Hierve El Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico (petrified waterfall)
by Josien - 11 May, 2020
One of the main highlights of Oaxaca is Hierve el Agua. It is one of the most famous tourist spots around the city and you will probably visit this beautiful location up in the mountains. Where it is mainly known for its waterfalls, it is actually a cold water spring area with many interesting views, stories, and, locations. Think of a trail around the waterfalls, pools to swim in, and the valley in front of it.
We visited the waterfalls in January of 2020. The sun was burning hot and the water super cold. We don’t know what the water is like the rest of the year, but we heard that this was the coldest time of the year. So we believe the water should be warmer if you go later in the year. The sun will of course also be warmer, so be prepared when you go to Hierve el Agua!
Check my post on the weather in Oaxaca for more details per month.
How to get to these waterfalls in Mexico?
From Oaxaca City, you will find this natural phenomenon about an hour and 30 minutes by car. You can easily drive there with your own (rental) car or take a Uber. Do not take a taxi (unreliable and not safe if you’re not Mexican). You can also book a tour with the locals, which will also take you to Mitla and some other touristy spots.
If you choose to drive there yourself, go as early as possible. Most people arrive around noon and it will be busy during midday. If you choose to go on a tour, you will stop at some other tourist spots first and you will arrive at Hierve el Agua around 2 pm. Both situations are fine, just make sure you bring food and water.
The last bit of the road towards the Hierve el Agua is bumping and a bit too close to the edge, but it is also a great adventure. You have to pay a small fee in cash to entre the location. When you arrive at the parking lot, it is a five-minute walk to the springs and petrified waterfall. You will pass a few food vendors and some souvenir stands, so no worries about starving here. Prices are a bit higher because of the tourist spot of course. The trail to the pools is paved but goes down for a bit. Since you’re high up in the mountains and there on a sunny day, you could get short of breath. Be aware.
The name “Hierve El Agua” is weird
Hierve el Agua means “the water is boiling” and you will see the water bubbling when you get to the falls. The water isn’t boiling tho, and you can safely swim in the water. For the visitors, two artificial swimming pools have been constructed. The water was super cold when we were there but it was a welcome refresher!
The petrified waterfalls of Hierve El Agua
The real highlight of Hierve el Agua is the petrified waterfalls. When you stand next to the springs, you will see the most beautiful petrified waterfall on the far right. What you do not immediately realize that there is also a petrified waterfall on the side of the springs. You only see it when you take the walking path on the right. Recommended to take it!
Pro tip: if you go to Hierve el Agua without a tour, you will have all the time you need for the trail and a dip in the water. Tours stop here for about 45 minutes.
How did the waterfalls originate?
The petrified waterfall that you see from the springs is the result of a natural process of decades. It looks like real water is falling down, but this is not the case. In reality, the water of Hierve el Agua is very rich in minerals and calcium. It once was a waterfall and an important water source for the villages down in the valley, but over the years the calcium ‘took over’ and the water disappeared. This is the same process through which stalactites form in caves.
To get a closer look at the waterfall, take the hiking trail to the right of the springs. Even though it says you need a guide for the hike, the trail is simple and well signposted.
Can we recommend going to the petrified waterfall in Oaxaca?
Absolutely yes! Besides the great views and unique pools, Hierve el Agua does an excellent job in photos and is a natural spectacle that you must-see.
Read what other activities in Oaxaca we recommend doing: Thing to do in Oaxaca.