Home General Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca’s Calcified Mineral Waterfalls

Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca’s Calcified Mineral Waterfalls

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“Hierve el Agua” (English: “Drink the water”) is the name of a non-profit organization, founded by Dr. Fernando Aparicio, aimed at promoting and protecting the waterfalls of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The organization has been a pioneer in efforts to preserve these beautiful waterfalls, the majority of which are calcified, and in November, 2011, the Oaxaca government passed a law protecting them.

If you’re looking for a place to take the kids on a family vacation, look no further than Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico. This stunning region is home to a series of calcite waterfalls similar to the ones found in Iceland. Each waterfall features white and blue-green crystal formations that are quite beautiful.

Hierve el Agua is a small town located about 2 hours north of Mexico City, and it’s made up of only a few buildings in a small valley. The town is surrounded by a series of beautiful, calcified waterfalls that, amazingly, still exist since the last Ice Age. The main attraction here is the waterfalls, but there is also a pretty chapel, as well as a museum and an unusual working hydroelectric plant.

I had the luxury of time after two months in Oaxaca to explore the region at my leisure. To learn more about the place I called home, I went on street food crawls and market wanders, culinary courses, and lengthy coffees with locals and expatriates. In the midst of these tumultuous days, my mother arranged a spur-of-the-moment visit to town. We ate, embraced, drank a lot of mezcal, and went on a busy day of touring, including visits to Mitla’s ancient sites, El Tule, the world’s largest tree, and Hierve el Agua.

Mitla and the Tule tree are both interesting in their own right, and I intend to write about them at a later date. In the meanwhile, I’d like to offer a little article on Hierve el Agua, a series of calcified waterfalls southwest of Oaxaca de Juarez (Oaxaca City). They’re not only beautiful to look at, but the history and geology are also fascinating to study about. The oxymoron of the site’s name also deserved to be discussed on the blog.

UPDATED IN MARCH 2022: Local landowners have chosen to permanently shut Hierve el Agua. Community landowners in San Lorenzo Albarradas, Oaxaca, have done so since the petrified falls provide income, but the local community has remained impoverished. Here’s a Spanish story on the news.

Mineral pools at Hierve el Agua near OaxacaThe smallest of the two petrified waterfalls, as well as mineral springs.

What is the meaning of the name Hierve El Agua?

When I first saw these waterfalls, I was perplexed since hierve means “to boil” in Spanish. I was anticipating boiling water cascading down the slope of a mountain in an unending cycle. Hierve el Agua, on the other hand, seemed to be frozen in time, flowing down the edge of a rock into the valley below.

Following my visit, I discovered that Hierve el Agua was formed by mineral water pushing through karstic limestone and depositing the falls on the mountain’s side. Two mineral pools lie near the brink of the cliff, rich of calcium carbonate, magnesium, and just enough sulphur to give them a yellow color, while the waterfalls are white.

swimming in mineral pools at hierve el aguaA little amount of sulphur may go a long way.

The Greek term stalaktos means “to leak,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Rainwater trickles down into subterranean caverns, soaking through limestone and forming a calcite patch on the ceiling. The process took place outdoors at Hierve el Agua, with minerals bubbling out of the center of rocks and slowly calcifying over thousands of years to produce the rock formations you see today. The delicate phenomena of mineral deposits “boiling” on the hillside inspired the name of these “falls.”

Because the springs aren’t really boiling, the term is a little deceptive. Instead, they’re highly carbonated, with temperatures ranging from 22 to 26 degrees Celsius. To be honest, they do erupt from the rocks in the manner of boiling water. Swimming is also possible because of their nonthermal temperatures. Yay!

hierve el aguaThis lone tree reminds me of Lake Wanaka’s Wanaka Tree. Both are lovely; the colors are different.

Hierve el Agua’s History

The bubbling springs of Hierve el Agua are now a tourist attraction, but they formerly supplied water to an elaborate network of canals and terraces that led down to the valley, making it one of Mesoamerica’s most comprehensive terraced irrigation sites. The canal system was abandoned in the 1300s, according to archeologists, with just remnants of the canals surviving today.

