How to Visit Las Grutas Tolantongo: Hot Springs in Hidalgo, Mexico

August 24, 2021

The white, cliff side pools of Las Grutas Tolantongo had been gracing my Instagram for months. I’ve been hooked on hot springs since visiting Cascate del Mulino in Italy, and Tolantongo had long been on my radar. When the opportunity presented itself to go, I found myself winding through the mountains of Hidalgo (admittedly navigating from the passenger seat) to reach the thermal pools.

Reaching Las Grutas Tolantongo from Mexico City is relatively easy, making it a great day trip or quick overnight if you’re looking to get out of city life for a bit. The property is much larger and more built up than I expected, making it easy to stay just a few hours or do a full day of exploring. Keep reading to learn how to reach Tolantongo by bus or car, and what to know about visiting Hidalgo, Mexico.


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LAS GRUTAS TOLANTONGO LOCATION

Grutas Tolantongo is located in the Mezquital Valley, about 17 miles from Ixmiquilpan in Hidalgo, Mexico. Hidalgo is one of the states in Mexico with the most indigenous language speakers, which is how Tolantongo got its name! Originally Tonaltonko in Nahuatl, which translates into “home where it feels warm,” local towns nearby began calling it Tonaltongo. In 1975, a Mexican magazine misprinted the name as “Tolantongo,” and the hot springs retains that name today. I’ve come to the conclusion that the area of Hidalgo that Grutas Tolantongo is located in, is to Mexico City what the “Wisconsin Dells” is to Minneapolis (that reference was for my upper Midwesterners), as you’ll pass several signs for other water park resorts on your drive there from CDMX.


GRUTAS TOLANTONGO HOURS

The Grutas Tolantongo park is open daily from 7am to 8pm. Many of the water attractions close at 5pm. If you’re looking to get some photos without other people in the shot, I recommend you get to the thermal pools as early as possible, as they do get busy quickly. I arrived around 9 or 10 am, and the pools were already rather busy (in images with myself, I edited out several in each shot).


grutas tolantongo entrance sign cardonal hidalgo mexico



HOW TO GET TO GRUTAS TOLANTONGO FROM MEXICO CITY

The best airport to fly into for Grutas Tolantongo is the Mexico City International Airport. Mexico City serves as a hub for many domestic flights in Mexico, so it is easy, convenient, and typically inexpensive to fly into. To reach Grutas Tolantongo from Mexico City, you can take a bus, car, or tour. Taking a bus does take more time and multiple transfers, so I do recommend renting a car and driving, if possible. Car rental in Mexico City is generally inexpensive compared to the United States. Rental cars are readily available at the CDMX airport.

DRIVING TO GRUTAS TOLANTONGO FROM MEXICO CITY

Renting a car and driving is the best way to reach Grutas Tolantongo. Traffic in Mexico City can get a bit hectic, so prepare yourself accordingly. I recommend leaving Mexico City before morning rush hour to avoid highway traffic out of the city, which speaking from experience, can get lengthy and frustrating. Driving to Grutas Tolantongo from Mexico City will take 3-4 hours each direction. Due to the length of the drive, some do elect to stay overnight at Grutas Tolantongo. If you choose to do this, go to the hotel desk at Tolantongo as soon as you get there, as many hotels do not have online booking systems and fill up quickly. Camping is also permitted.


Along the drive, you’ll likely see several roadside restaurants advertising barbacoa, or barbecue. Hidalgo is known for having fantastic barbecue, so make sure to pencil in a stop for street food during your drive! We saw restaurants advertising barbacoa for miles, so if you miss one, don’t fret.


Driving to Grutas Tolantongo from Mexico City is generally easy, however there are some small towns you’ll need to pass through that do have awful speed bumps/roads. Drive with extreme caution when you turn off the highway and enter local roads, or you’ll risk bottoming out your rental car.

Most of the drive will be done on Mexico 85, which is the Mexico-Pachuca Highway. Bring ample cash, as not only is Grutas Tolantongo cash only, but you’ll also need to pay tolls. In CDMX, we stayed at the Intercontinental Presidente Mexico City in Polanco, which I can’t recommend enough. Below is the route we took.

