Retire Early Lifestyle
Retirement; like your parents, but way cooler


Retire Early Lifestyle Blog  Free Newsletter Subscribe/Contact Us

Advertise on info here

In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 4th decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

(Pronounced MOHN-teh ahl-BAHN, Wa-HAA-ka, MAY-hee-coh)

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Situated on an artificially-leveled mountain 400 meters (1,315 ft) above the Oaxaca Valley, in southern Mexico, Monte Albán was once the holy city of more than 30,000 Zapotecs (who called themselves the cloud people). It is the area's most interesting and extensively excavated ruin, yet it is estimated that only about 10% of the site has yet been uncovered. Monte Albán traces its history to about 500 B.C. when Zapotec builders began leveling the mountaintop and constructing terraces and other works. By 400 B.C. this city, which is completely lacking in easily-accessible water sources, had a population of around 5,200. Within 200 years, the Valley of Oaxaca’s population had grown so fast it became one of the earliest complex societies in Mesoamerica.

This map gives you an idea of how large and complete the city is.

The various structures of Monte Albán center on the Gran Plaza or Great Plaza, a large open space created by flattening the mountaintop. From this plaza, aligned north to south, there is a great view of the Oaxaca Valley below. There are many buildings to explore – over 170 tombs, numerous ceremonial altars, stelae, pyramids, and palaces. To the south of these center buildings is the Observatory which is the only building at Monte Albán not aligned with the north-south axis. It was probably aligned with the stars instead.

On the eastern side of the Great Plaza is an I-shaped ball court (Juego de Pelota). The ball court game was a ritual practice common to pre-Columbian Mesoamericans. It took place in their every day lives as well as in religious celebrations. Apparently, it enabled people to resolve conflicts of different types such as those regarding land disputes, tribute and trade controls. Support and protection by the gods was the prize bestowed upon the winner of the game.

Up to this time, there are no discoveries in Monte Albán which would suggest that human sacrifice was practiced in association with the ball court, although in other parts of Mesoamerica (like
Chich'en Itza), this has been found to be the case. In Monte Albán, 5 ball courts were constructed which confirms the importance of this activity at a regional level. This one was constructed at approximately 100 B.C.


For about 450 years, this was a high platform topped with a temple and rectangular columns. There was also a tunnel connecting to the altar in the Gran Plaza. Hilltops as well as hillsides were modified by the residents of Monte Albán. Elevated areas were cut and leveled in order to construct the most important buildings, while terraces were formed on the hillsides to build houses for the majority of the areas inhabitants.






Stone, lime and adobe were obtained for the construction of buildings as well as clay for the production of ceramics. Many stones as well as seashells which are not indigenous to the area have also been found in this ancient city and presumably were transported here by trade or through tribute to the leaders in residence here.


We had remarkably clear weather to explore these extensive ruins, spending about 3 hours walking around and climbing the ancient stone steps. This site by far, was the most massive set of ancient ruins we have visited.


This wide staircase leads to a side platform.

Several materials were used for the construction of this great city and one of the most frequently used was stone. It can be found in the foundations of the houses, temples and tombs.





 Adobe was also used for the construction of the walls of houses and temples and buildings were plastered with stucco, a mixture composed of lime and sand.


Zapotecs dismantled these walls years after they were built and the different bas-reliefs were scattered throughout the site. As a conservation strategy, copies were made of the various sculptures and bas-reliefs with the originals moved to the on-site museum.


A wide open view of the area where the streets and avenues might have existed.

Daily astronomical observation enabled the pre-hispanic society of Monte Albán to calculate agricultural cycles, to predict seasonal changes, to determine when the rainy season would begin as well as the best time to collect medicinal plants. Also as a result of these observations, prophesies were made, and constructions, streets, avenues and plazas were oriented toward the North-South cardinal points.


A small group of educated men - among the class of priests who received a disciplined religious education since childhood - practiced this astronomical observation. Apparently, their abundant and precise knowledge was a valuable factor in the development of state power.

Within the Great Plaza which you see again here, the two buildings that are in the foreground, served as astronomical observatories. These are the only two buildings on the whole site not aligned to the North-South axis.


Animals played an important role in the lives of these people. For instance, jaguars and serpents were considered gods. Other animals and certain birds like eagles and hummingbirds were considered to possess magic powers and these sacred animal bones were used to predict the future. Animals not considered sacred as well as grasshoppers, worms, ants and other insects provided food for the residents of Monte Albán. Skins, bones and feathers were used to create clothing, adornment and to make tools such as needles.


Here's another full view of  the Gran Plaza. You can see how small the people look in comparison to the buildings. This photo is taken from the important South cardinal point. There are tunnels that run underground connecting particular buildings so that those in power could 'appear as if by magic' in ceremonies. There are also underground pipe ways that directed water flow from patios and plazas during the rainy season into storage areas for the town's future use.


