While in Oaxaca we booked a day trip to El Tule, Teotitlàn del Valle, Hierve El Agua and Mitla through the hotel. This tour was very cheap but one of the most interesting. A minivan picked us up from the hotel at 10am and we were off! In the minivan we immediately met our guide. She was very friendly and spoke a little bit of english (not very common in Mexico, so a big plus). We also made friends with some of the others taking the tour with us: Federica from Italy and Kaj from Australia.
The first stop on our tour. The full name for the place is Santa Maria del Tule. We were there to see the world-famous Árbol del Tule, occasionally nicknamed the “Tree of Life” from the images of animals that are reputedly visible in the tree’s gnarled trunk.
El Árbol del Tule (spanish for The Tree of Tule) is a Montezuma cypress or ahuehuete (meaning “old man of the water” in Nahuatl). It has the stoutest trunk of any tree in the world and it is so beautiful and unique that in 2001 it was placed on a UNESCO tentative list of World Heritage Sites.
It’s the largest stout tree known, it is so large that it was originally thought to be multiple trees, but DNA tests have proven that it is only one tree. The real age is unknown, with estimates ranging between 1,200 and 3,000 years, but the best scientific estimate is 1,433-1,600 years. Local Zapotec legend holds that it was planted about 1,400 years ago by Pecocha, a priest of Ehecatl, the Aztec wind god, in broad agreement with the scientific estimate; its location on a sacred site (later taken over by the Roman Catholic Church) would also support this.
To get past the fence and see the tree up close you have to pay a small fee (I think $5 or $10 pesos) but I chose not to because the tree is so large that I could see it really well from outside. By the way, its huge shade provided some refreshment during what was a very hot day!
Teotitlàn del Valle
On our next stop we got off the minivan in Teotitlan. The name Teotitlán comes from Nahuatl and means “land of the gods.” its Zapotec name is Xaguixe, which means “at the foot of the mountain.” Established in 1465, it was one of the first villages founded by Zapotec Peoples in this area and retains its Zapotec culture and language.
We didn’t visit the village but we visited one local textile workshop instead. As a matter of fact, Teotitlán is famous for its textiles, especially rugs, which are woven on hand-operated looms, from wool obtained from local sheeps and dyed with local, natural dyes. Artists take commissions and participate in tours of family-owned workshops like the one we were on. We stayed there for a demonstration of the whole process from dying the wool to using the hand-operated loom. I don’t have any photos of the colored wools but man they were beautiful! wool with colors so alive that you want to touch it!
Hierve El Agua
This has to be an unique place in the world. It’s nature at its best and it was the best place that we visited in this tour.
Hierve el Agua (Spanish for “the water boils”) is set of natural rock formations that resemble cascades of water. The site consists of two rock cliffs which rise between fifty and ninety metres from the valley below, from which extend nearly white rock formations which look like waterfalls. These formations are created by fresh water springs, whose water is over-saturated with calcium carbonate and other minerals. as the water scurries over the cliffs, the excess minerals are deposited.
We hiked around both formations and the views there are amazing! Not an easy trail to hike though but we I chose the path that went all the way down to the bottom of the “waterfall”, so in the end it was worth it. Below there’s a picture I took to tell you what a thousands words woudln’t be able to.
One of the cliffs, called the “Cascada Chica” (small waterfall) or the Amphitheatre, contains two large artificial pools for swimming as well as a number of small natural pools. The water temperature of the two pools I bathed in was very different: the fist (to the left in the first photo) was very cold while the other, bigger, pool was kind of warm at least compared to the first one!
The other cliff, the cascada grande, is just to the south of the cascada chica and easily visible from it. This waterfall rock formation is more vertical than the cascada chica. Similarly, it is a rock shelf from which flows mineral laden water over the side. This shelf is ninety metres above the valley floor, eighty metres wide with the waterfall extending down for about thirty metres. This shelf does not have artificial pools but still has some pools.
This “city of the dead” is the second most important archeological site in the state of Oaxaca, and the most important of the Zapotec culture. The name Mitla is derived from the Nahuatl name Mictlán, which was the place of the dead or underworld. Its Zapotec name is Lyobaa, which means “place of rest”.
The archeological site is within the modern municipality of San Pablo Villa de Mitla where Monte Albán was the political center and Mitla the main religious center. What makes Mitla unique among Mesoamerican sites is the elaborate and intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that cover tombs, panels, friezes and even entire walls. These mosaics are made with small, finely cut and polished stone pieces which have been fitted together without the use of mortar. No other site in Mexico has this!!
The area is very large, well built and perfectly preserved. I was able to go inside many buildings and explore all around freely! by being there at sunset we were able to enjoy the colors and the sense of calm transpiring from those ancient building, it was really beautiful and peaceful.
El Rey de Matatlan
It’s a Mezcaleria, the place where the Mezcal liquor (similar to Tequila) is produced. We went there on our way back to Oaxaca. The guide explained us how the liquor is obtained from the agaves. After a brief explanation we got to taste some of the many tipes of Mezcal available, of course I almost got drunk! In the end we even bougth some bottles, the prices were ok (ranging from 100mxn to 2000mxn) and Mezcal is gooood!