easy to get to via public transportation — if you can get to them that way at all.

Now that you know the best way to visit Oaxaca ruins, let’s get to this list of the ruins themselves. Keep reading to discover the 15 Best Oaxaca Ruins in Mexico!

Top 15 Best Oaxaca Ruins

1. Monte Alban Oaxaca Ruins

monte alban ruins in oaxaca
For the best Zapotec ruins near Oaxaca, head to Monte Albán — and for the best experience, book a guided tour with an experienced travel guide.

What is Monte Alban?

Monte Alban is a pre-Columbian archaeological complex in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. It is the most famous of all Oaxaca Ruins and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monte Alban dates back to 500 BC. It was inhabited for about 1,500 years by the Olmec civilization, Zapotec civilization, and Mixtec civilization.

oaxaca ruins monte alban mexico

🤔 What’s the best way to visit Monte Alban Ruins?

On one of these Top 10 Best Monte Alan Tours! With a place this special, you really want someone to explain it all to you so you understand its full significance.

Views from Monte Alban Archaeological Site are impressive because it is located 6,400-feet above sea level (396 m), and 1,300-feet (1,950 m) above the Oaxaca Valleys below.

The ruins of Monte Alban have been one of the Mexico UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1987, along with other Mexico landmarks like the Teotihuacan Ruins near Mexico City and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere near Tulum.

Why is Monte Alban special?

Monte Alban is special because it is one of the oldest cities in Mesoamerica. The architecture at Monte Alban is beautiful, and the views of the valleys in Oaxaca below are spectacular.

The city was inhabited for 13 centuries by the Zapotec people. Later, the Mixtec people occupied it.

All of this history is imbued in the stones and architecture of the site. It offers unique insight into Zapotec culture and lifestyle.

Monte Alban has rich information about the ancient people who lived in Oaxaca — their rise and decline — as well as how the city developed over time.

Is Monte Alban worth visiting?

If you’re wondering whether a trip to Oaxaca Mexico Monte Alban Ruins is worth it — the answer is yes, especially for history buffs and culture travelers.

monte alban ruins in oaxaca

If you’re the least bit interested in ruins in Mexico, ancient civilizations, pre-hispanic culture and archaeology, it is 100% worth visiting Monte Alban Ruins in Oaxaca.

Be sure to check out the museum on your way to the site, as it offers wonderful information you wouldn’t want to miss. Going on a tour or hiring a guide is also well worth the expense.

The site has about 170 tombs, a ball court, underground passageways, pyramids, plazas, and hieroglyphs. Stelae carved with sacrificed captives are also an impressive sight.

For many travelers, visiting Monte Alban is the highlight of their Oaxaca trip. For travelers short on time, you can do a half day visit, but for the best experience, opt for this full day Monte Alban tour.

Can you climb Monte Alban Ruins?

Yes — You can climb several different structures in Monte Alban Ruin in Oaxaca. In fact, you’ll get some truly amazing views of Oaxaca when you climb them.

monte alban ruins in oaxaca
One of the central pyramids in the Main Plaza or Main Square at Monte Alban Oaxaca Mexico Ruins.

Climbing a Monte Alban pyramid is a great way to experience the site and enjoy the spectacular views. Head to the South and North Plaza for the most incredible panoramas and best views at Monte Alban.

Climbing up high will also give you a special appreciation for the genius of the people who made Monte Alban.

🚨 Please Note: Be respectful and don’t climb on restricted structures! This will help prevent the site from eroding and degrading, since some areas are more fragile than others.

Where is Monte Alban located?

Monte Alban is located in the municipality of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. It is about six miles (10 km) from Oaxaca City, and 1,300-feet (396 m) above the valley.

🗺️ monte alban Oaxaca Map

The archaeological site is on a low mountainous range in the Central Valleys region of Oaxaca, between the eastern Sierra Madre range and the southern Sierra Madres.

Monte Alban is visible from just about every part of the central section of Oaxaca Valley. It’s been a major draw to explorers and visitors since colonial times.

Want to see a Monte Alban Oaxaca map so you can easily navigate through the site when you visit? Check out this map of Oaxaca Monte Alban before you go.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

2. Mitla Oaxaca Ruins

mitla ruins in oaxaca mexico
After Monte Albán Ruins, Mitla is the second most important Oaxaca ruins site — and Mitla itself is one of the best pueblos magicos in Mexico.

The main attraction in the Oaxaca pueblo magico of San Pablo Villa de Mitla are the ruins of Mitla. The city of Mitla Oaxaca is home to two pre-hispanic archaeological complexes, as well as caves and rock shelters.

