Visit the ancient pyramid of Mitla, the bizarre terrains and petrified waterfall of Hierve el Agua and the world's widest tree, El Tule. We will then visit the indigenous farmers market of Tlacolula to see the preparations for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Return to Oaxaca for the night.
Overnight in Azucenas, Oaxaca
Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch
Mitla derives its name from the Nahuatl word "Mictlan", meaning "Place of the Dead". Similarly, the Zapotecans call it "Lyobaa" meaning "Burial Place". This reflects the historic importance of ancient kings and priests tombs within the city structures. Although the city dates back to as early as 200 AD, there is archaeological evidence that it was inhabited from 900 BC. There are structural remains of the city that correspond with the height of Zapotecan rule over the region from Monte Alban (500 BC to 800 AD) although the ruins at Mitla date predominantly from the 13th and 14th Centuries when Mitla would have been the dominant religious centre where human sacrifice would have been a central part of their worship. Of the original fifty two pyramids, only one remains. This ornate pyramid was spared Spanish wrath for one simple reason - it was carved with stone crosses. These crosses had no connection with a Christian crucifixion but the superstitious Spanish were afraid of destroying it. The 52 pyramids were related to a passage of time as were most of their archaeological and mathematical creations here. However, it does not refer to the 52 weeks in a year but rather to do with the alignments of planets where every 52 years, three planets were said to be aligned. Each group of buildings at Mitla was reserved for a specific person. So the high priest stayed in one building, the lesser priests in another, and the king in another.
El Tule is a Montezuma Cypress and is quite something to behold – 11.6m in diameter with estimates of its age ranging from 1500 to 3000 years old, rivalling even the ancient Monte Alban. Some very famous naturalists such as Alexander von Humboldt made a special visit to Oaxaca to visit this tree. Nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it towers over the 17th Century church in whose courtyard it stands. The volume of the tree is about that of three large planes, and consumes some one thousand gallons of water every day. This has led to a serious drop in the surrounding water table (of up to 6m) casting doubts on the future of El Tule. The entrance fee to visit the church (and tree) is used to combat this issue.
Hierve Al Agua means “the Water Boils”. This is a misnomer as the steaming mineral-rich water, that seeps from fissures in the ground, is in fact cold. The name is a result of this rising steam creating the illusion of a hot spring. Beautiful natural stone ponds make for stunning outdoor swimming pools and the constant run of the mineral-heavy water has created what looks like frozen waterfalls (or “petrified waterfalls”). The beautiful landscape here is totally unique. It is believed that the springs were first used 2,400 years ago. The waters were easy to direct and were used for irrigation through a network of canals over half a square kilometre. Wells were dug and constructed about every 12 feet along the canals by the ancient Zapotecs. Research dates the construction from between 450 B.C. to 1500 A.D. Because of the high mineral content of the water, archaeologists still debate whether this was an irrigation system or a bathing spa. The most impressive site at Hierve el Agua is the two white stone waterfalls. The flow of water has, over the years, left a nearly 100 feet high white deposit that seems to flow as if it were still liquid. The smaller fall, 40 feet tall, is still bathed by water from a warm pool at the top, large enough to swim in. Even now, all these years later, the spring still produces two litres of water a second during the summer months.