Hierve el Agua: Everything you need to know for this awesome Oaxaca day-trip
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When staying in Oaxaca, Mexico, getting to Hierve el Agua is a must-do. Located 65km away near a town called Mitla, it’s a perfect day-trip from Oaxaca city. There has actually been a bit of heated debate over the usage of Hierve el Agua in recent years, but in 2022 it’s back open and poised for (lots) more tourism development.
So basically, get to Hierve el Agua as soon as you can.
This post is going to walk you through how to get to Hierve el Agua (with or without a tour), what to do once you’re there and other useful tips for a fun trip.
I’m going to be perfectly honest here (as I always am!) and say that when I first saw Hierve el Agua from the walk down the hill, I was completely underwhelmed. A lot of the pools were dried up, and the famous infinity-pool-with-tree area that Hierve el Agua is Insta-famous for just looked a bit ‘meh’ from above.
There were maybe 100 people there altogether, but the place didn’t feel busy as it’s quite spread out.
However, as I got to ground-level and started to take a wander around, I was able to take in the views of the valley, the huge petrified waterfall and the beauty of the natural patterns in the rock under my feet. After an hour in the place, I felt pretty impressed by it all and incredibly glad I went.
I recommend any traveller in Oaxaca makes the effort to get to Hierve el Agua at some point during their trip.
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Hierve el Agua is one of just two petrified waterfalls in the world. Huge calcium deposits have over time caused the once running water to calficy and harden into stunning marble-like rock. The name Hierve el Agua translates to ‘boil the water’.
Not only is there a gorgeous waterfall, there are also naturally-formed pools with breath-taking infinity-pool-style drops over ridiculous views.
It sits in the lush valleys of Sierra Madre in the state of Oaxaca, and the nearest town is called Mitla, which is interesting in itself for its archeological importance.
What is there to do at Hierve el Agua?
Firstly, I recommend taking a walk around the site to get to grips with it all. This will help you appreciate all the different angles and views (don’t forget to look down at what’s on the ground, too!).
Some of the slopes can be a little slippy when wet so you might want to keep shoes or just socks on.
You are able to swim in several of the pools, though some are sectioned off for their ecological protection. The coldness can take your breath away at first, but after a while the pools are unbelievably refreshing.
If your knees are in good shape, definitely take the hike down to the bottom of the petrified waterfall.
It’s about a 45-minute round trip hike along a steep marked path that is mostly steps, but the views from the bottom looking up are absolutely worth it.
Don’t forget to bring lots of water!
How to get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca
At first, working out how to get to Hierve el Agua without a guide can seem fairly overwhelming. Actually going through with it, I found it to be quite an adventure, but a little chaotic at some times and kinda boring at other times.
If you’re the kind of traveller who can cope with/enjoys this kind of uncertainty, I believe it to be a very worthwhile (and cheap1) way to go. It allows you to immerse yourself in more of Mexico’s way of life, save money and take things at your own pace once you get to Hierve el Agua (to an extent, depending on how lucky you get with colectivos filling up).
However, if you’re at all short on time or feeling a bit in-too-deep at the thought of going independently, luckily there are some fantastic tours that take care of all the finer details in how to get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca, and they’ll normally throw in some other cool stops, too. I’ll share my recommendations with you below!
So let me take you through your options for how to get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca…
How to get to Hierve el Agua independently
Step 1: get yourself down to the Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos
You can either walk (about 30 minutes from the centre) or get a short taxi (in the region of 70 mxn pesos from the centre).
Tell the driver you’re going to Mitla,and they will drop you off at the right place.
Step 2: make your way to the small town of Mitla via bus or taxi
Both the buses and the colectivo taxis pick you up from the same block, and they are infrequent enough that we waited 25 mins for either to turn up, so unless you’re particularly tight with your purse strings I’d recommend just taking whatever comes first.
The vendors at the food stalls on that block are very used to lost tourists, so we found them more than happy to help out, as long as you can understand fairly fast Spanish.
The bus costs 25mxn, and takes an hour to get to Mitla.
