We’ve just been blown away by Hierve El Agua – Mexico’s Petrified Waterfall – a freaky quirk of nature we found in the valleys of Central Mexico.
Hierve el Agua – the Petrified Waterfall is a unique and off the beaten path experience and not exactly what we expected to find in Mexico.
But then travel is all about the unexpected and Hierve El Agua falls into that category perfectly.
We’d seen Petrified Wood but never ‘Petrified Water’ so we were super curious.
And it’s one of only two like it in the world (the other one is in Turkey) we’re off to check out this little hidden gem today.
I’m starting to sound like a stuck record about early starts but start early for the best experience with this one too… you’ll thank me later.
We left at around 8am and got a taxi to the ‘collectivo area’ by the Oaxaca Baseball Stadium.
Here we found heaps of beat up old bombs being used as collectivos filled with sweaty Mexicans. I took one look at these vehicles and turned up my nose, not being a snob or anything, they just didn’t look appealing nor very safe to me.
Even though it was early, the sun was already heavy and hot. I was already sweating through my shirt, and I just couldn’t imagine been crammed into those little collectivos, with little or no suspension for the next hour or so with a carload of Mexican men.
Our taxi driver detecting my distaste at the collectivos proceeded to negotiate himself as a private taxi and tour guide for the day.
A taxi car? I had been told you needed a four wheel drive for the last part of the road?…
Oh no – he assured me…his car would be fine.
I think we paid him way too much at 900 Pesos which later increased to 1200 Pesos, (about $70 USD) as we stayed longer than expected. However he assured us he would take us right there, wait until we were ready to come back plus add some stops on the way home.
Ok we’re sold/done/robbed – who cares. There is apparently a bus to Mitla and then you get some local 4WD up to the waterfall itself. It all sounded way too complicated and I was feeling lazy, so we just paid the money and went.
We passed through Mitla – a typical small Mexican town mainly known for the archeological ruins. Colorful shops and convenience stores lined the cobblestoned streets. Smells of restaurants filled the air, and in the central plaza. Music played and scores of people surrounded the zocalo – we’ll stop there on the way back.
Then the road took us on a dusty residential street with small-mud and stone homes with tall cacti as fences. Then the road went up – straight up. It was dusty, narrow, bumpy and steep and indeed a four wheel drive would have been way better.
Our poor bodies bounced and slid around on the barely padded seats, never mind any suspension in the old taxi. The road went up and down, and on each downward stretch, the brakes would splutter.
We later discover he had taken us the long, less travelled and more circuitous dirt road, or actually more like a dirt track. All to avoid paying two entrance fees of 10 pesos.
Seems there has been conflict between the residents of the two towns San Lorenzo and San Isidro, both wanting to benefit from a tourist ‘toll’ to continue on to the spectacular Hierve el Agua.
You can hike, swim or both – or just relax and drool at nature’s cleverness.
It’s hard to resist a soak in the springs at Hierve el Agua.
The minerals in the water are said to be beneficial for the skin and the views from the two cliff-top bathing pools, both of which offer expansive panoramas of the valleys below, are some of the most spectacular in Oaxaca.
Hiking is another favorite at Hierve el Agua. There are numerous trails and walking paths in the area.
You can hike most of them in less than an hour, including the main trail that leads down the side of the mountain to the base of the petrified waterfall. Here you can get a closer view of the mineral formations and do a bit of climbing.
It’s a massive waterfall frozen to the side of the mountain with calm, crystal clear infinity pools empty of people in front. It was colorful, serene, desolate and quiet scene.
We savored the moments alone surrounded by the beauty of the mountains and the lush green valley below.
Keen to get up close for different views we hiked the easy walk down the main trail to the valley floor and the bottom of the waterfall.
Soon we were face to face with with the giant masterpiece… looking up, it’s massive, rising over 50 metres from the valley floor.
It’s possible to get really close with a little climbing so there was no stopping us.
We oogle over it for a while until we notice the dark clouds rolling in, it was time to retreat back to the top and check out the pools.
Hiking back up we meet a steady stream of people who arrived late which makes us super glad we started early.
Hievre el Agua – another wonderful nature discovery in Mexico. I bet you never thought Mexico had such beautiful natural scenery?
Hierve el Agua, which means “The Water that Boils” is actually a set of two “waterfalls”.
The mineral formations formed by water trickling over the cliff edge for thousands of years make it look like a huge frozen or petrified waterfall, cascading into the valley’s jungle below.But in reality it’s mineral water that pushed through the limestone depositing the falls onto the edge of the mountain. The waterfalls are white, while the naturally occurring mineral pools on the edge of the cliff are full of calcium carbonate, magnesium and sulfur giving them the slight yellow color.
Cost – It’s 10 pesos to enter the park at the ‘toll gate’ and then another 25 pesos to enter the waterfall area.
When you want to hike around the waterfall, the people running the place will try to convince you to take a guide, which you pay through tips. We managed to talk our way out of this and walk down on our own. If you want to swim there are changing rooms and toilets close to the pools.
How to get there – Hierve el Agua is located around 1.5 – 2 hours drive from Oaxaca City.
Private Taxi – We caught a private taxi from Oaxaca directly there and cost us $70 for the whole day trip. (too much I know but he was a nice guy!) At least we got to stop at a small Mezcal Palenques and Mitla which only added to the day’s experience.
Public Transport – Public transport options are available from Oaxaca to Hierve el Agua, by taking a collectivo from the Oaxaca Baseball Stadium to Mitla and then a pickup truck to the pools. The cost of the collectivo and pickup truck comes to around $150 pesos each which makes for a way cheaper option than we paid.
Organized Tour – There are many tour operators that incorporate a few stops including Hievre el Agua but from what we understood there isn;t enough time to hike and swim if you wanted to.
Whichever transportation you choose, check first in Oaxaca city to see if the road from Mitla into the mountains is open – especially if you are there in the rainy season as it can be closed with slips.
When to go – I would recommend visiting in the early morning or late afternoon when there is significantly fewer people and you’ll have the pools practically to yourselves like we did in the early morning.
If you are driving out to to Hievre El Agua you can also combine a visit to the ruins at Mitla, plus you’ll pass the town of Santa Maria del Tule. Here is the famous Arbol del Tule (tree of Tule) in the chuchyard. This mighty tree, having a circumference of over 160 feet at its base, is between 2000 and 3000 years old, making it one of the oldest living things on earth. It only takes a few minutes to visit and it is certainly worth the short visit.