Hierve el Agua: Mexico’s Petrified Waterfall

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Imagine swimming in an infinity pool of natural spring water on the top of a cliff with endless views of the surrounding mountains. To your right is a beautiful petrified waterfall that cascades into the valley below, appearing as if it has been frozen in time. This is the gorgeous scene at Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca.

You can arrange to visit Hierve el Agua with or without a tour. Both have their advantages, but there is a little known secret that allows you to experience this beautiful place without crowds. 

Continue reading as I share my tips for visiting Hierve el Agua on your own and how to make the most of your time.

The infinity pool with hues of green and blue stretches to the edge of the cliff with nary a person in sight.
Early evening at Hierve el Agua, after the tours have departed.

Hierve el Agua: How to Get There

To get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca City, you’ll first need to go to Mitla. Most famous for the archeological site, Mitla is a small town 25 miles southeast of Oaxaca City. From Mitla, you’ll drive along an unpaved mountain road to reach Hierve el Agua. It takes about an hour and a half to get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca City.

Hierve el Agua is one of the most popular tours in Oaxaca but it’s also easy to get to on your own. Both options are detailed below.

A woman holds on to her hat as she stands at the edge of the cliff, overlooking the mountains and valley at Hierve el Agua
The views along the hike at Hierve el Agua.

Hierve el Agua Tour

Booking a tour to Hierve el Agua is the best choice if you want to see as many places as possible but are short on time. Most tours include additional stops, such as the world’s widest tree in Tule, a weaving workshop in Teotitlan, the ruins of Mitla, and a mezcal distillery. 

It can be a great way to maximize your day, but it also means you’ll have less time to spend at Hierve el Agua. And you’ll arrive with your own crowd of people unless you book a private tour.

On the other hand, I have heard really good things about these tours, including from a friend that visited Oaxaca around the same time. And some tours leave early enough to beat the big crowds, such as this tour which allows up to two hours at Hierve el Agua and still leaves time for a Mezcal tasting afterward.

And if you really do want to see it all, this tour makes all the stops mentioned above with one hour devoted to Hierve el Agua. Both of these tours are more than eight hours in total, so plan for a long day.

The sun reflects in a shallow pool of water along the trail at Hierve el Agua with mountaintops in the background.

Hierve el Agua Without a Tour

It’s also easy to visit Hierve el Agua on your own. If you have time, I definitely recommend it! To get to Mitla, you can take a bus for about 18 pesos or a shared taxi for 25 pesos. There are buses and shared taxis located near the baseball stadium in the north of the city.

If you are staying closer to the south of Oaxaca City, you can flag a shared taxi (look for Mitla across the top of the windshield) from the Periferico. If there are several people in your group, you’ll need to find an empty collectivo taxi at Central de Abastos where they line up to depart. This is a large local market in Oaxaca. It can get pretty busy, so be mindful of your personal belongings.

Silhouette of the infinity pool, tree, and surrounding mountains at sunset in Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca,
The view at sunset when you rent one of the Hierve el Agua cabanas.

After about an hour, you’ll arrive in Mitla where you can buy a seat in a collectivo pick up truck to take you to Hierve el Agua for 50 pesos each way. The trucks run between Mitla and Hierve el Agua every day from 8 am – 6 pm. There’s space for five people in the front and many more in the back, which only has bench seating. It’s a bumpy 45 minute ride on a mountain road, so try to snag a front seat if you can.

The driver will take you through the gate of Hierve el Agua where you need to pay an entrance fee of 25 pesos. From there it’s a 10 minute walk down to the pools. There are several vendors selling food, mezcal, and micheladas so you won’t go hungry or thirsty.

Hierve el Agua Cabanas

The secret to visiting Hierve el Agua without crowds is to stay overnight at the cabanas on site. You’ll have access to the pools after the tour groups leave and in the morning before everyone arrives. The cabins are simple but with stunning views of the mountains and valley.