It’s a lime green colour, and picks you up from this bus stop on the main road out of the city from this bus stop:
Alternatively, taxi colectivos work on the basis of going once they’re full and charging all passengers a set amount of 40 mxn.
These taxis stop in the unorganised rank of other colectivo taxis going to different places (you can tell where they’re going by the destination printed on their windshields).
Stand along the main road on the corner of where it meets the street called De Los Derechos Humanos, with the Telcel shop behind you, and keep your eyes peeled.
In this part of the city, you don’t have to worry about waiting to fill the taxi though, the places get snapped up FAST, so you need to be really alert and assertive in claiming your place in the car.
If you dilly-dally to ask the driver something, chances are your seat could be snapped up by someone quicker. The price is set, and the Mitla destination is plastered in big letters over the windshield (colectivos only do one route back and forth), so there’s really nothing you need to ask driver anyway.
Expect to sit 3 in the back of the taxi and 3 in the front, or even more if they can manage it.
The taxi takes 45 mins, and can feel a bit cramped so I recommend travelling as light as possible for this Oaxaca day trip.
You’ll need to tell the driver you want dropping off on the main road to be able to get to Hierve el Agua, or else you’ll end up being left in the central plaza and having to walk a few blocks back out of town.
Step 3: Take a pick-up truck up the mountain to Hierve el Agua
The next leg of your journey to get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca is to pile into a 4×4 truck and travel 45 minutes up some dusty mountain roads.
It will cost you (cash only) 75 mxn upfront, plus a 15 mxn road toll which is collected halfway through the ride.
These leave from the main road (called Cempoaltepetl) on the corner of Aquiles Sedán. You’ll see the next truck parked up already.
Again, this is a colectivo system, so the pick-up truck only leaves when it’s full, which is 12 passengers. This obviously makes things very uncertain in terms of schedule, and is the main reason anyone with a tight timeline for the day should instead skip onto my ‘how to get to Hierve el Agua via guided tour’ section, instead.
Getting enough people to fill the truck to Hierve el Agua can take quite a long time depending on the time of day – at 10am on a Tuesday, we waited for around 40 minutes in their little terminal.
If you’ve been waiting a long time and are still missing one person, they will ask the group if they are all happy to each pay 10 mxn extra to cover the empty seat and get on the road.
When I say seat though, I mean it a little loosely. The front cab has space for 5 squished in together and is probably more comfortable, but the back of the pick-up is just 2 benches and sometimes even a stool in the middle. There’s not much inside to hang onto so you have to stay a bit glued to the metal bars of the roof.
The good news is, it’s a nice opportunity to get to know other travellers during the 45-minute ride, and they all have a roof which means you’re protected from the beating sun.
Try to grab seats on the left-hand-side of the pick-up truck as you look in; this has the most incredible mountain views as you drive up to Hierve el Agua.
Step 4: Walk down to Hierve el Agua
Your pick-up truck will pull up in the car park, you’ll pay your 50 mxn entrance fee, and from there you’re on your own.
Take a walk to the left, down past the rows of food & drink stalls and then take the steep paved path down to the site itself. It’s a 5-minute walk down.
Step 5: return from Hierve el Agua to Oaxaca
When you’ve seen all you’d like to see at Hierve el Agua, make your way back up to the car park and let the drivers sat around the pick-up trucks know that you’re waiting.
Again, this can take ages (for us it was about an hour), but there are benches to sit on and plenty of food stalls to peruse while you wait.
The pick-up truck will drop you off at the bus terminal to be able to catch a bus back to Oaxaca, but if you’d prefer to return via colectivo taxi, head towards the central plaza (which is pretty, by the way) and see if you can flag one down. They’ll still say Mitla on the windscreen rather than Oaxaca, so just check the destination before you get in.
When you get to your destination, Colectivo taxis won’t drop you in Oaxaca city centre, they’ll take you somewhere south for you to either walk into the city or hop in another taxi if you’re not feeling safe.
