Coco Tran — Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/hierve-el-agua/

the Magic of Hierve el Agua mexico: Your Ultimate Guide to Oaxaca’s Petrified Waterfall Wonderland

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If you’re planning a trip to Oaxaca, Hierve el Agua is an absolute must-see. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to make the most of your visit to this one-of-a-kind destination. From insider tips on when to go and how to get there, to the science behind the falls and responsible tourism practices, I’ve got you covered. 

Prepare to be awestruck by one of Mexico’s most surreal and spectacular natural wonders – Hierve el Agua. Tucked away in the rugged Sierra Madre mountains of Oaxaca state, this site boasts mind-boggling petrified waterfalls, ethereal mineral springs, and dramatic desert canyon vistas that will leave you breathless.

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Book this Hierve el Agua Guided tour— a convenient and comfortable experience with a near-perfect 5 Star rating.

the Magic of Hierve el Agua: Your Ultimate Guide to Oaxaca’s Petrified Waterfall Wonderland

Too long to read it all? Here are the highlights

  • Hierve el Agua = “the water boils” in Spanish, but the water isn’t actually hot – just carbonated!
  • Petrified waterfalls formed over millennia as mineral-saturated water dripped down cliffs and calcified
  • Site features 2 waterfall complexes (Cascada Grande & Cascada Chica), mineral pools, scenic hikes
  • Located ~70 km from Oaxaca City; allow 1.5-2 hrs each way whether you go by tour, rental car or bus
  • Ideal months: Nov-Jan; best times: early AM or late PM to dodge crowds; weekdays quieter than weekends

Read on for details and pro tips to help you plan an epic Hierve el Agua adventure!

Before we get into trip logistics, let’s unpack the science behind these incredible petrified ‘waterfalls’ and clear up some naming confusion.

Coco Tran — Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/hierve-el-agua/

Why is it called Hierve el Agua Mexico?

The name “Hierve el Agua” literally translates to “the water boils” in Spanish. But here’s the kicker – the water isn’t actually boiling hot at all! It’s a bit of a misnomer. So what’s with the deceptive moniker?

Turns out, the site was named ages ago by the indigenous Zapotec people who have inhabited this valley for millennia. They observed how the spring water percolated and bubbled up from the ground in certain spots, giving it a carbonated or ‘boiling’ appearance. But in terms of temperature, the water is actually quite mild, hovering between 72-81°F (22-27°C). So don’t show up expecting a hot tub.

Coco Tran — Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/hierve-el-agua/

The key thing ‘boiling’ here is really the earth’s crust. This area is geothermally active, with underground volcanic processes that infuse the springs with dissolved minerals and gas. As the mineralized water trickles out of cracks in the rock, it reacts with the air and calcifies over time, building up into the surreal rock formations we see today.

hierve el agua oaxaca tour : My Top picks

The best way to go to Hierve El Aqua Oaxaca is by going on a private tour or small guided tour. Here are 3 tours that I hand picked with the best reviews and best overall value.

#1 TOP PICK
Coco Tran — Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/hierve-el-agua/

Private tour to hierve el agua oaxaca

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • 5 star reviews
  • guided tour
  • private driver
  • flexible cancelation policy

#2 PICK
Coco Tran — Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/hierve-el-agua/

Small Group tour to hierve el agua oaxaca

  • 5 star reviews
  • small groups
  • flexible cancelation policy

#3 PICK
Coco Tran — Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/hierve-el-agua/

Small Group tour to hierve el aqua

  • 5 star reviews
  • custom itinerary
  • private driver
  • flexible cancelation policy

How the hierve de agua petrified falls formed

The iconic petrified ‘waterfalls’ of Hierve el Agua are the result of a fascinating geological process playing out over hundreds of thousands of years. Here’s how it works:

  1. Rainwater absorbs CO2 as it percolates down through the soil and limestone bedrock
  2. Underground, the CO2-enriched water becomes acidic and dissolves minerals like calcium carbonate
  3. This mineral-saturated water gets heated by geothermal activity and starts rising back up through cracks
  4. As the hot mineral water emerges and makes contact with air, dissolved minerals precipitate out
  5. Drip by drip, precipitated minerals accumulate into porous rock called travertine, forming terraces
  6. Over millennia, layers of travertine build up into the petrified waterfall-like structures we see today

The same process also formed the dazzling mineral pools at the top of the falls. There, the spring water is saturated with calcium, magnesium, sulfur and iron, giving it a striking yellow-green hue.

