During my recent trip to Oaxaca City, Mexico, I had a chance to visit a natural site not too far out of the city called Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca. It is a petrified waterfall in the small municipality of San Lorenzo Albarradas. It literally seems to be in the middle of nowhere in the state of Oaxaca, which is about 6 hours from Mexico City. The views are stunning of this petrified waterfall and you can even take a hike around the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca or just look at them from inside the “pool” area of the waterfalls. As day trips go, it is definitely worth a visit, as I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think you will too!
✦ What is Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca?
Hierve el Agua is a unique rock formation in Oaxaca, Mexico of hardened mineral deposits left by water that has calcified over thousands of years. It is one of only two petrified waterfalls in the world! Because the literal translation in Spanish ‘Hierve el Agua’ means “water boils”, I would have thought that the waters here would be boiling or at the very least be warm, but instead, they were refreshing and cool.
This calcification has created two natural “swimming pools” for people to enjoy the afternoon in. I chose to spend most of my time lounging in the water, which has a beautiful blue-green color. It was cool but refreshing. The rest of my group of friends decided to use the hiking trails first, then get in the water after they were nice and hot from their hike around the area. This is one of the most interesting and unique experiences I had on my trip to Oaxaca.
At a distance, the rock structure of Hierve del Agua Oaxaca looks like a frozen waterfall, however, as you come closer to the falls, you realize your eyes have played a trick on you. As there is actually water flowing in freshwater pools that are saturated with calcium carbonate and magnesium. The rocks are made up of mineral deposits on top of a limestone mountain. The pools drip down the sides of the mountain and cliffs depositing these minerals onto the sides of the mountain. Over time, these deposits accumulate and make the pools look icy cold and look like white/yellowish waterfalls.
Although it was a hot and sunny day the day I arrived, the waters were almost cold. It was necessary to just plunge in, instead of trying to get in slowly or to “get used to it”. This was literally an oasis in an arid dry desert, surrounded by mountains where you can relax and hang out in a petrified waterfall! It may even feel like you are on a different planet and far, far away from the rest of the world! Or at least that is how I felt.
✦ How was Hierve del Agua formed?
Hierve el Agua was formed from minerals in the earth that hardened into a calcium carbonate over thousands of years to create the waterfall. It has carved out two natural “mineral pools” out of the rock formation, where the locals and visitors come for a day to hike around the area and to hang out among the cool waterfalls.
✦ How to get to Hierve el Agua
By an Organized Tour:
I think the easiest way to get to Hierve el Agua is going with an organized tour guide. I went with Cantimplora Travel, whom I cannot say enough great things about. Unfortunately, they no longer offer tours here. One of the best things about traveling with them was that they understood the local culture. This provided the opportunity for me to understand more about what is going on in the area. They not only did they show me off-the-beaten-path places, but they also taught me about the unique culture, history, and importance of the area from the viewpoint of someone who has lived there and who understands its’ culture. I think it is important to find a tour group that provides this type of information for your trip to Hierve el Agua.
By A Private Driver:
With that said, you may also hire a private driver for the day if you are visiting Oaxaca City (Some say the estimate for the day is about $70 USD.).
By A Private Guide/Driver:
There are also guides that do a sort of rushed version of the three well-known sites in the area all in one day (Mitla, Hierve el Agua natural pools, and Tule) – where you can see ‘del Tule’ – the world’s largest tree. This is so that you can get the essence of all three sites. In my opinion, this does not allow you enough time to completely enjoy each of the sites, but it can be done.
There is also a collectivo (shared taxi) that takes you from Oaxaca City to Mitla and then from there another van collectivo goes to Hierve el Agua. You can catch the collectivo at the Oaxaca Baseball Stadium, but beware they pack people in and the ride may be is bumpy and sweaty.
By A Public Bus:
From Oaxaca City, you take a public bus (approx 18 pesos) to Mitla. Then in Mitla, transfer to a camioneta (approx 40 pesos) that will take you to Hierve el Agua.
✦ OAXACA TO MITLA
Mitla can be reached via a public bus from the Oaxaca 2nd class bus terminal or along Boulevard Jose Vasconcelos (Highway 190).
As mentioned before, it is possible to combine Hierve el Agua with the Mitla Ruins and the world’s largest tree at El Tule since they are all located east of Oaxaca. However, this will not give you a lot of time at Hierve el Agua, just FYI
✦ MITLA TO HIERVE EL AGUA
Camionetas from Mitla can be caught opposite the bus station, but require 7-8 passengers to depart, so buyer beware!
By Renting A Car:
You could also rent a car and drive, which is my least recommended way to get there, as rental cars in Mexico are difficult to get and if you are not familiar with the area, it probably would not be a good idea. But as you can see, there are several options to get there.
✦ What to Know Before You Go to Hierve de Agua
As you may know, sometimes things in Mexico (and the rest of Central America) can be complicated and you should be aware that this area of land has been fought over by many local people. The waterfalls were actually closed from 2005-2008, due to land disputes. Finally, the two towns outside the waterfalls have come to an agreement and each has an entrance and an entry fee, depending on where you are coming from.
Plus the road to get out here is also a toll road and there is a cheap admission fee to come inside the area as well. The Mexican Government has now decided to promote this area to tourism, so it may soon get crowded and well-known, but for now, it remains a secret oasis known mostly to the locals! My suggestion is to come soon!
✦ Facilities at Hierve el Aqua: Food Stalls & Change rooms
There are stalls set up by the locals that serve corn snacks, chips, quesadillas made of string Oaxacan cheese, and other local food. There are also soda/water drinks available. At the site, there are also small change-room facilities for your use, although this area is quite limited.
I recommend a trip to Oaxaca City first, but 72 hours in Oaxaca City is not enough!
✦ Day Trips from Oaxaca City, Mexico ✦
While you are visiting Oaxaca City, you must go on a few day trips. The ones I recommend are:
Monte Alban -a majestic pyramid
San Pablo Villa de Mitla -a Mexican archeological site
Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico – this fantastic limestone waterfall
El Arbol del Tule – a tree with a trunk diameter of 46 feet (stoutest tree trunk in the world and UNESCO site)
Jacobo and Maria Angeles Factory of Alebrijes – a craft shop making Mexican handicrafts known as Alebrijes
Teotitlán del Valle – Another traditional weaving village in the area
The Sunday Market in Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico
And here in the photo below, is a shot taken at the Sunday Market in Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico
Also, a visit to a local Oaxacan mezcal farmer, for some mezcal tasting can also be done during your day trip outing.
If you love food and drink guides about Mexico, then read:
and a guide to a few of my favorite Mexican Destinations.
Here are a few other articles I have written about the Sea of Cortez area of Mexico:
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, I was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purposes of review to Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico by Cantimplora Travel. While it has not influenced my review, PointsandTravel.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. This article may contain affiliate links.