04 Apr Hierve El Agua: “The Water Boils”
Welcome to one of the wildest places in Mexico. Despite being a tourist destination, it’s so unique and bizarre that it’s totally worth the visit. Natural rock formations pour over the cliff like melting ice cream, overflowing 200 feet down the sides of the mountain. But, don’t be fooled. Despite the bubbling mineral spring pools on top of the precipice, the seeming cascade of water is no such thing. For centuries, calcium carbonate from trapped rainwater has rushed up, creating pools on top of the plateau and running over the side, has deposited the solid mass that resembles a waterfall, much like a stalactite.
We cruise east of Oaxaca City in a colectivo (a shared taxi costing 20 mxn to Mitla, and another 50 mxn from there to Hierve El Agua. Want to know where to find the colectivo? Check out the map below.) at about 40 miles away and quite a bit of windy, dirt road to traverse, it takes about an hour and a half. We don’t mind a bit – the time flies as we discuss life, the universe and everything with our taxi driver. The route takes us past, Mitla (we’re writing about this treasure too, don’t worry!) and through the municipality of San Lorenzo to Hierve el Agua.
Upon first glance, the pools appear to be hot, bubbling up incessantly, and appear bluish green in color. I learn that the hue of the water is due to its high mineral content, supposedly healing in nature. From the first set of pools, we can see the grandiose “waterfall” so iconic to the destination. A short hike takes us there and we stand on top, looking back at the “cascada chica” where we first arrived, nicknamed the Amphitheater. They are both pretty impressive.
From there, we hike down to the bottom of the almost 300 foot “stalactite” (if you will) and gaze back up at it. Wow. Wow. Wow. Close to the rising rock face, we feel sprinkles of water trickling down from the springs above. The trail was made 2,500 years ago by the Zapotecs of the Oaxaca valley, likely as part of a sacred site. An elaborate naturally-lined irrigation system (uncommon to pre-Hispanic Mexico) and terraces lead archeologists to believe this site held great importance to the Zapotecs.
Hiking back up, past the “cascada grande” and returning to the amphitheater we take some time to soak up the minerals and sun in an infinity pool that reveals a slice of the Oaxaca valley beneath a clear blue sky. Gorgeous beyond belief, we take our time relaxing, swimming and having some fun.
On the way out, small restaurants and shops offer tlayudas (one of my favorite Oaxacan dishes) and piñas locas (crazy pineapples). I indulge in both. Tlayudas are like extremely thin-crusted Mexican pizza OR giant crunchy quesadillas. They usually have quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese, which has much more flavor than the string cheese back in the US), lettuce, cilantro, onion, avocado and meat, if desired. The piña loca is a carved out pineapple filled with the cut up pineapple, chili powder, chamoy (a sweet, chili sauce) and mescal. They are both phenomenal. Highly recommended!
Hierve el Agua is really popular for locals and tourists alike, so we decided to catch the colectivo at 8 am to make it to the site by 9:30. Most of the tour buses arrive at noon or later, so the earlier you can stand it, the better! That way you can enjoy the spectacular beauty of this place without being overrun by humans. Enjoy!!
To catch the collectivo, go to the baseball stadium and wait outside on the corner with the highway.