If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.Loren Eiseley
Getting to Hierve el Agua
First, make your way up to the baseball stadium on highway 190, a short walk from the Oaxaca city centre. Look for a bus heading southeast with a sign reading “Mitla” on the front, and hop on board. This bus only costs around 10 pesos. After a little under an hour, you’ll arrive in the little town of Mitla, roughly 70km away.
From here, you should find a few people waiting beside a pickup truck, near the bus stop to take you the rest of the way, over the mountains. It should cost around 50 pesos per person. Then hop in the back of a truck and hold on!
The next 40 minutes are spent bouncing around on a long, heavily rutted mountain road with harsh corners dropping down hundreds of feet. When we visited, we had to hold on desperately to whatever we could. At one point the tailgate comes open and I lean out to pull it closed – probably not the smartest move at the time, but it worked out.
This ride alone is one of those simple pleasures one gets while backpacking in a country like Mexico. It’s simple, rustic, and efficient. Never did it feel dangerous, yet in many ‘Western’ countries, this sort of thing would be frowned upon. It’s a shame really…
Hiking Down to the Pools
After another half-hour or so, you will eventually arrive at your destination. You will have to pay 25 pesos here, which is the entrance fee to the “park.” Here you’ll also find the typical food and trinket stalls found at tourist spots across the globe. Thankfully, the prices aren’t as outstanding as one might expect. If you’d like, grab a quick bite to eat before heading to the pools or buy a souvenir hat because you forgot yours back in Oaxaca – there isn’t a lot of shade out here!
From here, simply hike down about ten minutes to the two beautiful pools perched on a cliff side overlooking an incredible green valley. Although the two main pools have been artificially created, the water feeding them is a natural source. The water flows straight from an ancient underground spring, which can be seen bubbling out of the ground at several spots near the pools. Looking out from the lower pool, the huge petrified waterfalls can be seen in the distance; which has formed over centuries from the mineral deposits of the spring.
Hiking to the Petrified Waterfall
There are two main hiking trails reaching the waterfall itself. The first is between the market stalls and the pools, which winds down beneath the cliff. The other trail begins at the pools themselves and heads up towards the top of the waterfall. Be sure to bring plenty of water, the hikes aren’t too technical, but temperatures reach dangerous levels during the afternoon.
It’s an absolutely beautiful place to spend a few hours, relaxing in the almost creamy, mineral-rich water. Float to the cliff edge overlooking the sprawling green mountains and soak it all in. If I was to recommend visiting only one side trip from Oaxaca, this would be it. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
What About my Gear?
It’s also worth mentioning that we didn’t bring any proper camera gear, just our backup point-and-shoot, as we couldn’t find any information regarding safety or theft while swimming. There are no lockers at Hierve el Agua, so don’t bring too many things. Everything we had was very safe and relaxed, we definitely felt comfortable leaving our bags on the side of the pools while we swam.
Beware the “Cheap” Options
Many Oaxaca hotels and tour companies offer day trips that encompass several different sights and experiences around the area, which can be convenient if you’re short on time. However, be sure to ask if the admission prices are included in the ticket.
Often these tour operators trick you into signing up with their affordable tour, only to watch you fork out handfuls more upon arrival. One friend we met in Oaxaca thought he scored a nice deal, only to find out that the ticket price only included transportation. He ended up paying significantly more than Kylee and I, while we did everything ourselves.
If you don’t want to take the journey we did, and would like a great tour, we recommend this one which also gives you a mezcal tasting. Win! Win!
Check out a short video here!
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