200 km, 125 miles, and 3.5 hours from the bustle of Mexico City is one of the most famous and instagrammed spots in central Mexico. Las Grutas Tolantongo, an area of natural wonder-turned outdoor resort, known for its steamy infinity pools carved into the mountainside. I visited the Tolantongo hot springs in early 2020—you know, before the world changed—and I figured a year later, when travel is set to pick up again, it is worth writing about. I’ve got the low-down on getting there, what to bring, where to stay, and what to expect. If you’re going to be in Central Mexico, this destination is well-worth the out-of-the-way locale. Just look at the photos!
Read on for more travel tips for visiting Las Grutas Tolantongo.
Located in the state of Hidalgo, in the Mezquital Canyon, Tolantongo is a series of hot springs and thermal pools, a cave, a tunnel and an impressive waterfall.
I’d seen this place on travel blogs and in my insta feed within my first few weeks living in Mexico City. I knew I had to get there. But Spanish classes and volunteering took up most of my time during the week, and there is just so much to do in a huge city like CDMX. Alas, my fantasy trip to Tolantongo remained just that—a fantasy, and I hoped I would get around to seeing it in person before I left.
When my time in Mexico was winding down, after three months of living, commuting to work in the States, and studying, I decided to take two additional weeks for travel in the country I’d been inhabiting but not exploring nearly enough. With a friend flying down to visit, I decided it was the perfect time to squeeze in this bucket-list trip to Las Grutas Tolantongo.
Trust me, this place is worth the trip.
There area few different ways of getting to Las Grutas Tolantongo from Mexico City. We determined that the easiest way would be by car, so that’s the only thing I can speak to. We reserved a car via a third-party booking site for a great (under $10 a day!) price. However, when we picked up the car it ended up costing quite a bit more than we had anticipated. They did not have the car we reserved, we had to pay an additional fee for insurance, and also a large set fee for tolls. The $10 car ended up being more like $100 after all was said and done, and this is how, 3 months into living in Mexico, I entered into my first Mexican bribe to secure a “cheaper” car price.
Budget for this in advance, as it is very likely your rental car will cost far more than you anticipate.
Taking a bus to Tolantongo is cheaper, but I’d still recommend hiring a car, even with the additional cost. There is no direct route to Tolantongo from Mexico City, meaning stops, switching buses (potentially getting lost), and being on a set schedule out of your control. Having a car took away a lot of the headache of planning this trip. Also, I love driving on vacation. I love always having a front seat and a window seat. Being able to control the music, talk or sing as loud as we want, take different routes if traffic is bad or if one is more scenic, being able to stop when you’re hungry or thirsty or have to pee. The option to hop out and grab a photo of the countryside.
The point is you can do whatever you want when you rent a car. (Except speed, of course.)
What To Bring
This is how you’ll need to pay for your hotel room/campsite as well as any food and drinks purchased at Las Grutas Tolantongo.
As I mentioned, the weather can vary.
Take care of your skin, it’s the only skin you’ve got.
The bottoms of the pools are rough, and you’ll be walking on concrete, dirt and sand, from pool to pool, possibly all the way back and forth from the Gruta & waterfall. You can purchase water shoes at one of the many, many, MANY stands on the side of the road on your drive to Tolantongo. There will be huts selling shoes, swimsuits, rafts and floats, sunscreen, etc.
Food & Drinks
There were a few restaurants on property, but if you are going to be there for more than a day you may want to bring yourself some snacks and drinks. It can save you a few pesos and it’s much easier to make friends when you’ve got a cooler full of cold ones. 😉
“The Professional Hobo”
Each visitor over the age of 5 will pay $150 MXN per day to enter the park. There is an additional parking fee of $20 MXN.
Check out this Prices website to find up-to-date pricing for everything else. Buses to and from Tolantongo, hotel rooms, campsites and equipment rental.
Staying at Las Grutas Tolantongo
We left before the sun came up on a Saturday morning and reached Tolantongo by afternoon.
We had read that the park would be busy on weekends, and this proved true. They keep it old school at Las Grutas—to the point that online reservations are not accepted, and all accommodation is on a first-come-first-serve basis. We knew there was a possibility of them being sold out of rooms, and found, in advance, some airbnbs and little motels nearby that would suffice for backup plans. Not going to lie, the rooms at the resort are pretty expensive by Mexican standards.
Because of this “steep” price, we thought staying off property would be preferred. However, once we had driven allllll the way there from Mexico City, down the long, winding roads leading into the canyon, we were in no hurry to get back in the car to leave again. Oh, did I mention we were only staying one night?
We decided the premium we would pay was worth staying on-site and being able to wake up bright and early and get into those pools.
The less-than cordial and not-so-helpful gentlemen at the front desk informed us that they had no rooms left, but that we could rent a tent if we wanted.
(Side note on the staff: I’m laughing while typing this because it is literally a thing. Look up the reviews for the Grutas and you will see reviewer after reviewer mention the surly staff. It’s not so bad as to have tainted my experience, to the contrary, it makes me chuckle to think back on. You’ll be better off knowing what you’re getting into.)
Don't let the color fool you- these icy blue waters are steamy!
Now, back to the sleeping in tents thing.