After scouring the internet and asking multiple tourist information centers in Oaxaca, I could not find any information about booking the cabins at Hierve el Agua ahead of time. And that’s just it. There is no phone number, no reservations. The cabanas are available on a first come, first serve basis. But since no one seems to know about them, the availability is pretty open.

A side by side of the outside and inside of the wooden cabins for rent at Hierve el Agua
The basic cabins with a stunning mountain view that are available to rent for the night.

The cabin I saw has one double and one single bed, a private bathroom with hot water, and a back deck with amazing views. The cost is 200 pesos per person. To book the cabins, inquire at the front gate when you arrive.

Tip: If you rent the cabin, you’ll either need to eat before the vendors pack up around 6 pm or bring your own food. Once the gates close you’ll be locked in the grounds without access to a restaurant. It’s a good idea to bring snacks and plenty of water regardless.

The driver told me about another accommodation in town that a family rents above their home. They also have a restaurant in front of their home called Comedor Citlaly, which makes meals in this small village convenient. 

The cost is 100 pesos per person and while they have WiFi, access to Hierve el Agua is limited to the opening and closing times since it’s outside of the gates. At the time I didn’t realize the difference and he drove me there instead. It’s nice to have a second option but I suggest asking about the Hierve el Agua cabanas first.

Sun filters through the mountains and the valley below Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca

What is a petrified waterfall?

White minerals deposited on the cliff face resemble a waterfall frozen in time.
One of two petrified waterfalls at Hierve el Agua.

The petrified waterfalls at Hierve el Agua were created over thousands of years. They formed as a result of the mineral-rich spring water trickling down the cliff face from above in a similar way that stalactites are formed in a cave.

Hierve el Agua is one of two petrified waterfalls in the world. The other is Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) in Turkey. However, unlike Hierve el Agua, Pamukkale is a hot spring with thermal waters. The water at Hierve el Agua ranges from 72 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Can you swim at Hierve el Agua?

Yes, you can swim at Hierve el Agua. The name translates to the water boils. However, the water is not hot. The man-made pools are filled from a natural spring that appears to boil up from the earth, hence the name. While it’s not a thermal spring, the rich mineral content is known for having healing properties.

Funny story, I actually did not bring my bathing suit. When I heard the water wasn’t hot, I figured it was too cold to swim. As soon as I arrived I realized my mistake. It was a sunny day and while the water was not as warm as I would have liked, it was not frigid either. Don’t be like me. Bring your bathing suit! There are changing areas on site.

What Should I Bring?

You’ll want to bring a hat, sunblock, sturdy shoes, swimwear, a towel, and cash. If you decide to stay overnight in the cabins, you’ll need to eat early before the vendors pack up or bring a snack.

There are a couple of trails you can hike to see the waterfall from a different angle. The entrance to the trails start at either the pools or from the parking lot just before you get to the vendors. 

Despite the altitude, it’s not a very strenuous hike and the trailheads are clearly marked but make sure you bring plenty of water. If you have enough time, you’ll want to take advantage of the gorgeous vistas you encounter along the hike, overlooking fields of agave, small pueblos, and crisscrossing mountains.

Have you been to Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca? What did you think of the petrified waterfall? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

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The Hierve el Agua natural pool with dry waterbeds in the foreground and mountains in the background.

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19 comments

Chelsea Messina November 3, 2019 at 8:00 pm

WOW! How beautiful is this?! I had no idea these types of landscape were in Mexico! I heard Oaxaca is also famous for Pisco and food, did you try those also?

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Cultures Traveled November 3, 2019 at 8:32 pm

The food in Oaxaca is AMAZING! Oaxaca, Mexico is known for Mezcal. Maybe that’s what you are thinking? I believe Pisco is a Peruvian liquor. I love visiting Oaxaca and Hierve el Agua is certainly one of the gems!

