One of the most eye-catching natural attractions in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Hierve el Agua provides an unusual and off-the-beaten-path travel experience. It’s a top ecotourism destination in Oaxaca, particularly popular among naturalists, hikers and photographers. Hierve el Agua is located in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, about 70 km east of Oaxaca City, and 14 kilometers southeast of the town of Mitla.
In Spanish Hierve el Agua means “the water boils”, and the name derives from the bubbling natural mineral springs that originate here, that run into bathing pools on a gorgeous cliff-top location. When you see Hierve el Agus from some distance you’ll feel that a massive waterfall is frozen on the side of the mountain. But ice is impossible in this hot climate.
These are actually mineral deposits formed over thousands of years as a result of the mineral-laden water spilling over the edge of the cliff and trickling down the rocky mountainside. As the water runs down the rock face, it forms large stalactites similar to the structures found in caves.
It is difficult to resist a soak in the springs at Hierve el Agua, because the minerals in the water are believed to be beneficial for the skin and the views from the two cliff-top bathing pools, both of which offer extensive panoramas of the valleys below, are some of the most spectacular in Oaxaca.
Hierve el Agua is just like a rock formation and consists of two waterfalls. They are formed on cliffs that rise over 50 meters from the valley floor, with one “Waterfalls” reaching down 12 meters and the other reaching down 30 meters. The 12-meter one is called “Cascada Chica” which means a small waterfall and “Flows” off a base that is about 60 meters wide.
However, the other is called “Cascada Grande” which means a large waterfall and spreads down from a base with which is around 90 meters wide and 80 meters above the valley floor. Moreover, the more straightforwardly accessible and more often visited of the two waterfalls is the “Cascada Chica”. It is also called the Amphitheater.
In springs; the waters are over-saturated with calcium carbonate, which is what gets deposited forming the waterfalls-like rock structures. The waters, with their high mineral content, are reputed to have healing qualities, and you’ll see tourists soaking in the waters in one of the natural pools at the top of the rock.
Hiking is considered a great favorite activity at this place, there are a lot of trails and walking paths at Hierve el Agua. Most of the hiking tracks in less than an hour, including the central trail that leads down the side of the mountain to the base of the petrified falls where it is possible to get a close view of the mineral formations and even do a bit of climbing as well. Therefore, Hierve el Agua is the best visited on day trips and guided tours from Oaxaca City. Some basic cabanas and a few small restaurants cater to overnight visitors.
There is a large impressive traditional swimming pool and dining facilities above the actual Hierve el Agua site. A lot of small well-maintained restaurants alongside the shady, palm leaf palapa; there’s an equal number of row-house hotel suites close by, constructed years earlier. It is not known when any of it will be operational.
There is basic washroom facilities adjacent, and more down at Hierve el Agua itself, adjoining rudimentary change rooms. Moreover, the village where Hierve el Agua is located, San Isidro Roaguía, has a few small stores and a restaurant. If you’re really a nature lover, then you select the scenic route of Highway 190, passing by a few quaint roadside mezcal factories, as well as El Tigre, a combined comedor and mezcal palenque about ½ kilometer before the San Lorenzo turnoff, from where Hierve el Agua has traditionally been assessed.