There are 2 popular towers in the surroundings of Oaxaca: on the Hierve el Agua side and on the Monte Alban side. But for the tour Hierve el Agua + Teotitlan + Tule, we decide to go there by ourselves by bus & colectivo to be able to spend more time at each stop. The agencies cover almost the same route (except the Tlacolula market) in a single day. But we will take 2.5 days hiihihi. For practical advices, prices & bus departure places, please go to the Practical Advice section at the bottom of the article
Part 1: Travel Diary
Just to explain our journey, the state of Oaxaca is very interesting because there is still a large community of indigenous people (the Zapotecs). Thus, we have many artisan villages around the main Oaxaca city of Juarez. The people still live in a very traditional way, dress in a traditional way – there is a sweetness of life that we want to discover, so we take more time to visit to soak up the atmosphere.
Hierve el Agua : how to get there
To get to Hierve el Agua, you must first take the bus to Mitla. We plan to leave at 8:40 am and arrive at the bus terminal at 9 am, but we are going to the wrong bus terminal and go to the SUR terminal instead of the terminal of the 2nd class company GOMA. We didn’t know it but this corner is rather crappy. Finally, we take the 10:10 am bus and as it stops absolutely everywhere, we arrive with difficulty in Mitla only at 11:45 am. My attempt to arrive early in Hierve el Agua (not to be against the light) is a failure. At least, the bus is the cheapest option (20MXN). There’s a colectivo that makes the same trip for more money, but many tourists complain about the carelessness of the drivers, hence my preference for the bus.
We are dropped off in Mitla just in front of the shuttle company that brings all the tourists to Hierve el Agua in a converted pick-up truck. At the back, it piles up too much, the driver tries to put us both in the back while there is only room for one (small) buttock. We refuse to go up in there and he frightens us by saying “but the next one is likely to be in 1 hour”. To which I answer: “it isn’t serious, I am going to go to eat while waiting”.
In the end, it’s not 1 hour but only 15 minutes of waiting, the time it takes for the next pickup to be filled. After observing the first one, we know that the best seats are next to and behind the driver. We barely have room for 2 right next to the driver. The trip costs 50MXN/person.
There are 2 roads leading to Hierve el Agua: a paying road half in good condition half rotten and a non-paying but horrible road. Usually they will go up via one road and down via the other. In this case, we go up with the beautiful road and at one point, the driver stops and a lady asks 10MXN to each of us (0,5€). True to their reputation, only the French tourists grumble and reproach the driver for omitting this detail. Well, to be honest, if they manage to find this pickup, it’s because they read something on the Internet. And everybody is talking about it, about these 10MXN, it’s not really official, sometimes they are there, sometimes not. These fees correspond to the “maintenance” of the 4km to come – which shakes us up in all directions. That’s why we shouldn’t get in the back, the balance is precarious. At one point, we hear something falling – JB and I look at each other saying “ahh we lost a tourist” 😀
Along these 4km there are many “fabricas de mezcal”, where mezcal (a version of tequila) is produced. Admire the fields of agave, the main ingredient of mezcal, along the way.
Hierve el Agua : A false air of Pamukkale
On arrival, we pay 25MXN each. There are some stores and restaurants at the entrance. We make the mistake of having lunch before the visit, because for the moment there is sun and it is very hot, but just after our lunch, when the sun will play hide and seek, the photos will make us look less good :((
Finally, when you have landscapes like that, the “less good” is relative 😀 I read that one day tours only stop there for 30 minutes. This is clearly insufficient for such an unreal place. So I really recommend you, if you have some time, to visit them by yourself, preferably during the week.
The area still looks arid, there are a lot of cacti. It isn’t for nothing that they grow agaves here.
Let’s zoom in a little bit. To have such a clear view, JB is on the roof of an abandoned hotel. The rooms are half finished, and the swimming pool (supposed to be) with overflow offers a magnificent view on the mountains. Unfortunately, the project has been abandoned, and from the empty swimming pool, one can access a small roof that gives this nice view. However, you can pay to camp on site (there is already a large tent ready to use).
While going down a little, we see this magnificent tree, and this pretty swimming pool which reminds us too much of Pamukkale. The spring water that feeds the pool is very loaded with minerals and over time, creates reliefs around the pool and makes it very pretty. There are free changing rooms next to it and toilets (5MXN). The water is a bit cool but not icy. In the middle of the pool there is a water source – lukewarm. It’s funny especially that the name “Hierve el Agua” means “boiling water” 😀 we were seriously expecting to get 3rd degree burns but I think the risk of burning comes rather from the sun (spread sunscreen unless you plan to swim, it’s forbidden in this case).
One approaches the edge and fortunately it isn’t slippery. Here, we will never be able to have white bolsters as in Pamukkale because the water is a little loaded with iron, so we are all allowed to wear our shoes. Clearly, we aren’t in rainy season anymore, the water sources that we see are tiny, there is just a little bit of water coming out. Some bolsters (at least the ones we see on the advertising brochures) aren’t filled at all. But the landscapes are breathtaking; whether the bolsters are full or not, it doesn’t matter 🙂
We are at the top of a “petrified waterfall”. We don’t realize it because we walk on it, but looking on the right, there is a 2nd petrified waterfall and people walk there happily too. This “cascade” effect is obtained thanks to the minerals in the springs water that gushes out and accumulates for thousands of years
We follow the path to go to the 2nd waterfall. We understand better, by taking a little height, the structure of the cascade (and the swimming pools) where we were. It seems that the closest swimming pool to the edge is artificial.
It’s so pretty! I don’t know if you see the small path in the middle of the waterfall, if you do the big tour on foot, you have to go up all the waterfall by “climbing” a little. I saw the people arriving there. In any case, seen from here, the different floors are so beautiful, it looks like a beautiful hair.
At one point, you have to turn right and go down to the 2nd waterfall. There is more water. The small natural pool is deep enough to soak your feet. The towers aren’t there, we are 5-6 on the spot and can really enjoy the view and also the experience. A couple of tourists from next door take the opportunity to do a meditation session.
The path goes down again – and as I explained to you, we can go to the feet of the two waterfalls (to go up again while climbing), but it’s too much effort for us 🙂 we just turn around and go back.
To return to Mitla, we wait for one of the pick-up trucks in the parking lot to decide to leave. Always 50MXN/person. We still manage to occupy the two places next to the driver. This time he takes the difficult road, accessible only to 4×4. The advantage is that there is no toll to pay for him. Already, sitting in the front seat, we are shaken in all directions – I don’t dare to imagine the state of the passengers in the back. Unfortunately, it is the cheapest solution to come here independently so if you have a backache, opt for a cab or a tour with an agency, but not the pick-up!
We are dropped off in front of the bus station. We have two choices: take a colectivo (more expensive) or a bus. We choose the bus (GOMA company, always)
The logical option would have been to sleep in the village of Tlacolula, which we also plan to visit. It is closer to Mitla – but we prefer to go to Teotitlan. On the one hand: the market of Tlacolula takes place on Sunday (this is the only reason for our visit to Tlacolula) and it is Friday. And in Teotitlan, I want to take a carpet dyeing/weaving class on Saturday, so I might as well go there right away.
We are dropped off by the GOMA bus at the junction between the main road & the road to the village (the bus cost us 15MXN/person). There is always a colectivo or a tuk-tuk waiting for the passengers there. In this case, it is a colectivo (a colectivo is a cab to share, it has a defined route) waiting for us there. It is marked “teotitlan” on it. We go up there with 2 other passengers and are dropped off in the center of the village. For 8MXN/person.
As everywhere in Mexico, the advertising messages or store names are painted on the wall. In this village, the inhabitants are encouraged to work to build their future. And to drink 2 liters of water a day. The drawing represents them well since we are in a village of craftsmen: they weave woollen carpets in the traditional way.
Our airbnb does not offer breakfast, we will have breakfast at the market (3 blocks away). It is open every day but only in the morning. Little ladies in traditional dress come to shop with a basket. Almost nobody uses plastic bags here. Most of the time they come with their bowl, tupperware or a container. I thought the little ladies lived far away, but after observing them for several days in a row, I realized that they all take a tuk-tuk, even to go 300m.
JB opts for a ham torta (a kind of burger too good) while I just take a milk chocolate the Mayan way (made with cocoa, it’s less sweet). With her little kitchen, the saleswoman manages to install a kind of cooking plate, making her torta super super good.
The village is specialized in the weaving of wool carpets. And our Airbnb is one of the few addresses where you can learn how to prepare the wool, dye the wool and weave. Courses cost 1500MXN. It isn’t super clear what each course consists of. I feel like we can just hang out there and ask to do things. As long as it doesn’t last too long, it’s a class. It’s very expensive (75€) but it depends on what you learn. If it’s just for dyeing like me, I find it very expensive. But another american woman on the spot is learning how to weave, and if she is fast, she can finish her carpet (for the entrance) in only 2 days. So the quality/price ratio becomes more interesting – because the amount of wool that has to be used for a carpet is enormous and the time to assemble the structure for the student already takes them 1 day.
The course they like to offer to beginners like me is dyeing. I have several colors to choose from and knowing a little bit about traditional dyeing methods (I haven’t been to the Sacred Valley in Peru for nothing), I chose the easiest color hehe: cochinillas, a kind of parasite that lives on the cactus. You just have to crush them to get a nice burgundy powder. The other colors are more boring: crushing leaves or flowers, or coal with a stone patella: Nope!
It’s funny how you accumulate knowledge just by traveling. I had a long conversation with the lady about textiles and I could even comment on how to weave this or that carpet – even though I’ve never touched a weaving machine. But I have visited so many artisan villages all over the world, observed the craftsmen at work – that I know quite well the different weaving methods, the different machines and the basic techniques. In this case, the machines here are made of wood and bamboo, but they are much more advanced and can weave faster than the machines we’ve seen in Asia.
In short, in one hour, I have my tinting powder: 50g after 1 hour of hard work. Fortunately, 50g is enough for 5 huge balls of wool (and incidentally my merino wool top). She will add some “bite” i.e. a bit of aluminum, a bit of “crema” something (not remembered the name) and 1 liter of lime.
If we wanted the orange color, we should have put a lot more lemon but she tells me that lemon is very expensive, so we always go with burgundy. The water is heated and maintained at about 80°C. Depending on the textiles, the color will be more or less intense. On its raw wool (lambswool), the color takes a long time to impregnate, while my merino wool top is already super flashy in barely 1 hour.
I clearly did not follow the process all the way through because it took too long. I just have to watch the fire, make sure that the water temperature is constant. His balls of wool are supposed to stay in there for almost 24 hours. After 2 hours, I take my top out to dry. Rinsing it with water, I notice that the water is tinted. She tells me it will be like that all the time, that’s the problem when you use natural dye – and that I’m doomed to hand wash this top for the rest of its life 😀 Well, I’m quite happy with the result because before, it looked like ugly pajamas. But with the dye, it becomes almost trendy.
Here are the carpets at the lady’s house. The weaving machines are handled with both feet and both hands (of course). It seems that it is difficult but the patterns are obtained by making lines with rolls of different colors. The alternating colors (blue bar, white bar) are obtained by alternating the foot pedals. It’s a bit like playing the piano 🙂
We have lunch in the village and take the opportunity to visit the church and other weaving workshops. The people aren’t traders at all. We enter several stores and workshops and people don’t even come to greet us and let us pass from one machine to another without any question ahahha The village is idling. The slightest order of a simple dessert at the restaurant takes 1 hour. So don’t be in a hurry and relax.
If you have time, go to the Centro Cultural Comunitario TEOTITLÁN DEL VALLE, there is a kind of museum that explains the techniques and gives more information about zapotheques.
This pattern is common to all the rugs woven here. The Zapotecs believe in the link that exists between living beings: animals, plants… and this link is symbolized by this thread between two seeds.
I will then spend the whole afternoon turning sheep hair into wool. But this process takes too much time. I can barely brush them and make them fine enough. The amount I made in one afternoon isn’t even enough to make a mini-pelote. It’s good to observe and know how to do it – but it’s also good to do it yourself to realize how much work there is behind each ball. And each mat. In this village, children learn how to weave from the age of 10 !
We change hotel for tonight (while staying in the same village), at Teocalli (link Booking). We dine in a comedor next door, not expensive at all (45MXN for a torta + drink).
This market isn’t proposed in the Hierve el Agua tour (but is part of another tour) so it is easier for us to go there ourselves. There is a bus which leaves the market at 9 am from Teotitlan for Tlacolula but the owner of the hotel tells us to wait just in front of the hotel and to hail the bus. That saves us 10 minutes of walk. We pay 10MXN/person and are deposited at the bus terminal of Tlacolula. The market of Tlacolula takes place every day, but on Sunday it becomes much bigger. The whole area meets here, even the street leading to the market is full of traders and vendors, comedors of all kinds. A real explosion of colors, smells and sounds.
There are stands selling roasted grasshoppers. We didn’t try them but we bought some salt spiced with grasshoppers, it’s very good.
