Oaxaca is one of Mexico's most beautiful old colonial towns. The Spanish founded the town in 1521 in a valley largely populated by native Zapotec and Mixtec people, and its magnificent arcades and colourful markets are still populated by their descendants who come to sell their colourful woven blankets and shawls in the central square. The incredible old colonial churches, cobbled streets and superb array of museums earned the city UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987.
Also honoured by UNESCO are the nearby ruins of the ancient Zapotec city of Monte Albán - founded as early as 500 BCE, Monte Albán reached the height of its regional dominance between 100 BCE and 300 CE, becoming the most important city in the Oaxacan highlands and having high-level contacts with the city of Teotihuacan (near modern-day Mexico City). By the end of the 6th Century, the city became largely abandoned due to a loss of political influence. This unique site is full of some amazing buildings, ball couts and magnificent tombs, and a lot of finely-worked gold jewelry was found in the city.