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.

Hierva el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico
Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico

“Hierve el Agua” translates to “boil the water” 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 meters (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.

Cascada grande and Cascada chica at Hierva el Agua
Cascada grande and Cascada chica at Hierve el Agua

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

Hierve el Agua near Oaxaca Mexico
Chilling out in the natural spas at Hierve el Agua, Mexico

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 for Oaxaca City and were so happy that we ventured on this adventure!

It was unlike anything we had seen before!

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, 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.

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.

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

If you want to visit 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 with 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 this tour. Plus, traveling in a group is also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

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 at most popular tourist attractions, it’s a great idea to show up 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 began gaining popularity as a tourist attraction, infrastructure was put in place to support this. At the site, you can find showers and changing areas, food stands, a restaurant, and very basic accommodations.

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

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.

In order to enter the site, there is an entrance fee of about 25 Mexican pesos, with an additional parking fee of 50 pesos should you choose to drive yourself.

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

What’s the most unique natural wonder that you’ve ever visited?


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