Weekend Escapes from Mexico City: Guide to Grutas Tolantongo

Grutas Tolantongo was on our radar since we moved to Mexico City. A collection of hot spring pools built into a cliff and a surreal turquoise river: weekend escapes don’t get better than this. We picked a long weekend in January to explore this natural spa.

Getting there

Grutas Tolantongo is located in the state of Hidalgo, 200 kilometers from Mexico City. Driving from Polanco, it took us close to four hours to reach our destination. Right before descending into the Tolantongo valley, there is a mandatory COVID-disinfection station. This was our first taste of Mexico’s interesting take on virus transmission: both us and our car got covered in a layer of disinfectant spray. Once sprayed down, we continued to an impressive overlook of the valley.

Before descending further into the valley, make sure you stock up on cash for the weekend. Hotels and restaurants in Grutas Tolantongo are cash-only and there is no ATM. We sticked to a diet of tacos and beer the first night after spending most of our cash on the hotel room. On Sunday morning we drove for 45 minutes to El Cardonal, the nearest town with an ATM.

Stay

There are four hotels within the park, all offering economically priced rooms at around 50 USD/night. The key is to arrive early, as none of the hotels can be reserved in advance. We paid for our late arrival on Saturday afternoon with two nights of hardly any sleep, sentenced to a leftover room at the crossing of two hallways. Rooms are very basic, with concrete beds and little to no hot water.

We stayed in Hotel Paraíso Escondido, which is closest to the hot spring pools or pozitas. Although our block was not the most appealing, we spotted rooms with balconies and views of the pools. This is also the more quiet area at night, as the pozitas close by 9 PM and the party continues down by the river.

Hotels La Gruta and La Huerta are next to the river and caverns. This section of the park is also home to a large campground. It looked very appealing to pitch a tent on the banks of this silky, turquoise river. Considering the dorm-style hotel rooms, the campground came out as our favorite. Equipment is for rent, but we’ll pack our own tent (and some earplugs) on our next visit to Grutas Tolantongo.

Do

Soak in the hot spring pools or pozitas

Grutas Tolantongo’s main draw is the collection of hot spring pools carved into a mountainside. These pozitas have different temperatures based on their position and size, ranging from warm to steaming hot. Although the pools are man-made, the water is naturally heated. The stunning views of the surrounding mountain range are an added bonus of this natural spa.

Float down a steaming river

When arriving to Grutas Tolantongo, we learned that the hot spring pools are not the only attraction. The turquoise river that cascades through the valley was a great surprise and unique sight to behold. Just like the pozitas, the river is heated by natural hot springs that originate from volcanic activity in the region. The result is a steaming, silky stream that offers excellent relaxing.

Explore caverns and waterfalls

Grutas Tolantongo is named after an impressive system of caverns or grutas. Just a short walk upwards from the river area, these caverns can be explored after leaving your belongings in the lockers at the entrance. The waterfalls that flow on top fill up the caverns with warm water, inviting you to another relaxing soak.

Savor local food and drinks

Grutas Tolantongo houses several restaurants and food stands, serving up local dishes at economic prices. No fine-dining here, but a wide array of Mexican fast food, snacks and drinks. We got our first taste of the real Mexican michelada: a 1.2 liter beer or caguama poured into an XL-cup with salsas and spices. Swimming afterwards is at your own risk.

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