How to Visit Hierve el Agua near Oaxaca, Mexico in 2024

If you’re visiting the Mexican state of Oaxaca, you’ll no doubt visit Oaxaca City tour the ruins of the Zapotec people, and eat your fair share of mole.

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If you’re planning on venturing outside of the city, however, there is plenty to see and do in the surrounding Oaxaca state. The biggest highlight is Hierve el Agua, the massive set of petrified waterfalls and mineral pools overlooking a grand valley only an hour and a half from Oaxaca City.

What Is Hierve El Agua

While many people visit this popular attraction expecting to see a giant waterfall, the name can be somewhat misleading.

“Hierve el Agua” translates to the water boils”, and as such, it would be easy to make the mistake of thinking there was flowing water on the property. In truth, Hierve el Agua is actually a gigantic rock and mineral formation that simply takes on the appearance of water.

The rocks, in particular, are limestone, and the “waterfalls” are primarily salt and calcium carbonate deposits. The minerals worked their way out from inside the rocks, forming the petrified waterfalls over the course of several thousand years.

At Hierve el Agua, you’ll find two of these petrified waterfalls, one large and one small, named Cascada grande and Cascada chica, respectively. At 30 and 12 metres (39 to 98 feet) tall, these two waterfalls look out into an enormous green valley, providing visitors with unparalleled views from the top of the large viewing platform.

Hierva el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico
Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico
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Pools Rich in Minerals

At the top, you’ll also find a number of natural as well as man-made pools. The natural pools are smaller in size, and the two larger man-made ones were built to give tourists extra space to swim.

All of them contain the rich mineral water that bubbles naturally out of the ground. In particular, the water is rich in salt, calcium carbonate, and sulphur. You’ll be able to see the minerals collected in different spots within the pools and the blue, yellow, and green hues that these minerals create.

We visited this beautiful sight on a day trip to Oaxaca City and were so happy that we ventured on this adventure!

It was unlike anything we had seen before!

Cascada grande and Cascada chica at Hierva el Agua
Cascada grande and Cascada chica at Hierve el Agua
Hierve el Agua near Oaxaca Mexico
Chilling out in the natural spas at Hierve el Agua, Mexico

Historical Significance Of Hierve El Agua

Aside from being a natural wonder, Hierve el Agua also has some history attached to it. In ancient times, the area was considered a sacred place.

Today, the remains of 2,500-year-old irrigation systems and canals can be found around the rock formations left behind by the Zapotec People. These systems were designed to harvest water from the rocks and springs in the area.

Presumably, there was more water flow in those days than in current modern times. Although these irrigation systems are of great interest to historians and archaeologists, not much of the region has been further excavated or explored.

Oksana and Max, Hierve el Agua
Oksana and Max, Hierve el Agua

How To Get To Hierve El Agua

Since there is no public transportation to the site, taking a Hierve el Agua tour, hiring a driver, or renting a car is the only way to get there.

If you’re driving yourself, the route is relatively easy. You’ll take a straight shot southeast from Oaxaca for 90 minutes along highway 190 and 179, going through one toll that will cost you 50 pesos to pass through. Another thing to note is that issues can sometimes arise when driving in Mexico. Roadblocks have been known to happen, so if you’re planning on driving yourself, exercise caution while making the journey.

If you plan on visiting Hierve el Agua independently but don’t want the hassle of renting a car, consider taking a taxi. Although taxis are comparatively cheap in Mexico, a ride of an hour and a half will add up quickly. Instead, take a local bus to the historic city of Mitla and grab a taxi from there. This ride should be between 30 and 40 minutes.

If you’re taking a Hierve el Agua tour from Oaxaca, all you’ll need to do is meet up with your group at the allotted place and time. If you’ve never driven in Mexico before and want to save yourself the potential trouble, we’d recommend signing up for one of these Hierve el Agua tours. Plus, travelling in a group is also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

En route to Hierva el Agua
En route to Hierve el Agua

Best Hierve El Agua Tours

There are lots of guided tours to Hierve El Agua to choose from. Some include stops at different attractions along the way, such as a mezcal distillery, archaeological sites, and an indigenous village. 

Traditional Textile, Mezcal, and Petrified Waterfall Tour

If you would like to visit a traditional Zapotec village, this guided tour to Hierve el Agua and Teotitlan del Valle is a great choice. Your first stop will be at the famous petrified waterfalls, followed by a tour of a traditional mezcal distillery. Here, you’ll sample some mezcal before heading to the indigenous town of Teotitlan del Valle. Famous for its beautiful wool textiles, this village is full of artisans who create brilliantly coloured, patterned rugs, tapestries, and garments.

Hierve el Agua Hike And Mezcal Tour

For those itching for a hike in the stunning Oaxacan landscape, this guided hiking tour is perfect. Your excursion will start with some time to explore Hierve el Agua, followed by a 7 km hike down into the valley to a hidden waterfall. Then, you’ll visit a local mezcal distillery for a tasting. You’ll have a traditional Oaxacan lunch before returning to the city.

El Tule, Mitla, and Hierve el Agua Tour

This is the perfect tour for history buffs who want to make the most of their time in the area. You’ll start with a visit to the Tule Tree, a magnificent, sprawling ancient tree. Then, you’ll tour the Mitla archaeological site before exploring the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua.

How to Visit Hierve el Agua near Oaxaca, Mexico
Hierve el Agua near Oaxaca, Mexico

How To Make The Most Of Your Visit To Hierve El Agua

There are a couple of important things that you should know before visiting in order to make the most of your trip. Like most popular tourist attractions, it’s a great idea to show up to Hierve el Agua early. If you’re driving yourself, leave as soon as you can in the morning to increase your chance of beating the crowds.

Since Hierve el Agua Waterfalls began gaining popularity as a tourist attraction, infrastructure was put in place to support this. At the Hierve el Agua complex, you can find showers and changing areas, food stands, a restaurant, and very basic accommodations.

If the weather looks like it will be warm enough to swim, make sure to bring a swimsuit and towel. If you don’t want to swim, the water is shallow enough in places that you can simply kick off your shoes and wade around.

Bathroom and changing room at Hierva el Agua
Bathroom and changing room at Hierve el Agua

Be Prepared For The Change In Altitude

Sitting at over 1,500 metres above sea level, Hierve el Agua is one of the highest elevation points in the state of Oaxaca. Pay attention to how you’re feeling, especially if you’re prone to altitude sickness. Bring plenty of water and protection from the sun, such as a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and a UPF shirt if you have one. Don’t let overexposure and dehydration ruin your chance to enjoy Hierve el Agua!

Recent Changes At Hierve El Agua

A few changes were implemented after the Covid pandemic. Hierve el Agua tour operators know about current conditions, but if you want to explore the attraction on your own, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Hierve El Agua closed for over a year after the pandemic and recently reopened with some changes. Previously, there were no limits to the amount of visitors permitted. Upon reopening, a maximum capacity of 200 visitors was enforced. This is another reason to hit the road early – if you get there with the crowds, you may have to wait to experience Hierve el Agua.

Another important change to be aware of is that Hierve el Agua doubled the entrance fee from 25 to 50 Mexican Pesos. If you drive yourself, there is an additional parking fee of 50 Pesos

Is Hierve El Agua Worth Visiting?

With Hierve el Agua open to visitors again, this attraction is more popular than ever. While the calcified waterfalls are a bit of a trip from Oaxaca, it’s a great escape from the busy city if you need a break from the crowds. For us, this little road trip was totally worth it! 

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, was a very cool experience and one of the most unique places that we got to visit in Mexico.

Hierve El Agua
Hierve El Agua

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READ NEXT: Things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico

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