Hierve el Agua

Our third stop on this Christmas Eve expedition was the Hierve el Agua – the salt waterfalls.  The Hierve el Agua, a pair of waterfalls of salt, brine and limestone have created by the upflow of mineral laden water from deep in the ground forming this amazing geological formation.  The  full name of this anomaly is the Hierve el Agua de Juarez and is located about 2 hours drive from Oaxaca.

In the photo above you can see the smaller of the two waterfalls.  In the photo below is the larger.  All of the photos in this series (except for the one above) are shot at the larger waterfall series.  The photo of the large waterfall was shot from the small waterfall and vice versa; the waterfalls are about 100 meters apart.

Mineral laden water percolates from deep underground and surfaces here.  As it evaporates it leaves its minerals behind and the effect is the mirage of frozen waterfalls.  The site is both beautiful and scientifically amazing.


Translated literally, Hierve el Agua means “the water is boiling.”  Looking from the source of the salt waterfalls towards the main “wading pool,” you can see one of the sources of the “boiling water.”  In reality the water is not boiling – it brings up oxygen bubbles with it and looks like it is boiling.  It is not a hot water springs but is a warm water springs with waters that are warm enough to swim in.  Unfortunately, in the spirit of capitalism, the local officials allow tourists to swim in these rare and beautiful pools for a paltry sum of $5 dollars.  Below you can see some of the locals bathing in these thousands of years old ponds.

I remember being told at the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico that touching the hard water formations would stunt their further growth; oils in human skin prevents the hard water from forming addtional deposits.

Today, the springs pump up 2 liters of water per second.  The water flows outwards and deposits its minerals in the many ponds and then flows over the side.  It is believed that the Zapotec people channeled the water into the lower valley to irrigate their crops.  Eventually the irrigation canals became encrusted and petrified with mineral deposits and the native Zapotecs had to channel the water to isolate boron to prevent crop damage.

As the water level rises and fades with each season, different pools evaporate and leave behind traces of their shores.  These traces make beautiful patens near the wading pools.  I was quite surprised (and disappointed) to see tourists walking on these beautiful formations.

The formations created by the underground water looked almost man-made.  In the photo below you can see what almost looks like a Jaccuzi or above-ground swimming pool.  The water flowed over the top and created mini-waterfalls down the side.  A small hole in the side of the pool wall now directs the water out of the side of the pool and towards the sheer edge of the salt waterfall.

In the next photo (below) you can see the size of some of the pools.  Edwin, our Dutch travel companion is posing at the edge of the top of the waterfall.  The site was both beautiful and amazing.  If you are ever in Oaxaca, I certainly recommend a visit.


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