Tucked away in the beautiful mountains, northwest of the culturally rich Oaxaca city, lies a tranquil village, Santiago Apoala, or oftentimes this special place is simply called Apoala. This tiny community in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca is home to alluring nature, including a delightful waterfall, intriguing sacred caves, and some breathtaking Oaxaca hiking trails.
The original name of this Mixtec village is “Yutatnoho,” and literally translates to “river where the lords come from,” so it’s no surprise that this village has an otherworldly feeling. The mysticism can be seen in the soaring cliffs, it moves through the river, and the ancestors left tangible signs in the forms of paintings and carvings behind in the caves and on unusual rocks. Legends whisper that Santiago Apoala may be one of the first areas settled by the Mixtecas.
The journey to Santiago Apoala from Oaxaca is gorgeous and the hamlet can be reached via public transportation. The small community is home to less than 1,000 people, but there are many incredible things to do in Santiago Apoala Oaxaca. Enjoy the nature and hike at least two of the best hiking trails in Oaxaca, visit the Mirador, savor the tranquility, and appreciate the sacredness of the region.
After visiting Santiago Apoala Oaxaca, maybe visit a few more hidden gems in the Mixteca region.
✈ Mexico Travel Planning | 25 of the Best Places to Visit in Oaxaca State
This complete guide to Santiago Apoala Oaxaca explains how to reach the community, explores the hiking routes in Apoala, and more incredible things to do in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca.
Santiago Apoala is definitely a highlight when visiting Oaxaca Mexico.
Table of Contents
- How to Visit Santiago Apoala from Oaxaca
- Things to Do in Santiago Apoala Oaxaca
- Where to Sleep & Eat in Santiago Apoala
- Santiago Apoala to Oaxaca City
- More Mixteca Villages to Visit from Nochixtlán
- Visit Santiago Apoala | Hidden Gem in Oaxaca
How to Visit Santiago Apoala from Oaxaca
To visit Santiago Apoala from Oaxaca City without a tour, catch a mini van bus, or combi, to Nochixtlan (Nochixtlán). The Oaxaca bus company Transportes Turísticos de Nochixtlán (T.T.N) offers frequent departures from Oaxaca centro. The combis drops just steps outsides the village of Nochixtlan. In Nochixtlan, the collectivos and camionetas depart early for Apoala, so it’s best to take one of the first buses that departs from Oaxaca.
🚐 Oaxaca City to Nochixtlan Oaxaca by T.T.N Combis | Find them here: Galeana 222 Centro Oaxaca de Juárez | Buses run: 6:00 – 21:00, depart every 30 minutes | One way bus ticket cost: $50 pesos ($2.50 USD) | Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes | Up to date info here
Once you arrive in Nochixtlan, things can become a little more complicated. There are private drivers that continue to Santiago Apoala, or you can get lucky and hop in the back of a camioneta. Remember, the public transport price and times varies depending on how many people are traveling and where exactly there are traveling to.
☛ Travel Tip | There are no ATMS in Santiago Apoala. Nochixtlan is the last place to withdraw money before heading out to the community.
Many of the taxis and transportation options to Apoala are located around the Mecado Municipal. I highly suggest stocking up on snacks and fresh fruit at the market. In Apoala, the food options can be very limited and depend on what delivery truck is making rounds. The Nochixtlan market is spectacular and has everything, including many delicious food stalls to eat typical dishes at.
The main park, Miguel Hidalgo Park is worth a stop to stretch and hang-out. Right above the plaza, the main church, Templo de María en su Asunción is beautiful and has an inviting plaza with a lookout point of the park.
We opted for a private taxi, since it was a direct route to Apoala. The camioneta wanted to drop us a few miles out of town, since no one in the car was going directly to Apoala. The taxi price is for the vehicle, so the more people in the group the cheaper per person. Remember, the routes and prices are all determined by how many people are in the vehicle and where exactly they are traveling.
🚕 Nochixtlan to Santiago Apoala, private taxi | Find them: behind the main Nochixtlan Market | Private & Direct Taxi: $250 pesos ($12.25 USD) | Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes | Always make sure to negotiate and agree on a price before getting in the taxi
There are multiple roads to Santiago Apoala, and some sections are paved while others are bumpy and still a little rugged and intrepid. We passed by construction workers who the driver paid to pass. The views and scenery of the Mixteca region is breathtaking and twists through the mountains and small untouched villages.
Santiago Apoala Oaxaca
Welcome to Apoala! The first thing you must do is register in at the Ecotourism Oaxaca Office. This is located right at the entrance of town. As a tourist, pay the $50 pesos entrance fee per person that helps support the community. There are two main hiking routes and each hiking route is included with the entrance cost.