Some of these shelters even have rock art and archaeological evidence demonstrating the evolution of humans in the region, going from hunter-gatherers to farmers.

🗿 Looking to take some Oaxaca Ruins Tours to Mitla? You can book yours here and let a qualified guide show you around town.

Mitla is known as the Place of the Dead in the Nahuatl language. The Zapotec indigenous people believed that Milta served as a getaway between the word of the dead and the living.

It was a religious center run almost exclusively by priests who spent their time performing rites, burning incense, and making sacrifices to the gods.

The ruins, located just outside the city of Oaxaca, are one of the most preserved archeological sites in the Valley of Oaxaca. They are thought to be more than 10,000 years old.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

3. Yagul Oaxaca Ruins

yagul ruins in oaxaca mexico | best places to visit in oaxaca
Yagul Ruins is one of the more off the beaten track archaeological sites in Oaxaca Mexico.

Yagul Archeological Site is a must see if you’re someone fascinated by the ancient ruins in Mexico.

While not as famous as some other sites, like Chichen Itza in Yucatan or Teotihuacan near Mexico City, Yagul is worth checking out.

It is located only about 10 minutes by car from Mitla Ruins. If you’re renting a car in Oaxaca, you can combine these two for one of the best day trips from Oaxaca City.

Yagul Ruins are known locally as the pueblo viejo, meaning “old town.”

What you’ll see at these ruins are a series of buildings that almost look like an ancient home. They were built from about AD 750 to AD 950 by the Zapotec of Oaxaca.

🗿 Best Things to see at Yagul Archeological Site

If you want to see Zapotec Ruins without the crowds, like you will have at Monte Alban, then head to Yagul.

When you arrive, don’t miss the main buildings and structures: Patio 4, the Underground Tombs, and the Palacio de los Seis Patios (Palace of the Six Patios).

There’s also the Juego de Pelota (Ball Court), which is the second largest ball court ever discovered in Mesoamerica; the largest is at Chichén Itzá Mayan Ruins in Yucatan.

For the best views of the Yagul site, climb up to the top of the Fortaleza (Fortress), and make sure you have your camera handy.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

4. Atzompa Oaxaca Ruins

Atzompa Oaxaca ruins

Visitors looking for a Oaxaca off the beaten path experience will love Atzompa Ruins. This is a smaller site, and pretty much completely off the main tourist radar, so you might even have the whole place to yourself!

Atzompa opened to the public until 2012, when the road to it was built. It was excavated in the early-21st Century, though excavations are still ongoing.

Archeologists say Atzompa was built in about 650 AD, and abandoned in about 950 AD, just 300 years later.

At the Ruins of Atzompa, you’ll find three ceremonial plazas, the remains of two large residences and several ball courts. This site actually has the largest Mesoamerican ball court in Oaxaca state.

Head to the north side of the site to see the pottery oven. It’s identical to the pottery ovens still used by modern potters in Atzompa today — and in fact, this town is known more for its pottery than the Atzompa Ruins themselves.

✳️ Santa María Atzompa: Oaxaca Green Pottery Town

green pottery from the town of Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca Mexico
Small pieces of glazed shimmery green pottery from Santa María Atzompa, Mexico.

Pottery has a rich history in Santa María Atzompa Oaxaca, where it has been made for generations. This famed Oaxaca art town attracts art lovers from all over the world to buy the Atzompa green pottery from local craftspeople.

👩‍🎨 Best Way to Visit: Discover the whole town by booking this Oaxaca private tour of Monte Alban Ruins and Santa María Atzompa.

The clay itself is dug from a nearby area and brought back by burro (donkey) on the same paths used by the town’s founding fathers.

Once the villagers collect the clay, the men pulverize it and mix it with water until it’s uniform. Pieces are thrown on foot-powered potter’s wheels, then dried for about eight days. The pieces are fired, then glazed and fired again.

If you can’t make it to the town, you can find the green Atzompa pottery in most local Oaxaca markets.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

5. Zaachila Oaxaca Ruins

Zaachila Oaxaca ruins
The ruins at Zaachila Oaxaca Mexico. (Photo: Alejandro Linares Garcia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The small town of Zaachila is located about 30-40 minutes from Oaxaca City, and makes for a great day trip to see the ruins and the town itself.

Many of its structures at Zaachila Ruins have yet to be excavated, as they’re actually located beneath the houses that local residents live in today!

