Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca: Mexicos Premier Bubbling Springs
and Petrified Waterfalls
vista of Hierve el Agua from Hiking Path
Hierve el Agua is one of the most spectacular attractions
in the state of Oaxaca, if not all of Mexico. Yet its
surprisingly one of the least visited sights along the central
valley touring routes leading out of the city of Oaxaca. Hierve
el Agua should be considered a must see for naturalists,
photographers, hikers and anyone else with an interest in
the outdoors, who is planning a visit to south or central
Translated the water boils, Hierve el Agua is
actually a misnomer. At two locations about 75 feet apart,
water does indeed boil up from the ground; not
hot, but rather forced to the surface by the earths
interior pressure, arriving at roughly atmospheric temperature.
Water rises to the surface, then channels into two man-made
pools of fresh, mineral-rich water. Since the pools gradually
reach a depth upwards of seven feet, they are suitable for
swimming. Taste the water before it reaches the lower pool,
as it flows along a narrow canal from the puncture in the
earth; its crystal clear and pure, of course aside from
natural mineral compounds.
The Effect of Minerals at Hierve el Agua
The bubbling springs are rich in mainly calcium carbonate
and magnesium. Descending towards the actual site to swim,
one walks over mineral deposits, somewhat smoothed over with
the use of cement and powdered limestone to make it easier
to ambulate. Thousands of years ago the surface was lower,
having gradually risen to its present level as a result of
Its this mineral build-up which gives the appearance
of petrified waterfalls. Standing on the main precipice near
the lower pool, one sees the postcard perfect waterfalls,
a photograph often reproduced for promoting tourism in Oaxaca.
However, there is a different falls, accessed by a short hike.
Hiking and Walking Paths at Hierve el Agua
There are numerous trails and pathways at Hierve el Agua,
great for taking short hikes. Each route is less than an hour
in duration, including stopping to marvel and take photographs.
Depending on the time of year, some paths may be overgrown,
but certainly not to the extent that there is any undue danger,
or risk of getting lost. The most well-traveled paths leads
up and around to the top of the principal falls. One often
sees hikers who have already made it there, just sitting and
gazing back towards the pools, having a vantage-point for
viewing the second impressive petrified falls.
Another pathway, requiring more agility, leads down into the
valley along a series of ridges and narrow corridors. One
arrives at the base of the principal petrified falls, from
where one is able to do a bit of climbing; however there is
signage warning against it. Pause and look back every once
in a while, and see the effect caused by the trickling water
over the course of millennia.
Even those without any interest whatsoever in hiking or climbing,
are inevitable struck by the natural beauty of the deep valleys,
the distant fields of agave under cultivation, and the blue
skies or cloud formations or a combination of the two, hovering
over the surrounding mountains.
Tourist Facilities at Hierve el Agua
In 2008, just above the actual Hierve el Agua site the government
completed construction of a large, impressive, traditional
swimming pool, as well as dining facilities. There are about
a dozen small, modern restaurants alongside a shady, palm
leaf palapa; and an equal number of row-house hotel suites
close by, constructed years earlier. It is not known when
any of it will be operational.
In the interim, there are several simple eateries lining the
access route to Hierve el Agua, beside the parking area. Souvenirs,
towels and bathing suits are sold in the same area. There
are basic washroom facilities nearby, as well as further down
at Hierve el Agua itself, adjoining rudimentary change rooms.
A larger restaurant, Alices, is located on the left
side of the road, before reaching the gate where the entrance
fee is paid. The food is typical Oaxacan fare, cooking on
a comal over an open flame fueled with firewood.
Arrangements can be made at the restaurant for lodging at
one of the Tourist Yuu lodging facilities. There are
four cabins which provide rustic yet adequate accommodations
for an overnight stay. Inquire at Alices for details,
or book by calling a cellular phone, either 045951106356 or
044951106356. The village where Hierve el Agua is located,
San Isidro Roaguía, has a few small stores and a restaurant.
Accessing Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca
During late 2009, the new highway which will ultimately cut
driving time from Oaxaca to the Pacific coast, opened from
just beyond Mitla, to San Lorenzo Albarradas, about four kilometers
from Hierve el Agua. But the more scenic route is along Highway
190, passing by a few quaint roadside mezcal factories, as
well as El Tigre, a combined comedor and mezcal palenque about
1/2 kilometer before the San Lorenzo turnoff, from where Hierve
el Agua has traditionally been accessed.
Since about 2004, there has been conflict between the residents
of San Lorenzo and San Isidro, as a result of which at times
a toll is exacted in San Lorenzo so as to enable tourists
to continue on to Hierve el Agua. It can be avoided by taking
a less traveled, more circuitous dirt road mountain route,
through the village of Xaagá. As of early 2011, access
to Hierve el Agua has been restricted to the Xaagá
route, although during rainy season as well as during times
of higher than usual tourism, the drive can be extremely slow,
and indeed somewhat precarious.
On the other hand, a visit to the several thousand year old
pictographs at the rock overhang at Xaagá makes the
effort worthwhile. While driving through the village, simply
ask a resident if he knows anyone who can act as a guide take
you to the pictographs. The fee should not be more than about
100 pesos. Last year, UNESCO designated the ruin sites at
nearby Mitla and Yagul, as well as the neary cave
drawings, as a World Heritage Site.
At Mitla there is a taxi service to Hierve el Agua, but be
prepared for sitting on simple wooden bench seats in the enclosed
back of a small pick-up truck. Otherwise, drivers and tour
guides in the city of Oaxaca are available to take visitors
to Hierve el Agua as part of a day touring what is popularly
known as Oaxacas Mitla route.
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
Starkman is a resident of Oaxaca. He and wife Arlene run Casa
Machaya OaxacaBed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
), a quaint bed and breakfast just outside of downtown Oaxaca.
Alvin is the Oaxaca destination expert for a major international
travel website, writes about cultural traditions in Oaxaca,
consults to documentary production companies filming in Oaxaca,
and assists in arranging small group culinary tours of Oaxaca
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