Beyond Hierve El Agua: 3 Off-the-Beaten-Path Hikes in Oaxaca Worthy of a Spotlight Too
While Hierve El Agua remains offline due to a seemingly endless and irreconcilable community dispute, there’s a list of lesser-known Oaxaca hikes and attractions worthy of your attention too.
These three off-the-beaten-path Oaxaca hiking trails are no less awe-inspiring than the famous petrified falls of Oaxaca. They’re just simply yet to be discovered by the world’s masses and we sure hope they stay that way. Their natural beauty, community spirit, and exotic flora and fauna make for an unparalleled experience on the trail, well deserving of a responsible and respectful spotlight while Hierve El Agua’s is temporarily turned off.
Let’s discover what these three gems are all about.
Hike the Ancient Trails of Cerro Nueve Puntas in Oaxacan Mezcal Country
Cerro Nueve Puntas, named after its prominent nine-pointed spine, is located in the Valle Centrales east of Oaxaca City. Its trailhead is nestled at the back of a family-owned mezcal farm in the traditional Zapotec town of San Baltazar Guélavila in Tlacolula.
At 2,600 meters tall, this eye-catching peak translates to a challenging full-day trek to the summit, an adventure saturated with well-earned vistas of the southeast Central Valley and the nearby Sierra Madre del Sur. The mountain’s ancient trail winds through the thick and shade-giving forest, past colorful beds of wildflowers and exotic vegetation, and alongside historic stone walls that miraculously still stand.
The 360-degree views from the ridgeline stun, putting the ever-so-popular Hierve El Agua across the valley into perspective. Might Cerro Nueve Puntas be the Central Valley’s best-kept secret? Away from the crowds, chaos, and tourist traps, its soaring white cliffs, rarely trodden trails, and the valley-capping summit will certainly inspire the thought, at the very least.
A convenient perk: being in the mezcal-producing town of San Baltazar Guélavila means you can even toast your off-the-beaten-path achievement at one of the many family-owned palenques at its base.
Take the Scenic Route Through Ancient Mixtec Land in Santiago Apoala
The hiking routes of Santiago Apoala are nestled within the Northern reaches of the state of Oaxaca, in what was once the stomping grounds for the powerful Mixtec culture. Its emerald-hued rivers, ghost forests of oak, narrow box canyon walls, and pre-Hispanic terraced hillsides are still rarely visited by outsiders.
Getting there is a long, but scenic, three and half hour journey from Oaxaca City, through the Mixteca region’s mountainous terrain, but cozy adobe cabins with chimneys and campsites along the river’s edge await if you do decide to spend more than just the day in this natural paradise.
The many hiking trails around Santiago Apoala feature everything from panoramic viewpoints and cascading waterfalls to scenic emerald lagoons and caves adorned with centuries-old paintings. If you’re more of the multi-adventure type, its natural attractions, like the face of Peña Colorada, beckon rock climbers, while its pristine box canyon trails tempt mountain bikers to try the terrain.
The town of Apoala itself is worth exploring too, with its 16th Century Temple of Santiago Apostol and town library where the Mixtec’s Nuttall Codex still rests brimming with the stories and origins of the Mixtec people, their heroic rulers, and dazzling descriptions of the landscape during Mixtec reign.
Slip Away into the Forests and Folklore of Lachatao
The historic and all but hidden hiking paths of Lachatao may as well be called the secret of the Sierra Norte. For those who do make the 65 kilometer journey from Oaxaca, the community’s three most popular hiking paths – Sendero de la Virgen, the Ex-Hacienda Minera de 5 Señores, and the Cerro de Jaguar – take you through forests of pine and oak, along routes that have been walked for more than a thousand years by the Zapotec, and to points of interest dripping with local lore, history, and modern-day local significance.
The first, Sendero de la Virgen, is a five-hour hike teeming with flora and fauna, from bromeliads, agave, and orchids to squirrels, rabbits, and white-tailed deer. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a “tigrillo” (spotted leopard) lurking in the treetops. The route takes you to an old and storied bridge where it’s believed the Virgin made an appearance. Today, locals in Lachatao visit the site every December 28th to celebrate this miraculous event.
For a longer hike, consider the five to six-hour hiking route that leads to Ex-Hacienda Minera de 5 Señores. This colonial-era hacienda nestled alongside the river was built for the purpose of processing the gold and silver mined nearby using the river’s own force. Local legend has it that Margarita Maza de Juarez, the wife of the famous Zapotec President of Mexico Benito Juarez, found refuge at this hacienda while her husband was being pursued by Antonio López de Santa Anna in the northern states.
Lastly, the six-kilometre hike to Cerro de Jaguar, Lachatao’s best kept archaeological site, is the most spiritual route on this list. To this day, the locals of Lachatao follow in their Zapotec ancestor’s footsteps, walking the same path to the ancient pyramids to make offerings to Mother Earth. This historic hike is beautiful and offers a slightly shorter, yet still rewarding, option for those not inclined to hike for more than a few hours.