Ah, waterfalls. I can’t think of anything else more universally loved than a waterfall. Travelers seek them out by the bucketload all over the world. Who doesn’t love swimming beneath peaceful, clear flowing water in tropical paradise?
What if someone offered you a trip to a petrified waterfall? If you’re like me, it probably doesn’t sound quite as nice. I kind of scoffed at the idea of a dried up waterfall when it was offered as part of a day trip from Oaxaca, but since the rest of the group decided to take it, I had serious FOMO and decided to sign up too.
I could not have made a better decision!
Hierve el Agua
Located a little over an hour outside of the city of Oaxaca, this spot isn’t just a boring, dried up waterfall. It’s an enormous mineral deposit that has formed after hundreds of years of water slowly trickling down the side of the mountain. It’s really impressive, to say the least.
When we arrived, we started with a hike to the top of the smaller petrified waterfall, where you can see water bubbling up into a small pool at the very top. The name Hierve de Agua in Spanish means “boiling water” because of these little springs, not because the water is boiling hot.
It was a gorgeous view out across the landscape, and you could also see the bigger petrified waterfall and the large pools on top of it really well from there. A lot of people took photos right on the edge of the steep drop off, but I could hear my mom screaming at me to stay away from the edge all the way from Texas. I heard you, Ma. I heard you.
Then we hiked down to the bottom of these falls, which offered great views looking up at the petrification. The falls are calcified because of the rich mineral content of the water. As it drips down the side of the mountain from the springs above, the water evaporates leaving the minerals to harden. I’ve never seen anything like it!
After the steep hike back up to the main falls, we were rewarded with several green pools to swim in, all perched on the edge of a giant petrified waterfall. They were artificially made, but the water was spring fed, so it was mineral rich and cool. They were like perfect, natural infinity pools!
Sitting in that pool looking out on the mountains, I had a feeling of tranquility and calmness I hadn’t felt since I started traveling. This place was a complete surprise to me, something I’d never imagined I’d be seeing. It made me feel so incredibly excited for the year ahead and the things I’ll be doing that I can’t even imagine yet.
It’s only been two weeks of traveling and I already know that taking 15 months off to travel is the best decision I’ve ever made. There is so much that is unknown about the next year, but that may be the best part of it all – the cool shit I haven’t even thought of doing yet.
I think that is the most amazing part of travel and why everyone should carve out a place for it in their lives. There is so much out there you don’t even know about yet – so why not get out there and discover it?
You have to admit – this spectacular view beats sitting in an office any day!
Adventure: Hierve el Auga, a set of petrified waterfalls in Oaxaca state, Mexico.
Where: The falls are located about an hour and fifteen minutes from the city of Oaxaca.
Getting There: We visited the falls as part of a tour that visited four other spots – the Árbol de Tule, a giant tree next to a centuries old church, a weaver’s shop in a Zapotec village, the ruins of Mitla, and a Mezcal factory. I wouldn’t recommend the tour itself because it was a lot crammed into one day and the Zapotec village was sadly pretty touristy, but you can organize tours in Oaxaca that visit the falls only.
Lonely Planet has information about taking public transportation to get there. Alternatively, you could drive there yourself.
Cost: Our tour from Oaxaca cost 600 pesos (about $37 US), but if you arrange just a visit to the falls, I’m sure it will be cheaper. I don’t believe there is an entrance fee to the falls themselves, but I could be wrong.
- – Bring a change of clothes and your swimsuit! There are basic changing facilities available.
- – There is a small collection of huts serving food and selling trinkets, the same as near any tourist attraction in Mexico. I’d eat before you come, though there are some decent quesadillas to be had for less than two bucks if you get hungry. They also have a hut serving fresh coconuts with a straw, which isn’t a bad way to wrap up your day!
- – If you are afraid of heights, be prepared for sharp drop-offs at the top of both sets of falls. There are no railings, just signs warning you not to fall to your death! So if you don’t want to get vertigo (like a person in my group did) don’t walk too close to the edge.
- – I recommend going for a swim after the hike down and back up. You’ll be tired, hot and the pools are a nice reward for your burning thighs!