Dreaming of hot steamy springs and white travertine pools? Here’s my super detailed guide to visiting Grutas Tolantongo hot springs in Central Mexico.
With hot spring water tumbling over calcified travertine pools and cascading down waterfalls, Grutas Tolantongo is home to some of the most beautiful hot springs in Mexico. Tucked high in the mountains of Hidalgo, this spot may be just a 4-hour drive from the capital Mexico City and is hugely popular with weekenders, it remains a remote area brimming with natural beauty.
We’ve just returned from a spectacular trip to Central Mexico and las Grutas Tolantongo was the highlight for all of us. In this blog post, I’ll share everything I’ve learned about visiting the Grutas Tolangtongo hot springs. So pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable Mexican hot springs adventure!
Table of Contents
- How to Visit Grutas Tolantongo
- Where is Grutas Tolantongo?
- Why Grutas Tolantongo is So Special
- Mexico Travel Requirements
- How to Get to Grutas Tolantongo
- How Much Time to Visit Grutas Tolantongo?
- Best Time to Visit the Tolantongo Hot Springs
- THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING GRUTAS TOLANTONGO
- How to Get around Tolantongo
- Cost of visiting Grutas Tolantongo
- Where to Stay in Tolantongo Mexico
- Things to Do in Tolantongo
- Where to Eat at Grutas Tolantongo
- Visiting Grutas Tolantongo with Kids
- What to Pack for Grutas Tolantongo
- Rules at Grutas Tolantongo
- Final Tips for Visiting Grutas Tolantongo
How to Visit Grutas Tolantongo
Where is Grutas Tolantongo?
Grutas Tolantongo is located in the state of Hidalgo, home to one of the biggest Nahuatl populations in Mexico. It’s a 4-hour drive from Mexico City and a 4.5-hour drive from Guanajuato. We first flew to Guanajuato, spent a few days in San Miguel de Allende, and drove to Grutas Tolantongo (3.5-hour drive) and flew out from Querétaro (3-hour drive).
The box canyon runs along the Mezquital Valley, etched between massive mountains at 4,200-feet (1,280m) above sea level. Getting to this remote part of the country isn’t straightforward, as you’ll need to navigate steep mountain roads and hair-raising corkscrew bends to get here.
Why Grutas Tolantongo is So Special
Tolantongo is a word from the Nahuatl language, meaning “place of moving waters” — and it’s easy to see how it got its name. The canyon is brimming with hot springs and geothermal pools, which heats the water throughout the Grutas Tolantongo.
The area is a semi-desert zone, studded with towering cacti and rock formations carved by water flow and geological pressures. Running through the canyon is the aqua blue Tolantongo River, colored by the mineral salts it picks up as it passes through the mountain. The lower you get into the canyon, the more you’ll realize what a natural oasis this place is.
As remote as it is, the area has become a summer playground for Mexicans who flock here for weekend escapes. Besides the natural pools and rivers, you’ll also find the highest zip line in Hidalgo, a series of hotels, campsites, restaurants, and convenience stores. Sadly they are continuing to build more and more here.
Mexico Travel Requirements
- Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
- However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. These days, it is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19. Read my travel insurance guide.
- Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date.
How to Get to Grutas Tolantongo
This is the tricky part. The closest airport to Grutas Tolantongo is in Querétaro, but it’s 3 hours away by car. The drive is rather hectic, and you’ll be passing through high mountains so be prepared to be navigating hairpin bends. Querétaro International Airport (QIH) a small airport, but there are flights to Querétaro from several US cities including Houston, Atlanta and Dallas.
Alternatively, you can also fly into Mexico City and drive 4 hours to Grutas Tolantongo. Public transport is not advisable as it can take up to 6 hours. Alternatively, day tours are a popular option though I do not recommend it (scroll to next section for details).
Driving in Central Mexico is relatively easy, with clear signposts and decent roads. The only part that gets tricky is navigating the steep mountain roads leading to Grutas Tolantongo, but it is managable if you have some driving experience.
An economy rental car in Mexico averages just $200 for a whole week, which is less than $25 a day. The current price for gas is 16.50 pesos per liter (about $2.50 per gallon). We always use DiscoverCars.com as they’ve consistently given us the best prices and customer service. Check out my guide to renting a car in Mexico.
Driving Tips for Grutas Tolantongo
- Download the map from Google Maps for offline use as you’ll lose signal once you’re in the mountains.
- Use only toll roads if possible (in this case, you’ll be driving mostly on the tolled Highway 85). It’ll save you a ton of driving time and it’s much safer and smoother.
- Bring cash with you for the toll fees.
- Try to fill up your gas tank early, preferably in Querétaro or San Juan del Rio, as we noticed many of the gas stations near Tolantongo were closed.
- There’s plenty of parking everywhere in Tolantongo, but you do need to pay a daily fee for parking (more in cost section).
