With just a short drive from Mexico City you’ll find one of the country’s most beautiful gems, Grutas de Tolantongo. It’s a gorgeous resort site located within a box canyon made up by four key attractions – the grottos, the pools, the tunnel, and the waterfalls.
What is Las Grutas de Tolantongo?
In the Hidalgo State you will find many thermal pools. Las Grutas de Tolantongo is the source for many of them.
It gets its name from the Aztec word, Tonaltonko, meaning “home where it feels warm.” 40 of over 5,000 hectares of this community owned reserve are open to the public to explore, hike, swim, and lounge in the gorgeous and relaxing thermal pools.
This natural water park is spread across the walls of a box canyon. It has a volcanically heated river flowing through the grottos then spilling out as waterfalls across the canyon walls and finally winding through the base of the canyon.
The biggest draw are the two grottos that you can wade into. The largest of the two grottos even has its own heated waterfall inside that pours down on you as you explore.
A big reason for the fame and beauty of the site is the breathtaking color of the water. It’s a bright turquoise blue color, caused by the concentration of minerals in the water and the limestone walls it travels across as it flows. It will absolutely take your breath away!
There are 4 hotels on site and camping facilities that we explain in more detail below.
Where is Grutas de Tolantongo?
Las Grutas de Tolantongo is situated near Ixmiquilpan in the state of Hidalgo. It is almost directly north of Mexico City and will take about 3-4 hours to drive to if you take your own car.
If taking the bus, you will need to plan for a longer drive and a couple of easy transfers which we outline in detail below.
What is the Best Time to Visit Las Grutas de Tolantongo?
The climate is fairly temperate in this region year round so the main consideration is whether you plan to stay in a hotel or camp out.
If you’re camping you’ll want to avoid the months of July and August when rainy season is at its peak in the region. Also, if you are planning to camp in the winter months (between November to February) the night time temperatures get pretty chilly so you’ll want to pack accordingly.
The best time to visit is on a weekday as there are less local tourists during the week. Weekends you will find larger crowds and families, especially with its close proximity for a quick getaway from Mexico City.
Even on a weekday you’ll improve your odds of avoiding the crowds by planning to be there earlier in the day. The middle of the afternoon sees the most visitors each day.
How to Get to Las Grutas de Tolantongo?
There are a few options for getting to Tolantongo Canyon. Most people’s journey will originate in Mexico City as the largest close city to the area. The Mexico City airport is the closest airport to reach Grutas de Tolantongo.
How Long Does it Take to Get There?
The length of the journey will depend on a few factors. Since it is at least a 3-4 hour drive from Mexico City it is always recommended to plan at least a 2 day trip. While a day trip is possible, you’d have to leave very early, plan to come back late, and will probably feel more rushed than its worth while you’re there.
The easiest way to get to Grutas Tolantongo is by taking a group tour. Do I recommend it? No, but if you’re pressed for time or can’t be bothered to plan the trip yourself it is an option.
There are many day tour options like this one available that will save you time by allowing you to jump to the front of the line when you enter. You’ll also spend a bit less since you won’t be staying overnight with the expense of a hotel or campsite.
Keep in mind you’ll be there at the peak time for the crowds though and that you’ll also be on someone else’s schedule. This is the main reason I prefer to travel independently.
Take the Bus
While it takes a bit longer, it’s a lot less expensive to take the local bus to Grutas de Tolantongo than it is to rent a car.
You will go to the Central de Autobuses del Norte bus station and take a bus to Ixmiquilpan. Buses leave at least once an hour starting at about 6am so you have plenty of options. ADO and OvniBus both service the route so you’ll also have comfortable options for the approximate 3 hour trip. This portion of the trip should cost about 200 pesos and can be booked in advance or you can just buy your ticket when you arrive for the next departure.
When you arrive in Ixmiquilpan, you will take a taxi (aka collectivos or combis) to Mercado Morelos. This is the main market in the city.
From there you’ll walk a short distance to the San Antonio Church parking lot where you’ll take the official shuttle directly to Grutas de Tolantongo. There’s a large sign for Tolantongo so you can’t miss it.
The shuttle runs five times a day Monday through Thursday and every hour on the weekends. You’ll want to time your arrival with the latest shuttle schedule so you don’t spend too much time waiting. Generally the shuttles are on an every 2 hour schedule during the week.
The cost of the shuttle to and from Ixmiquilpan is 60 pesos.
For your return trip from the park back to Ixmiquilpan keep in mind that the schedule is different and a bit more limited. Currently, there are departures everyday at 7:30am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, 3:30pm, and 5:30pm but be sure to ask on your way in to make sure nothing has changed.
Drive by Car
Driving to Grutas de Tolantongo is a simple journey from Mexico City using Highway 85. It’s a toll road so make sure to bring some pesos for the toll booths.
You’ll first follow the signs to Pachuca, then continue following the signs to Ixmiquilpan. Once in Ixmiquilpan, you’ll begin seeing signs for Grutas de Tolantongo.
Is it Safe to Drive to Grutas de Tolantongo?
The short answer is yes. Since you’ll be taking Highway 85, which is a toll road, most of the way you shouldn’t experience any problems. Toll roads in Mexico are known to be the nicest and safest roads to travel. Even after you leave Highway 85 you’ll still have paved roads the whole way there so there’s no need to drive or rent a special type of car for the trip.
Where to Stay at Grutas de Tolantongo?
There are 4 hotels on site: La Gruta, Paraiso Escondido, La Huerta, and Molanguito Hotels. You can find the latest pricing on the official site.
