Exploring the Stunning Grutas De Tolantongo Hot Springs in Mexico

Exploring the Stunning Grutas De Tolantongo Hot Springs in Mexico

Written by Kenneth Sawyer, In Travel, Published On
February 23, 2024

In Shorts: 

  • Grutas de Tolantongo, a blue aquatic playground four hours from Mexico City, is a popular day excursion.
  • Tolantongo is one of Mexico’s most stunning spots. Tolantongo, like many other Mexican tourist destinations with significant natural history, is administered by the ejido system.
  • Neighbourhood members own the land as a cooperative—Ejidatarios fund tourism infrastructure.

Nestled in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains of central Mexico lies a hidden natural wonder – the magnificent Grutas Tolantongo hot springs. Known for its bright blue thermal river, natural cave tunnels, and series of cliffside pools, Tolantongo is a paradise for hot spring lovers.

In this complete guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know to visit Tolantongo, including how to get there, where to stay, costs, packing tips and more. Read on to uncover why these stunning natural hot springs should be on your Mexico bucket list!

An Overview of Grutas Tolantongo

Grutas Tolantongo is a complex network of natural hot springs near Ixmiquilpan in Hidalgo, Mexico. Tolantongo comes from the Náhuatl language and means “where the sun hides”. This refers to how the canyon walls shield parts of the hot springs from direct sunlight at certain times of the day. The hot springs originate deep within the mountains, where rainwater seeps through volcanic rock. This geothermal activity heats the water between 35°C to 40°C. As the hot springs emerge from a cave tunnel, they mix with cool fresh water to form the bright blue river that carves through the rugged Tolantongo canyon.

The Main Attractions at Grutas Tolantongo

There are three main areas to explore at the Tolantongo hot springs:

  • The Turquoise Blue River

The Turquoise Blue River

The focal point of Tolantongo is undoubtedly the striking blue river that flows through the canyon. The mix of hot springs and cool freshwater creates a stunning turquoise hue. The river has been dammed at intervals to form pools perfect for soaking. Given the enormous volume of water, these pools don’t get overly hot but maintain a pleasant, warm temperature. The smooth rocks along the river banks create natural lounging areas. But be sure to bring aqua shoes as the rocks can get slippery.

  • Thermal Pools along the Cliffside

Thermal Pools along the Cliffside

A series of 40+ hot spring pools have been built into Tolantongo’s towering cliffside. These cascading pools offer incredible views overlooking the river and canyon. The artificial pools are fed by pipes sourcing the hot spring water directly from the mountain. As a result, temperatures here tend to be warmer than the river. Each pool is only around hip-deep, but the varying sizes mean some offer more privacy than others. The pools closest to the cliff are usually less crowded.

  • Cave, Waterfall and Steam Tunnel

Cave, Waterfall and Steam Tunnel

Behind the river lies the sizeable natural cave with a waterfall and shallow pool visitors can walk through. Temperatures inside the humid cave can reach 40 ̊C. Nearby is a narrow tunnel where hot spring water flows down the walls. Due to the enclosed space, the steam tunnel effect is strong. Use caution when entering, as the rocks are incredibly slippery. The cave and steam tunnel provide a more natural and secluded hot spring experience away from the main pools.

When to Visit Grutas Tolantongo?

Grutas Tolantongo is open year-round and enjoyable to visit any time of year. However, the best months are typically outside of the rainy season, from July to September. During winter, from December to February, days are warm, while nights can get chilly. April and May are the hottest months, so visiting in the morning is best. Aim to arrive early, especially on weekends, as Tolantongo attracts enormous crowds. By midday, all areas can get very busy. Visiting on a weekday results in fewer people and more ideal soaking conditions.

How to Get to Grutas Tolantongo

From Mexico City

The easiest way to reach Tolantongo is on a guided tour from Mexico City, which takes around 4 hours one way. Tours provide round-trip transport in an air-conditioned van or bus. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Mexico City to Ixmiquilpan (3 hours), followed by a taxi or local minibus to Tolantongo (1 hour). Renting a car is also an option, but driving from Mexico City takes about 4 hours each way.

From Queretaro

Queretaro is closer to Tolantongo than Mexico City, located around 3 hours away by car. You can take a guided tour, bus, or drive yourself. Buses run from Queretaro to Ixmiquilpan hourly, taking around 2.5 hours. From there, continue to Grutas Tolantongo by taxi or minibus.

From Airports

The closest airport is Queretaro International Airport, about a 2.5-hour drive from Tolantongo. Mexico City Airport is another option, roughly 4 hours away.