Whether you’re coming from Querétaro or Mexico City, you’ll need to catch an ADO bus to Ixmiquilpan. At the Ixmiquilpan bus station, catch a colectivo (shared van) to Mercado Morelos, the main market at Ixmiquilpan and a good spot to pick up snacks/lunch. Then look for a microbus station in the San Antonio parking for a bus to Grutas Tolantongo. Check here for the bus schedule.
Day tours to Grutas Tolantongo from both Querétaro and Mexico City are popular, but be aware that the drive is 6-8 hours return! You’ll get picked up at 6am and only arrive back in your hotel at 9pm. That means you’ll only have 5-6 hours at Tolantongo itself, and that’s way too little time to see everything. Also, those on day tours tend to arrive at the same time (9-10am) and it starts getting very crowded then.
That said, if you don’t drive or you’re on a budget, the day tours can be great value for money as you’ll save on car rental and accommodation fees. Plus it takes away all the hassle! Check out tours here.
How Much Time to Visit Grutas Tolantongo?
So if a day tour isn’t enough time to see the Grutas Tolantongo, how much time is ideal? We spent 2 nights in Tolantongo and still wished we had more time there!
Technically, I think 3 nights are ideal as you’ll have enough time to do everything and relax a little. We did everything there was to do at Tolantongo, except for the hiking trails and zip line. But we also spent an afternoon napping as the hot, dry weather was too much for us.
I also recommend combining a visit to Grutas Tolantongo with San Miguel de Allende (3.5 hours) and Guanajuato (a 4.5-hour drive away). Check out my Guanajuato travel guide. We explored all of them on a 1-week road trip and absolutely loved exploring this part of Mexico!
Best Time to Visit the Tolantongo Hot Springs
Grutas Tolantongo is open all year round; in fact it’s open every day of the year! Because of its geographical location in Central Mexico, it experiences pleasant springtime weather for most part of the year. In winter (December to February), it can get very cold in the evenings. It’s best to avoid the rainy season (July and August) due to the rain and crowds.
In general, daytime temperatures average around 97°F (28°C) while nighttime temperatures dip to 55°F(13°C). You’ll need a light jacket regardless of when you visit.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING GRUTAS TOLANTONGO
The Tolantongo hot springs are located high up in the mountains, and it’s not quite as easy to get here as you’d think. A trip here does require some advanced planning. Here are a few things to keep in mind before coming here.
- Tolantongo may look laidback and calm in my photos — but make no mistake, it gets crowded on weekends with multi-generational Mexican families. There’s definitely more of a summer camp vibe than a dreamy atmosphere, and it can feel commercialized. Try to visit on a weekday as there are way less people.
- Make sure to rise early and visit the thermal pools just as they open (at 7.30am). You’ll get to feel the magic of the place without anybody around you. The crowd starts streaming in from 9am onwards.
- Hotels in Grutas Tolantongo do NOT accept online reservations or bookings over the phone. You can only book them in person. Arrive early in the day, and head straight to the hotel of your choice.
- There are 350 rooms within the Grutas Tolantongo area, so they’re unlikely to run out. We arrived at 5pm on a Thursday and still managed to get a room at Paraíso Hotel. For a peace of mind, I booked a room online at Hotel boutique Otomi for US$20 in Cardonal, a 30-minute drive away, but didn’t end up using it.
- It’s important to know that ONLY CASH is accepted in Grutas Tolantongo. The nearest ATM is a 1-hour drive away, but the reception at Hotel Paraiso Escondido can actually provide cash with a 10% commission. If you’re staying for 1 night, you should do fine with 4000 MXN in cash for two persons.
How to Get around Tolantongo
Be aware that the attractions in Grutas Tolantongo are spread out and you’ll need to hike up steep slopes to get from one to another. We drove from one attraction to another. If you’re not driving, there are shuttle vans that take you around Tolantongo for just 10 MXN per person (USD$0.50) each way.
If you’re traveling in a group of 5 or more, you can also book the whole shuttle van for 60 to 80 MXN (US$3 to 4) each way. The shuttle van stops at all of the hotels and attractions.
Cost of visiting Grutas Tolantongo
The general access ticket for Grutas Tolantongo costs 150.00 MXN (7.50 USD) daily. Kids under 5 years of age enter free. Tickets are sold at the taquilla (ticket booth) when you’re entering the area. It’s Important to save your tickets!
If you’re staying overnight (camping or at a hotel), you will need to get 2-day tickets. One for arrival day (Day 1) and another for the next day (Day 2). Parking in Grutas Tolantongo costs 30.00 MXN (1.5 USD) per day per vehicle. We stayed for 2 nights and had to get 3-day tickets.
The park tickets cover all of the natural attractions (Grutas, tunnels, river, thermal pools, and swimming pools) and access to all their amenities (bathrooms). Only ziplining comes with an extra charge (200 MXN or 10 USD).