Coco Tran — Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/hierve-el-agua/

hierve el agua Facts

  • Just 2 petrified waterfalls like this exist in the world – the other is Pamukkale in Turkey
  • Hierve el Agua’s falls are relatively ‘young’ in geological terms at ~50,000-250,000 years old
  • The large falls (Cascada Grande) measures ~100 ft tall; the smaller one (Cascada Chica) drops ~40 ft
  • Mineral content of spring water: calcium carbonate, magnesium, sulfur, iron
  • Bedrock composition: Cretaceous-era limestone/dolomite

Cultural Significance of hierve el agua

Zapotec Heritage For the indigenous Zapotec people who have called this valley home for thousands of years, Hierve el Agua holds deep cultural and spiritual significance.

Archeological evidence suggests the Zapotecs built canals to harness the spring water for irrigation and drinking water as far back as 2,500 years ago. The site may have also served ceremonial purposes. The springs were likely revered as a sacred life-giving resource in the semi-arid landscape.

Fast forward to today, and Hierve el Agua still plays a vital role for the local Zapotec communities of San Lorenzo Albarradas, San Isidro Roaguía, and others. Income generated from tourism has become an economic lifeline, as more visitors flock to marvel at the geological wonders in their backyard. Yet with the benefits of tourism also come challenges – more on that later.

As you explore the site, take a moment to appreciate the generations of Zapotec people who have been stewards of this land and consider how your visit can support their well-being.

Coco Tran — Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/hierve-el-agua/

best time to visit hierve el agua

Timing is everything when it comes to maximizing your enjoyment and minimizing hassle at Hierve el Agua. Crowds have surged in recent years as word has spread. Follow these when-to-go guidelines for the most rewarding experience:

Best season hierve el agua

 Aim for the dry season between November and January for the most dependable weather and reasonable temperatures. The wet season (June-Oct) brings afternoon showers and bigger crowds. Feb-May is the hottest period.

Ideal month to visit hierve el agua

 January With mild daytime temps and fewer tourists than the December peak, January offers a sweet spot. The petrified falls are at their most robust thanks to residual rainy season groundwater.

Best day of the week to go hierve el agua

 Tuesday or Wednesday Weekends and Mondays see the biggest influx of visitors. For a more peaceful experience, target a Tuesday or Wednesday. You might even luck into a solo sunrise session at the pools!

Optimal time of day to go to hierve el agua

 Sunrise or Sunset To dodge the tour bus rush and score the best light, plan your visit for sunrise (7-8 am) or the final hours before closing (4-6 pm). Midday is busiest and harshest for photos.

Sample Hierve el Agua Itinerary. For an incredible day trip from Oaxaca City, we recommend this rough itinerary:

Hierve el Agua mexico

A Perfect Day at Hierve el Aguan itinerary

Still not sure how to structure your visit? Here’s a sample itinerary for an unforgettable day at Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca City

  • 6:00 am – Depart Oaxaca by rental car after a light breakfast
  • 7:30 am – Arrive at Hierve el Agua, pay admission and descend to main area
  • 7:45 am – Hike out to Mirador Grande to see falls in golden morning light
  • 9:00 am – Explore Cascada Chica and soak in Pozas Azules
  • 10:30 am – Enjoy tasty snacks from food stalls
  • 11:30 am – Browse artisan crafts and textiles
  • 12:30 pm – Depart Hierve for a hearty lunch and textile workshop visit in Teotitlán
  • 3:00 pm – Mezcal tasting and tour at artisanal palenque
  • 5:00 pm – Return to Oaxaca City recharged from a magical day

How to get to Hierve el aqua 

hierve el agua how to get there and its logistical challenge – is its remote wilderness setting. Reaching this desert oasis entails a bit of effort, but I promise it’s so worth it.