Where to Stay in Tolantongo?

Tolantongo offers both camping and hotel options for overnight stays. You cannot book accommodations in advance. Instead, inquire about availability upon arrival and check in later.

Hotels in Tolantongo

Three central hotels are located within the canyon – Paraiso Escondido, La Gruta and La Huerta. The hotels have similar rustic rooms with 1-2 beds and optional balconies. Amenities are basic, with no hot water or WiFi in most units. Rates range from $45 to USD 110 per night.

Of the three, Hotel Paraiso Escondido is closest to the cliffside pools, while La Gruta is near the river and cave.

Camping in Tolantongo

Budget travellers can camp riverside at designated sites with access to bathrooms and showers. You can rent a tent, bedding and cooking essentials or bring your own gear. Camping costs around USD 7 per night if you have your tent and supplies. Renting equipment can add $15-$30 per night.

What to Bring to Tolantongo?

Packing appropriately will enhance your time at Tolantongo.

Here are must-have items to include:

  • Cash (no cards accepted at Tolantongo)
  • Swimsuits and cover-up
  • Water shoes or sandals with a grip
  • Microfiber towel
  • Toiletries – soap, shampoo, sunscreen
  • Waterproof phone case
  • Portable charger/power bank
  • Flashlight or headlamp if camping
  • Change of clothes after soaking
  • Light jacket for cool mornings/evenings

Costs to Visit Tolantongo

The entrance fee to Tolantongo is 180 pesos (~$9 USD) per person per day. If staying overnight, you’ll need to pay this on both days. Hotels range from 500 to 1300 pesos ($25-USD 65) per night, depending on room size and amenities. Camping starts at around 150 pesos (USD 7).

Other costs like food, gear rental and the zipline activity are extra. Most areas only accept cash, so come prepared.

Top Tips for Visiting Tolantongo

  • Arrive as early as possible, especially on weekends. The springs get very crowded later in the day.
  • Wear aqua shoes or sandals with a good grip everywhere, even in the pools. The rocks are slippery.
  • Check the bus schedule and arrive in Ixmiquilpan with enough time to catch the next minibus to Tolantongo. They fill up fast.
  • Soak in the river first thing in the morning when the canyon air is still cool.
  • Explore the entire complex, and stay in more than one area. Each has its charm.
  • Be prepared to wait for hotel room availability. Leave your bags in a locker and enjoy the springs as you wait.
  • Consider staying two nights if your schedule allows. One day goes by very quickly!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where exactly are the Tolantongo hot springs located?

Grutas Tolantongo is located near Ixmiquilpan in Hidalgo, central Mexico. It sits inside a canyon in the municipality of Cardonal.

How do you get to Tolantongo from Mexico City?

You can reach Tolantongo from Mexico City by guided tour, taking a bus via Ixmiquilpan, or driving yourself. The journey takes around 4 hours each way.

How much does it cost to visit Tolantongo?

The entrance fee is 180 pesos per person per day. Hotels start at around 500 pesos per night, while camping is 150 pesos. There are extra costs for food, rentals, etc.

Is Tolantongo worth visiting?

Yes! Tolantongo is known for its stunning turquoise river, cliffside pools, caves and natural setting. It’s worth a visit for hot spring lovers. Go early and on a weekday.

Can you swim in the Tolantongo River?

Yes, swimming is allowed in the river. The water mixes hot springs and cool freshwater, so temperatures remain comfortable for swimming. Some dams create deeper pools for soaking.

How warm are the Tolantongo hot springs?

The pure hot spring water reaches temperatures of 35°C to 40°C. The pools and river are cooler, ranging from 25°C to 35°C, depending on location. The cave and steam tunnel have the hottest waters.

What is there to do at Tolantongo besides the hot springs?

Top activities include swimming in the river, soaking in the cliff pools, exploring the caves, strolling the canyon trails and flying down the zipline. Relaxing and enjoying the scenery are also popular pastimes.

Can you stay overnight at Tolantongo?

There are hotels and campsites within the Tolantongo Canyon, so you can stay overnight and enjoy the hot springs in the evening and morning. Reserve upon arrival, as rooms cannot be booked ahead.

Is Tolantongo wheelchair accessible?

Tolantongo is not very wheelchair accessible. The natural terrain and rocky paths would make navigation easier. The pools also lack ramps. However, Hotel Paraiso 2 has an elevator.

This detailed guide provides all the information you need to plan a fantastic trip to the incredible Grutas Tolantongo hot springs! Let me know if you have any other questions.

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