However, there have been several Zaachila caves discovered — complete with interesting cave art and Zapoteco symbols. This was the last Zapotec capital in Oaxaca, and still an important place for Zapotec people today.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

6. Dainzú Ruins

Dainzu Oaxaca ruins
Dainzu Archeological Zone in Oaxaca Mexico. (Photo: HJPD, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Dainzú Oaxacan archeological site was inhabited at the same time as Monte Alban Ruins, though archeologists believe Dainzú is older. They say Dainzú had inhabitants for nearly 1950 years — from about 750 BC to 1200 AD.

It is an interesting site because it has been built into the hills that surround it, likely as a protective measure.

At Dainzú Ruins, don’t miss the stone reliefs that depict ancient ball players. There are also other structures like residences, religious centers and the same ball court you’ll see in the reliefs.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

7. Xochimilco Aqueduct Arches (Oaxaca Aqueduct)

colorful xochimilco neighborhood in oaxaca city
Located within city limits, the Oaxacan aqueduct is one of the coolest Oaxaca archeological sites.

Looking for the best things to do in Oaxaca City? …or, Don’t have time to leave Oaxaca City, but still want to see ruins in Oaxaca?!

Located about a 20 minute walk from Centro Historico, the Historic Downtown Oaxaca, you can see the 15th Century Xochimilco aqueduct. (In case you’re wondering, the Xochimilco pronunciation is so-chee-mill-co.)

The aqueduct is in Barrio de Xochimilco, a neighborhood founded in 1486 by the Xochimilco Warriors on the orders of an Aztec emperor. It is among the most historic, oldest and best neighborhoods in Oaxaca City.

Xochimilco is famous for colorful streets, artisan shops, restaurants serving traditional Oaxacan cuisine like tlayudas, mole and memelas, and centuries-old history — after all, this was the ancient Oaxaca Zapotec capital.

🏩 Best Hotels in Xochimilco Oaxaca

Looking for the best places to stay in Oaxaca Mexico? Look no further than the Xochimilco Oaxaca City neighborhood.

Here, you’re still within easy walking distance of downtown, but far enough on the outskirts that you don’t feel like you’re surrounded by tourists.

If you want something a bit more wallet-friendly than the city center of downtown, the quiet, charming and low-key Xochimilco Oaxaca neighborhood is the place for you — and these are the best Xochimilco hotels:

Best Oaxaca Ruins

8. Casa de la Cacica Ruins

Casa de la Cacica Ruins in Oaxaca Mexico
Casa de la Cacica dates back to the 16th Century. (Photo: Pueblos Magicos, Oaxaca archaeological sites)

Casa de la Cacica Ruins are located in what was once the Mixteca state of Teposcolula. This area is now known as San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcolula, a small town located about 90 minutes from Oaxaca City by rental car.

The Casa de la Cacica, meaning “House of the Cacica” or “House of the Chieftain,” was part of a larger religious and administrative complex within the Teposcolula chiefdom. This was part of the ancient Mixteca civilization.

In fact, the Casa de la Cacica is said to have been a palace and residence of the last Mixteca queen. It is one of the few remaining buildings built for indigenous royalty still standing in Mexico today.

Once located atop Yucundaa Hill, the complex has since been moved to the town of San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcolula — one of the Oaxaca pueblos magicos (magic towns). The house itself is believed to date back to 1550.

Archaeologists believe it was constructed to incorporate both indigenous designs and Spanish elements. The name, Casa de la Cacica, likely refers to Doña Catalina de Peralta, the Cacica who took possession of this home in 1569.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

9. San José el Mogote Ruins

San Jose el Mogote Oaxaca ruins in Mexico
San José el Mogote has some of the best ruins near Oaxaca City. (Photo: Maunus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Ruins of San José el Mogote are located in the Villa de Etla, near the charming town of San Agustin Etla. If you’re planning to do a day trip from Oaxaca City to San Agustin Etla, make sure you schedule a stop at these ruins.

The San José el Mogote Ruins are part of one of the oldest settlements in the Valley of Oaxaca. Though not as famous, it predates even the settlement near the Monte Alban Ruins.

San José Mogote is said to be the oldest permanent agricultural village in the Oaxaca Valley. It is also likely the first settlement in the area to use pottery.

🎨 Oaxaca Fun Fact: Oaxaca pottery is quite famous — including the Oaxaca black pottery (barro negro) from San Bartolo Coyotepec, and the Oaxaca green pottery from Santa María Atzompa.