Community Entrance Fee for Santiago Apoala Ecotourism Oaxaca: $50 pesos ($2.50 USD) | Find them here: Pino Suárez Santiago Apoala Oaxaca | Hiking Guides are available for an additional fee | Official Website of Santiago Apoala Oaxaca Community
Many of the workers at the Ecotourism Center in Apoala do not speak English. Some basic Spanish phrases will come in more than handy.
Things to Do in Santiago Apoala Oaxaca
Santiago Apoala is a small community that offers up some of the best Oaxaca hiking trails. The most popular trail leads to the picturesque Santiago Apoala Waterfall. There’s also an incredible mirador hiking trail that can include a stop at Devil’s Cave. Another lovely hiking trails follows along the Apoala River to Peña Gemelas, or the “twin rocks.”
Santiago Apoala has an elevation of almost 6,530 ft. However, the air is fresh and the climate is comfortable and cooler in the evenings. Many of the things to do in Santiago Apoala include outdoor adventure, or simply relaxing in a hammock at the cabaña. Many of the Santiago Apoala highlights can be seen and explored comfortably in 2 days.
Enjoy incredible hiking in Oaxaca from Santiago Apoala. Here’s more in-depth of the trails and what to see in Santiago Apoala.
A Note on Rainy Season in Oaxaca State
We visited Santiago Apoala during Oaxaca’s rainy season. Oaxaca’s rainy season is heaviest during the months of June to September. We hiked early in the morning since the afternoons almost always brought in rain clouds and heavy, but fantastic storms.
The Apoala Waterfalls were flowing heavy and the usually crystal blue water was brown due to the rain. We couldn’t swim since the water was so high. The canyon walk along the Apoala River to the twin rocks may be blocked due to rising and high water levels. The river is flowing down to Apoala, which may cause the river crossing to be dangerous or for the water levels to change and rise rapidly. Always trust your judgement. If you don’t feel comfortable, hire a certified guide from the Santiago Apoala Ecotourism Oaxaca Office.
One perk of rainy season was there were barely any visitors and we had the trails and sacred spots to ourselves. We also had no problem renting a cabaña and enjoyed quiet evenings.
Be in Awe of the Apoala Waterfall Oaxaca
One of the main draws of Santiago Apoala is the stunning waterfall that rages into a picturesque canyon-like river. If the water level is low, it’s possible to swim at the base of the Apoala cascade. This Oaxaca waterfall is probably only second in popularity to the famous petrified waterfall in Oaxaca, Hierve el Agua.
The out and back hiking trail to the Apoala cascade is a short walk from the ecotourism office. Typically, someone from the tourist center will walk you to the trailhead and explain the peculiar points of interest and legends. On the way to the trailhead to the waterfall, find the Devil’s Stone. The locals connect this large to the Devil’s Cave. Legends say the rock fell from the cave and acted as a communication portal between the stone and the cave.
Look closely at the stone. Those indents and scratches are believed to be where the ancestors of the lands sharpened their hunting tools. We gave the guide a small tip for taking us to the trailhead.
This natural area is technically part of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve. However, the more famous section is more north, on the state border with Puebla, which known for their gigantic cactuses in a desert landscape.
The Santiago Apoala Waterfall trail is well marked and has guardrails and steps. On the way down, the trail leads to a river. On the way back, climb uphill. The out and back trail is under 1 mile, but extremely scenic with lots of viewpoints and lookouts.
🥾 Hiking Guide | Apoala Waterfall Oaxaca | Distance: .85 miles | Duration: +/ – 2 hours | Bring a picnic to enjoy the waterfall, or swimsuit if the water levels aren’t too high
Santiago Apoala Mirador Hiking Trail
To get one of the best views of Santiago Apoala and a more “off the beaten path” hiking experience, hike the “Mirador Trail.” This scenic and beautiful loop trail, includes access to the Devil’s Cave, passes by a small waterfall, has gorgeous lookout spots, and ends at an epic viewpoint of Apoala village. To make it a loop trail, walk back to the village via the main road.
Disclosure: This is part of my Hikes & Adventures series, which means these treks can be strenuous and challenging. I have personally done each of these hikes, but it does not make me an expert by any means. Please have all the proper equipment, verify the weather conditions, and take into consideration your own physical abilities and/or limitations. Please see my full disclosure for more information here.
The trailhead begins from the gravel road between the Santiago Apoala Oaxaca Cabañas and the Centro Ecoturistico Office. For a reference point, look to the mountain with the big cave! That’s the Devil’s Cave. If looking directly at the mountain, the trailhead is to the left of the cave.
Once you start the trailhead, if you want to visit the cave, make sure to stop at it first before beginning the Mirador trail. The Mirador trail does not loop back to the cave, so follow the path on the right to visit the cave.
