A Practical Guide on How to Visit Hierve el Agua Without a Tour
Hierve el Agua is a set of beautiful pools and petrified natural formations close to Oaxaca, Mexico. In this guide, we will share our knowledge on how to visit Hierve el Agua without a guide, how to get there from Oaxaca and how much things cost.
When we traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, we knew that not the city itself and not the Alban Ruins nearby, but visiting Hierve el Agua independently is the main reason why to stay there.
Things got a bit complicated because we were both sick for the whole time we spent in Oaxaca, but thanks to some pills we were able to function and see everything we wanted during three days in the city and its surroundings.
WHAT IS HIERVE EL AGUA
Hierve el Agua means 'the water boils' in Spanish, but when arriving at the site, you can ask why the name as nothing is boiling there.
Yes, there are several pools, and the water is bubbling out the vent, but the water is surprisingly cold, and although the color of the water would under normal circumstances have suggested the strong presence of sulfur, it is not there either, at least not in the amount when you can smell its unmistakable odor.
Hierve el Agua resembles a cascading waterfall, but no water is running down.
This place is one of two calcified waterfalls in the world the other one is the most famous one Pamukkale in Turkey.
Hierve el Agua was created by a slow process which has taken thousands of years - spring water is bubbling out through limestone, picks up minerals along the way, becomes calcified, and when it reaches the edge it pours off the cliff, and waterfall-like rock formations are created.
VISITING HIERVE EL AGUA INDEPENDENTLY OR WITH A TOUR
We said that we would share with you how to visit Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca without a tour, but you should also know that there is an option to take a full-day tour from Oaxaca.
It is more expensive than traveling on own, but you will also visit a small archeological site in Mitla and stop by at a mezcal distillery plus you won't spend that much time waiting for the transport.
Every option has some pros and cons.
HOW TO GET TO HIERVE EL AGUA WITHOUT A TOUR
Getting to Hierve el Agua is quite easy, but can be time-consuming because you sometimes need to wait for the capacity of the car to fill up and sometimes wait until a driver deign to start the engine.
From Oaxaca to Mitla | First, you need to get from Oaxaca to Mitla as there is no direct service to Hierve el Agua. Here you have two options.
1. Take a bus - if you decide to take a bus, you must walk a bit from the city center to a baseball stadium Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos along Highway 190 where all the buses to Mitla should pass approximately every 30 minutes. Although when coming back from Mitla, the bus drove around the stadium, on the day we were waiting there no bus was coming for a quite a long time, so we became impatient and opted for another option on how to get to Mitla. Bus to Mitla costs Mx 20 per person for one way. The journey by bus from Oaxaca to Mitla takes one hour.
2. Take a colectivo - and by colectivo, we mean a standard car which looks like a taxi, but has a big sign Mitla on the window and can hold up to seven people (don't ask how, but we had the privilege to share the front seat together). This service is only Mx 10 more expensive than the bus, cost Mx 30 and is faster. The journey from Oaxaca to Mitla takes 45 minutes.
From Mitla to Hierve el Agua | Hierve el Agua lies high in the mountains, and there is no public transport and no paved road as well. You can get there by taxi or pick-up truck called camioneta. Both are waiting on the intersection in Mitla where either bus or colectivo will drop you off.
1. Taxi to Hierve el Agua - If you do not want to wait for the camioneta to fill up, you can take a taxi which costs Mx 600 so you can consider this option when not traveling on a strict budget or when you travel as a group of four.
2. Camioneta to Hierve el Agua - camioneta alias a truck is the most common way how to reach the pools, the biggest disadvantage is that you need to wait until the minimum number of people is reached (10 - 12) as the driver does not want to lose money. In the perfect world this ride costs between Mx 50 - Mx 60, but when it seems that no more people are coming any time soon, you can ask fellow travelers if they don't mind paying a bit more to persuade the driver to keep moving. This was the case when we wanted to get back from Hierve el Agua to Mitla as there were not that many travelers without own transport, and it seemed we will have to wait there forever (we admit we can be very impatient when it comes to transport without a fixed schedule). No matter there were three cars (which should normally need 36 people) and about only 9 people who needed to get to Mitla, drivers were very relaxed and it took us a quite a long time to persuade them that they really won't make more money by waiting.
The drive from Mitla to Hierve el Agua takes about an hour, and it is a bumpy ride, but views are stunning.