A view of the villages below which are still inhabited to this day. Vendors from these villages come to Monte Albán to sell 'original artifacts' from the ruins.





Looking from south to north. Billy stands at the top of the 40 meter wide stairway at the South Plaza pointing to the ruins below. You can truly see how massive they are!


Pre-hispanic peoples handed down vast knowledge regarding the use of herbs or traditional medicine which takes advantage of the healing properties or ‘magic’ of plants. Some had healing qualities for the body, some were used to cleanse the soul. The plants were regarded as the link between earth and heaven.

In some of these cultures, it was believed that man descended or sprouted from a pochotle tree. Wise priests or healers were able to communicate with the gods by ingesting fermented juices of plants which included mescal agave, tobacco, mushrooms, peyote and marijuana.

Plants additionally provided the residents with fibers used to make textiles or utensils for every day use.

Carved stones may be seen with scenes of conquests of leaders from neighboring villages and towns that Monte Albáns conquered in the early years of this civilization. Although Billy is joking here, these nude males were captured, castrated and offered as sacrifices to the gods or used in fertility rituals. Many of  these stone statues are copies, with the originals in the on-site museum for safe keeping.

A close up view of the very common rectangular design used on many of the buildings at Monte Albán.


This stela is the highest (5.80 meters) and one of the oldest that has been found on Monte Albán. It was erected during 100 B.C. to 300 A.D.  Similar to those obelisks found in other civilizations it seems to have served as an astronomical instrument to verify midday. Midday was one of the 4 pre-hispanic subdivisions in a day.

In addition to serving the function of finding midday, annually the shadow of this stela extends to its maximum to the north during the winter solstice and decreases to the south during the summer solstice. This stela established a system of measurement for time and space and thereby structured their calendar as well.

On the western side is a sequence of signs of the old Zapotec calendar which are read as part of a particular date with the month and the day, “5 Cane,” “9 Monkey".


As you can see, the views were stunning and all encompassing.

In this ancient time, stone was also used in the construction of tools and utensils such as hatchets, grinding stones, molcajetes (mortars of stone) drill bits, chisels, polishing instruments and arrowheads.

Some stones such as jade, turquoise, and rock crystal were considered precious or semi-precious. Gold, silver or copper were used to manufacture adornments much later on in the culture, between 800 A.D. and the arrival of the Spanish.

In order to construct the great city of Monte Albán, the Zapotecs had to rely on a very important resource: water. This resource was obtained from the Atoyac River which runs 4 kilometers, about 2.5 miles, northeast of the central plaza. During the rainy season, water was also obtained from the hillside runoff.





Here we are with our friends, Martha and Dennis. We were all very impressed with how this ancient culture built this thriving city.


Rainwater storage deposits were constructed in Monte Albán and can be found in the main plaza. At one time the storage area was fed by two drains which can still be found at the east and the west ends.

See another stela below in the center of the photo. Since the stelae told the time of day, we thought maybe this one was the secondhand?, just kidding... The tallest one of the complex is in the center and to the right in this photo.


At the upper left of this photo is the South Cardinal Point with another pyramid structure.





In order to transport necessary water from the river to the city, the work of many slaves or persons paying tribute to the leaders was used. In the patios of houses, the ball court, and the ceremonial complexes, small drains were discovered which were connected to other larger drains. Some of these measure up to 2 meters in height and 60 centimeters in width. Their function was to collect rainwater and channel it out of the city or to the storage areas.

Water was such an important resource that Cocijo, the water god, is one of the most important Zapotec gods. He is represented in the stelae, mural paintings and ceramic objects such as funeral urns and vases.


What a monumental task it was to supply this city with water! Think about it, all those people living high on this flattened mountaintop and on the hillsides, all needing water for their daily lives.


Each structure was just as fascinating as the next. After all the centuries that have passed, these buildings have been kept remarkably intact. If you look to the upper right in this photo, you will see hillside dirt covering the back of the pyramid-like structure. All the buildings and structures must have been covered in this same level of dirt and plant growth before excavation began.


Here you see one of the vendors from the villages below hoping to sell his 'original artifacts' to the tourists visiting Monte Albán.

To visit Monte Albán, catch a bus from central Oaxaca for 38 Pesos per person. You will arrive about 30 minutes later at the site of the ruins. Entrance is 48 Pesos per person.

This is definitely worth visiting.


About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on

Trending on Retire Early Lifestyle


Retire Early Lifestyle appeals to a different kind of person – the person who prizes their independence, values their time, and who doesn’t want to mindlessly follow the crowd.

HOME   Book Store


Retire Early Lifestyle Blog      About Billy & Akaisha Kaderli      Press     Contact     20 Questions     Preferred Links     Retirement     Country Info    
Retiree Interviews
      Commentary     REL Videos




Subscribe Newsletter