San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Mexico

Hierve El Agua

This beautifully deceptive waterfall is something far different from what it appears to be. 

Sometimes nature creates counterfeits: a fish that looks like a plant, a fruit that looks like a vegetable, or in the case of Mexico’s Hierve El Agua, a rock formation that looks like a waterfall. Sounds unusual? It is.

At a distance, this enormous rock structure looks exactly like a frozen waterfall, a seeming impossibility in the hot temperatures of San Lorenzo Albarradas, the town closest to the rock. If you come closer to the formation, however, you realize your eyes have played a trick on you.

The rocks are, in fact, mineral deposits on top of a limestone mountain. On the mountain’s ledges sit two fresh water pools noted for their medicinal properties, and springs that are saturated with calcium carbonate and magnesium. Subsequently, the water from the pools drips down through the cliffs, depositing the minerals onto the side of the mountain. Over time, these deposits have accumulated in staggered columns that look an awful lot like icy cold waterfalls.

The name of the place, literally “the water boils” in Spanish, comes from the way the water bubbles as it travels through the spring. The Zapotec people, who lived in the area more than 2,000 years ago, revered these pools and directed the spring waters to irrigate their plants. The canals created by these people have petrified into this unusual rock sight in the subsequent passage of time.

This result, which took thousands of years to create, is essentially an above-ground stalactite that hangs more than 50 meters from the bottom of the valley. The waterfall misnomer is perpetuated with the name of the rock formations, dubbed salt waterfalls or petrified waterfalls.

The park’s hours aren’t the most consistent, so make sure to call ahead before setting out to see these unusual “falls”.

Know Before You Go

Take the Fletes y Pasajes bus out of either Oaxaca City or Mitla. Your stop will be the Hierve El Agua side road, which is 11 miles past Mitla. Here, ride the San Lorenzo bus to the Hierve El Agua stop.

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