I must admit, my visions of Mexico before arriving in the country did not include petrified waterfalls. However, much to my excitement, I can confirm that Hierve el Agua certainly exists and this marvel of nature is only a short journey from Oaxaca City. This calcium cascade off the cliff face towards the valley floor is certainly dramatic, and you can take it all in from one of the warm mineral-laden pools atop the falls. Although it may sound similar to Pamukkale or Saturnia, the sheer height of Hierve el Agua is something truly unique and I’ve never seen anything like it.
The day that I went to Hierve el Agua was followed by the night of the great mugging of 2019. Hence, it was a day of great contrasts. Exploring Hierve El Agua was my favourite day on mainland Mexico, but in one of life’s typical turns, was promptly followed by my worst night on mainland Mexico.
WIDEST TREE IN MEXICO
Most visits to Hierve el Agua will have a stop in the quaint town of Tule to visit the widest tree in Mexico. It is touted as the widest tree in the world on the signs, but I think the jury might still be out on that one. A quick Google search shows that it does hold the title of the stoutest tree in the world, and it is thought to be upwards of 3000 years old. They even did a DNA test to prove that it wasn’t multiple trees which had grown together over time (the results were negative, so the title holds). It is a cool place to stop by and check out on the way to the waterfalls and a nice way to break up the trip.
WHAT TO DO AT HIERVE EL AGUA
The most obvious place to start it up the top of the falls where you can look out across the mineralised pools and gaze out at the panoramic views of the valley. Get your bathers out and take a dip in one of the pools. The water is cool but you quickly get used to it, swimming up to the edge and looking out over the valley quickly solidified in my mind that Hierve El Agua is probably the coolest natural infinity pool on the planet.
I would strongly recommend getting a local guide to help you explore the area, and hiking is the best way to do it. Although the Hierve El Agua falls are beautiful from the top, the sheer scale of them is best appreciated from below. There are several hiking trails around the base of the falls which meander through scrub, down the base of the valley and past cacti. These trails aren’t overly popular so you can enjoy the peace of these wonderful landscapes without interruption.
ENJOY A LOVELY LOCAL MEAL
One of the best parts of taking an Airbnb Experience rather than a tour was that we got to stop at a local household for lunch after visiting the waterfalls. We were able to enjoy a scrumptious home cooked meal on a stone stove top complete with fresh herbs, tender meat and home-made tortillas. It was quintessential Mexican cooking made with love.
TASTE SOME MEZCAL
Let’s just say our hosts at the Mezcal tasting were quite generous… The tasting involved more samples than I would have on a big night out. But we got a very well-rounded view of (quite possibly) every Mezcal variety known to man. It was fascinating to see how mezcal is made and gain an appreciation for a spirit I haven’t had much of in the past!
THE PRACTICAL STUFF
There is an entry fee for Hierve el Agua and it was 25 MXN at the time that I visited.
GETTING TO HIERVE EL AGUA
Hierve el Agua is about 1.5 – 2 hour drive from the city centre of Oaxaca. There are several ways to get there, but for travellers the most common way seems to be taking a tour.
- Driving: if you have rented a car for exploring Mexico, you can drive to the petrified falls. The road can be a bit curvy but overall was not too bad.
- Tour bus: in Oaxaca you will see people touting Hierve el Agua tours. These are usually sizeable tour buses filled with tourists. If this is your only option for seeing the falls then go for it, otherwise I would recommend taking a smaller tour or doing it independently to get a quieter experience and spend time having more local experiences.
- Small tour with Airbnb Experiences (or similar): I used Airbnb Experiences to visit Hierve el Agua and really rated it. It was just a couple of us being taken to the waterfalls by a lovely local driver, and included a hike around the base of the falls (something which isn’t usually covered in the bus tours). This cost ~700 MXN which is certainly not the cheapest way to see the falls, but for the luxury of lovely local guides, a 12 hour tour, and the opportunity to hike the falls, it was completely worth it.
WHAT TO BRING
- Bathers for swimming in the pools
- Hat and sunscreen
- Plenty of water
- Shoes for hiking (if you want to walk around the base of the falls)
- Cash (your entry ticket and all food around the area is only payable by cash)