Sometimes, putting in greater effort brings a greater reward. The town of Santiago Yosundua and its Cascada Esmeralda, is one of those cases. It’s possibly one of the best places I’ve ever been to, but it’s such a trek that I’ve only been there twice. The trip from Oaxaca de Juarez would take about 6 hours though with plenty to see along the way, I recommend taking your time.
I first went back in 1999. I was young and adventurous, took public transportation and tent. I don’t really remember the details of getting there at that time, but I think it had to have included two changes of modes of transportation, one in Tlaxiaco, and one in Chalcatongo. I do remember that the people of Yosondua were quite surprised to see us. “We’ve come to see the waterfall,” we told the woman we’d convinced to sell us lunch. There were no restaurants in town at that time, but locals pointed up towards the house of a woman who cooked for the school teachers, it was a long weekend for 20 de Noviembre, and her regular clients had gone to their hometowns. She said something along the lines of “they say it’s nice”. This time around people weren’t surprised we came, they were surprised that we only stayed one night.
Back then we walked from town to the waterfall (about 3 km) and could hear it long before we could see it. Actually, as it gets louder and louder you start to look around, wondering where it is–it’s below you, you arrive at the top of this waterfall. We set up our tent near the top and were pretty much alone with nature marveling at the enormity of it all until we hiked back the next day.
Nowadays, the land around the waterfall is the “Parque Natural Yosondua” which includes a 28-meter high 130-meter long hanging bridge, several observation decks, a couple of zip lines, a snack bar and some cabins. It costs 15 pesos to have access to the hanging bridge and the observation decks on the other side of it. It’s quite a thrilling walk across the bridge and once out on it, you get a great view of the falls on one side or the valley and mountains beyond on the other. The area is staffed with knowledgeable guides lead by Edilberto Martínez Sánchez, one of which speaks quite good English. And in addition to hikes around the base of the falls, if you book ahead, they can take you on tours downriver which look just as spectacular and can arrange cultural visits along the way. But for my kids at least, the star attraction is the zip line. There are two, though only the longer one was in operation the day we visited. It cost 100 pesos a person, but if you went again when you were still suited up in the harness it was 50 pesos for the second go, 25 if you had a third go and the 4th time was free so you could say 100 pesos for one trip, or four for 175, which is actually quite a deal and tons of fun.
We visited at the driest time of year, but as you can see there was still a significant amount of water flowing. Back in November of 1999, there was more water. I’ve seen videos online of the falls during the height of the rainy season and that would definitely be a prime time to visit.
In April of 2019, a cabin for a family of four costs 700 pesos a night, there are also a few simple, but clean and comfortable hotels in town where a family of four could stay for about 200 pesos.
The guest book at the snack bar revealed that the majority of the visitor come from nearby Tlaxiaco and Chalcatongo, who likely just make a day trip out of it. The cabins and trails also needed a bit of upkeep which we all know cost money. I hope you can take your pesos and visit this truly magical place.
Yosondua has a lovely town square, a church from the late 1700s, a turn of the century town hall, and a brand new market building so be sure to spend some time walking around in town too. We had a delicious salsa de huevo breakfast the Restuarante y Cenaduria El Calvario on the corner of Aquiles Serdan and Paz y Progreso streets.
https://www.facebook.com/ParqueNaturalYosondua/ Contact them via Whatsapp (there is no cell phone reception in town) +52 1 951 212 2417
We traveled by car, but via public transportation from Oaxaca City you can take a van to Tlaxiaco, they leave every hour from locations on Trujano in downtown Oaxaca, and in Tlaxiaco there are vans directly to Yosondua.