Chasing the sun: Camping at Hierve el Agua
It's hard to miss hearing about Hierve el Agua if you make it to Oaxaca City. The petrified waterfalls and natural infinity pool at the top are one of the state's main attractions. Located among rolling green mountains and valleys, turquoise green pools of water pour over a cliff. Because of the high levels of calcium carbonate and other minerals, the water flowing over the cliff side has become a petrified waterfall. While you enjoy these stunning views, you can also take a dip in the pools at the top. Don't be fooled — though the name means "the water boils," the pools are a little cold.
While most people visit this natural wonder with a tour, we highly recommend doing it on your own. Not only will it save you some pesos, but, unlike with a tour where they only give you an hour to take in the site, doing it independently allows you to spend as much time there as you like. Plus, if you're a sucker for breathtaking sunrises, you should do what we did and camp overnight at the waterfalls. Sounds like a dream? Here we'll give you the scoop on how to make the most of your trip to Hierve el Agua.
How to get there
From Oaxaca City, take any bus heading to Mitla. We found the most convenient bus stop to be up by the baseball stadium on Calzada Héroes Chapultepec. The bus will have a sign that says "Mitla" in the windshield. A one-way fare from Oaxaca City to Mitla costs $20 pesos ($1.05 USD) per person. The ride takes about one hour, give or take, depending on how many stops it makes. The bus will drop you off in Mitla, and once you get off there will normally be several colectivos (pick up trucks with seats in the back and a tent to cover passengers) waiting.
The colectivo drivers will announce their destinations, so just listen for one that's going to Hierve el Agua. A one-way fare for the colectivo from Mitla to Hierve el Agua is $50 pesos ($2.70 USD) per person and should include the unofficial $10 peso road tax levied by locals. You may have to wait a little while for the colectivo to leave, as they normally wait for enough passengers to fill the truck before departing. The ride to Hierve el Agua is about an hour, and while we read reviews from people complaining about how scary the ride was, we enjoyed it. It's a dirt road up into the mountains and really isn't scary at all, and we got to exchange travel tips with other backpackers. Once you arrive, you pay $25 pesos ($1.35 USD) per person to enter the site.
What to do
The first thing you'll probably want to do is take a dip in the pools, so make sure to bring your bathing suit. There are changing rooms and bathrooms down by the pools. Remember, even though the name means "the water boils," the temperature is actually a little cool. Hopefully the weather will be on your side and it will be hot and sunny.
There are also several small hikes around the area that are worth checking out. The easiest is up the hill past the pools that leads around to a lookout point where you can see the falls. A less well-marked path leads below the falls.
We also recommend getting a piña loca up at the food stands near the parking lot. It's a hollowed out pineapple adorned with the pineapple slices and filled with mezcal, fresh orange juice, pineapple juice, topped with chamoy and chile con sal y limón, all for $50 pesos ($2.70 USD). It's delicious and for some reason we've only managed to find them at Hierve el Agua. It was so good that we started making these at our apartment when we got home.
The views are stunning, but sunrise is majestic
If you chase the sun like us, you'll do just about anything to catch a beautiful sunrise. So when we heard that you can spend the night at Hierve el Agua, we knew we had to do it.
There are two options: camping or renting a cabaña. It costs $40 pesos ($2.15 USD) per person to camp or $160 pesos ($8.65 USD) for a cabaña. Just make sure to let the people at the entrance know which you'd like to do and you can pay there. Because we're traveling with our camping equipment, we opted to camp. However, it gets pretty cold here at night due to the high altitude and the mist that gets trapped between the mountains, so make sure to bring a few layers and sleeping bag.
Despite seriously underestimating the cold and therefore having a rather rough night trying to sleep, staying overnight was absolutely worth it. We woke up in time to catch the sunrise and it was magical. The rising sun cast dramatic shadows into the valley and the soft, orange light reflected brilliantly in the pools. It was breathtaking. Adding to the serenity was the fact that we were the only ones there and had the entire place to ourselves. Even though the morning air was a bit crisp, Rebecca took a dip to see the sunrise from the edge of the pool. Not a bad way to wake up, right?