As you enter Grutas Tolantongo, you’ll descend down several mountain switchbacks. Compared to the cliffside blind turns of the Amalfi Coast, I can say definitively that driving through Grutas Tolantongo is much less stressful. Roads are wider, and have better visibility. As the property is large, you’ll need to drive to get between the mountain side thermal pools, the Tolantongo River and cave, and the hotels. Parking at Tolantongo is just 20 pesos per day (about $1 USD) and allows you to park freely in any of the property’s lots.

I strongly, strongly recommend downloading offline Google Maps for the area surrounding Grutas Tolantongo. Although cell phone service on Mexico 85 is generally good, when you start reaching the mountains, it gets VERY spotty. It gets slightly better at Tolantongo, however there is no WiFi there and cell service is still weak in most areas. Our rental car came equipped with complimentary hot spot WiFi, which didn’t work well and was of no use in the mountains. We did have a small amount of confusion leaving Tolantongo as the mountain roads do split and have turn offs due to the small towns along the way. Luckily, we were able to figure it out.

After you pass the entrance, the road will split. Stay to the right to go to the parking lot for the thermal pools. Keep to the left to continue all the way down to the parking lots for the river and cave. If you stay to the left but want to reach the pools, you will need to turn around and make a u-turn down to the right to get to the parking lot for the pools. This caused a ton of stress and confusion for us. Just know that you do NOT need to exit and reenter to get on the road to go to the pools.



GRUTAS TOLANTONGO BUS FROM MEXICO CITY

Grutas Tolantongo is accessible by bus from Mexico City. It will take more time than driving or going on a tour and does require multiple transfers, however it is less expensive than the former options. To take the bus to Grutas Tolantongo from Mexico City, you’ll first need to reach Ixmiquilpan.

To do so, start at Mexico City’s Terminal de Norte. Mexico’s main bus company, ADO, has busses going to Ixmiquilpan on Platforms 7 and 8. In Ixmiquilpan, get on the colectivo marked Mercado Morelos. Colectivos are small mini busses in Mexico that typically only make shorter trips (under 1-2 hours). After taking the Mercado Morelos colectivo, walk to the San Antonio parking lot (located next to the Church of San Antonio). Grutas Tolantongo offers a shuttle from there for 50 pesos each direction (approximately $2.50 USD).

If you’re reaching Grutas Tolantongo from Mexico City by bus, you’ll need to bring cash both for colectivo fare, and if you need to use the bathroom in Ixmiquilpan. Additionally, keep time in mind while you’re at the park. Although the pools at Grutas Tolantongo are open until 8pm, the last colectivo from Tolantongo back to Ixmiquilpan leaves at 5:30pm.


GRUTAS TOLANTONGO TOURS

If you’re looking for a way to reach Grutas Tolantongo from Mexico City without the stress of getting there on your own, consider taking a tour. Both private and group tours are available, with pickup from your hotel in CDMX. Tours generally run $100-200 USD per person, so if you’re traveling with multiple people, it is a bit more cost effective to rent a car and drive yourself. However, if you’re traveling alone and not looking to drive, it’s an easier and faster way to reach Tolantongo than taking the bus. Click here or below to explore Grutas Tolantongo tour options.


GRUTAS TOLANTONGO ADMISSION

Daily admission to Grutas Tolantongo is 150 pesos ($7.39 USD) per person. Paid admission is only valid from 7am to 8pm. It is not 24 hours. Both daily admission and parking need to be paid in cash, no card is accepted. If you’re staying at a hotel in the park, keep in mind that you’ll need to pay daily admission on top of the nightly rate for your hotel room.


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BEST TIME TO VISIT GRUTAS TOLANTONGO

The weather in Hidalgo does stay relatively stable year round. I went in January, and it was still 65 or so degrees. As Tolantongo is in the mountains, it can get a bit windy and chilly at the thermal pools. Water is warm, however not quite as warm as a hot tub, which can make being outside in the chilly air a bit more difficult than that après ski dip. Keep in mind that Hidalgo also does get rainier in the summer months. Generally I would try to visit on a weekday in the hopes that it’s a bit quieter.

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WHAT TO DO AT GRUTAS TOLANTONGO

My biggest surprise when reaching Grutas Tolantongo was how expansive and spread out the park was. There is plenty to do at Grutas Tolantongo to fill a day. From hiking, to zip lining, to relaxing in the thermal pools, Grutas Tolantongo is filled with both nature and excitement.

