Thousands of years ago, carbonated water runoff created these two spectacular petrified waterfalls (calcium carbonate). Over 50 meters high cliffs descend into the springs through which the water flows. This is Hierve el Agua.
It was created from the spring area that now serves as a natural spa with a temperate pond.
Hierve el Agua has been recognized as a possible sacred site of the ancient Zapotecs, possibly for its awesome natural contrast, since it is nestled in a mountain range characterized by extreme aridity during the dry season.
The location of Hierve el Agua has attracted many archaeologists, geologists, and biologists as it was the site of a complex irrigation system over 2,700 years ago, which still exists today. Check this video about it:
It has been possible, as a result of these investigations, to understand the form of construction and the functioning of the terraces and canals that surround the centrally located amphitheater.
Additionally, it has been determined that it is a very old irrigation system, unique in Mexico, where pre-Columbian people developed intensive agriculture aimed at making maximum use of the water from the springs, in an area with steep slopes.
Water temperatures fluctuate between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius, which is slightly higher than ambient temperatures and therefore well below boiling point.
Hierve el Agua is not just about natural beauty; it is also an important archaeological site, whose long history has allowed scholars to study various aspects of ancient life, culture, and civilization in the area.
To date, there are bathrooms, changing rooms, palapas, and a few small food stalls (fondas) available for use. Some huts can be used for overnight accommodations.
Hierve el Agua is an amazing place without a doubt. “Petrified waterfalls” are a form of natural rock formations that form a spectacular landscape in Oaxaca’s Tecolutla Valley.
It’s a quick drive from Oaxaca de Juarez, the state capital, to Hierve el Agua, which means “the water boils”. A round trip can be completed in a day.
This sculpture has been in the making for millions of years.
Image by Carlos Adampol Galindo
What makes this landscape possible?
A process called karstification plays a major role. It is believed that mineral-rich water bubbled from the middle of rocks and slowly calcified over the cliffs of Hierve el Agua over millions of years.
Even though the site’s name suggests that the water comes from boiling springs, the water comes out of the rocks at a lower temperature than boiling.
Above the “waterfalls” are two pools filled with water containing minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.
La grande y la chica (The big one and the small one)
Hierve el Agua offers sights of two of these waterfalls. Cascada Grande is the larger one, Cascada Chica is the smaller one. Their names come from their size.
They’re not only great to take pictures in, but you can swim in them. The sulfur, however, can bring you a strong scent.
Several people claim that the pools have healing properties.
It’s time to explore Hierve el Agua
The tour begins outside of Oaxaca, stopping at the Millennium Tule Tree, then continues towards San Lorenzo Albarradas.
The route begins at the road deviation that goes to the Mixes and the residents of Albarradas. From there, the route continues to Roaguía until it reaches the town.
Then, we observe the production and distillation process of mezcal as we move to Hierve el Agua. A crossing allows you to see a lot of low forest perennifolia, which dominates the vegetation.
You can also see conifers and broadleaves in the surrounding hills.
As you arrive at the site, you can admire the waterfalls and walk for approximately 2 kilometers on a footpath, giving an entirely different perspective to the place as you pass by the foot of the waterfalls.
If you also want to see the majestic Sierra Mixe, you can head to the natural pools, which provide a beautiful view of the Tlacolula Valley.
In addition to swimming in the pool, there will be refreshments available.
Then, we will return to Oaxaca, but not before visiting the Mitla archaeological site or, if appropriate, the Tlacolula temple and Sunday market.
Ecotourism in Oaxaca
Image by Fvaldezrom
Ancient Zapotecs may have believed that Hierve el Agua was sacred. Despite its magnificent natural contrasts, the site is remarkably beautiful.
A dramatic mountain range surrounds the town, which endures extreme aridity in the dry season. Two impressive petrified waterfalls are the main attraction. Approximately 30 meters high and about 12 meters high, respectively.
Carbonated spring water cascades down from the rocks at the top of the canyon, forming the lake. As a result of these springs, new rocky layers are created above these formations, which proceed into an extremely deep ravine of more than 200 meters.
From an esplanade christened “El Anfiteatro” (the amphitheater), a series of small natural pools are exhumed on the site, where you can see the petrified waterfalls in their entirety.
On one level, the springs and the irrigation system are located, while on the other level are the two platforms differentiated from each other.
Enjoy the opportunity to learn about the entire area of the prehistoric irrigation system while seeing the spectacular spectacle of the waterfalls in the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountains while taking a walking tour or riding a bike.
Services for travel
Visitors may also use the bathrooms, dressing rooms, palapas, swimming pools, or the small fondas (restaurants) at Hierve el Agua to make their stay more comfortable.
The huts are also fully equipped to spend the night, and there is a “Tourist Yuu” with indispensable services.
The best way to reach Hierve el Agua
Mitla can be reached by bus or taxi from Oaxaca City. There are plenty of places to do that north of the city center, outside the baseball stadium.
Taking a shared taxi will take you to Hierve el Agua. You can drive to Santa Maria del Tule if you have a car available. Follow the 190 highway. As you travel on the 179, you will see signs that will guide you to Mitla before you reach Santiago Matatlán.
A day surrounded by nature
From one petrified waterfall to the next, you will cross a trail surrounded by beautiful natural scenery. There are many scenic views to be found at Hierve el Agua where you can disconnect from the noise of urban surroundings.
Getting up as early as possible and arriving around 8:00 AM is the prime time to visit Hierve el Agua.
By doing so, you can avoid the crowds that start gathering before noon and you can explore the place at your leisure.
Image by Carlos Adampol Galindo
Hierve el Agua has been closed during the pandemic times, but now some of the places are open, with new adventures and routes waiting for you!
Phone number: 951 502 1200
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax.
Don’t stop exploring Mexico after seeing Hierve el Agua, one of the many natural wonders of Oaxaca! If you enjoy this article, you can keep reading right here:
Image by Marcial4