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Hierve el Agua: Oaxaca Waterfalls Guide 2024

One of the most unique geological formations I’ve ever seen, Hierve el Agua is a series of natural mineral springs and petrified waterfalls perched on a clifftop overlooking the Oaxaca Valley. At just 70km east of Oaxaca City, it’s definitely one of the best places to vist in Oaxaca.

The name “Hierve el Agua” translates to “the water boils,” and refers to the natural springs that bubble up from the ground and create pools of mineral water. Today, Hierve el Agua is hugely popular with travelers seeking to explore the Oaxaca countryside, hike its trails, and dip in the refreshing pools.

It’s easily the highlight of any Oaxaca itinerary. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Hierve al Agua, Oaxaca waterfalls.

hierve el agua oaxaca - oaxaca waterfalls - petrified waterfalls oaxaca

My Guide to Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

The History of Hierve el Agua

Backdropped by the Oaxaca Valley, the petrified falls and mineral pools are an absolutely stunning natural formation that’s equal parts unique and beautiful. It’s considered one of the best hot springs in Mexico, though technically the waters here aren’t hot at all.

But Hierve el Agua is more than just a natural wonder — it’s also a place of cultural and historical significance for the people of Oaxaca. The Zapotec people, an indigenous group that has inhabited the region for thousands of years, believe that the mineral-rich waters of Hierve el Agua have healing properties and have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. 

The Oaxaca waterfalls were used to supply water to a complex network of canals and terraces that led down to the valley. This system was once one of the most complete terraced irrigation sites in Mesoamerica. According to archaeologists, the canal system was abandoned in the 1300s, and only some remnants of the canals can be seen today.

hierve el agua oaxaca mexico

Is Hierve el Agua Closed?

Hierve el Agua was closed for a period of time in 2021 due to disputes between the land owners. Community landowners in San Lorenzo Albarradas protested that the Oaxaca government owed them millions of pesos from entry fees to Hierve el Agua and that state management of the falls did not make room for sustainable tourism plans.

But it is now opened to the public once again after the parties agreed upon a resolution. Sustainability is still an issue as more and more tourists flock to Oaxaca. It’s said that the falls draw anywhere from 2,500 people to 7,000 people per day. We can do our part by making sure we stick to the trails and don’t leave any trash.

hierve el agua mexico - oaxaca waterfalls

Best Time to Visit Hierve el Agua

The best time to visit Hierve el Agua is during the dry season, which typically runs from November to April. During this time, the weather is warm and sunny, and there is less chance of rain, making it ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking and swimming.

We visited Oaxaca at Day of the Dead, in the start of November, and had clear skies and perfect weather the entire time. It was crowded in Oaxaca but still a worthwhile time to visit as the festivities were incredible.

The rainy season in Oaxaca runs from May to October, and during this time, the area around Hierve el Agua can be prone to flash floods and landslides, which can make the roads and trails dangerous. If you’re visiting Hierve el Agua during the rainy season, check the weather forecast and road conditions before setting out.

hierve el agua opening hours

How to Get to Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua is located about 42 miles (68 kilometers) southeast of Oaxaca City, and it takes around 1.5 hours to get there. You can easily include it in your Oaxaca itinerary even if you only have 4/5 days in the city.

By Car

Hiring a car is the best way to explore Oaxaca – the drive from Oaxaca to Hierve el Agua is particularly easy. You’re mainly driving on the well-maintained Highway 190 the whole way (note that there is a toll fee of 49 MXN or $2). It is only in the last 11km that turns into an unpaved, uphill drive. We had no issues whatsoever, and absolutely enjoyed the scenic drive.

We rented a car for our 10-day Oaxaca road trip, exploring the capital city, the nearby Sierra Madre mountains and the laidback Oaxacan coast. We always book our car rental from Discover Cars as they offer the best prices and excellent customer service. An economy rental car in Oaxaca costs around $200 for a whole week, which is less than $28 a day

By Bus

To get there by bus, you’ll need to first head to the Second Class Bus Station in Oaxaca (Central de Abasto). Once you get there, look around for a bus with a big ‘Mitla’ sign in the window. Buses leave about every 15-20 minutes all day long starting around 7am.

When you board the bus in Oaxaca, tell the bus driver that you are headed to Hierve el Agua. He will drop you off just outside of town, down the street from where the colectivos to Hierve el Agua wait for passengers. These colectivos leave when they’re full. This could mean you don’t have to wait or it could take an hour to fill up. They usually charge about 50 MXN (US$2.5) per person. 

See also  Monte Alban Ruins: My Guide to the Oaxaca Pyramids

By Taxi

Taxis are also available in Oaxaca City, and some drivers can bring you to Hierve el Agua and wait for you there. Prices for a round-trip taxi ride costs around around 600 MXN (US$30) or, but it’s a good idea to negotiate the fare in advance.

how to get to hierve el agua oaxaca

Visit Independently or on Tour?