They do things a bit differently here however, as you cannot reserve a room in advance. You have to book a room on arrival and can ONLY pay in cash.
While this may give some people pause, if you’re used to traveling like a backpacker, its probably your preferred way to book a room anyway. No way to get duped by great online pics if you can check out the place with your own 2 eyes.
Also, there shouldn’t be much concern that they won’t have availability. There are about 350 rooms on site and they also rent camping sites. In a worst case scenario however, there is another hotel option about a 10 minute drive from Grutas de Tolantongo.
Depending on the hotel you pick and the type of room, you can expect to pay between 600 and 1,800 pesos for a night. That’s as little as $30 for the night and all the rooms include private bathrooms.
If you bring all of your own gear you can camp pretty much anywhere. You will only need to pay the admission price to the park.
If you don’t have your own gear that’s okay. You can rent everything you need onsite and with a rental the staff will even set up your tent for you. You just pick the spot and they do the work.
Rental prices are very affordable but keep in mind everything is rented individually so the addons can stack up quickly. Things up for rent or purchase include ice, a barbeque grill, chairs, table, firewood, sleeping pads, blankets, padlocks and more.
Budget: How Much Does it Cost to Visit Grutas de Tolantongo?
Your overall budget will be very dependant on how you choose to get to Grutas de Tolantongo and how long you stay. There are some additional expenses to also factor in.
A general admission pass is 150 pesos. This pass gives you access to all of the attractions (cave, tunnel, river, swimming, trekking, thermal pools, suspension bridge, waterfalls, etc.) for the day. The park is open from 7am to 8pm and a new pass has to be purchased for each additional day.
Children under 5 get in free and there are discounts offered for large groups (40+).
If you arrived as a part of a tour group your admission should be included in the price you paid. If you drove there is an additional 30 peso charge for parking.
Local Bus / Transport Prices
Since the caves, pools, tunnel, and waterfalls are spread out over a large area they offer a microbus within Grutas de Tolantongo. It’s 10 pesos per person if you take it on their schedule. It’s a perfectly walkable area but if you’re either short on time or have mobility challenges this is the way to go.
For an additional per person charge you can also arrange a trip on your schedule. Depending on what areas of the park you want to move between the price varies and like everything else needs to be paid in cash.
Special Trip Prices (Per Person):
- La Cadena Base To Paraíso Escondido Base – 70 pesos (Maximum 6 people)
- La Huerta Base To Paraíso Escondido Base – 80 pesos (Maximum 7 people)
- La Gruta Base To El Rancho Base – 60 pesos (Maximum 5 people)
Know Before You Visit Las Grutas de Tolantongo
Here’ s a few tips that will help you make the most of your time at Grutas de Tolantongo.
Site Map of Las Grutas de Tolantongo
What to See at Las Grutas de Tolantongo?
Hot Springs / Thermal Pools – Paraiso Escondido
The picturesque pools of Grutas de Tolantongo can be found in the Paraiso Escondido section of the park. This is where the impressive Instagram pics are taken but to get that shot you need to be one of the first to arrive in the morning as it’s the busiest area of the park.
You can enjoy interconnected thermal pools that are layered down the mountainside. Your muscles will enjoy the soak as you enjoy the expansive views over the canyon.
This section of the park also has a long suspension bridge and offers ziplining. To use the zipline there is an extra charge however.
Across the park from the thermal pools is the grottos and tunnel. You get there by clibing a long staricase up from the river.
You’ll pass underneath a waterfall to enter the cave like straight out of the movies.
Once inside it does get pretty dark but staff are stationed along the way with flashlights if you don’t have your own. This is also where your water shoes will come in handy as there can be strong water currents at times and the rocks can be slippery.
You can swim around the grottos (grutas) and explore before moving onto the tunnel. It’s a small space and usually crowded with other tourists but still an interesting site to experience with the steam coming off the walls.
You can leave your personal items at the entrance in a locker (bring your own lock or rent one) for a charge. That would be my preference versus trying to navigate the grottos with a dry bag.
The Tolantongo River
The river winds through the base of the canyon and still retains the warmth of the thermal waters. You can walk along the banks or relax your muscles under the small cascades that separate the various sections.
If I was going to camp I’d pick a spot along the river’s banks. The dazzling color of the water would be such a treat to wake up to.
La Gloria Tolantongo
Near the staircase you ascend to reach the grutas and tunnel, you’ll find a bridge that leads you to a separate area of Tolantongo. La Gloria Tolantongo is an independent section and requires an additional admission fee to be paid.
It’s worth a visit if only to escape the larger crowds at the main park. Without the abundance of people you get a more natural and secluded experience.
There’s also the chance to take a ride on the affordable zip line. Seeing the canyon from the zip line gives you a unique perspective while also getting your adrenaline pumping.
If you want to ride the zipline be sure to check the schedule as it is only open part of the week.
Hiking in Tolantongo
There are some moderate to easy hiking trails in the park that are clearly marked and make for a nice walk further from the crowds. Since the paths are clearly marked and even have steps built into them, you could easily hike the trails in your water shoes.
Final Thoughts and Another Option
Las Grutas de Tolantongo used to be one of Mexico’s best kept secrets but its certainly on the map now. While you’ll have to fight the crowds, it’s worth the effort to see the magnificently colored water and to explore the thermal grottos and tunnel.
Want to visit a less famous site similar to Grutas de Tolantongo? Check out Aqua Azul and Miso Ha near Palenque, Mexico.