THE CLIFF SIDE THERMAL BATHS

The thermal pools at Grutas Tolantongo are what fills your Instagram feed, and are definitely the main draw here. Carved into a cliff in the canyon, these hot springs are heated by nearby volcanic mountains. The pools themselves are man made, however the volcanic heat source is natural. Be careful walking around, as all of the stairs and pathways are carved out of the same stone as the pools, and can get a bit slippery to walk on.

If you’re looking to take photos of these Instagrammable pools, arrive as close to opening as possible. I recommend staying overnight and waking up early to do this. If you’re only coming for the day from CDMX, you’ll need to leave around 3am to get there by opening. The pools do get busy quickly. Grutas Tolantongo is still relatively under the radar for international tourists, however it is definitely popular with domestic Mexican tourists.

No food or beverage is allowed at the thermal pools. If you’re bringing water, you’ll need to leave it at the entrance (you can retrieve it again when you leave).

Finding the thermal baths at Grutas Tolantongo caused us so much stress. It’s located in the upper part of Tolantongo. If you’ve reached the river, you’ve gone too far. The parking lot for the pools has stairs that descend down to the pools. If you’re climbing up stairs from the parking lot to get there, you’re also probably going the wrong way. In our confusion to find the pools, we found ourselves climbing for 10 minutes past a normal swimming pool and up a steep series of stairs that led to…a restaurant.

If you don’t have a car, Grutas Tolantongo does have a shuttle you can take between the river/cave area and the pools. The shuttle fee is 25 pesos ($1.23 USD).

There is a hike to get from the river area to the pools, however I did not do this and reviews comment that it is poorly marked. After being there and seeing the distance between the river and the pools, I definitely recommend driving or taking the shuttle.


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THE TOLANTONGO RIVER

The Tolantongo River is located at the very bottom of the park, and is gorgeous. The bright blue water is colored by magnesium salt and chlorides in the rocks. You’ll likely see several tents on the riverbank, as many choose to camp here. Also located near theare a few cafés. The river is filled with several small cascades you can sit under, and stays at a tepid 86 degrees year round. The bottom of the river is rocky, so I recommend bringing water shoes. They are inexpensive online (click here), otherwise there are several small roadside stands in Hidalgo on the drive between Mexico City and Tolantongo that sell them. Even if you’re traveling to Grutas Tolantongo for the pools, I strongly recommend catching a glimpse of the river also!


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THE CAVE

The cave is where Tolantongo gets most of its infamous warm water. As such, the current is quite strong. Use caution when in and around the water. Although it isn’t quite as advertised, you can bathe in the cave’s warm water. Unlike the other areas of the park, you are only allowed to enter with a towel and your phone. Lockers for your other belongings are available underneath the cave for 50 pesos ($2.46 USD) + a deposit of 50 pesos.

The cave and tunnel are both dark, however staff inside do have flashlights. If you’re interested in going deeper into the cave and exploring more, I recommend you bring your own flashlight or headlamp. Bring a waterproof phone cover as well if your phone isn’t water resistant, as one of the entrances to the cave does require walking under some falling water.

Water shoes are also recommended for the cave, as it can be slippery and rocky. Click here to shop inexpensive water shoes for your trip!

HIKING

There are a few different hiking trails around Tolantongo that offer views of the surrounding mountains and canyon. I didn’t go on one any of these trails myself, however reviewers say that the trails are easy and good for people of all ability levels.


ZIPLINING

Grutas Tolantongo offers ziplining with views of the canyon at an additional, but affordable, price. Ziplining at Tolantongo is priced by distance. The zipline has four stops, and to do the whole line is 200 pesos ($9.84 USD). To only do the first two stops is 100 pesos ($4.92 USD). Zip lining is only open to those older than 10, under 209 pounds, with no heart conditions.


THE SUSPENSION BRIDGE

Located at the thermal pool area is a suspension bridge. Although a bit scary in wind, it offers beautiful views of the Mezquital valley and canyon.