To return to Oaxaca, you need to retrace your steps - get from Hierve el Agua to Mitla by camioneta and from Mitla take either a frequent bus or colectivo to Oaxaca.
If you do not want to take a tour, but traveling by public transport seems too time-consuming, you can opt for a third choice and rent a car.
ENTRANCE FEE TO HIERVE EL AGUA
We were pleasantly pleased that the entrance fee to Hierve el Agua was not expensive, only Mx 25 - this is not a standard, because in other cases we found tickets to tourist attractions quite overpriced in Mexico.
Follow up to date information before visiting as the price is often subject to change.
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CAN YOU SWIM IN THE POOLS OF HIERVE EL AGUA
Although information differs, at the moment you can swim or only cool off in the pools of Hierve el Agua.
There is no guard or no signs saying that this activity is forbidden, you can even find here toilets and changing rooms.
Be prepared that water in the pools is not hot, but refreshing, which we found pleasant because of the hot weather. It is possible that swimming won't be possible once the site starts to be more popular, but at the time of our visit, at the end of the high season in late May, there were not many people in Hierve el Agua.
If you can, try to avoid visiting the place on weekends because we believe many locals from nearby Mitla or Oaxaca arrive to enjoy their time off.
WHAT TO DO AT HIERVE EL AGUA
We spent approximately three hours at Hierve el Agua and during that time had enough time to swim, sunbath for a bit, admire the waterfalls and hike the short loop under the falls.
When we arrived, first we headed to the pools overflowing over the edge. Honestly, we did not know what to expect as some people said there is not enough water, but two major pools had enough water to swim even at the end of the dry season and there were also many small photogenic holes filled with yellow or green water.
The biggest pool is artificial, not natural, which should probably attract more visitors, but we did not find it disturbing as the resulting effect is very convincing.
Once we took enough pictures and felt a bit refreshed, we started hiking down to the best view of the calcified waterfalls.
You will clearly see a path leading to the bushes on the left side when not facing the pools. At the beginning of the path is a shelter and a sign saying that a guide is compulsory, but it is not (there was no one there anyway). Follow the trail for about 15 minutes and you will reach a viewpoint with yet another small holes filled with water.
To get the most sought-after photo of the fall from the bottom, you need to carry on another five or ten minutes - the trail is in good condition with many stairs though.
Once you reach the viewpoint, you have two options on how to get back to the pools. Either retrace your steps or continue and finish approximately 1.2 kilometers long loop which should take around one hour to complete.
The trail here is not that well-maintained, but we were still surprised that we did not meet anyone on this extension.
WHAT TO PACK FOR HIERVE EL AGUA
You do not need to overpack for this day-trip from Oaxaca, but still, there are a couple of things you should not leave without.
Water | It is scorching hot in the region all year round and almost no shade, so pack your bottle to stay hydrated or you can consider purchasing SteriPen to purify water and do your part in saving the planet.
Sunscreen | It goes without saying that a quality sunscreen is a must when spending all day out in Mexico.
Sunglasses | Same as sunscreen, sunglasses are an item we never leave our room without even though the sun is not shining in that particular moment.
Money | You will pay for everything cash when traveling to Hierve el Agua, so withdraw enough money in Oaxaca, Mx 400 per person should be enough.
Rain Poncho | The closer you are getting to the rainy season (from June to October), the higher chance of afternoon storms and rains is, so pack your rain poncho to stay dry.
FOOD & DRINKS
When walking from the parking lot to the pools, you will pass several stalls and restaurants selling cold drinks and food, but we recommend you to bring own water and snack as prices are higher.
WHERE TO STAY IN OAXACA
There is probably no reason when visiting Hierve el Agua to stay anywhere else than in Oaxaca, the nearest large city from this natural formation.
We've handpicked three places where to stay in Oaxaca for every budget.
Budget | Andaina Youth Hostel - This hostel is the most popular option on where to stay for all travelers on a budget. Not only it is cheap, but it has remarkable reviews because of the perfect location and cleanliness.
Mid-range | Hotel Victoria Oaxaca - Set in a tropical garden, this reasonably priced hotel offers a great location close to the center (they have a shuttle if you don't want to walk 15 minutes to the center) and features such as a swimming pool so you will have a relaxed holiday feel.
Luxury | Marialicia Suites Hotel Boutique - Professional service, comfortable and clean rooms, great position and attentive staff, these are only a few reasons, why to stay in this hotel.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
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