Central Mexico lies within the majestic mountain ranges of the Sierra Madre and reaps the benefits of higher altitudes such as temperate, dry climates, and fresh mountain air, not to mention picturesque forested peaks, rushing rivers, waterfalls, and springs. The central Mexican state of Hidalgo is a prime example of this mountainous paradise. There are few large developed cities in Hidalgo, and thus much of its terrain is untouched.
The most famous natural attraction in Hidalgo are Las Grutas de Tolantongo, a set of thermal pools nestled into the mountains and fed by an intricate system of steamy caves and tunnels that also heat the river lying at the bottom of the range also named Tolantongo. This steamy and relaxing paradise has attracted so much tourism that the state has developed a complex around it to accommodate travelers including hotels, campsites, restaurants, and internal transport. This article discusses how to get to las Grutas, where to stay, prices, and how best to tour this incredible area of Hidalgo.
Las Grutas de Tolantogo are located in very mountainous terrain and thus the narrow, winding and unpaved roads within and leading to the park are fairly treacherous to the unseasoned driver. It is about a 4-hour drive from Mexico City to the south and around 3 hours from Queretaro or San Juan del Rio to the north. There are various options for transport including buses, collectivos, and car rental, which is definitely the best option. If using public transportation, you will have to take a bus from Mexico City or Queretaro to the small town of Ixquimilpan, Hidalgo where you will have to take a small microbus to a designated pick-up point for yet another microbus that will take you directly to Las Grutas. Needless to say, it is a bit complicated especially if you are not a Spanish speaker; however, Mexicans are incredibly friendly and helpful to tourists. There are additionally many tour packages that include transport in 1st class luxury buses. I would recommend spending a few days inside the park to really take advantage of these amazing grottos, and I would further recommend you come during the week to avoid large weekend crowds.
There are three hotels within the park all ranging in price from 800-1500 Mexican pesos a night: Hotel La Gruta, Hotel Paraiso Escondido, and Hotel La Huerta. They all offer single and double rooms with balconies and incredible views of the surrounding countryside. None of them offer wifi or internet services and they also do not accept credit cards. In fact, all services within the park including entry are cash only, so make sure you come with enough cash to last the duration of your stay.
There is a campsite within the park alongside the thermal river at the base of the mountain in which the grottos are found. If you bring your own gear you only have to pay the entry fee to the park, however, there are tents and sleeping gear for rent onsite. I recommend camping over renting a hotel in this park because there is absolutely no light pollution and to take a nighttime dip into a steamy river under a star-studded night sky is priceless and unforgettable.
There are three restaurants inside the park: El Paraiso Escondido, Las Palomas, and el Huamuchil. All three restaurants serve Mexican regional cuisine including shellfish dishes; most menu items contain meat and/or cheese so vegans be prepared to have limited options.
There are a number of locations within the park to visit during your stay, so if you only have one full day, I recommend getting started bright and early. I also recommend doing the most physically active tours first, ending the day relaxing in the natural jacuzzi like grottos for maximum gratification. There is transport in small vans to each grotto, the river, and the cave systems for a small fee, which is also why it is better to have your own car. I recommend starting at the river area for a nice swim, then work your way up to the caves and tunnels which get steamier the farther you trek into them. Many of the tunnels end in steamy pools, and many of them just act as a natural steam bath. At the top of the mountains are the grottos which are a series of large steaming, turquoise springs with incredible views of the surrounding mountains and the river below. There are plenty of pools, and if you come during the week, you can have a pool all to yourselves. This is the utmost lap of luxury and total relaxation after a full day of outdoor activities.
The Sierra Madre mountain range lies as the backdrop to many central Mexican states, and along with great hiking, crisp air, and beautiful forests, they also contain luxurious oases for locals and visitors alike. If you are traveling through this region, Las Grutas de Tolantongo must be a priority!
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