There are two falls to see at the moment, a bigger one (named cascada grande) and a smaller one (called, you guessed it, cascada chica), both of which we visited at the same time. We walked a few minutes up from the mineral springs, then circled around to the left to see the second, lesser fall from the opposite side of the cliff.

petrified waterfalls oaxacaFrom the opposite side of the cliffs, a view of the “cascada grande.”

We came early, and I recommend that you do as well, since the place becomes very busy during peak season. If you need to change into a swimsuit before cooling down in the mineral pools, there are changing facilities not far from the parking area.

swimming hierve el agua oaxacaAfter a dip in the pools, someone forgot their flip flops! It was a fun picture to take.

And, since I’m me, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the food: there are booths selling the typical corn snacks, which are ideal for the next part of your journey: quesadillas, memelas, and more. We had stringy quesillo, Oaxacan cheese, and squash blossoms in ours. Freshly chopped jicama, a wonderful Mexican turnip that is slightly sweet and very refreshing, particularly when coated in a mixture of chile, lime, and salt, is also suggested as a snack.

When hiking and visiting, it is essential to practice responsible tourism.

It’s essential to be responsible while visiting any stunning natural marvel. This includes no actions that may harm the environment, deviating from the walking routes, and, of course, leaving no trace. To preserve the surrounding flora and wildlife, the path is about 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) long and should not be diverted from. A description of the path may be found on AllTrails.

Two tour firms were singled out by Hierve’s town San Isidro Roagua in 2019 for not adhering to the site’s rules and traditions (link is in Spanish), and the place is much busier and Instagram-popular now than it was when we visited.

Please read Uncornered Market’s 20 recommendations for additional information on how to travel responsibly.

How to Visit Hierve el Agua Without Taking a Tour

The falls are no longer open to visitors as of March 2022. Please read the notice at the start of this article for further information. This article was first published in March 2016 and has been updated since then, however it is probable that this is the last update unless the local communities decide to reopen the falls. 

There are a few choices available to you.

The most straightforward option is to hire a driver and combine Hierve with other attractions in the area, such as Mitla and the magnificent El Tule Tree, the world’s largest tree. If you need a driver, I have a reliable suggestion for you — just send me an email via the site’s contact form.

The most cost-effective option is to take a bus or collectivo (shared cab) from Oaxaca City to Mitla, which departs from right outside the baseball stadium (north of the city center). You may then take another shared cab or shared pickup truck to Hierve el Agua, which will be marked with your location.

A note on tolls: There is now a new roadway connecting Oaxaca and Hierve el Agua, and it costs 49 pesos to use it. In addition, the town of San Lorenzo Albarradas has imposed a road repair toll of 10 pesos per passenger on the route to Hierve. The cost of admission to the springs is 20 pesos per person. Finally, parking at Hierve el Agua is 50 pesos per vehicle if you hire a driver.

Visit Mexico’s official website for more information about Hierve el Agua.

If you’re a celiac visiting Oaxaca, check out my comprehensive gluten-free guide to Mexico.

If you’re in the area and want to visit Puerto Escondido, I’ve put up a guide for that lovely part of Oaxaca state.

visiting hierve el agua in oaxaca stateHierve el Agua, Hierve el Agua, Hierve el Agua, Hierve el A

I would certainly suggest a visit if your stay in Oaxaca permits it, as long as you keep your impact to a minimal. Of course, you can arrange an organized day trip to a number of the attractions via most hotels and hostels. Because this may be hurried, we decided to construct our own with my mother, two friends, and a day’s driving.

It was a fantastic idea for a day excursion.

-Jodi

In the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, there are a number of amazing waterfalls that few people, if any, have ever heard of. While the most popular waterfalls in the area are well known and often visited, such as the famous Angel de la Independencia, the less-visited Lago de Atzompa, and the Angel de la Guardacosta, there are lesser-known waterfalls that are just as spectacular. One of these is the Hierve el Agua waterfall, a waterfall that drops over 30 meters into a glassy basin that is surrounded by dense, ancient trees.. Read more about hierve el agua oaxaca- covid and let us know what you think.

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