If you don’t have transport, the easiest and most fuss-free way to get to Hierve el Agua is on an organized tour. These tours will take care of all logistics and also bring you to the Tule Tree, a traditional rug workshop in Teotitlán del Valle, the Mitla archaeological site and a mezcaleria for mezcal tasting. This day tour has excellent reviews and costs just 850 MXN (US$42.5).

Of course, going on a day tour can feel very rushed and you’ll only get to spend about 30 minutes in each site. You will only arrive in the afternoon (when it’s super crowded) and you won’t even have time to swim in the pools of Hierve el Agua. Plus you’ll be herded around in a big group — not my idea of fun.

That said, it’s a good option for those who can’t drive and have limited time in Oaxaca. Solo travelers can also take the chance to make friends — who knows, it might turn out to be more fun than expected. Book your day trip here!

hierve el agua oaxaca

Best Hierve el Agua Tours

Most Hierve el Agua tours last for 12 hours and start at around 8am (that means you’ll only get back at 12pm). They usually include air-conditioned transport, entrance fees, lunch, and a bilingual guide who will be with you for the whole day.

I usually book my day trips on Viator or GetYourGuide — both are reliable, with reviews from guests, and offer free cancellations.

Here are some of the best reviewed Hierve el Agua day tours:

hiking oaxaca hierve el agua

Mexico Travel Requirements

  • Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
  • However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. These days, it is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19. Read my travel insurance guide.
  • Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date.

Hierve el Agua Hours

Hierve el Agua is open to visitors 7am to 6.30pm every day of the year, including weekends and holidays.

The best time to visit these Oaxaca waterfalls is early in the morning, around opening time. It is a popular spot and gets crowded pretty fast, so try to get there as early as you can. It’s worth getting up at dawn to make your 1.5-hour drive there. We got there around 8.30am and it was already pretty crowded.

Make sure to arrive before 5pm however as this is the time of last entry. The staff don’t allow any leeway for this time.

crowded - oaxaca hierve el agua

How Much Time to Visit Hierve el Agua?

Hierve el Agua isn’t a massive site, but it does take time to walk from one petrified fall to another, so plan to spend at least three hours. We spent 5 hours as we took our time and also had lunch at the carpark. The petrified falls are situated on a hill, and there’s a lot of walking involved. But it’s not steep or difficult walking.  

There are hiking trails that connect one fall/pool to another, so expect to spend some time walking. It isn’t really accessible to wheelchair-bound people or families traveling with toddlers (it’s a pain to carry strollers up and down the stairs). It is one of the most unique waterfalls in Mexico, and I highly recommend planning to spend a full day here.

hierve el agua tours - oaxaca waterfalls

Cost of Visiting the Oaxaca Waterfalls

Entrance to Hierve el Agua is paid separately: 10 MXN ($0.5) to an ejido (community landowner) upon entering the gates, another 10 MXN ($0.5) to another ejido, and then 45 MXN (US$2.25) per person for the actual entrance. If you’re driving, there’s an extra charge of 50 MXN ($2.5) for the parking per car.

Bring cash as only cash will be accepted. You’ll also need cash for lunch (which won’t be more than 200 MXN ($10) per person. Even the bathrooms have a fee (5 MXN).

If you’re looking to take a tour here,  they start from around $900MXN/US$45 per person. Read the best Hierve el Agua tours.

oaxaca waterfalls - hierve el agua oaxaca

Visiting Hierve el Agua with Kids

We traveled Oaxaca with our 8-year-old daughter and she had so much fun exploring Hierve el Agua. She’s outdoorsy and adventurous; and really enjoyed traipsing on the hiking trails. 

If you’re traveling with younger kids, either carry your little ones on a carrier or hiking backpack. The rugged and uneven terrain can be tricky to maneuver with a stroller.

The pools at Hierve el Agua are generally shallow, and the water is calm, making it a good place for children to swim and play. However, the water is not as warm as you’d imagine (especially when you come in the morning or on chilly days). Also, some pools are perched right on the mountain edge, so it’s important to keep an eye on children at all times.

See also  Huasteca Potosina Travel Guide 2024
hierve el agua oaxaca with kids

Things to Do at Hierve el Agua

Explore the Petrified Waterfalls Oaxaca

The petrified waterfalls at Hierve el Agua are the highlight of the site for me; and you can see them from so many different angles. You can walk along the edge of the formations, but there are no railings or safety barriers so just be careful with your steps. 