Archaeological investigations from the late-20th Century concluded San José Mogote was an early center of Zapotec culture in Oaxaca. Today, it is among the best things to do in San Agustin Etla Oaxaca.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

10. Lambityeco Ruins

stone carving at Lambityeco Oaxaca Ruins
An intricate stone carving at Lambityeco Oaxaca Ruins. (Photo: Giese555 via Flickr, Ancient ruins near Oaxaca Mexico)

Unlike some of the other Oaxacan ruins on this list, Lambityeco’s economy wasn’t rooted in agriculture. Rather, this Zapoteca town was important among the Zapotec for the cultivation and sale of salt — a vital food preservative.

The Lambityeco Oaxacan Archeological Site is famed for the intricate and beautiful art found here, especially statues of Cocijo (or Cociyo). Cocijo is a rain, thunder and lightning god, and among the most important Zapotec gods.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

11. Huamelulpan Ruins

Huamelulpan Oaxaca, ancient Ruins in Mexico
Huamelulpan Archeological Site in Oaxaca Mexico was inhabited from about 400 BC to 600 AD. (Photo: Scotty Astro via Flickr)

Huamelulpan means “flying hill” in Nahuatl, the Aztec language. Like the name says, Huamelulpan was built on a hill.

It has unique architecture with terraced sides and massive terraced platforms that have a drainage system built in. As plumbing wasn’t the norm in prehispanic times, this shows what an important site Huamelulpan must have been.

Archeologists believe the terraced platforms found here once served as the base of pyramids. They may have also been elevated homes that once housed elite members of society.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

12. Guiengola Ruins

Guiengola Oaxaca Ruins Mexico
Guiengola are some of the coolest Oaxaca mayan ruins. (Photo: Cisneroslv, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Much like Dainzú Ruins (#6 on this list), the Guiengola Archeological Site is surrounded by mountains. Some historians believe it was once a grand fortress, built in a way that made it difficult to attack.

According to pre-Columbian scholars, various indigenous tribes including the Mixtec and Zapotec lived at the Guiengola site at different times. They believe the city was inhabited until circa 1350 AD.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

13. Bocana del Río Copalita Ruins (Huatulco Ruins)

ruins in oaxaca at Copalita Park, Huatulco Mexico
Visit the Huatulco Ruins of Copalita with a tour guide to really understand this ancient site.

The Copalita Ruins in Huatulco are the only ruins on this list that are not in Oaxaca City. They are located near the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, in the beach town of Huatulco — one of the best beaches in Oaxaca Mexico.

Located in Copalita Eco-Archaeological Park, these are the only ancient ruins in Huatulco Mexico. Bocana del Río Copalita Archaeological Zone is a smaller site, but has two prehispanic temples and ancient ball courts to see.

Copalita excavations have confirmed both the Zapotec and Mazatec peoples used the site as a ceremonial center. During digs, archaeologists uncovered two tombs at Copalita ruins in Huatulco, which contained ruling class members.

While Huatulco is undoubtedly a beach town, if you want some culture, you won’t regret visiting Copalita Archeological Site. In fact, this is one of the best things to do in Huatulco Mexico that doesn’t involve the beach.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

14. Cerro de las Minas Ruins

Cerro de las Minas Ruins in oaxaca mexico
View of the archaeological site at Cerro de las Minas in Huajuapan de León, Oaxaca Mexico. (Photo: Andycyca, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Cerro de la Minas, meaning “Hill of the Mines,” is an archaeological site located near the north Oaxaca city of Huajuapan de León. It is quite far from Oaxaca City, and near the border with Puebla state.

As the name says, these ruins are located on a large hill atop the valley farmlands. These farms provided food, and the Cerro de la Minas was a stop on the trade routes in this valley, which made it regionally important

Besides food and trade, the site contains a number of settlements. Historians say evidence suggests this site was reserved for the elite who were considered important enough to live near a food source.

Best Oaxaca Ruins

15. Yucuita Ruins

Yucuita Ruins in Oaxaca Mexico
Visit Yucuita to see some of the best off the beaten path ruins Oaxaca has. (Photo: HJPD, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, Oaxaca Mexico pyramids)

Yucuita archeological site is one of the oldest and longest-inhabited of all the ancient sites in Mexico. It was a small Mixteca village, and has given historians a lot of information on the pre-hispanic Mixteca people.

There are two complexes to see at Yucuita Ruins; a housing area and a ceremonial center. Archeologists have also found a large quantity of painted ceramics in the area, which might indicate this was an area for trade and the arts.

Best Oaxaca Ruins: FAQ

Are there Mayan ruins in Oaxaca?

No — The Mayan Ruins of Mexico are located in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas state. In Oaxaca, you will find Zapotec ruins and Mixtec ruins, among a few others.

chichen itza mayan ruins
If you want to see Mayan Ruins in Mexico, like the famous Chichen Itza Ruins, you’ll have to visit the Yucatan Peninsula.

