Before we could find our seats in Mezcalerita, a tiny mezcal joint around the corner from our AirBnB in Oaxaca, Mexico, my travel companion hugged one of the waiters.
“Oh como estás? Que haces aquí?” they greeted each other excitedly. Hector, it turned out, was a middle school classmate of my companion’s. They hadn’t seen each other in 15 years.
“When are you guys leaving? I’d love to take you around Oaxaca!” Hector said.
“Tomorrow,” we replied regretfully.
“Next time, you need to stay for at least two weeks,” Hector told us. “There’s so much to do here.”
He was right. In a region that offers coastline, idyllic beaches, incredible food, handcrafted mezcal and añejo, historic architecture, and of coursed its famed artesanías (not to mention the world’s oldest tree), it can be quite a challenge to decide how to spend 48 hours.
After much deliberation, we opted to spend a full day exploring the area around Oaxaca City. So we left bright and early for Hierve El Agua (“Boiling Water”), a natural wonder consisting of petrified rock in the shape of a waterfall.
Various online resources and articles suggest taking a taxi or a bus to make the one-hour long trip. There are also plenty of group tours that will take you to Hierve as well other attractions outside of Oaxaca City. We didn’t have a problem driving ourselves; in fact, the trip proved entertaining. As we left the city, we passed through what appeared to be a protest. Dozens of men and women crowded the streets, many of them selling hats, candy, and other goods to motorists.
As we were stopped at a traffic light, a young man in a construction worker’s yellow vest approached the driver’s side and asked my companion to lower his window. He told him in Spanish that another driver had complained that we were driving recklessly and cutting people off. My companion laughed and said, “How much is the ticket?” Thankfully, observant citizens are unable to penalize drivers that get in their way.
We also took a wrong turn just before the exit indicated by Google Maps. No problem — we rerouted. But as we drove along the new route Google provided, it was hard to believe we were on the right track. We drove along a rutted dirt road through tiny farming communities. Little children walked along the road and we paused when a goat herder crossed the street with 15 baby goats and five dogs. Later, on the way back, we realized that Google had sent us on a very unofficial route — but it was worth it to get a peek into the daily life in a tiny Oaxacan community.
We had also been warned that due to a disagreement between the federal and local governments, multiple entrance fees would be collected. We paid 10 pesos per person at the first toll booth and fifty pesos per car at the second one (just before the entrance.) In the end, both of the fees together add up to about $2 per person, depending on the day and the exchange rate.
And wow, is it worth it! I was excited to swim in the naturally formed cliffside pools, but ultimately spent more time enjoying the views and surrounding hikes. I don’t recommend changing into a bathing suit in your car or in the clean, spacious bathroom near the parking lot. You’ll need sneakers and comfortable hiking clothes to make the trek from the parking lot to the pools and then further down to the scenic outlook.