If you choose to visit the cave, come back down to the trailhead and follow the trail towards the left. The trail climbs past the beautiful waterfall and up the mountain. Savor those fabulous views. The community of Santiago Apoala sits at an elevation of 6,530 ft, so it is just shy of 2,000 meters. The uphills may feel a little tougher due to the altitude. This was my favorite section of the entire trail. After a half mile, arrive at the first lookout point of Santiago Apoala, which is marked by a green cross.
Follow the trail, cross the stream, but note then the trail becomes less visible. The trails are more like “goat trails,” but keep heading towards the right. The road to Apoala will come into view and look for the giant cross that marks one of the miradors. It’s best to follow along with an offline map, or hire guide if you don’t feel comfortable navigating unmarked trails.
Appreciate the stunning Mirador of Santiago Apoala. There is an observation deck, another viewpoint from the cross, and simple bathrooms.
When ready, either return on the same path you came up on, or take the road. If you are lucky, you may be able to wave down a taxi or car and hitch hike back into town. The cemetery is right before the main entrance of the village of Santiago Apoala, and is worth a stop and a few photos.
🥾 Hiking Guide | Santiago Apoala Oaxaca Mirador Trail | Distance: 5 miles, including a walk back into the village | Duration: +/ – 4 hours | The trail is not well marked, download an offline map here
Peña Gemelas | Twin Rocks
Another stunning Oaxaca hiking trail in Apoala is the Twin Rocks route. The trailhead for this scenic path begins next to the Santiago Apoala Oaxaca Cabañas. This mostly flat trail requires a river crossing. During rainy season, the water was high, so we had to remove our shoes and cross the river. Be mindful that during rainy season, the river levels can rise fast to dangerous levels.
This out and back trail is about 2.25 miles round trip. The trail winds through a small river gorge and showcases the Twin Rocks, or Peñas Gemelas. This beautiful trail reminded me of a smaller and intimate version of the Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas Mexico. There are lots of rocks and green space to appreciate this magnificent nature path.
If the Apoala River is low, it’s possible to walk between the towering cliffs. Due to rainy season, we could only enjoy the canyon from the rocks. Along this route are also “pinturas rupestres,” or rock paintings. These are found on the opposite side of the river and are best navigated with a guide.
This hike is short and beautiful and can be done with ease if arriving into Santiago Apoala in the afternoon.
🥾 Hiking Guide | Peña Gemelas River Path | Distance: 2.25 miles | Duration: +/ – 2 hours | You will need to cross the river to access this trail, have proper footwear or remove shoes if the water is high
Where to Sleep & Eat in Santiago Apoala
It’s best to spend two nights in Santiago Apoala, especially since it can take a few hours to reach the village from Oaxaca City. There is a small hotel in the city, but one of the best places to sleep in Apoala is at the Santiago Apoala Oaxaca Cabañas. These simple rooms are connected to the ecotourism center, so when signing in they can usually contact the cabanas for you.
The Cabañas De Santiago Apoala are outside of the main village, but are right next to the Twin Rocks trailhead and close to the Devil’s Cave with access to the Mirador Trail. However, Apoala is so small that it takes less than 10 minutes to walk through the entire community.
The Cabañas De Santiago Apoala offer dorm-like rooms with private baths. The standard room is a set of two twin beds. There are rooms available with a fireplace for an extra $50 pesos a night. There is no wifi at the cabanas, but you can purchase WiFi at the tourism center if you wish. Personally, I loved disconnecting and spending time in nature for a few days.
Cabañas De Santiago Apoala | Find them here: Santiago Apoala Oaxaca | Price per night: $300 pesos / 4 beds ($14.50 USD) | Camping available during dry season
Keep in mind, there are no kitchen facilities at the cabañas, so bring a camping stove to cook, or eat at two of the restaurants in town. The one restaurant in town is kitty-corner from the Ecotourism Center and offers home cooked two course meals with tea. The other eatery is located right before the cabañas and is set-up like food stand with simple and delicious meals that is served up by a local family. They also sell beers to-go. Both are budget friendly and tasty!
Santiago Apoala to Oaxaca City
Sadly, it will be time to leave the peace and quiet of Santiago Apoala. To return to Oaxaca City, check in with the ecotourist center to see if there are any cars leaving for Noxchitlán. We were fortunate to have a full collectivo depart. They will most likely leave early in the morning.
☛ Travel Tip | Verify the local time at the tourist information center, they oftentimes run on their “own” mountain time (Usually an hour behind Oaxaca City).