Is Oaxaca Mayan or Aztec?

Oaxaca is more Aztec than Mayan — however, the native people of Oaxaca are largely Zapotec and Mixtec.

Oaxaca is “more Aztec than Mayan” because it was occupied by the Aztecs in the 15th Century. It was later occupied by the Spanish, and officially declared a city in 1529 by Hernán Cortés of Spain.

What are the best archaeological ruins in Oaxaca?

Monte Alban is the most visited archeological site in Oaxaca Mexico. It has some of the most important pyramids in Mexico, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

stone sculptures at monte alban oaxaca ruins called Los Danzantes
There’s so many things to see at Monte Alban Ruins, like the Los Danzantes stones.

After Monte Alban, the second and third most important sites are Mitla Ruins and Yagul Ruins, respectively. Like Monte Alban, the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla in the Central Valley of Oaxaca are also a UNESCO site.

Where are the ruins in Oaxaca?

The closest ruins to Oaxaca City are Monte Alban. This is one of the top Oaxaca sites, and one of the best Mexico UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

What are the ruins near Oaxaca?

The closest ruins to Oaxaca include Mitla, the second most important pre-Columbian ruins in the state, Yagul, Casa de la Cacica, Yucuita, Huamelulpan and a few more.

What is Oaxaca known for?

Wondering, Why is Oaxaca so popular? There are five things Oaxaca is known for — art, culture, the Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebration, mezcal and delicious food.

Hands Sculpture at Playa Zicatela Beach in Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Oaxaca is also known for some of the best beaches in Mexico, like Playa Carrizalillo in Puerto Escondido on the Oaxaca Coast.

In fact, Oaxaca is known as the Foodie Capital of Mexico, so try both the street food in Oaxaca and the restaurants — and of course, don’t miss these best Oaxaca mezcalerias (mezcal bars).

For a deep dive into this topic, check out this What is Oaxaca famous for? article. In it, you’ll learn even more about what makes Oaxaca unique.

Is Oaxaca worth visiting?

Yes — Oaxaca is magical; it’s the Mexico people imagine Mexico to be.

colorful flags hung above the street in downtown oaxaca city mexico
Colorful Calle Macedonio Alcalá is one of the best places in Downtown Oaxaca City.

There’s everything from rich history, colorful festivals, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, locally-made Oaxacan mezcal, beautiful nature, colonial towns, indigenous artisan communities, and yummy Oaxacan food.

As you’ll usually need to take at least two flights to Oaxaca Mexico, or even a flight and a bus, you might still be wondering if traveling to Oaxaca is worth it. I assure you that FU+K YES IT IS!

Oaxaca Travel Planning Guide

Should I buy Mexico travel insurance for Oaxaca?

100% YES! — With basic coverage averaging just $5-10 USD per day, enjoy peace of mind with a plan from Travel Insurance Master, one of the biggest names in travel insurance. (Read more)

Can you drink the water in Oaxaca?

No — You’ll want to buy this Water-To-Go Bottle, which filters your drinking water so you don’t get sick from drinking water in Mexico, and helps keep you hydrated while traveling to Oaxaca. (Read more)

Is it safe to rent a car in Oaxaca?

Yes — Renting a car in Oaxaca is one of the best ways to see the state. I always rent with Discover Cars, which checks international companies and local Oaxaca companies, so you get the best rates. (Read more)

Will my phone work in Oaxaca?

Maybe — It depends on your company, so check with your provider. If you don’t have free Mexico service, buy a Telcel SIM Card. As Mexico’s largest carrier, Telcel has the best coverage of all Mexico SIM Cards. (Read more)

What’s the best way to book places to stay in Oaxaca?

For Oaxaca hotels, Booking.com is the best site. If you’re considering a Oaxaca Airbnb, also check VRBO, which is often cheaper than Airbnb. For the best Oaxaca hostels, use HostelWorld.

What do I pack for Oaxaca?

Head to the Ultimate Mexico Packing List + FREE Checklist Download to get all the info you need on packing for Mexico.

What’s the best site to buy Oaxaca flights?

For finding cheap Oaxaca flights, I recommend booking through Skyscanner.

Do I need a visa for Oaxaca?

Likely Not — U.S., Canadian and most European Passport holders don’t need a visa for Mexico; but you can check here to see if you need a Mexico travel visa.

The vast majority of travelers will receive a a passport stamp, or 180-Day FMM Tourist Visa upon arrival.