Currently, there are two waterfalls open to the public at Hierve el Agua. The larger one is called cascada grande, and the smaller one further downhill, is known as cascada chica. Cascada grande runs off the main pool in the site. A series of hiking trails connect the falls with each other, as well as to various lookout points.

hierve el agua oaxaca - oaxaca waterfalls

Swim in the Pools

While the name Hierve el Agua means “boiling water” in Spanish, the water can actually be a bit cold, with temperatures varying between 22-26 degrees Celsius (71-79F).  It’s still nice and refreshing to take a dip, especially after hiking.

Hierve el Agua was first created when mineral-rich water flowed through karstic limestone, resulting in the formation of the waterfalls and mineral pools on the mountain’s edge. These pools contain calcium carbonate, magnesium, and a hint of sulfur, giving them a yellowish/greenish tint. 

There are several pools of varying depths, and the water is generally calm and refreshing. The main one is the first pool you’ll see and the one that appears in most photos. We noticed that the smaller, less popular pools tend to be warmer. There are more pools on the other side of the hill but they are currently closed off.

can you swim in hierve el agua pools
swimming in hierve el agua oaxaca

Hike the Trails

There are short trails that weave all around the various pools and to the bottom of the falls. The loop trail is approximately 1.6 miles (2.6km)  and you don’t need to be fit to walk it; my 8-year-old loved traipsing up and down the trails. Most of the trails lead to glorious views of the stunning valley.

hiking in petrified waterfalls oaxaca

Things to do Around Hierve el Agua

Most people will combine their visit to Hierve el Agua with several other spots as there’s plenty to see in close proximity. Mitla for example is just a 30-minute drive from Hierve el Agua.

You can easily visit all of the spots I mention below in one day trip to Hierve el Agua. I suggest starting at Hierve el Agua first, then visiting the sites below in this order. We did that ourselves with our rental car and had a great time!

 Explore the Mitla Ruins

While Monte Alban was the political centre for the Zapotecs, Mitla was the religious centre. Mitla archaeological site features intricate geometric patterns and designs carved into the stone walls, which are believed to have had religious significance for the Zapotec people. Its name comes from the Nahuatl word meaning the place of the dead, or the underworld.

Right outside the archaeological site is a big market where handmade crafts and textiles are on sale. This is also a great spot to get some local food, snacks or icecream.

mitla oaxaca

Learn Weaving in Teotitlán del Valle

Another worthwhile stop enroute back to Oaxaca is Teotitlán del Valle, 30 minutes from Mitla by car. This artisan village has gained fame for its traditional Zapotec weaving techniques and colorful textiles.

In the local workshops, you can learn about the process of making the textiles. We visited the Centro de Arte Textil Zapoteco Bii Dauu and learned how they use natural dyes made from plants, insects, and minerals to create yarn that is then woven into textiles.

 See the World’s Biggest Tree Trunk

On the road back to Oaxaca city, stop at the Tree of Tule, a massive Montezuma cypress tree that has the world’s widest trunk with a diameter of 46 feet (14m). It takes at least 30 people to wrap around it. 

According to scientists, the Tule tree is almost 2,000 years old. But the Zapotec people believe that the Wind God Ehécatl sowed the seeds of the tree around 1,400 years ago. Today, you can still find it standing tall in front of the Templo Santa María de la Asunción church in the pueblo (small town) of Santa Maria del Tule, in the peripheries of Oaxaca city.

tule tree - oaxaca activities

Take a Mezcal tour

Oaxaca is known to produce some of the best mezcal in Mexico. Mezcal has a unique, smoky taste I absolutely love, thanks to the underground roasting of the plant. Currently undergoing a revival of sorts, mezcal is gaining fame all around the world, even though it’s long been popular in Mexico.

The backcountry of Oaxaca is dotted with plenty of mezcalerias where you can learn about the production process from local farmers and taste different kinds of mezcal. But some can be pretty tacky and inauthentic. For a more genuine and immersive experience, join this tour to visit an artisanal local farm where you get to walk in the agave fields and watch how the farmer harvests the agave.

mezcal fields near hierve el agua oaxaca mexico

Here are a few mezcalerias in Oaxaca where you can visit on your own:

  • El Rey de Matatlán — El Rey de Matatlán is one of the oldest and most respected distilleries in Tlacolula (where many distilleries are concentrated). Granted, it’s a hot spot on the tour-bus circuit, but the smoky-flavored mezcal is authentic.
  • Real Minero — This family-run distillery that has been making mezcal for over four generations. Their tours and tastings are a great way to learn about the artisanal production process and sample some truly exceptional mezcals.
  • Shluuna Parador Ecoturístico & Fábrica de Mezcal — A beautiful agave farm with a mountainous setting, where a guide can bring you on hikes and show you how mezcal is produced here.

