Although the springs may be crowded on weekends and holidays, you’ll probably have Hierve El Agua nearly to yourself on weekdays. 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.
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.
Back uphill by the parking lot, operators have augmented the natural springs with a resort-style swimming pool where, along with everyone else, you can frolic to your heart’s content.
Hikers can also enjoy following a sendero peatonal (footpath) that encircles the entire zone. Start your walk from the trailhead beyond the bungalows past the pool, 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.
The Hierve El Agua zone and surrounding country is habitat for a hardy dry-country palm you’ll probably see plenty of while strolling around. Lack of winter–spring moisture usually keeps the palms small, sometimes clustering in great gardens, appearing like regiments of desert dwarfs. Local people gather and weave their fronds into tenates (baskets), petates (mats), escobas (brooms), and more, which they sometimes sell in the stalls by the parking lot.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition