Hike to the Pictographs at Xaagá, Falls at Hierve el Agua and Yagul; For hiking in Oaxaca there’s a one-day alternative to the more traditional Sierra Norte excursions. Remain in the central valleys, get culture, exercise and ecotourism.
Oaxaca is gradually becoming known for its hiking in the mountains of the Sierra Norte, with its burgeoning ecotourism business. But for many who would like to go hiking for a couple of hours during their brief Oaxaca vacation, driving two hours to get to one of the sights, hiking, and then returning the same day seems a bit too much.
A viable alternative exists within Oaxaca’s central valleys, out along the Mitla route, and further beyond. By hiking up to the fortress at the Yagul Zapotec ruin, down to the Hierve el Agua mineral deposits, and then up to the pre-Hispanic pictographs at Xaaga, one can experience both culture and nature while getting a good day’s exercise.
Yagul Zapotec Ruin for Hiking in Oaxaca
The archeological ruin of Yagul was occupied by the Zapotecs for perhaps 1,000 years. Its stone masonry is not as spectacular as that of Mitla, But it has other unique features. The Yagul ruin boasts the second largest ball court in Mesoamerica. There’s also the Palace of Six Patios consisting of a maze of rooms, great for children to get lost in, one of its tombs with impressive stone carved figures inside it, and much more to keep visitors intrigued. It’s rare to find more that two or three other groups at the ruin at any given time.
But the attraction for hikers is the ability to hike up to the fortress, along fairly steep pathways. Half way up is a good lookout, where another tomb is situated. Then at the top, walking along to the precipice there is what some have said is a bathtub carved into the stone.
The hike is short, but interesting for rock structures, the breathtaking vista, and the ability to return using a different route.
Hike Cross-Country and then Climb to the Pictographs at Xaagá
About a ten minute drive beyond Mitla one encounters the cotton textile producing village of Xaagá. But its other claim to fame is its proximity to a couple of rock overhangs, high above the village, where one encounters drawings. These pictographs, are not really “cave paintings,” but could be so described in lay terms. They are likely between 3,000 and 10,000 years old, and quite vivid.
Since the pictorgraphs at Xaagá are accessible by trekking over land owned by the community and farmed by its residents, it’s best to have a townsperson act as your guide. If using your own tour guide or driver, he should have contacts in the village to take you overland to the foothills, perhaps a 20 minute walk. One descends a river bed, sometimes flowing, depending on the season. The guide may have to lay extra rocks across it so as to enable crossing. Then there’s an easy climb up and across volcanic rock.
Just before beginning the final ascent there’s a flat area from which the drawings can easily be seen, and photographed. But for those with greater agility, the real climb begins. Upon completing this final ascent one is literally face to face with the pictographs.
One interesting geological feature at Xaagá is the presence of small square Metamorphic stones, which one can still find. They have an interesting formational history, too detailed for present purposes.
Options at Hierve el Agua Provide a Diversity of Hiking Experiences
Hierve el Agua is about a 40 minute drive beyond Xaagá, using either the winding dirt road to ascend the nearby mountain, or one of two paved highways taking you to San Lorenzo Albarradas, leaving about a 15 minute drive to then get to the site. While for most, the main attractions are the bubbling springs, poolings of water suitable for swimming, and the “waterfalls” of mineral deposits, for many the hiking paths are the major allure.
There are three major hiking trails used by the adventurous tourist. The first is often overgrown, and begins to the left of the stone and rock pathway leading down to the sight. One descends through a fair bit of brush, eventually arriving at the base of the petrified waterfalls – which are most often pictured in Hierve el Agua promotional materials.
The second begins just to the right of the lower bubbling springs and leads down to the base of the falls. A fair bit of easy climbing is involved, as well as walking along a narrow ridge. But alongside the ridge there’s an easier pathway. This hike provides a very different perspective for photographing. After arriving along the first route, one can return by climbing the second and following the ridge.
The third hiking trail begins just beyond the upper bubbling spring, and climbs to a lookout at the top of the “falls.” It’s the most popular trail. To this writer’ thinking, the second trail is most interesting and provides a bit of a challenge, without being dangerous.
The Option of Hiking into a Second Day
For those who want more of an ecotourism experience, arrangements can be made to spend the night at Hierve el Agua, in one of the four Tourist Yu’u government run cabins, basic but comfortable and clean. Wake up in the morning, wander around the village, and do the remaining hiking paths.