Where to Eat at Hierve el Agua

Honestly you can never go hungry in Mexico — regardless of how rural it is, there are always taquerias or street food stands serving sizzling hot food. Right at the carpark, there are rows upon rows of food stalls that offer traditional Oaxacan food, such as tlayudas (large tortillas with toppings), quesadillas, memelas and more. I had one of the most amazing chorizo tlayudas right here (pictured).

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You’ll also find stalls with snacks such as chips, nuts, and fruit, as well as fresh coconuts and soft drinks. Be sure to get a piña loca, a hollowed out pineapple filled with mezcal, fresh orange juice, pineapple juice, topped with chamoy and tajine chili, salt and lime all for 50 MXN ($2.50).

Where to Stay near Hierve el Agua

There are actually simple rustic cabins at Hierve el Agua that you can stay in. Or you can also camp here. It costs $40 pesos ($2.15 USD) per person to camp or $160 pesos ($8.65 USD) for a cabaña. Just make sure to let the people at the entrance know which you’d like to do and you can pay there. 

Be warned though, don’t have expect to have stable Wi-Fi or TV in the cabins. It also gets pretty cold here at night due to the high altitude, so make sure to bring a few layers and sleeping bag. That said, you’ll be able to catch sunrise at the Oaxaca waterfalls and have the whole place to yourself first thing in the morning.

sunrise at hierve el agua oaxaca - oaxaca waterfalls

Here are other options for accommodation in the nearby town of Mitla, which is about a 30-minute drive away. 

Luxury: Hotel Hacienda Don Cenobio

This is a historic hotel that is located in a restored 16th-century hacienda. The hotel has a pool and gardens, and offers spacious rooms with traditional decor. Check rates here.

Mid Range: Casa Regina Oaxaca 

This is a rustic elegant hotel in the outskirts of Mitla that offers beautiful white terracotta-tiled and wood-brick cabins. The hotel has a garden and terrace, and serves a complimentary breakfast each morning. Check rates here.

Budget: OYO Hotel Mitla

This hotel is located in the center of Mitla and offers simple, clean rooms with basic amenities. The hotel has a restaurant on site that serves Oaxacan cuisine. Check rates here.

Rules at Hierve el Agua 

As more tourists poured into Oaxaca, Hierve el Agua is becoming more and more crowded as well. Community landowners are pushing for more focus on on sustainability, conservation, and protection of the surrounding area. 

To help preserve the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Hierve el Agua, there are certain rules and guidelines that you should follow.

  • No littering – Take your trash with you and dispose of it properly. There are trash cans available on site.
  • No smoking – Smoking is not allowed in the petrified waterfalls area or in any of the buildings on site.
  • No alcohol or drugs –  It’s not allowed to bring or consume alcohol or drugs on site.
  • No pets – Pets are not allowed in the petrified waterfalls area or in any of the buildings on site.
  • No drones –  Flying drones over the site are strictly prohibited.
  • No climbing – Do not climb on the petrified waterfalls or on any of the other natural formations on site.
  • No feeding or disturbing wildlife – Do not feed or disturb any of the wildlife in the area, including birds and butterflies.
  • Follow designated paths –  You should always stay on designated paths and trails to avoid damaging the natural landscape.
hierve el agua oaxaca rules

What to Pack for Hierve el Agua

Because of the mountainous location of Hierve el Agua, it can get really sunny in the day and chilly at night. Make sure you pack a wide-rimmed hat, lots of water, and sunscreen.

The walking is easy, but you should still wear hiking shoes or trainers. I wore covered running shoes for the whole day and they were fine. Here’s the list of what I wore and packed in my daypack:

hierve el agua oaxaca with kids - what to pack for hierve el agua

Final Tips for Visiting Hierve el Agua

I hope you found this Hierve el Agua travel guide helpful and that it has inspired you to visit the petrified falls. Here are a few final tips for your trip:

  • Arrive just as gates open at 7am to avoid the heat and the crowds. 
  • Take plenty of water with you. There are many vendors selling cold drinks in the parking lot, you can buy there too if you forgot your bottle.
  • Wear sunscreen, a hat, and comfortable shoes – it gets hot!
  • You will need cash for the entrance fees, so make sure to bring some Mexican Pesos with you.
  • If you need transport back to the city after your visit, just approach the taxi drivers by the entrance and discuss the price.
hierve el agua oaxaca - oaxaca waterfalls

Enjoy Your Trip to Hierve el Agua

Thank you for reading this far. Hierve el Agua is considered one of the coolest natural wonders of Mexico, and it’s a must-see when you’re in Oaxaca City. If you have any questions about visiting Hierve el Agua or tips of your own, please leave them in the comments below and I will be happy to reply to any questions you have.

Read my articles on Oaxaca below:

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