You’ve got 3 main options depending on your budget, schedule, Spanish skills and sense of adventure. Let’s break ’em down:

Tour to Hierve el aqua 

For many, a guided tour offers the path of least resistance. It’s as easy as reserving your spot, showing up, and letting someone else handle the rest. Tours typically include roundtrip transport, a bilingual guide, admission fees, and sometimes lunch.

Pros:

  • Simplicity – you can relax and soak it all in
  • Invaluable insights from guide (history, ecology, culture)
  • Comfort – AC, bathroom stops, no bus transfers
  • Sociability – fun to share the experience with a group
  • Multi-stop itineraries let you pack more in

Cons:

  • Can feel rushed – you’re on a set schedule
  • Less flexibility to go at your own pace or linger
  • Usually pricier than DIY, especially for solo travelers
  • Some guides better than others, so read reviews

Ballpark prices Oaxaca to hierve el agua tours 

Tips for visiting hierve el agua oaxaca mexico 

  • For more breathing room, opt for a tour that prioritizes Hierve over cramming 5+ sites into the day. More time at the falls
  • Check which fees are included and budget extra pesos for tips, meals, and shopping.

Public Transportation from oaxaca to Hierve el aqua 

For intrepid travelers on a tight budget, it’s totally doable to DIY it by bus and colectivo (shared taxi). You’ll navigate two legs:

1) Oaxaca City to Mitla, and

2) Mitla to Hierve el Agua.

It’s not as seamless as a tour but offers more autonomy and cultural immersion for a fraction of the cost.

Leg 1: Oaxaca to Mitla

  • Option A: Buses depart when full from the 2nd class bus station off Hwy 190 east of the city every 15-30 min between 6 am-8 pm. Look for buses labeled ‘Mitla’ on the windshield. Cost: ~20 pesos.
  • Option B: Colectivo shared taxis leave from outside the 1st class ADO bus stn at Periferico and Symbols Patrios every 20 min. Cost: ~25 pesos.

Leg 2: Mitla to Hierve el Agua

  • Camionetas (shared pickup trucks) gather near the church/mercado in Mitla. Expect a bumpy, windy 45+ min ride to cover the 7 miles. Trucks leave every 30-60 min between 7 am-5 pm. Last return departs Hierve at 6 pm. Cost: ~50 pesos each way.’

how far is hierve el agua from oaxaca city

Total transit time: 3-4 hrs round trip excluding time at site. To have at least 2 hrs at Hierve, budget a minimum of 6-7 hrs and set out by 8 am.

Approximate cost: 150-200 pesos ($7.50-$10 USD) round trip per person + 50 peso admission

Pro tips:

  • Avoid slow, speed bump-ridden ‘libre’ Hwy 190; take the faster, smoother Cuota 190 toll road.
  • Bring small bills/exact change in pesos for fares
  • Pack your own snacks/lunch as options are limited
  • Carry a paper map or download offline maps in case cell service drops out

Rental Car and driving to hierve el aqua 

For maximum freedom and flexibility to explore at your own pace, renting a car is the way to go. With your own wheels, you can arrive before the buses to nab a prime parking spot and linger until closing time if you wish.

Route: From Oaxaca, take Hwy 190 east toward Mitla and follow signs for Hierve el Agua. The 7 mi access road after Mitla is winding, rocky, and potholed so take it slow in a high clearance vehicle. 4WD not a must but a plus.

Drive time: ~1.5-2 hrs each way

Rent your car in advance from Discover Cars or Expedia.

Expect to pay:

  • 800-1500+ pesos per day for midsize SUV
  • 50-100 pesos for tolls each way
  • 80 peso parking fee at Hierve
  • 500+ pesos for full tank of gas

Driving tips:

  • Rent a vehicle with good suspension/clearance
  • Get full insurance coverage for peace of mind
  • Watch for potholes, speed bumps, animals on road
  • Bring pesos for gas/tolls and avoid driving at night

Car rental can be a game-changer for your Hierve visit and wider Oaxaca adventures. Just be sure to reserve well ahead for best rates and availability, especially in high season.