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Cherene Saradar November 4, 2019 at 12:16 pm

I am blown away by these photos. Never knew about this but now I want to go!!

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Cultures Traveled November 4, 2019 at 8:25 pm

You absolutely should plan a trip there! Hierve el Agua is so beautiful and peaceful, especially if you have the chance to stay overnight in the cabins.

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Natalie January 21, 2020 at 4:10 am

Hierve el Agua looks like an absolutely stunning place to explore, I would love to swim in the pools. Yet another place to add to the bucket list… 🙂

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Cultures Traveled January 21, 2020 at 12:05 pm

Yes, absolutely add it to your bucket list! Isn’t this Earth so beautiful? 🙂

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Kristina Johnson January 21, 2020 at 5:18 am

What a fascinating place! I’ve never heard of Hierve el Agua, but I’m familiar with the place in Turkey. Such a bummer you didn’t bring your bathing suit!

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Cultures Traveled January 21, 2020 at 12:08 pm

Yes, I know. Well we all live and learn.. I just want you to learn from my mistakes. Plus, I don’t mind leaving a reason to return! I would love to visit the other petrified waterfalls of the world! Have you been?

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Jan January 21, 2020 at 11:30 am

Such a beautiful place! Indeed Hierve el Agua looks like an infinity pool, except that it is natural. The photography is truly awesome! It sounds like a good idea to land up a day earlier and stay in the cabana. However, there is no phone or reservations? You have to be totally adventurous! Thank you for this lovely blog. 🙂

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Cultures Traveled January 21, 2020 at 12:17 pm

Thank you! Actually, the infinity pool is man-made but the spring from which it is fed and the petrified waterfalls are natural. If the cabins are full there is always a backup place to stay in town, but I really don’t see that happening. I visited around Day of the Dead – a very busy time in Oaxaca and I believe only one or two cabins were rented.

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Angela Price January 21, 2020 at 2:19 pm

Wow when the first photo opened I thought it was a luxury infinity pool in a mountain resort! Such a stunning place.

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Cultures Traveled January 21, 2020 at 4:11 pm

Isn’t it beautiful? And if you take my advice to visit Hierve el Agua without a tour, and rent the cabins overnight.. imagine waking up and having this place to yourself in the morning!

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Jay Artale January 21, 2020 at 4:33 pm

I much prefer to travel independently – so it’s good to hear that you can easily visit Hierve el Agua without having to pay for an organized tour. Thanks for the travel tips on this.

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Emese January 21, 2020 at 6:16 pm

I would love this place! I’ve only been to Oaxaca City once, on a long weekend, so I had no time to explore the surroundings, but this is definitely a place I’ll have to check out next time. Thank you for the great tips on how to reach it and where to stay once there; I know most people would do the day trip, but it sounds like staying there overnight would be my choice. I enjoyed your post and photos! 🙂

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Carrie Ann | Should Be Cruising January 21, 2020 at 7:47 pm

I had no idea this existed, and it’s so beautiful! Great tips on what to bring and how to find a place to stay in the area. I’ll definitely be sure to pack my swimsuit if I’m lucky enough to take a trip to this gorgeous place!

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Wendy Lee January 21, 2020 at 9:06 pm

I absolutely love traveling in Mexico! I’ve not been to Oaxaca yet, but its on my list. And I had never heard of a petrified waterfall, how fascinating. Thank you for all of this great information!

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Nancy Hann January 22, 2020 at 7:48 pm

This looks so cool and I love your insider tips about staying overnight. It sounds like the perfect plan to avoid the crowds. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned.

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Annalisa January 24, 2020 at 10:30 pm

The scenery is spectacular. Mexico is such a beauty I can’t wait to go there…and will include the petrified waterfall near Oaxaca in my plans!

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Sarah January 25, 2020 at 7:17 am

What stunning photography! I’ve never heard of a petrified waterfall. Would love to visit here, looks incredible! Adding Mexico to my travel list!

Reply

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