If you head east on winding highway 179 past Mitla, you’ll notice how suddenly Oaxacan landscapes can change - in this case, from arid valley to steep mountains wooded with oak. The thermal springs of Hierve el Agua are located on one such mountain, and a swim in the soothing water affords spectacular views of the surrounding peaks, including the “petrified waterfalls” - sparkling stalactite cliffs created from mineral content in the springs - the area is famous for. If you hike southeast from the camping/parking area, you’ll find trails that lead past an ancient Zapotec irrigation system and down to the bubbling source of the spring. Standing at the edge of this buttress of stalactites affords a dramatic view of the pools and valleys below.
Hierve el Agua is not a hot spring---the water hovers at swimming pool temperature, perfect for a long soak in the heat of the afternoon. Local lore ascribes the pools with healing powers and the site attracts all walks of life, from local families to hippie backpackers.
Hierve el Agua is located about 70 km east of Oaxaca City. If you don’t have wheels, consider commissioning a taxi for the day, or catch a colectivo (group taxi, often a truck) from the outskirts of Oaxaca, across the street from the baseball stadium, Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos (Niños Heroes de Chapultepec and Boulevard Eduardo Vasconcelos). Take the colectivo toward the ruins of Mitla. Once there, you can catch another colectivo to Hierve el Agua. If you drive, you’ll come to a gate just before the spring where you’ll pay a nominal “road upkeep fee” to the local government. This is in addition to the actual cost of admission. Rudimentary camp areas and cabins are available, and small restaurants and food carts serve reasonably priced meals and snacks.