 What to See and Do You’ve arrived hierve el agua Oaxaca city

Welcome to waterfall wonderland. Once you’ve paid your admission fee (50 pesos) and descended the short trail from the parking lot, you’ll emerge into an expansive tiered complex crowned by the iconic Cascada Grande.

Here’s a rundown of the key areas and activities to experience:

Lower level:

  • Soak in the surreal scenery and scale of the falls
  • Refuel with snacks/drinks from the comedores (food stalls)
  • Browse artisan craft stalls for textiles and other locally made souvenirs
  • Use the baños (bathrooms) and vestidores (changing rooms) near the trailhead

Upper level:

  • Take an invigorating dip in the pozas (mineral pools) and soak up the epic valley views
  • Marvel at the smoking effects where carbonated spring water bubbles up
  • See the new mini falls formed by fresh springs that emerged after a 2020 earthquake
  • If you’re feeling brave (and surefooted), wade right up to the infinity pool edge

Cascada Chica

  • Follow the short sendero (trail) near the main entrance to the smaller waterfall
  • Hike up and over the ridge for a uncrowded picnic spot with stellar vistas
  • Look for the hidden springs trickling down the cliffside and coating branches in calcite

Mirador hikes

  • Allow 30-45 min to hike the loop to the Mirador Grande for a gobsmacking falls panorama
  • For a shorter jaunt, hit the Sendero los Compadres to a lower mirador and petrified log

Chasing waterfalls is hungry/thirsty work. Thankfully, you’ve got a dozen or so family-run puestos (stalls) at your disposal to keep your tank topped up.

Look out for these tasty local eats:

  • Memelas – toasted corn masa cakes topped with delights like beans, queso, and nopales
  • Quesadillas – cheesy heaven pockets in folded tortillas (try flor de calabaza/squash blossom)
  • Elotes/Esquites – fire-roasted corn on the cob or in a cup jazzed up with mayo, lime, and chili
  • Aguas frescas – refreshing fruit juice coolers like Jamaica (hibiscus) and Horchata (rice/nut)
  • Nieves – creamy, all natural frozen treats in tropical flavors from mango to mamey

Pro tips:

  • Bring biodegradable sunscreen, a hat, and a rashguard or light long sleeves to avoid burns
  • Water shoes with good grip are a wise move for navigating slick underwater rocks in the pools
  • Pack out every scrap of waste in keeping with Leave No Trace practices
  • Always stay on marked trails and behind barriers to protect the fragile environment

What to Bring A day at Hierve el Agua

doesn’t call for a ton of specialized gear, but there are a few essentials you won’t want to forget. Pack your bag with:

Must-haves:

  • Swimwear and quick-dry towel for pool dips
  • Water bottle (1L+ per person) and snacks
  • Sun protection (sunglasses, hat, mineral SPF)
  • Sturdy walking shoes or sport sandals with traction
  • Cash for transportation, admission, guides, food
  • Lightweight rain shell and warm layer (mountain weather can turn)

Nice to have:

  • Water shoes for navigating submerged rocks in pools
  • Daypack for hike ess

essentials and layers

  • Quick-dry clothing (rashguard top, lightweight pants/shorts)
  • Camera or phone with fully charged battery
  • Paper map of area in case cell signal drops out
  • Eco-friendly toiletries (reef-safe sunscreen, natural bug repellent)
  • Small first-aid kit (bandages, pain relievers, antiseptic)
  • Reusable tote for souvenir shopping
  • Spanish phrasebook or translator app to chat with locals

Tips:

  • Bring small denominations of pesos. Many vendors can’t break large bills.
  • Wear your swimsuit under your hiking clothes to save time in the changing rooms.
  • If visiting in rainy season (Jun-Oct), pack dry bags for electronics.
  • To treat water on the go, consider a SteriPen or LifeStraw bottle.
  • Forgot something? You can find basics like sunscreen at shops in Mitla en route.

mexico Travel guide & articles

Here are my top travel resources and helpful travel articles & tips to help you get started with traveling.

