Grutas de Tolantongo: Hot Springs Resort
A Desert Paradise
Imagine yourself soaking in pools of naturally-heated water, cascading down the steep mountainside, the water flowing from one pool to another, with breathtaking views of the canyon below. When you’ve had enough of that, go for a swim in the river below, or take the zip-line down the ravine. This desert paradise is the perfect holiday or weekend retreat for a solo traveler, romantic getaway, or family adventure.
Remote, but accessible, The Grutas de Tolantongo is a semi-tropical gem, tucked away in a canyon that drops from the high desert plains of the state of Hidalgo. Originally named Tonaltonko (meaning home where it feels warm) in the ancient Nahuatl language, the Grutas de Tolantongo (or Grottos of Tolantongo) is a hot springs haven with so many delightful ways to enjoy the water you’ll keep your swimming suit on all day.The river cut a steep canyon with an unnaturally baby-blue water that gets it’s color from a high content of calcium and magnesium. The thermally-heated water flows out of the mountain, from two grottos at the end of a box canyon. Small streams and waterfalls along the canyon also feed into the various pools at the resort. With the invite of a friend, we planned a three-day trip and ended up staying for four.
After an hour bus trip from Ixmiquilpan (only 17 km away, but feeling much longer) the road drops quickly into the ravine, through a series of switchbacks, to the main hotel. We climbed out of the bus with our suitcases, filled with what we thought we’d need for three days of camping, only to find that we had to haul them down a long stairway to the beach area along the river below. Arriving on the last bus, around 6:00 pm on a weekday, most of the services were already closed and there were no porters to carry our bags. We had to haul them down the steps ourselves.
It seems that stairs and steps are the theme here. Built into the canyon wall, everywhere you go there are steps either up or down. It’s not the kind of place for the handicapped, elderly or anyone out of shape (unless you’re looking for a workout). But being one of those out-of-shape people, I found this place is definitely worth the effort!From our views above, I was immediately drawn in by the beauty of the river. The resort was developed as a Edificio of the local community, they run and operate the entire resort. The swift-flowing stream has been adapted to form a series of swimming holes, cleared of bigger rocks and separated by rows of boulders, where guests can enjoy hours of swimming and playing in the warm water. However, I was even more intrigued to soak in the cliff-side pools at the Paradise area of the resort. So, in the morning we took a bus ride the mile back up the canyon to get there and found a quiet pool, all to ourselves. There are restaurants and taco shacks throughout the resort, making it was easy to find something to eat. Afterwards we decided to hike through the forest back to camp. The semi-arid environment above turns to semi-tropical here in the canyon and we enjoyed the shade of towering amate trees and tropical plants, mixed with yucca, mesquite and various cacti.
That evening we went for a swim in the river. Day and night, it keeps the warmth and the turquoise color. You can put your back up against the water flowing over the boulders for a water massage.I didn’t think it could get much better, yet all of this paled in comparison to my experience of the grotto. It was another short hike and more stair-climbing to get there. Along the way we passed by the river in it’s natural state, as it rushes down it’s rocky banks to feed the stream below. At the top of the stairs we came to the grotto, with a waterfall cascading over the face of the cliff and covering the entrance into the cave.
But first, there was one more experience I had to try, The Vapor Tunnel. It was a few stairs up from the grotto, with it’s own entrance. This one had water pouring over it and walking through the colder waterfall to the warm water of the cave was intense. I don’t think I would have kept going, but my friend went there the previous day and she said it was worth it.
Inside the tunnel was dark, like any cave, except this one had water pouring over you from all directions. Just wide enough for one person at a time, I couldn’t see where the tunnel led. Then a light came on ahead of me, where someone turned on a light. I could see a small, rounded out pool a little further on with a few other people soaking in it, but the person with the light was going past that into a tunnel to the left and the light disappeared with them. It was enough illumination to keep me going and I followed along the walls to the pool and stepped down in. Still, there was water continuously pouring over my face and body. I found heavy ropes attached to the side walls and pulled myself back up and out, emerging as if from the birth canal. It was time to try the grotto.To enter the grotto you again pass through the cooler waterfall flowing down from the cliff. After the cold shower you wade into mid-calf deep warm water as the cavern opens to a large dome-shaped room with a powerful warm-water-fall right in the center, coming from a hole in the ceiling of at least a foot in diameter. There are smaller waterfalls around the cavern sides. In the warm water of the cave there were people swimming, wading and taking photos (if they brought a waterproof camera or phone). It seemed the choice experience was to find your way into the center waterfall or find one on a side wall with the pressure you like and stand under it as it massages your back and shoulders. I did a little of both. I was able to get near the big waterfall, but the pressure was so strong it was hard to get close or to stay in the same space for long.
After two full days there, we were ready to head back, leaving on the 11:00 am bus. I went for a morning walk, ate breakfast and packed up. Luckily, for a minimal fee, we were able to get a ride with our bags back up the hill.
Finding your way …
What to Expect
This 2,000 acre resort is spread out with two separate areas, Las Grutas and El Pairiso. There are 4 hotels, various restaurants, gift stores and camping. They will even rent you a tent and set it up for you.
The low entrance fees of $140 pesos per person per day (about $8 USD) includes access to the river, soaking pools, grutas, tunnels, swimming pools and zip line.
This is a remote area, you can’t just go into town, come prepared.
It’s important to note that there are no ATM’s in the area, so come with enough cash for your time there (in Mexican Pesos). You can bring your own food or dine at one of the onsite restaurants. There are small stores and gift shops, but they do not carry groceries. There is also no WiFi or Internet.
You need to be physically fit
The resort is built on the steep walls of the ravine. You will be walking up and down a lot of stairs throughout your visit.
If you come mid-week (when there are less crowds)
Lockers in the lower, riverside area will be closed mid-week. The only available lockers are in the hotel at the top of the stairs. The lockers are only open until 6:00 pm and you need to collect your stuff by then (even if you end up using the lockers again the next day). It’s better not to bring a lot of valuables.
Restaurants take turns being open mid-week. Ask for their schedule. All restaurants in the resort have basically the same menu and food available, so it doesn’t really matter where you eat.
Getting to the Grutas de Tolantongo
From Mexico City: 3 hr to Ixmiquilpan + 1 hr to the Grutas (by bus)
Take a bus from Mexico City Central del Norte directly to the city of Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo.
On arriving at Ixmiquilpan, you need to take a combi bus or taxi to the municipal market Ixmiquilpan, “Mercado Morelos”.
From there you must locate the “San Antonio” parking lot where the base of direct microbuses to Grutas Tolantongo is located. Buses to the Grutas are only 4 times a day during the week, hourly on the weekend.
Monday to Thursday:
11:00 13:30 15:30 18:00
Friday to Sunday:
From 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Departures every hour approx.
For transportation at the Grutas de Tolantongo resort you can walk or take the local bus that operates within the resort. It can take you from one area of the resort to the other, a distance of approx. 1 mile. You will still need to walk around most of the resort. There are some motobike transports for helping to haul luggage from the campground to the hotel at the top of the hill.
Get additional info at their website: Grutas de Tolantongo
La Gloria Tolantongo
In the same area, but a bit more rustic, La Gloria Tolantongo is a similar resort. You can get there via a bridge that connects the two parks. They have a separate administration and fees. Check their website for details: www.lagloriatolantongo.com.mx