Nestled between mountain ranges and the Pacific Ocean, the state of Oaxaca is perhaps one of the most beautifully diverse parts of Mexico. The diversity of the terrain, flora and fauna, birds, food, and cultures delights the senses and the adventure-seeker in us all.
While most are drawn to the capital, Oaxaca City, because of its phenomenal food, artisans, and festivals, the entire state is a hiker’s dream. From popular city trails like Cerro del Fortin to multi-day journeys through the Pueblos Mancomunados of the Sierra Norte, there are hiking opportunities to suit every hiker.
The high elevation and southern latitude of Oaxaca make for pleasant temperatures for most of the year through most of the state. Winter daytime temperatures range from 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit and summer daytime temperatures range from 82-90 degrees Fahrenheit, with two distinct seasons: rainy season or dry season. Beginning in June and lasting until September or October, the rainy season offers lush vegetation that makes the great views of the Central Valley even more beautiful. If you visit during the winter months, expect the landscape to be a bit more barren and dry.
The rugged mountain peaks of Sierra Madre del Sur, Sierra Madre de Oaxaca and Sierra Atravesada create some spectacular places to explore and admire the views. Here are four of the most scenic hikes in the state of Oaxaca.
On the southern coast of Oaxaca is the small beach town of Mazunte. It’s between the more well-known towns of Puerto Escondido and Santa Maria Huatulco. Punta Cometa is the southernmost point in the state and one of the best places to hike at sunset. The point (punta) is where three ridges converge and extend into the Pacific Ocean. In the winter months, you may get the added treat of whales and birds along their migratory paths.
The three ridges means you have three paths to get to the point. Each path offers a different view and characteristics. Arrive in enough time to explore all three hiking trails before settling in to enjoy the setting sun against the Pacific Ocean. According to legend, Punta Cometa was used as a place to make sacred offerings. Experience a sunrise or sunset here and you’ll understand why.
Hierva el Agua
Although it’s a relatively easy hike (be careful of loose rock and gravel), the 1.6 mile loop of this amazing natural wonder is a must-see for anyone venturing to the interior of Oaxaca. Hierva el Agua means “boiling water,” but don’t worry—the water typically is not hot. The calcium rich waters in the mineral pools drip down the cliff to create the two petrified waterfalls. Unlike in humid U.S. subtropical climates like Florida, where pests like mosquitos are a major issue, Hierva el Agua (along with much of Oaxaca) is relatively pest-free, leaving you free to enjoy your hike. These petrified waterfalls attract anywhere from 2500-7000 people a day, so expect a crowd.
In addition to the amazing rock formations, on the edge of the cliff there are two mineral pools–one has a tree at its center, the other is a natural infinity pool. Take a dip in the pools, believed to have healing powers, and take in the view of the rolling hills surrounding the area.
There are a number of hiking trails around Hierva el Agua, one of which leads you closer to one of the petrified waterfalls. The vistas from this vantage point will take your breath away.
La Cumbre Ixtepeji
Just 45 minutes outside of Oaxaca City is the forest of La Cumbre Ixtepeji. If you can handle the altitude, this five-mile, out-and-back trail in the Sierra Norte mountains is worth the effort. With a change in elevation of approximately 1206 feet, the distance and elevation make this a moderate to difficult hike.
Along the main trail, you can expect a plethora of flowers, plants, and birds within the dense forest. The highlight of this trail, known as the Cabeza de Vaca, is the Pena Prieta lookout (mirador in Spanish).
While the basic hike can be completed in a few hours, there is the option of extending the hike by camping overnight and continuing on to the point-to-point El Cerezo Trail or venturing to Cascada Palo Hueco. There is an ecotourism center that offers camping areas, cabins, guides, and mountain bike rentals.
San Jose del Pacifico
Midway between Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido lies the village of San Jose del Pacifico, unofficially known as the magic mushroom capital of Mexico. You don’t even have to hike to enjoy the views here. The town is often said to be above the clouds because of its perch on the mountain and the clouds that rise from the forest.
The stretches of mountains and forests will have avid hikers chomping at the bit to get out and explore. Trek over to the San Jose del Pacifico Mirador to take in the incredible views from the various viewing platforms. Be warned that the altitude of this location may make it a bit more difficult than the terrain would have you believe.
If those views aren’t enough for you, you can head to the west of town to Mirador Los Pinos. Here, you can take in the views on platforms or while tethered to a tree.
Even on cloudy days, these lookouts are worth a visit. The clouds give it a surreal feeling, like you’re floating above the world. When the clouds dissipate, it is absolutely amazing to see mile after mile of mountains.
The surreal beauty of the area extends to the cloud forest around the town. Hiking the forest takes a few hours but again, be prepared for the altitude. The dense foliage makes for a shaded, cool hike with sightings of birds, animals, and insects. The view from the top will take your breath away (or it might be the altitude).
There are so many amazingly beautiful places you could hike in Oaxaca. The four offered here are unique and are a must-do if you have the time and opportunity to hike while visiting Oaxaca.