Whoa, Oaxaca! Monte Alban, El Arbol del Tule + Hierve el Agua

In México, North America by Dane + Penny2 Comments

We battled morning rush hour traffic, looping around Oaxaca City, to be the first at the hilltop ruins of Monte Alban. As we neared the site, locals were busy walking their dogs and running the trails that surround the site and a few keen cyclists were challenging the incline while the air was still cool and crisp.

Monte Alban, which translates to “white mountain” is perched high on a hill overlooking Oaxaca city and the surrounding valley. Now ruins, the structures once served as Zapotec political and religious buildings over a period of nearly one thousand years, making it one of the oldest MesoAmerican cities. Over time it was abandoned and today it is preserved magnificently. With a little imagination you could almost hear the music and feel the energy of the people that built this place. We sipped our coffees as we explored while birds chirped, taking it in quietly before the crowds arrived. As the tour buses summated the hill we were climbing back into our van filled with the peace and tranquility of a bright morning day in a place rich with history. Our minds were expanded and we felt so lucky to have had the place to ourselves for as long as we did.

We boogied back across the city and over to the small town of Santa Maria del Tule to take a gander at one of the world’s largest known trees: El Arbol del Tule, a 2000 year old Montezuma Cypress. It’s wicked amount of biomass is mostly attributed to it’s girth, not it’s overall height. As you can see below, it was so broad we needed a wider camera lens to fit it all in one frame! The tree stands in the manicured courtyard of El Templo de Santa María de la Asunción, a beautiful 18th century baroque-style church with large yellow flowers bordering the entry doors.

From there we made stops in Teotitlan del Valle and then Santa Maria del Valle, both famous for their wool rugs and textiles. As you can imagine, trying to pull Penny out of places like these isn’t an easy feat. We nearly bought another rug! Just kidding.

Meanwhile, we’d been driving past mezcaleria after mezcaleria, missing each potential pull out until finally we opted to turn around for a quick tasting. (What’s mezcal?). It had us dancing in the parking lot!

We took the highway, not the back road, up the mountain to Hierve el Agua since it would save us a bunch of time. Normally we’d welcome the adventure but it had been one hell of a day already.

Hierve el Agua is Mother Nature’s infinity pool. God’s gift to vandwellers. Wikipedia would explain that it is actually a “set of natural rock formations which resemble cascades of water, created by fresh water springs rich with calcium carbonate and other minerals”. Although it’s name literally translates to “boiling water”, don’t let that fool you like it fooled us (hot springs anyone?!). The water is actually not hot, but, in some of the natural pools it does appear to be “boiling up” as the minerals bubble to the surface.

After a busy day exploring markets the day before, then an even more packed itinerary earlier the same day seeing the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban, one of the world’s largest bio-masses at Santa Maria del Tule, heaps of wool rugs across two tiny towns and then a mezcal tasting… well, it was time for a very much needed rest and we had found the right spot.

We parked high on the hill overlooking the pools below with a view of the mountain range that seemed to go on forever. Wyatt was eager to explore, and so were we, so we set off down a trail that led to a small mineral formation and pool on a cliff overlooking the road winding below. It was a very, very long way down.

We cooled down in the pools in the late afternoon when the crowds had subsided before cooking dinner and meeting some of the other travellers who were staying nearby. The temperature dropped, so much so that we pulled out our sweaters, vests and toques! Our little Mexican pup had never experienced such cold weather and he curled up into the tightest ball we’ve ever seen him in. So we threw down the new woolen Mexican rug and wrapped him up in Dane’s red flannel button up. A true tribute to his Mexican roots and Canadian up-bringing!

In the morning we woke up to the most stunning sunrise. The pools of water were perfectly still and the morning light and surroundings reflecting back up in them. I desperately wanted to jump in for a refreshing morning dip but with all the photographers busy capturing the moment I reluctantly refrained… until the sun was high enough in the sky and then I jumped right in!

Cool, refreshed and ready for a long day on the road.


  1. Miriam

    Hey guys! Cool website and blog! Thanks for sharing your adventures!
    My partner and I are planning to do something similar, in a minivan, across Noerth America in 2017, with our dog. I wanted to ask if you have any ideas or tips on how to travel with a dog. For instance, how do you go shopping, or to other places where dogs are now allowed? Do you ever leave your dog in the car for short perios of time (when the weather is good/windows open, etc.), or is he always with you?

    1. Author
      Dane + Penny

      Hi Miriam! That’s so exciting you are planning your own adventure right now! Before adopting Wyatt we weren’t sure how easy or difficult it would be but it hasn’t been too complicated. Usually one of us shops while the other stays with Wyatt. If it’s not too hot out we will both slip indoors together while Wyatt waits inside or outside the car and then we go check on him often. More often than not restaurants and cafes let us inside with him if we ask nicely (or hide him). Overall, he has enriched our lives and our experiences on this trip more than we imagined. One of these days I plan on writing a post about all the dog-related elements of the trip… but for now I’d say don’t worry too much about bringing your pup. It’s easier than you think!

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