I’m your average modern day traveller. In other words, I live by the motto ‘photo or it didn’t happen’. I upload my best shots to Instagram, I own a selfie stick (please reserve any judgement until you’ve travelled solo) and I always research my next destination on Google Images.
But I’ve realised my last travel habit often leads to disappointment. Upon arrival at a secluded cenote or mountain top lookout, I always find something the pictures on Google didn’t show me: Other People. Lots of Other People.
Don’t get me wrong, I generally like other travellers (even the fanny pack and sunglass-strap wearing kind. Weirdly, I have a lot of respect for someone who cares exactly zero about how they look in favour of practicality. It’s kind of badass, no?)
But being surrounded by lots of Other People often ruins the fantasy I have in my head about a place.
Dreams of floating in aforementioned cenote with the call of exotic birds the only sound I can hear are quickly dashed by a bunch of boozy backpackers cannonballing into the water.
And, I’ll be honest, as much as I like Other People, I don’t want them in the background of my photos. Even if I am surrounded by a swarm of tourists, you’d never know it from my Instagram shots.
So when I decided to visit Hierve el Agua, the mineral springs on top of a mountain about an hour’s drive outside Oaxaca City, Mexico, I was determined to do things differently. After enquiring with a tour company in town, I learned the trip to Hierve el Agua was a full-day bus excursion which also included visits to two towns, a church and a market. I was informed we’d get to Hierve el Agua at around 12, and would spend just one hour there. The cost was 350 pesos (approximately AUD$30).
Instead, my traveling companion and I negotiated with a taxi driver to take us to Hierve el Agua when it opened at 9am, wait a couple of hours and then bring us back to Oaxaca City. We agreed on the price of 900 pesos. For both of us to take the tour it would have totalled 700 pesos anyway, so we were only spending a little more. And as I soon discovered, it was totally worth it.
The next morning, about half an hour into the journey with driver Oscar (and his cousin, who came along presumably to keep Oscar company while we explored the pools) we arrived at the base of the mountain and began the long, winding ascent to the top. We made our way slowly around bend after bend, meandering our way up the narrow, gravel road for at least half an hour. The higher we climbed, the more spectacular the view became, until we were up so high that clouds moved in, eerily obscuring the vista.
As we arrived, I was delighted to see just one other vehicle parked outside the entrance. I leapt out of the car and ran over to the edge, where I took in the view of a jaw-dropping rock formation that looks like a waterfall on the side of the mountain, formed over thousands of years by the mineral-rich water from the pools spilling over the edge.
At last, it was time to see said pools. I couldn’t believe my luck (or more accurately, my good planning). Just two Other People were there, a woman and a young girl, quietly walking around. It wasn’t long before they wandered out of sight, and my traveling companion and I were left to take in the stunning view of the pools and out to the mountains - completely alone. I took off my shoes and walked along the edge of the first pool, which has a tree growing beside it, making a beautiful reflection on the water.
I spent a few minutes sitting on the rock ledge, looking out over the rolling green hills and low-hanging clouds below, without having to move out of the way because someone else wanted to get The Shot. If you’ve been to Machu Picchu in Peru or to the Empire State Building in New York, you’ll know what I mean.
But the highlight was being the first person to dive into the second swimming spot, the natural infinity pool on the edge of the mountain.
I got to live the fantasy I’d imagined; floating in the cool, fresh water, without being bothered by any of those pesky Other People.
It was at least 45 minutes before anyone else showed up. And when they did, I felt grateful for the time I’d had at Hierve el Agua solo, perched on the edge of the pool taking in the too-good-to-be-true view.
When the third bus load of tourists turned up, I knew that was my cue to go. We made it back to Oaxaca City in the early afternoon – and didn’t even miss happy hour! The lesson? The early bird gets the worm – and the best photos.
Erin Van Der Meer is an Australian freelance writer who is currently exploring Central America.
Follow her adventures: Instagram @erinvandermeer, Twitter @erinvandermeer, Facebook
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.