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WHERE TO STAY NEAR GRUTAS TOLANTONGO

Grutas Tolantongo does have a few hotels on the property. Additionally, there are hotels located further away in surrounding towns in Hidalgo. You can also opt to camp at Grutas Tolantongo, alongside the gorgeous river. Whatever you choose, make sure that if you’re staying overnight at a Grutas Tolantongo hotel that you arrive early to book your hotel or campsite. Accommodation does fill up, and you need to reserve your hotel or campsite in person when you arrive. Online booking is not available for accommodation in the property. I visited Tolantongo as a day trip from Mexico City so I can’t speak to accommodation quality personally. Here’s what you should know about hotels or camping:

HOTEL

Hotels in Grutas Tolantongo are relatively basic. They’re simply a place to sleep, and available for $35-100. You will need to pay for your hotel in cash. Nightly room rates are outlined on the Grutas Tolantongo website, so you can plan ahead. As mentioned previously, there is no WiFi at Grutas Tolantongo, and that includes most of the hotels. The only hotels on the Tolantongo property that do appear to have WiFi are the Molanguito Hotel, and the new Paraíso Hotel (note: not the same as the older Paraíso Escondido Hotel, which does not have WiFi). The Paraíso Hotel is available all days, whereas the Molanguito Hotel is only in service on weekends and holidays. The Paraíso Hotel is also arguably the nicest hotel on the property, and the nightly rate reflects that.

Alternatively, you can opt to stay in one of the towns on the way to Tolantongo. Although this is less convenient, it does offer more options. The nearest hotels outside of Grutas Tolantongo are in Cardonal and Izmiquilpan, which are about a 40 minute drive away. Click here to explore hotel options.


CAMPING AT GRUTAS TOLANTONGO

Not feeling the hotels? You can camp alongside the beautiful turquoise water of the Tolantongo River. If you don’t have camping gear, don’t worry. Grutas Tolantongo will rent you everything you need. Tent rentals range from 120 pesos (approximately $6 USD) per night for a 2 person tent, to 300 pesos ($14.76 USD) per night for a 10 person tent.

There’s no need to sleep straight on the ground when camping in Tolantongo. Ground pads are available for 140 pesos ($6.89 USD), or inflatable mattresses are also available for 350 pesos ($17.22 USD). Also available for an extra fee to enhance your camping experience are blankets, firewood, grills, tables, and chairs.


Making camping more enticing, rumor has it that if you rent a tent, they will also set it up for you.


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WHAT TO BRING TO GRUTAS TOLANTONGO

As Grutas Tolantongo is a bit remote, make sure your packing list includes the following items to make your trip as easy as possible!

CASH

I know I keep saying this, but you will need cash. If you don’t have it, you’re going to get stuck. Grutas Tolantongo only accepts cash from the entrance fee to the restaurants. Hotel nightly rates must also be paid in cash. If you’re arriving from Mexico City, you will also need cash for tolls. Bring more than you think you need.

SWIMSUIT AND WET BAG

This one goes without saying. Grutas Tolantongo is primarily known for its water features. If you don’t have a swimsuit or aren’t interested in getting in the water, there isn’t going to be a lot for you to do. If you’re visiting as a day trip, you won’t want to be sitting in your wet swimsuit on the drive back to Mexico City. Bring along a wet bag to store your swimsuit to and from Tolantongo.


TOWEL

Although Grutas Tolantongo is relatively built up, it still isn’t a resort by any means. Towels aren’t available, so be sure to bring along your own!


WATER SHOES

Water shoes are great for walking around Tolantongo as it can get slippery in some areas. The cave and river are rocky at the bottom. You can order water shoes at an inexpensive price online ($10-30). These are definitely something that will come in handy on future trips — I could have used them when in San Luis Potosi in Mexico, and again in the Maldives.


WATER

Tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink. Bottled water is available for purchase at Grutas Tolantongo, but you’ll probably also want it for the drive. In Mexico, I like keeping a couple extra bottles of water in the car in case bottled water isn’t available. If you’re worried about the environmental impact of bottled water, you can try using a personal water filter with a reusable bottle, or purchasing larger gallons of water and pouring into a smaller, reusable bottle. Generally, in Mexico I recommend purchasing bottled water either in handheld size or gallons over using a personal water filter, as it’s the only way to ensure your water is truly safe. If you do prefer a personal water filter such as a LifeStraw, make sure it is capable of purifying bacteria rather than just filtering out particles, as bacteria is what causes disease in Mexico’s tap water.