Where to Stay in Tolantongo Mexico
Grutas Tolantongo has 5 hotels onsite and plenty of campgrounds — but keep in mind this area is very rural and the infrastructure is pretty basic. The hotels are decent and reasonably comfortable, but don’t expect to find amenities like kettle or stable WiFi.
We stayed at the Paraíso Hotel and highly recommend it — mainly because it’s right next to the glorious thermal pools, the most photogenic part of Grutas Tolantongo. It’s also the newest and nicest hotel onsite, with air conditioning, cable TV, WiFi, and spectacular mountain views. But it’s not cheap, at 2800 MXN (US$140)/night for a simple room.
TIP: The older Paraíso Escodido Hotel is even closer to the thermal pools, but it gets fully booked early.
Grutas Tolantongo Hotels
- Paraíso Hotel — 1600-2800 MXN (US$80-140) *new hotel!
- Paraíso Escondido Hotel — 800 – 1800 MXN (US$40-90)
- La Gruta Hotel — 750 – 1050 MXN (US$37.5-52.5)
- La Huerta Hotel — only open on weekends; 800 – 1200 MXN (US$40-60)
- Molanguito Hotel — only open on weekends; 650 – 950 MXN (US$32.5-47.5)
*These are daily rates per room, not per person. Most hotels have rooms ranging from single to quadriple rooms.
Camping at Tolantongo Mexico Hot Springs
Camping is hugely popular here amongst Mexican families and large groups of teenagers. If you have your own camping equipment, it’s free to camp here!
Fret not if you don’t travel with camping equipment. You can rent everything here — from quality tents to inflatable mattresses and blankets. Tent rental costs around 120-250 MXN (US$6-$12.5) and a ground pad is 150 MXN (US$7.5). Best of all, the staff will set everything up for you after you rent it.
NOTE: In rainy season (July and August), camping is not recommended near the river. It gets cold here in the winter season (December – March), and you’ll need blankets and shelters.
Things to Do in Tolantongo
Sprawling across the deep Mezquital Valley, Grutas Tolantongo covers a huge area and there are actually plenty of things to do here. The hot spring pools you’ve seen all over Instagram are in fact just a small part of the Grutas Tolantongo
1. Start at Las Pozas
This was the HIGHLIGHT of Grutas Tolantongo for us. The marble-white travertine pools have become Insta-famous and somewhat the icon of Tolantongo, for good reason. There are over 30 pools at Las Pozas, with natural hot spring waters of temperatures varying between 93 to 100°F (34 and 38°C). I recommend making this your first stop as it’s near located near the ticket booth/main entrance.
There are two separate sections: the pools on the right have a gated entrance and are much nicer. But they open only 7.30am-6pm and no food or drinks are allowed (to keep the environment clean). The pools on the left are open till 1030pm but they’re popular with big families who are usually grilling meat on the barbecue and blasting loud music.
2. Cross the Hanging Bridge and Cave
From las Pozas, you can see a suspension bridge that stretches across the canyon and leads to the Gruta Escondida (hidden cave). It’s a short walk, but the view is spectacular and it can be exciting when it starts to swing. The cave is really just a small opening at the bottom of the cliff, but it’s worth exploring if you have time. There’s water gushing out from every hole, so be careful as it can get slippery.
3. Go Ziplining
If heights don’t scare you, then go ziplining! Paraíso Escondido Hotel has a series of zip lines that are considered the highest in the state of Hidalgo. The zip line course starts at the top of the canyon and finishes near the Gruta (main cave). It takes about an hour to complete and goes in one direction. Minimum age is 10 (my daughter was disappointed she couldn’t do it!) Cost: 200 MXN (US$10).
4. Hike the Trails
A good alternative to zip lining is hitting the hiking trails that weave their way across the steep slopes. There are a few different trails to choose from, but be prepared for some strenuous climbs. And make sure to have water, snacks, and sturdy hiking shoes. The views from the miradors (lookout points) are worth it, though!
5. Swim in the Gruta and Tunnel
The Gruta is the biggest attraction in Tolantongo. The huge cave is the stuff of legends, with an endless flow of hot spring water cascading down its exterior. It’s said to be the main source of the hot springs, so currents here are strong and temperatures are high.
The swimming area is dark, so bring a waterproof flashlight. It’s not advisable to stay in there for more than 15 minutes. Don’t forget to venture into the tunnel that goes underneath the river.
TIP: It’s strictly forbidden to bring any backpack or food into the cave or tunnel. Only swimwear, camera, and towel are allowed. There are lockers just outside the cave entrance, for 100 MXN ($5).