Mexico Travel Resources

FAQs hierve el agua 

Can I visit Hierve el Agua independently?

Yes. You can reach the site by rental car or public transportation via Mitla. It’s an adventurous ~2 hr trip each way with no guide needed on site. See the “Getting There” section for step-by-step details.

Do I have to join a guided tour to hierve el agua ?

No. Guided tours offer convenience and sociability but aren’t mandatory. If you prefer the freedom and challenge of independent travel, you can visit Hierve el Agua on your own.See the “Getting There” section for transportation specifics.

What is the admission fee to hierve el agua ?

As of 2024, the admission fee is 50 pesos (($4 USD) parking fee applies if arriving by private vehicle.

How long should I budget to visit to hierve el agua ?

We recommend allowing at least 2 hours on site to soak in the pools, hike to the mirador(s), and grab a snack. With transit time, budget a minimum of 6-7 hours round trip if traveling from Oaxaca City. True waterfall warriors could easily spend 4+ hrs exploring every nook and cranny.

Can you swim in the pools hierve el agua ?

Yes! Taking a dip in the mineral-rich spring-fed pools is one of the highlights of any Hierve visit. Just note there are no lifeguards on duty, so keep a close eye on kids and weaker swimmers.

How difficult are the hikes at hierve el agua ?

The hiking trails around Hierve el Agua range from easy to moderate. The popular Mirador Grande loop is ~1.6 mi with some elevation gain/loss and rocky sections. It’s doable for most fit hikers but may prove challenging for those with mobility issues.

Are there bathrooms and changing rooms at hierve el agua ?

Yes. You’ll find basic bathroom stalls and rustic changing rooms near the main parking area. Bring your own TP and hand sanitizer to be safe. A few pesos donation helps keep them clean.

Can you fly a drone at Hierve el Agua?

No. Drones are strictly prohibited to protect visitor safety and the natural environment. Violators risk having their equipment confiscated and paying a hefty fine.

Are there places to eat and drink at hierve el agua ?

Yes. A dozen or so family-run food and beverage stands dot the main visitor area. Options range from simple snacks and aguas frescas to more substantial meals like mole, tlayudas, and cecina. Prices are a bit higher than in town but still reasonable.

What if I get lost or injured hierve el agua ?

While the trails are well-marked and the site is compact, it’s always wise to hike with a buddy and share your plans with someone back home. Spotty cell service means you can’t count on GPS mapping or calling for help. For any immediate medical needs, notify the on-site rangers or head back to the ticket booth to request assistance.

Is it safe for solo travelers hierve el agua ?

Yes. Hierve el Agua sees thousands of visitors per day in high season, so you’re unlikely to ever be truly alone. If you feel unsafe for any reason, stick close to other hikers or check in with the rangers. As anywhere, keep an eye on your belongings and avoid hiking after dark.

What’s accessibility like at hierve el agua ?

The uneven dirt trails, stone stairs, and slippery pool surfaces pose challenges for wheelchair users and those with mobility differences. The basic bathrooms are not fully adapted. That said, you can still soak up epic waterfall views from the lower parking area and enjoy a splash in the shallows of some pools with assistance.

Parting Thoughts Hierve el Agua

is so much more than an Instagram darling – it’s a portal to the power and mystery of the natural world and the Indigenous Zapotec culture that has stewarded this land since time immemorial.

In a single day, you can marvel at the tireless artistry of water and stone, recharge in mineral springs with healing powers, explore remnants of ancient lifeways, and directly support local livelihoods.

Yes, you’ll work up a sweat reaching this desert oasis. But we promise every step, jostle, and peso will be repaid tenfold in memories to last a lifetime.

As you take in the mighty petrified cascades, pause to reflect on the delicate balance of conservation and community that sustains this wonder. Then ask yourself how you can be a force for its enduring – by treading gently, giving generously, and sharing its story responsibly.

Here’s to a Mexico menos conocido – the Mexico less traveled

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