This is sweet tamarind. One has a bit of chilli on it, the other does not. Then you have to add toppings: ketchup, a little chilli powder, salt or even lemon. Thus, with some mixtures, you can have 5 tastes at the same time: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and spicy. If you liked O May in Vietnam, you will love this one. Otherwise, go your way (or take only the tamarind, without topping), you might get a tummy ache.
This is a drink I have seen on many blogs. The way it’s prepared: the lady goes in with her hands to mix a pasty solution – doesn’t make you want to try it at all. But go ahead, I hear it’s good 🙂
Poultry are sold already killed or not, at your choice. It isn’t uncommon to see little ladies with a well-filled basket and a rooster protruding from its head. At the butchers, the meat is finely cut and folded Marie Kondo style. There is even a barbecue next door to grill the meat live. We have seen a lady buying a tortilla somewhere and having the meat grilled live at the butcher’s shop. All this in a very disorganized place which is finally very organized and logical in its own way.
Result of the races :
- of Tepezcohuite bark: to heal skin wounds and fungus
- honey: Mexicans consume little of it while their honey is organic and not expensive at all. I bought a jar for 40MXN. Honey is always sold in recycled jars without a label, you have to keep your eyes open.
- a lot of tamarind because I love it
- and we ate at the market: some sweet potatoes here, some fruit there… the prices seem honest to me. For example, usually we pay 20MXN for an already cut mango, here it only costs 10MXN. Mangoes aren’t expensive at all: 15MXN per kilo, which is 4 times cheaper than in Oaxaca
We return to the bus terminal and wait for the bus to Oaxaca. We stop again at the junction with Teotitlan, to visit a mezcal factory
Fabrica de Mezcal: el Rey de Matatlan
There are a lot of distilleries in the area but this one is just in front of a bus stop and is on the way so to make our life easier, we stop here. One day tours stop here also and the speech is well grounded. Even if we are only two, they explain us the process, without concern. The explanation of our guide is in Spanish but they know how to find the words to make it more understandable. We came across a group that had explanations in English so it’s feasible if you really don’t speak Spanish.
There are several types of agave and apparently it is the blue agave that is used to make mezcal here in this region. The tequila used is a protected designation and uses another agave so we make mezcal here, not tequila. It takes between 8 and 10 years to be able to use agave to make mezcal. The agave is cooked for 3 to 5 days, then crushed and fermented. Finally, after 2 distillations, the coveted drink is obtained. The longer one waits, the sweeter the taste and the browner the color. We were able to enjoy (free of charge) a tasting of several types of mezcal and the 8 year old one has the same taste as a whisky. In this distillery, the prices are apparently high, so it is recommended to buy mezcal in one of the many mezcaleria in Oaxaca: which offer in addition to mezcal from other regions and tasting sessions if you are a connoisseur. The advantage of buying mezcal from the Oaxaca region is that the manufacturing process is still super manual & traditional.
We cross the road and wait for a bus to stop to take us to El Tule. After several failures, the man waiting (what is he waiting for anyway?) next door explains to us that on the way to Oaxaca, the road splits in two and the buses take the easier route. On the other hand, the colectivos can take the other, uglier road – but the driver must be asked systematically – otherwise he will take the other road. Thanks to him, we were able to find a colectivo that stops in El Tule, for 25MXN/person.
Arbol del Tule
Once again, this is a must stop for day tours. We have lunch at the market (for 180MXN for two) before seeing what the tree with the largest trunk in the world looks like. To get a little closer to it, we have to pay 10MXN, but we make the “cheap tourists” by looking at the tree through the fence. Well, the tree is pretty but it isn’t an essential stop. If it takes you too much time and money, trace it and go back to Oaxaca.
We find a colectivo to the center of Oaxaca. Colectivos always cost more than the bus, but the GOMA bus does not go through the center of the city, so we end up paying 50MXN/person (the correct price is 20MXN max). But in exchange, you are dropped off right in the center of Oaxaca and not in the outskirts
Part 2: Practical Tips
How to get there?
Via an agency: you can visit in one day Arbol del Tule, Teotitlan, Hierve el agua, Mitla and a Fabrica de Mezcal for 180MXN to 250MXN/person. The price difference is related to what is included (appetizers, meals, drinks???) or not. Preferably choose the tours where you go to Hierve el Agua first (in the morning), it will be less crowded, and you will not be backlit like us.