If you have a bit of time to spare in Mitla before heading back to Oaxaca, I strongly recommend catching a bite to eat at Antojitos y tortillas echas a mano Doña Chave. It’s an uber-local spot to get food and you sit in their family kitchen to eat it.
The best options to get to Hierve el Agua with a guide
As we all know, not all tours are made equal. There are plenty of tour companies touting options to get you to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca, but a few shine out as being absolutely loved by travellers.
First up, think about how much you want to get out of your tour. There is this no-frills shuttle option to only go to Hierve el Agua and then straight back to Oaxaca, but since you’re coming so far out of the city I really recommend you make a day of it with some other stop-offs.
This easy-going tour that takes you to the lighter stop-offs in the area. Across the 8 hours, you’ll visit:
Hierve el Agua (of course!)
Teotitlan del Valle, where you’ll learn about how local artisans create their beautiful textiles
El Rey de Matatlan, a mezcal distillery tour which really does have great mezcal to taste
The full shabbang, let’s-do-everything tour, which was taken by a couple of girls I met in my hostel and they RAVED about it. They got to see:
Hierve el Agua (shocker!)
Mitla archeological zone, which has incredibly well-preserved ruins of what the Zapotec people called the Underworld
Tule Tree, which boasts the largest known trunk in the world
Teotitlan del Valle
El Rey de Matatlan, another important spiritual site for the Zapotec people
El Rey de Matatlan mezcal distillery tour
These tours will of course pick you up and drop you off door-to-door from your hotel or hostel in Oaxaca. They will let you go off and explore Hierve el Agua on your own once you get there, and some will let the group decide how long they want to spend there.
Take some extra cash with you and enjoy the significantly more chilled-out ride!
How much does it cost to get to Hierve el Agua?
This of course depends on your choice in how to get to Hierve el Agua. Here are a few price guides:
Walk to the Estadio
Catch the bus to Mitla (there & back): 25 x 2
4×4 colectivo (there & back): 75 x 2
Road toll: 15
Hierve el Agua entrance fee: 50
TOTAL: 265 MXN ($13.65 USD)
The way I did it:
Taxi to the Estadio: 70
Colectivo taxi Mitla (there & back): 40 x 2
4×4 colectivo (there & back + paying extra for a missing person): 75 + 85
Road toll: 15
Hierve el Agua entrance fee: 50
TOTAL: 375 MXN ($19.30 USD)
Price range for Hierve el Agua tours:
$35-65 USD for group tours, and usually include several stops in much better comfort and at a decent pace. While the cheapest might seem attractive, make sure it is a small group rather than a coach, because ew.
In terms of the best time of year to go to Hierve el Agua, just after rainy season will give you the best chance of seeing the pools all filled without having to combat risky weather on those dusty mountain passes.
And in terms of the best time of day to go to Hierve el Agua, things start to get busy at around 12:30pm, and then the bigger tours begin to arrive in droves at around 2pm. Before 12pm or after 3:30pm is a good time to get there!
If you're going to hike to the bottom of the waterfall, it's a good idea to avoid the high sun of the early afternoon.
The site closes when it gets dark, so keep that in mind.
Additional info for a great trip
Don't wear sunscreen, or you won't be able to swim in Hierve el Agua's pools. Sunscreen can damage lots of water sources, so on an unapologetic sidenote I do recommend investing in reef-safe sunscreen for when you next find yourself in the sea!
Bring lots of small change. You'll need it for entry fees/road tolls if you're planning to get to Hierve el Agua without a tour, as well as 5 mxn here and there for toilet usage. Few vendors will be able to accept card or big notes (big being more than 50 mxn). You won't have access to an ATM at Hierve el Agua.
Stay at least an hour at Hierve de Agua. It took me a while to really take it all in, relax and appreciate where I was. You'll obviously need to factor in an extra hour if you're going to hike to the bottom of the Hierve el Agua waterfall. All-in-all, people tend to stay between 1-3 hours.
So that's the end of my guide on how to get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca city! I hope you find this up-to-date information very helpful, whether you decide to go to Hierve el Agua independently or with a tour guide. Have an amazing time on this total stunner of a Oaxaca day trip!
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