Although the name of this place translates as boiling water, the springs that seep from the side of a limestone mountain less than an hour’s drive east of Mitla aren’t hot. Instead, they are loaded with minerals. These minerals over time have built up into rock-hard deposits, forming great algae-painted slabs in level spots and, on steep slopes, accumulating into what appear to be grand frozen waterfalls.

The Springs

Bring your bathing suit: if the weather is good it’s a wonderful place for a dip.At Hierve El Agua (no phone, 9am-6pm daily, $2) the first thing you’ll see after passing the entrance gate is a lineup of snack and curio stalls at the cliff-side parking lot. A trail leads downhill to the main spring, which bubbles from the mountainside and trickles into a huge basin that the operators have dammed as a swimming pool. Bring your bathing suit: if the weather is good it’s a wonderful place for a dip.

Shallow turquoise water of Hierve El Agua.

Despite its name, Hierve El Agua’s springs are not hot. Photo © Konstantin Kalishko/123rf.

Part of Hierve El Agua’s appeal is the panoramic view of mountain and valley. On a clear day, you can see the tremendous massif of Zempoatepetl (saym-poh-ah-TAY-pehtl), the grand holy mountain range of the Mixe people, rising above the eastern horizon.

From the ridge-top park, agile walkers can hike farther down the hill, following deposits curiously accumulated in the shape of miniature limestone dikes that trace the mineral water’s downhill path. Soon you’ll glimpse a towering limestone formation, like a giant petrified waterfall, appearing to ooze from the cliff downhill straight ahead, on the right.

Hikers can also enjoy following a sendero peatonal (footpath) that encircles the entire zone. Start your walk from the trailhead beyond the bungalows or at the other end, at the cliff edge between the parking lot and the entrance gate. Your reward will be an approximately one-hour, self-guided tour, looping downhill past the springs and the great frozen rock cascades and featuring grand vistas of the gorgeous mountain and canyon scenery along the way.

Accommodations and Food

The Hierve El Agua tourist cabañas ecoturísticas ($10 pp, $40 up to six people in a bungalow) are fine for a restful one-night stay. There are several clean and well-maintained housekeeping bungalows, with shower-baths and hot water, as well as bungalows for up to groups of six, with refrigerator, stove, and utensils. For information about cabaña reservations, contact the Oaxaca state tourist information office (Av. Juárez 703, west side of El Llano park, tel. 951/516-0123, 8am-8pm daily).

For food, you can bring and cook your own in your bungalow or rely upon the strictly local-style beans, carne asada (roast meat), tacos, tamales, and tortillas offered by the parking-lot food stalls.

Getting There

Get there by riding an Ayutla-bound Fletes y Pasajes bus east out of either Oaxaca City (departing from camionera central segunda clase) or from Mitla on Highway 179 just east of town. Get off at the Hierve El Agua side road, about 18 kilometers (11 mi) past Mitla. Continue the additional eight kilometers (five mi) by taxi or the local bus marked San Lorenzo.

Many tour operators operating out of Oaxaca City, such as Verde Antequera Travel (Murguía 100, tel. 951/514-8624) and Monte Albán Tours (Macedonio Alcalá 206-F, tel. 951/514-1385, 951/514-1976), include about a one- or two-hour visit to Hierve El Agua in their full-day tour packages, which run about $15-18 per person, meals and entry fees not included. The longish drive precludes its inclusion in half-day tours, but the spectacular scenery and the unusual nature of the site make this destination well worth visiting either on a tour or in a rental car should you have one.

Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Oaxaca.