Look on your weather app most of the year and the temperature in Tolantongo will be hovering around 95. But, somehow, in other just-my-luck news, the day we arrived it was cloudy and barely 55 degrees. I pictured shivering all night, not sleeping a wink, hearing noises—mostly other people, as it was quite a busy family weekend. Not to mention that all our items would be damp from the pools. Long story short, the tent idea sounded less than appealing. Being adventurers, though, up to make the most of our circumstances, we were seriously considering it.
A lucky break occurred, and by the grace of the surly front desk staff, a room became available. We happily paid the steep price and never regretted it for a moment.
The rooms are basic, but compared with a tent on the ground, it is luxury living. They are sparsely furnished with vintage-looking dusty linens, but that didn’t bother us. They are poorly ventilated, so everything did feel slightly damp, and our suits took forever to dry. Again, nothing compared to what #tentlife would have been.
Tips for accommodation at Las Grutas Tolantongo:
1. Decide the kind of trip you want.
Do you want to go camping? We found some folx at a campsite having an absolute blast. Their fun was contagious and we joined them for some singing, dancing, and sipping by the rushing river. If you’re not up for the rustic camp experience, plan to get a room. Do you want to be driving back and forth to the grutas? (having been there, I’d say no, but that’s for you to decide.) If you stay in surrounding towns you’ll pay a cheaper price but can plan to spend 45 mins or so (at least) in the car on the way in and out. For us, staying just two days and one night, time was money.
2. Check the weather.
If it is going to be warm and dry the tent thing might be better. Cool and wet? I’d choose hotel. Also, since we expected to be enjoying a hot climate, we did not pack appropriate layers sleeping outside in a cool weather. I know, I know. Rookie mistake. It worked out in the end, but when you go don’t risk it. Be sure to pack clothes that range from Summer to chilly Fall weather appropriate.
3. Arrive Early.
We thought we were doing well leaving before sunrise. But by the time we got the rental sorted out and made the 3.5 hour drive there, it was afternoon. Weekends are busy and the family getaway atmosphere at the pools was lively and in full swing. Both the hotel rooms and campsites are given on a first-come-first-serve basis, so no matter how you want to stay, the earlier you get there the better. Making the trip during the week would also be advisable if you’re looking for that spa-like relaxing trip depicted in photos. Expect crowds, parties, families if you choose a weekend visit. And don’t plan on having a pool to yourself.
The main attraction here is the infinity pools dotting the side of a cliff filled with water that range from tepid to hot…ish. Jig’s up, they’re probably not as steamy as you imagine when you hear the words “hot spring”. But they’re still beautiful and relaxing AF. There are dozens of different pools of varying sizes and temperatures. I recommend getting up first thing in the morning if you want to have that romantic or super-relaxed feeling. (Or to capture that perfect Instagram shot!) By late morning, the pools are filling up and the vibe changes a bit. Less luxury-soaking and more family-fun.
Please do not stop at just these pools! There is SO much more to this place, and the rest of it I have found is far less talked about. The infinity pools are on one end of the property, and on the opposite end is the Gruta—a large cave with an impressive waterfall you can get inside of!
Trekking along the trails in Tolantongo will provide plenty of nature-rich scenery.
There are “trekking” trails that dot the expansive property. These are really just walking trails from one point to the next, but the hills can give you a solid workout if that’s what you’re looking for—especially if the sun is shining! Along the trail you will pass by more pools which are large and resemble, well, swimming pools, more so than the circular carvings on the mountainside. While these are less novel than their bubbly mountainside counterparts, they also seemed more luxurious, like an expensive spa day.
There is a blue-turquoise river running through the entire area and once you get to it on the “Gruta” side, it is incredible to behold. Fake-looking level of gorgeous here. An icy-opaque blue from the minerals in the water, this looks like an Icelandic body of water somehow found its way into the Mexican jungle. You’ll see tents and campsites, family bbqs and groups of young Mexicans having drinks and laughing.
When in Mexico: DO go chasing waterfalls!
Crowded or not, this is not the worst place to camp.
Going to Las Grutas Tolantongo on a busy weekend has its perks- New friends!
Know what to expect!
The Instagram shots of Las Grutas Tolantongo do not tell the full story, and that’s why I’m here to help you. If you know in advance what you’re getting into, your expectations will be properly set to have a killer time.
Tolantongo was very touristy when we visited. While this could take away from the place’s enjoyment, I think if you know what to expect you can still have a great time. Sure, it would have been cool to have the place to ourselves to have a chill, relaxing, romantic, private tour of the hot pools. But you know what else is cool? Spending time in a foreign country with the people who live there. The Grutas are a tourist attraction, but the majority of tourists were people who live in Mexico. Friends and families gathering for a weekend away.
This busy weekend ensured that we had an actual cultural experience, and for me that is worth sharing the pool.
Check the weather, get there early, bring plenty of cash, and come with an open mind. Have yourself a good time and thank me later!
For more information about visiting Las Grutas Tolantongo—alternate travel methods, best times to go, or anything else you think another travel blogger would be more competent at telling, check out one of these sites:
Want to hear more about my time living and studying in Mexico? Check out these posts:
For more Mexico Travel Tips & Ideas, try these ones:
Cheers to getting vaxed & waxed and booking that TRIP!