Thursday, June 8

Hierve el Agua: a day of hiking, food and mezcal


A lucky day is one in which everything that happens is perfect – and even more so if you haven’t planned the people who accompany you, what you experience, what you eat, or what you find along the way. It is as if the heavens conspire to create the perfect day, to live an experience that makes your heart happy.

My perfect day, my lucky day, was recent. I went on a tour that explored the area of petrified waterfalls at Hierve el Agua and took us on a long hike leading to Las Salinas. We bathed in the waterfalls and enjoyed delicious food with two local families of Zapotec origin. Then, we spent the afternoon with another family at their mezcal palenque and tried the local liquor made from various types of maguey. The truth is that this adventure was perfect from the beginning.

Our group was made up of Americans, Scots and me, a Spanish woman who has lived in Oaxaca for years, and luck was on our side. We left early, too early for me! Everyone arrived on time at the offices of Coyote Aventuras in the city of Oaxaca, and our aim was to be in San Isidro Roaguía, the town where Hierve el Agua is located (about 70 kilometres from the capital, in the Central Valleys) before 8 am.

Just as the bus was approaching our destination, we had our first lucky encounter. From where we were, on the road that goes through the mountains, we could see how the clouds were disappearing, allowing us to contemplate Hierve el Agua from above. A sea of thick white clouds—huge cumulus clouds, moved by the wind, evaporating in the morning sun—was clearing the landscape for us. A true spectacle.

In San Isidro, Emelia and Reynaldo were waiting for us. They welcomed us with a great breakfast of coffee, hot chocolate, sweet bread, quesadillas, eggs on the comal, and memelas, everything we needed for a long day trip. We started our tour of Hierve el Agua accompanied by Mariana and Shai, guides from Coyote Aventuras. As luck was on our side, we found Hierve el Agua practically empty; I could almost say that our group was the only one, so the early morning was worth it.

As luck would have it, a local dog accompanied us from the start. He stayed at the back to make sure that no one was left behind. And when we stopped along the way, he too would stop and lie down at the foot of a tree, in the shade, to rest.

Then we started hiking: we took some eternal stairs and discovered the views of Hierve el Agua from below, where you can see the water falling and the petrified waterfalls, forming a wonderful landscape, unique in the world. Hierve el Agua is special because its white waterfalls of more than 200 meters have been pierced by the carbonated water that has emerged in the pool area for thousands of years. As we watched the waterfalls, we passed over the canals built by the Zapotecs more than 2,500 years ago. They were created as part of farming terraces and an irrigation system, something that was not done in other parts of Mesoamerica.

During one of the breaks, Jaime, the local guide who joined us, told us that Hierve el Agua was a sacred, ceremonial place for the ancient Zapotecs, where there were deer, coyotes, and wild boars. The current inhabitants tell the legend that “every December 24 the big waterfall opens and beautiful music is heard”.

After the hike, which lasted about an hour, we returned to Hierve el Agua, so named because when the water bubbles up out of the pools, it seems to be boiling. The natural pools formed with carbonated water have an ideal temperature to take a dip and contemplate the stunning views. You will want to take a photo looking at the infinity pool within the turquoise waters, the colour of which is due to the concentration of minerals. No other artificial pool is as beautiful as these; they are es-pec-ta-cu-lar!

After a stop to recharge our batteries, eat some fruit and drink water, we returned to the hike. This time Jaime took us on a path outside the tourist part of Hierve el Agua, cross country. We crossed what he called “the border”. In other words, we went from San Isidro Roaguía to San Baltazar Guelavila, where our new guides, Salvador and Javier, were waiting for us.

Like all the roads since we arrived at Hierve el Agua, this new route was full of wild maguey and giant organ cacti. The trees that sheltered us during our breaks were dwarf oaks and guaje, the tree that gives Oaxaca its name. Leaving Hierve el Agua, we found red copals and, later, closer to Las Salinas, white copals. It is from these trees that resin (also called copal) is extracted. This resin is an essential component of altars and is used in many Mexican celebrations, such as the Day of the Dead. There were also mesquites, whose wood is one of the best for cooking.

Every time we turned our heads, our guides showed us how far the white waterfall of Hierve el Agua was. We could also see Nueve Puntas Hill to the right of our path, where, according to Salvador and Javier, there are several large caves.

I won’t deny that the hike was hard and uphill at times, but I also have to say that every step, gasp, and effort was worth it. The reward is so great that, once there, you forget everything. And our prize was to reach another petrified waterfall where we bathed and rested. The force of the water relaxed and refreshed us. In these waterfalls, we could see and touch the stones carved by the water: various shades of green, red and white.

After bathing in Las Salinas, we headed to the town of San Baltazar Guelavila, where we were entertained with a simple but delicious meal prepared by Señora Viki and her son Aarón. We were all happy along the way, the challenge accomplished and, of course, from our swim in the waterfalls. We still needed the last part of the tour: a palenque mezcalero.


We were relaxed and calm, with full bellies and happy hearts, ready for whatever came next on our lucky day. The next stop was Unión Zapata, a town in the Central Valleys near Mitla. Señor Jerónimo and his family were our last hosts. We tasted, felt and explored the flavours of the mezcal made in their palenque. We were also able to buy mezcal, and they gave us toasted maíz halves and a half quiote of cooked maguey: a true delicacy that is only prepared the first three months of the year.

Finally, Galilea, Señor Jerónimo’s daughter, had a surprise for us: a piñata. “Dale, dale, dale”, and the piñata fell to the ground full of messages: each piece of paper contained a prize. The luckiest ones took a bottle of mezcal. I took a happy heart and gratitude for having lived a different day with special people in an unusually beautiful place.

* This post was sponsored by Coyote Aventuras *


About Author

Llevo la mitad de mi vida en México, primero en la Ciudad de México, ahora en Oaxaca. Estudié Periodismo en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, donde nací. Tengo una maestría en Lexicografía Hispánica. Escribo sobre temas culturales, libros y gastronomía, edito y corrijo. Sueño con hacer un diccionario.

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