Grutas de Tolantongo: Thermal Pools, Caves & Waterfalls

May 6, 2024

grutas de tolantongo

Grutas de Tolantongo, from the Nahuatl Aztec language, meaning “where it feels warm,” is an expansive water resort complex in the Mezuital Canyon that includes natural hot springs, caves, geothermal pools, a suspension bridge, hiking trails, campsites, the highest zip line in the area, and small hotels.

From the first time that I viewed a photo of the surreal turquoise thermal pools cascading down the side of the mountain, I knew I had to see this exquisite place in person. At an altitude of 4,200 feet above sea level in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, the hot springs flow from the volcanic mountains into a turquoise river, cave, and thermal pools enclosed by mountains that are simply breathtaking. In addition, the thermal mineral waters laden with limestone mineral salts are said to have healing properties.

How to Get There

Grutas Tolantongo is about 125 miles north of Mexico City. The drive takes around 4 hours. The last stretch is a long serpentine gravel road until you reach the entrance. We had a rental car, but you can also get there by bus, taxi, or on a tour.

Best Time to Visit

If you’re looking to get one of those incredible Instagram photos with no one else in it, it will be difficult, but not impossible. And it will cost money. While few international tourists make it here because it’s so far off the tourist track, locals love it. Avoid weekends and national holidays or you’ll be just one of the hordes. And plan to stay overnight and get up at cold, gray dawn if you don’t want people in your photos. It’s a matter of motivation and priority.

Getting Around

The park complex is quite large with the attractions spread out in the mountainous area. We had a car so it wasn’t a problem for us. There are shuttle buses available in the parking lot for a small fee, or if you are fit and it isn’t too hot, you can walk.

Is Grutas Tolantongo Natural?

grutas de tolantongo

Most of Grutas Tolantongo is natural, namely the river, cave, tunnel, and box canyon. The only part that isn’t natural is the thermal pools. The pools themselves have been built into the side of the cliff but the water flowing into the pools is natural thermal mineral-rich water from the mountain. The water originates from the volcanic mountain of the Sierra Madre mountains and is warmed by volcanic rock as it passes through a series of channels within the mountains, picking up minerals along the way.

Tips for Visiting

The cost of an entry ticket is 180 pesos for the day, which includes access to the cave, tunnel, river, hot springs, and swimming pool. The ticket does not cover lockers, zipline, or food.

Your ticket covers one day’s admission from 7 a.m. -8 p.m. The fee is required per day, so if you stay overnight you will need to pay 360 pesos for the next day.

What to Bring

  • Cash – the entire resort (entrance fee, hotel, stores, restaurants, etc.) does not accept credit cards, only cash, and only pesos. There isn’t an ATM on site so make sure you have enough pesos before you get there.
  • Water shoes – I was annoyed that I’d forgotten to pack one of my pairs of water shoes (I have three pairs). There are a lot of shops along the road selling cheap water shoes when you get close to Grutas de Tolantongo.
  • Waterproof phone holder or dry bag – almost all the activities involve water, so while there are lockers, you’ll need to keep a few things dry that you want to keep with you.
  • GoPro or Waterproof Camera – naturally Tolantongo is a photographer’s dream, so you’ll want some sort of waterproof camera. We use this 360 camera which has the best options for photos and videos.

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Best Things to Do

Here are the best things to do at Grutas de Tolantongo.

Las Grutas de Tolantongo comprises three main attractions – the hot spring river, the cave and tunnel, and the hot spring pools built into the side of the mountain. There’s also the suspension bridge near the thermal pools.

4 Tolantongo River

Tolantongo River

The river is behind us.

The Tolantongo River flows through the steep box canyon where Grutas de Tolantango is located. The milky turquoise mineral water cascades down in sections created by rock dams, and at each small pool, you can sit under the water as it falls on you for a hydro-massage.

3 Suspension Bridge

suspension bridge

Near the thermal pools is a suspension bridge. Visitors can walk across the swing bridge where they are surrounded by a gorgeous lush mountain landscape and the canyon below.

There’s also another small hidden tunnel here. To find it, look for the small opening at the bottom of the cliff across from the suspension bridge. There’s water gushing in all directions and it’s slippery.

2 Cave & Tunnel

tolangongo cave

The word gruta means cave (or grotto). The cave is classified as a karstic cave which erodes as water seeps into the porous limestone rock. The cave is located at the back of the canyon, accessible via a paved walkway.

The cave is located inside a cliff which is covered in vegetation with a waterfall flowing into it. It is also the source of the water which flows directly into the river. As you enter the cave, a small waterfall trickles from above, making it difficult to enter, but standing in front of it is a great backdrop for a photo.

You’ll have to swim against a strong current to get into the cave (with the help of a rope if needed). Once inside the cave, you’ll find thermal waters and a powerful waterfall flowing through the center. Close to the source of the hot springs, it offers the warmest waters for soaking.

Next to the cave is the tunnel. To access it, climb the steps to the left of the cave.

Inside the tunnel is dark and steamy, so bring a waterproof or use your cell phone to admire the stalagmites.

1 Thermal Pools

geothermal pools

Cascading down the mountain, the pools are the most famous and picturesque areas on site; indeed, it’s why I came.

There are over 30 infinity pools ranging in temperature from 96° to 100° F. The layered hot spring pools were created to look more natural by incorporating trees growing into the pools which are carved into a natural cliff. Several pools have small waterfalls flowing from one pool to another.

grutas de tolantongo

We arrived at the infinity pools after we checked into our hotel in the afternoon on Sunday. While the sight of the pools took my breath away, I could not help but be disappointed. The pools were JAM PACKED with people. It was hard to find a spot to soak, let alone get good photos without tons of people in them.

We were able to remedy this, however. Since we were staying a few steps from the pools, we got up before dawn and were allowed to access the pools before day trippers got there. We were the only ones out for about an hour!

grutas de tolantongo

While we were hoping to get sunrise photos, the fog clung to the mountains and sunrise was not visible. On the other hand, the fog lent a mysterious vibe to the photos and I was happy with what we got.

Other Attractions

A zipline, hiking, waterfalls, and swimming pools can also be found on the property.

Where to Eat

There are several small cocinas economicas (cheap restaurants) onsite serving everything from pozole, huevos rancheros, tacos, chilaquiles, quesadillas, sopes, and even hamburgers hot dogs, and ramen noodles (which surprisingly seemed to be the most popular option). On Sundays, there’s a restaurant near the cave that serves barbacoa (BBQ).

Where to Stay

While there are less expensive accommodations in the nearby town, we chose to stay onsite at the Paraiso Hotel. Because it’s in a rural part of Mexico, the hotel is basic (no Wifi, TV, or air conditioning) but the location is perfect, at the top of the site, right next to the thermal pools. In fact, from our balcony, we had a spectacular view of the pools cascading down the mountain.

You cannot book a room online — they offer only onsite, in-person rentals.

It’s also very loud with day trippers partying all around the hotel until around 11 p.m.

If you want that Instagram shot without a ton of other people in it, the only way to get it is to rent a hotel room. When you stay at Tolantongo, you have access to the site before it opens to the public, which is the best time for photos.

Is Tolantongo worth visiting?

grutas de tolantongo

While it is a bit difficult to get to, Grutas de Tolantongo is definitely worth the time and effort. After dozens of trips to Mexico, it’s one of my favorite places in the whole country! We highly recommend staying overnight in the complex, and avoid visiting on weekends and holidays.

Photos by Kary Kern.

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About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of the “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the next few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

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