🚗 Santiago Apoala to Nochixtlan by Shared Collectivo | Pick up from Cabañas | Average One-way Fare: $80 pesos ($4 USD) | Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
If heading to Oaxaca, catch the T.T.N. combis just a few blocks out of town.
🚐 Nochixtlán Oaxaca to Oaxaca Centro by T.T.N Combis | Find them here: Porfirio Díaz 72, Asunción Nochixtlán | Buses run: 6:00 – 21:00, depart every 30 minutes | One way bus ticket cost: $50 pesos ($2.50 USD) | Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes | Up to date info here
However, Nochixtlán is the gateway to the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. There are a few small villages that are worth a stop if you’re already here!
More Mixteca Villages to Visit from Nochixtlán
From the bustling Asunción Nochixtlán, visit the villages of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán, Tamazulápam, and the “Pueblo Magico” San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcolula.
Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán
Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan is most famous for its massive Ex-Convent church that was built during the 16th century. The large church seems to appear out of the middle of nowhere and towers over the small village. This site was built along a busy trade route. If you wander to the back of the convent, notice that it was built on top of a once Mixtec sacred site. Behind the church is a sleepy and beautiful plaza.
Interior is Temporarily Closed | Pre-Covid Entrance Fee: $45 pesos ($2.25 USD)
Those interested inn the unique landscape of the surrounding landscape may want to stop at the Geopark Mixteca Alta, this eco-center offers a wide range of hiking routes focusing on geotourism.
How to Visit Yanhuitlan
Collectivos depart frequently from Nochixtlan.
🚗 Nochixtlan to Yanhuitlan by Collectivos | Find them here: José María Morelos | Collectivos run: 7:00 – 21:00, depart every 10 minutes | One way cost: $15 pesos (75¢ USD) | Duration: 15 minutes
Many collectivos pass right by the church for the village of Tamazulapam, which boasts natural sulfur pools. I highly suggest spending one night in Tamazulapam.
Tamazulapam | Tamazulápam
Tamazulapam, or Tamazulapam del Progreso, is a cute village found in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. While it is most famous for their natural cold water spring pools, there is plenty to see and do here. The church is beautiful and again located right next to a beautiful Municipal Park. The main market has authentic food stalls and delicious local places to eat and drink.
While you should visit at least one of the aquatic pools, appreciate the nature at one of the natural pools of. There is the bigger, Ojo de Agua Grande or the small Ojo De Agua Chico. The large pond has an observatory deck and places to swim. There are informative boards located along the trail and it’s possible to see frogs and other animals that call this natural area home. The trail to the small pond is nice, but there are two restaurants there which oftentimes blare music, even in the early hours of the morning.
Balneario Atonaltzin is an excellent pool to visit. There is lots of green space, places to grill and picnic, a small tienda, and rustic rooms to rent.
Balneario Atonaltzin | Find them here: Tamazulápam del Progreso | Admission to the sulfur pools: $100 pesos ($5 USD) | Open: 24 hours | Camping available: $200 pesos per person ($9.75 USD) | Cabanas: $600 pesos a night ($30 USD) | Facebook Page
How to Visit Tamazulapam del Progreso
From Yanhuitlán, simply stand in front of the church and wave down a collectivo or bus to Tamazulapam.
🚗 Yanhuitlan to Tamazulapam by Collectivos | One way cost: $40 pesos ($2 USD) | Duration: 45 minutes
Direct buses run frequently from Tamazulapam del Progreso back to Oaxaca City.
San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcolula
If you thought the Dominican convent of Yanhuitlán was impressive, San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcolula is even grander. The village of Teposcolula is a “pueblo magico” due to the stunning ex-convent, and the open chapel, which is the largest in Latin America. The village is famous for its typical dishes, especially the yellow mole.
Ex-Convento de San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcolula | Open: Wed – Sunday, closes at 15:00 | Admission: $40 pesos ($2 USD)
Teposcolula can easily be reached from Teposcolula or Yanhuitlan.
Visit Santiago Apoala Oaxaca | Hidden Gem in Oaxaca
In conclusion, Santiago Apooala is a magical hidden gem in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca Mexico. The small community boasts some of the best options for hiking in Oaxaca. While soaking in the tranquil nature, visit the beautiful Apoala waterfall, walk to or through the twin rocks, or take the steep climb up the Mirador trail. Either way, Santiago Apoala is the perfect place to disconnect from the modern world, and reconnect with nature and appreciate the ways of the ancestors of these sacred lands.
Santiago Apoala Oaxaca is surrounded by stunning nature and is close to other charming villages in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. Take the opportunity to get off the beaten path and explore this small community nestled in the mountains.
Have you heard of Santiago Apoala? Did you visit Santiago Apoala Oaxaca? What did you think? Did you take one or more of the hiking routes? Let me know in the comments below!
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