6. Explore La Gloria Tolantongo
From the Gruta, cross the short suspension bridge and you’ll reach La Gloria Tolantongo, a separate park from Gruta Tolantongo. It’s a compact but less commercialized version of Gruta Tolantongo, with its own thermal pools, waterfalls, zip line, and campsite.
La Gloria is owned by different landowners so you’ll need to pay another entry fee to get in (150 MXN or US$7.5). We didn’t visit this area as we reached here only in the evening and it didn’t make sense to pay for another ticket. But if we had another day, we definitely would!
7. Take a Dip in the Tolantongo River
Don’t leave without taking a dip in the aqua blue river that runs through Grutas Tolantongo. The baby-blue water gets its color from a high content of calcium and magnesium. The thermally-heated water flows out from the Gruta and runs all the way to the end of the canyon. There are areas where the current is strong, so be careful.
8. Chill in the Swimming Pools
For those with kids, there are plenty of normal swimming pools (with thermal waters nonetheless) to keep them entertained. There’s even a big water slide by the Paraíso Escondido Hotel that kids would love, but it was closed during our visit.
Where to Eat at Grutas Tolantongo
There are a series of restaurants and cocinas economicas (cheap eateries) dotted throughout Grutas Tolantongo. Their menus are about the same and prices are affordable. Most offer a menu del dia (lunch combo) for just 85 MXN (US$4.25) that includes a soup and main course.
The restaurants usually serve quesadillas or sopes (fried massa base topped with meat) at 3 for 60 MXN (US$3) and grilled meat or fried fish accompanied with rice, frijoles (beans), and salad for 130 to 180 MXN (US$6.5 to 9). They also have great Mexican breakfasts that range from sweet buns to chilaquiles.
Visiting Grutas Tolantongo with Kids
We traveled to Tolantongo with our 7-year-old daughter and she loved it! She declared this was her favorite part of the trip (where we also went to Guanajuato or San Miguel de Allende).
Grutas Tolantongo is a family-friendly place and you’ll find plenty of kids and big families here. There’s often a carnival like atmosphere, where kids swim while grownups drink and dance to loud Mexican music. The thermal pools are fantastic for the little ones as they’re shallow and gloriously warm, while the hiking trails are great for kids to explore and run free.
But those with younger kids need to watch out as there are no railings around the thermal pools. Slippery floors can be dangerous for the little ones too.
What to Pack for Grutas Tolantongo
Because of the slippery surfaces of the waterfalls/pools, you’ll NEED water shoes at Grutas Tolantongo. If you don’t have water shoes, sandals or KEEN shoes will suffice. I wore my Teva sandals inside the thermal pools and to hike up the slopes and they were perfect. On the road leading to Tolantongo, there are many shops selling water shoes.
You’ll also need a waterproof phone holder if you’re planning to take photos. I bought one for 150 MXN (US$7.5) in one of the shops, but it’s not the best quality. Remember to bring a jacket as it can get cold at night. Tolantongo is at high altitude so be prepared for the cool mountain air.
PACKING LIST FOR TOLANTONGO
- Bathing suit
- Microfiber quick-dry towel
- Water shoes
- Waterproof sun hat
- Breathable, quick dry t-shirts
- Hiking pants
- Light jacket
- Hiking shoes
- Waterproof dry bag
- Waterproof phone holder
- Reef safe sunscreen
- DEET bug spray
- Moisturizer (as it’s very dry!)
- Body wash and shampoo
- GoPro & charger
- Power bank
- Book or Kindle
Rules at Grutas Tolantongo
It’s evident that the overwhelming crowd and construction are doing a lot of damage to the natural environment at Grutas Tolantongo. However, the authorities are doing their best to protect the environment with these strict rules.
- Food, beverages, soaps or detergents are not allowed in the river or pools. The guards will check your backpack and confiscate any food/drinks.
- Backpacks are not allowed in the gruta (cave). Only swimwear, camera, and towel are permitted.
- Pets are not allowed in the park.
- Babies need to wear water diapers in the water.
Final Tips for Visiting Grutas Tolantongo
Thank you for reading this far! You can probably tell by now how much I loved the Grutas Tolantongo. As one of the most beautiful hot springs in Mexico, Grutas Tolantongo has an incredibly stunning setting and it’s brimming with many outdoorsy things to do.
Yes it gets overcrowded with Mexican families, but there’s a convivial atmosphere and summer camp feel to it. Besides, there are very few international tourists, which adds to the authenticity of the place. If you’re traveling solo, you might be put off by the whole carnival feel, just know what to expect.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments field below. I’ll be more than happy to answer them!
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- 10 Best Hot Springs in Mexico
- How to Visit la Gruta San Miguel de Allende
- 30 Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende
- 30 Fun Things to Do in Guanajuato
- 5 Days in Mexico City Itinerary
- Yucatan Road Trip: A 10-Day Yucatan Itinerary
- 15 Things to Do in Cozumel, Mexico
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