By public transport: GOMA stops at all the small towns between Oaxaca and Mitla (finally, on the main avenue). If the cities are far from this main avenue, stop at the bus station, then there will be either a tuk tuk or a colectivo to take you to the center of the village. It is recommended that you take the bus even if it takes more time, because colectivo drivers are reckless and this road, even if it is beautiful and without apparent danger, has recorded a lot of accidents
- Bus Oaxaca – Mitla: appointment at GOMA transport, salidas a Mitla(google maps). The bus leaves every 25 minutes. 20MXN/person. Be careful, this terminal is located in a very popular place where there are many pickpockets. For your safety, locate the many bus stops on the following blue line (open maps.me) and go to the nearest stop. The colectivos (shared cabs) also follow the same blue path (for 25 to 30MXN/person), stop them on the way (they are marked Mitla on them), otherwise the safest place to get one is right next to the McDonald’s(google maps)
- Pick-up Mitla – Hierve el Agua: the pick-up leaves from here(google maps). It is marked “hierve el agua” on the pick-up. It leaves as soon as it is full (about every 20 minutes), between 8am and 6pm (last departure from Hierve el Agua at 6pm). 50MXN/person (10MXN is needed for road maintenance). Try to sit inside, next to or behind the driver – not in the back
- Pickup Hierve el Agua – Mitla : same pickup but in the other direction. 50MXN/person
- From Mitla (Fypsa Bus Terminal), you can take the GOMA bus to Tlacolula, Teotitlan, or Oaxaca. Fares vary between 10 and 20MXN depending on your destination
- To go to Mitla ruins, you can take the bus to Mitla and ask for the stop next door, or take a tuk tuk to go there
- Bus Mitla – Teotitlan: 15MXN/person. Stop at the crossing between the main road & the village road (googlemaps). There will always be a tuk tuk or colectivo waiting for you there. If there is no one, wait a little, every 10 minutes, there is someone passing by to take you to the village for 8MXN/person
- Bus Teotitlan – Tlacolula: every Sunday, there is a bus making this trip from 9am every 30 minutes. This bus leaves from the market. Otherwise, you can pay a tuk tuk to the junction and wait for the GOMA bus
- Bus Teotitlan – Oaxaca: from the market, you have a bus that leaves directly from the village to Oaxaca every 1h30 every hour. The schedules are indicated here
- Mezcal El Rey de Matatlan is just at the junction that leads to the village Teotitlan, ask for the stop (Teotitlan) and the bus will stop right in front of it.
- To El Tule : you must absolutely go there by colectivo. From Mitla, Teotitlan, Tlacolula, stop any colectivo and ask if they stop in El Tule. From Oaxaca, go to the point Colectivos to Mitla, Tule and Teotitlán del Valle(google maps) or anywhere on the blue line (see map above). The trip should cost between 15 and 20MXN from Oaxaca
- Transportation :
- Oaxaca – Mitla by bus: 20MXN
- Mitla – Hierve el Agua in pick up : 50MXN
- Maintenance fee :10MXN
- Hierve el Agua – Mitla in pick-up : 50MXN
- Mitla – Teotitlan by bus: 15MXN
- Colectivo Teotitlan to the center: 8MXN
- Teotitlan – Tlacolula by bus: 10MXN
- Tlacolula – Teotitlan by bus: 10MXN
- Teotitlan – El Tule in colectivo: 25MXN
- El Tule – Oaxaca (downtown) in colectivo: 50MXN
- Visit : Entrance to Hierve el Agua : 25MXN
- Hotel :
- airbnb in Teotitlan : 37€ Dixza rugs & organic farm
- hotel in Teotitlan: 37€ B&B Teocalli Hotel-Galeria (linkBooking)
- Food :
- Lunch: 280MXN in Hierve el Agua (for two)
- Dinner: 270MXN at Café Vid (for two)
- Breakfast at Teotitlan Market: 35MXN torta, 20MXN hot chocolate
- Lunch at Dulizun Café: 140MXN (for two)
- Dinner at Comedor Conchita’s: 125MXN (for two)
- Lunch in El Tule: 170MXN (for two)
- Dyeing course: 1500MXN/course at Dixza rugs & organic farm: https: //www.airbnb.fr/rooms/6258581
- Oaxaca and surroundings :
- Mexico City and surroundings :
- Attend a soccer game at the mythical Estadio Azteca in Mexico City
- Evening of Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) at the Arena Mexico City
- Mexico City or Ciudad de México
- We visited a Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Mexico – Sierra Chincua
- Visit of two old mining towns: Tlalpujahua and El Oro
- Pyramids of the Sun and Moon in Teotihuacán