I’d spent the last half-hour fighting nausea brought on by curvy mountain roads when my tour van finally pulled into the parking lot at Misol-Ha Waterfall. I briefly considered dropping to my knees and kissing the hot, motionless asphalt, but tour guide hurried me along, as this was only a 40-minute stop. Instead, I gulped fresh air and headed down the hill to view MisolHa Waterfall, a lovely ribbon that plunges into a circular pool at the bottom of a gorge.
Descending the concrete stairs I carefully picked my way over slick rounded boulders littering the path to walk under the cascade. Beyond the cataract the path climbed to a cave on the opposite ridge. Up I went, grasping naked tree branches and ducking under rocky overhangs along the unimproved trail. Anything for a good photo. Afterward, hurrying back over the treacherous wet path, I groused silently, “I hope the lighting at the next waterfall is better.”
Back in the van we wound deeper into the mountains. From hilltops scalded by sunshine we descended into dense jungle tunnels that all but blocked the sun. As I squinted and blinked, trying to adjust my eyes to the alternating light and dark, I suddenly smelled smoke. With each passing mile the scent grew stronger, until we rounded a long curve that opened out on a broad valley pocked with gray columns slowly rumbling skyward. Everywhere, the rainforest was being set aflame to clear farmland. Here and there, blackened patches littered with burned-out tree stumps and rocky outcroppings bordered the road; the land’s obvious unsuitability for cultivation broke my heart. These plots would be farmed for a few years and then abandoned when the limited nutrients in their soils had been depleted; the jungle would reclaim the land but it would never again be virginal or as diverse.
Far off in the distance, between the vertiginous green of untouched jungle and the horrid blackened scars I suddenly spotted a narrow swath of turquoise. Mirage-like, it appeared and disappeared in the shimmering heat rising from the valley floor as we descended from the mountaintop. My mirage was actually Agua Azul Waterfall (Blue Water in English), a cascade that creates multiple waterfalls and crystalline clear turquoise pools on its miles-long journey down the mountain. The exquisite blue color of the water is caused by calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide, which are leached from the surrounding limestone. When light travels through this mineral laden water, the entire color spectrum, with the exception of blue, is absorbed. The light bounces off the bottom of the river and reflects back as this rich shade of turquoise.
Can’t view the above slide show of Agua Azul waterfall in Chiapas, Mexico? Click here.
Agua Azul was named a Federal Protected Forest and Wildlife Refuge in 1980 and Biosphere Special Reserve some years later. Visitors are allowed to swim in the pools below the falls and camp in the surroundings. Whitewater rafters often run the upper reaches of the river and the multitude of trails that criss-cross the complex are popular with hikers, bird watchers, and photographers. From the placid pools at the bottom where families picnicked and swam, I followed an improved trail that ascended alongside the tumbling river until, near the top, I found a dirt path leading to a Mirador – a wooden deck overlooking the entire length of the falls. I stepped to the edge and surveyed the lovely green and blue valley spread out below me. Thankfully, none of the blackened remains of rainforest were visible, but I wondered how long it would be before poor campesinos burned the jungles bordering Agua Azul. I raised my camera and took shot after shot, fervently hoping that this treasure of a site would be preserved in actuality and not just in my photos.
17 thoughts on “Misol Ha and Agua Azul – Two Very Different Waterfalls in Chiapas, Mexico”
Barbara W do did a great job! capturing those breathtaking scenaries from Misol Ha agua azul, my question is how safe is to travel to visit this beautiful place
Hi Maru: It’s been nearly three years since I made this trip so I don;t really know how safe it is these days. Best thing you can do is try to find an online group of American expats (Google it) who would be your best source of information. At the time I went, it was quite safe.
Oh – that made me want to jump in one of those beautiful blue pools and take a dip!
Love the contrast of the two falls – skinny to flat and fat!
I like it more Agua Azul but I took an ameba there and I had to spent two days in bed in San Cristóbal! Too bad!
Beautiful pictures and video. At one point of time, I feel like leaving everything and going there to enjoy life. Too good.
Beautiful pictures, reminds me of a blue Pamukkale (in Turkey).
Your hike at Misol Ha would have frozen me in my tracks. Aqua Azul is more my speed. What a beautifully colored water. Your description of burning to clear the rainforest is very discouraging. I’m glad you had Aqua Azul as a positive end to your waterfall discovery trip.
I really like the tall waterfall that has hollowed out enough that you can walk behind it. Let’s all hope that Mexico protects its valued rain forest.
I know life has to change, that we all have to move on, and that, in fact, you’ve already moved on from Mexico, but I will so miss this journey of yours when it ends (for us, your readers, that is). I have learned so much about Mexico from your stories, and developed an outsized itch to go there. Thanks!
Islandmomma: Yes, I’m back in the States, but I have probably a month’s more of Mexico articles, followed by some fascinating posts about New York City, and then I’m off to Asia for 5 months, so the excitement won’t go away, it will just be different!
I was just reading about places like these in my Lonely Planet book. I think you just helped me with my decision too. Since we’re not in a rush I would love to make a trip out to these beautiful places. Thank you for sharing! <3
Wow! An amazing set if images. It must have been a great trip. Thanks for the post
Loving your Mexico posts! It’s been 17 years since we’ve been to Mexico – did one colossal backpacking trip around the country, and went to Mexico City a couple of times and fell in love. Really looking forward to returning next month. Will you still be there in August?
Hi Lara: Unfortunately not, by August I’ll be in the states preparing for five months in Asia, beginning September 1st. But with the amount of travel you do, I suspect we’ll run into each other at some point, which would be great fun!
Such a beautiful spot, I do hope that the local government will keep the rainforest intact around it – that blue water makes me just want to jump straight in
What a beautiful place! Thanks for sharing all the great pictures. I hope, like you, that the same scenery is there 20 years from now; it is so sad what poverty drives people to do!! I wonder – are foreign nonprofits able to do anything more as far as conservation? The pessimistic side of me tells me the Mexican government already did what they could / are willing to do.