REEF SAFE SUNSCREEN

Sunscreen is a must for any outdoor activity. Whenever you’re visiting a natural attraction with water, wear a reef safe sunscreen to avoid damaging the local ecosystem. When shopping for sunscreen, you’ll know if a sunscreen is reef safe by the absence of oxybenzone and octinoxate in the ingredient list.


BUG SPRAY

Generally, the bug situation at Grutas Tolantongo isn’t awful. However, if you’re planning on hiking or venturing over to La Gloria Tolantongo, you’ll probably want it.


SANDALS

Sandals are a must at Grutas Tolantongo. The property is wet, and it’s easy to end up in the car with soaked sneakers (speaking from personal experience). Sneakers are good for hiking and the drive in, but if you’re getting in the water, I recommend also bringing along a pair of sandals that can get wet.


EXTERNAL BATTERY + PHONE CHARGER

Bring an external battery. The drive between Mexico City and Tolantongo is 4 hours, and after the drive and a full day there, your phone battery is going to be on the edge. By the time we left, mine had completely died. I recommend bringing not only the external battery and your phone cord, but also a USB car adapter for charging as well. Some car chargers now also have the capability to give non-Bluetooth cars Bluetooth capability, which is great for playing your own music in rental cars that aren’t Bluetooth enabled.



WHAT TO DO NEAR GRUTAS TOLANTONGO

If you’re staying overnight, consider also exploring the following attractions nearby!

TEOTIHUACÁN

Before the Aztecs, Teotihuacan was the largest urban center in Mesoamerica. Today, it’s an archaeological zone and UNESCO World Heritage Site. This piece of history is a great addition to Grutas Tolantongo if you’re traveling from Mexico City, as it’s only about 45 minutes away from Mexico City, and in the same direction as Tolantongo. Unfortunately, during our trip all archaeological zones in Mexico state were closed, so we weren’t able to go. Click here or below to explore Teotihuacan tour options.


LA GLORIA TOLANTONGO

Accessible via suspension bridge at Tolantongo Waterfall is La Gloria Tolantongo. Located on the other side of Tolantongo River, this area offers a quieter, less traveled immersion into nature. Just 100 pesos to enter (approximately $5 USD), La Gloria Tolantongo is as easy add on to a Grutas Tolantongo trip. A 20 minute hike into the mountain will allow you to reach secluded waterfalls and pools. I SO wish I would have known about La Gloria Tolantongo when visiting Grutas Tolantongo, as it looks gorgeous and more my style.


A NATURAL ESCAPE FROM MEXICO CITY

I’ve never lied to you guys, and I’m not going to start now. To be honest, Grutas Tolantongo for me wasn’t the dreamy natural escape its been made out to be on Instagram. Don’t get me wrong — I’m really glad I went, the thermal pools were cool, the river was breathtaking, and the views from the pools were gorgeous. However, the property has been built up in more of a family-friendly commercial tourism way, where stores and restaurants are pressed up right next to the natural attractions, and because of that, I never really felt like I was truly in nature. If you’re looking for a more adult, quiet, tranquil escape this may not be the place — as it is easily accessible and built up, the property does attract a lot of families with children.

I still think that Grutas Tolantongo makes for a great day trip from Mexico City, and I absolutely still think it’s worth going to. As a matter of fact, I actually wish I had even more time there to explore. Mexico City is really urban and vibrant, and Grutas Tolantongo is a totally different vibe and offers a great way to see both some gorgeous nature and local culture in Hidalgo on your way there. It’s also really well priced for what it is. However, if you’re looking to be more immersed in stunning natural attractions, I’d recommend the La Huasteca Potosina region of San Luis Potosi instead (click here for my guides on that).


xx,
E

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Hi, I'm Eva! I'm best described as an aspiring Blair Waldorf with a case of the travel bug that can't be cured. I'm a lover of witty words, pink peonies, and slight sarcasm. I aim to empower women to travel the world solo, sharing on-trend, feminine style inspiration along the way. Originally from the Minneapple {Minneapolis, Minnesota}, and now living in the Big Apple, you can probably find me most often on a plane, running down Park Avenue stressed out in 4" heels, or planning my next escape. Click on the photo to learn more.

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