I’ve seen the turquoise pools of Grutas Tolantongo time and time again on my Instagram feed. It’s been one of the top destinations on my Mexico bucket list for a while, but I was admittedly a bit skeptical. Was this just another tourist trap that attracts people far and wide for a photo op? It was a journey to get to from Mexico City, and all that effort might not be vale la pena. Regardless, my friend and I set off on a grand adventure to visit the famed Grutas Tolantongo, promising our other friends that we’ll make all the mistakes for them so they won’t have to.
And make all the mistakes we did!! But ya live and ya learn, and this is a place that I absolutely plan on returning to someday. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Grutas Tolantongo without an overpriced tour.
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Table of Contents
- How To Get to Gruta Tolantongo from Mexico City
- Where To Stay In or Near Grutas Tolantongo
- What To Know Before Going to Grutas Tolantongo
- Getting Around Grutas Tolantongo
- What To Bring to Grutas Tolantongo
- Is Grutas Tolantongo Worth It?
- More on Mexico
How To Get to Grutas Tolantongo From Mexico City
Getting There By Bus
To get to Grutas Tolantongo from Mexico City by bus, you’ll first need to head to Mexico City’s northern bus terminal, Terminal Norte. Your destination will be Ixmiquilpan, a small town about three hours away from Mexico City. The buses left every hour on the hour and cost 210 pesos, or just over $10 USD. If you plan on spending just one day in Grutas, I’d recommend leaving early, like maybe 7 AM. If you have more time to spend there, you can leave a little later. Mexican buses are pretty comfortable, so kick back and enjoy the three hour ride.
You’ll get off at Ixmiquilpan’s bus terminal, which isn’t much of a terminal. From there, you can walk to the city center to catch the bus to Grutas Tolantongo. The buses can be found across from Iglesia San Antonio just past the public market. You can also ask around, but here’s a Google Maps location for where to find the parking lot. The buses claim to leave hourly on the half hour, but they really just leave whenever they’re full. The bus to Grutas Tolantongo costs 60 pesos, or $3 USD, and it takes about 90 minutes.
The last bus back to Ixmiquilpan leaves at 5:30 in the afternoon. Make sure not to get stranded in the park.
Renting A Car
If you have a few friends to split the costs with, getting to Grutas Tolantongo by car is probably the best option. That way, you aren’t restricted to bus schedules and can spend more time in the park.
Going With A Guided Tour
Sometimes, spending a little more money for convenience is the way to go. I’ll admit, the journey might not be very straightforward, and can be challenging if you don’t speak Spanish or might be worried about safety. The tour below is the one I would recommend because they give me money every time someone books through my site. Does it make any sense to write this blog post when it will negatively impact people booking tours with this tour company? Nope!! But hey, if this post helps you out, you can help support my adventures by buying me a virtual beer, in which the proceeds will likely go towards a physical beer.
Oh, and before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy while you’re off adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month.
Where To Stay Near or In Grutas Tolantongo
The cool thing about Grutas Tolantongo is that there are actually several accommodation options within the park itself. The catch is that you can’t book any of them in advance. Everything is first-come first-serve, as far as I know. If you plan on spending a night or two, you also have to pay in advance for all the days you’ll be at the park. So for example, the daily entry fee for the park is 150 pesos, but if you plan on staying the night, you’ll have to pay 300 pesos in advance for both days.
There are maps all throughout the park so you’ll be able to find the hotels without any problem. If you go on a busy weekend or during a Mexican holiday, you might not be able to find accommodation in the park. Camping is also an option, and there are a few places that rent out tents. Renting a tent costs between 100-150 pesos, but that’s literally just for the tent. You’ll have to pay another 150 pesos for a mat to sleep on, another 150 for a blanket, and they even charge for the stakes to secure your tent to the ground. It’s quite silly, but yeah, it can add up to almost as much as a hotel room.
If you can’t find accommodation in Grutas Tolantongo or would prefer to stay in an actual town, Ixmiquilpan is the closest town with hotels and a semblance of tourist infrastructure. This is where we stayed because we didn’t know we could stay in the park itself. Hotels are cheap, expect to pay no more than $25 for a hotel room if it isn’t busy season.
The town itself is pretty quiet without anything to do, but I found it quite charming. It’s very local, and you won’t find many, if any, other international travelers here. I’d recommend staying in Ixmiquilpan if you can’t leave Mexico City until the afternoon or evening and can’t make it to Grutas Tolantongo. Give yourself an early start the next morning to maximize your time in Grutas Tolantongo.
Que Pachuca por Toluca, carnaaaal? Pachuca is the capital of the state of Hidalgo, and about three hours from Grutas Tolantongo. However, it is more central, so if you plan on visiting a lot of places in Hidalgo, it might make for a good home base. If you can rent a car or a private taxi, this wouldn’t be a bad option. It’s also a livelier big city with more things to do than Ixmiquilpan.
Things To Know Before Going to Grutas Tolantongo
Entry Fees for Grutas Tolantongo
The entry fee is 150 pesos per day. If you will be staying for a few days, you’ll have to pay the entry fee for each day you’ll be visiting upon arrival to the park. Visitors to Grutas Tolantongo have to pay this in advance, and hotels and tent rentals will require proof of your entry ticket for each day.
There are also other sections of the park that aren’t included in the main entry fee. What I’d consider to be the highlights are all included in the 150 peso entry fee, but for example, if you want to visit La Gloria waterfalls and thermal pools, it’ll be an extra 100 pesos. It’s kind of annoying, but it is technically separate from the park I guess, even though it’s right f’in there.
Lockers and Storing Your Stuff
If you’re only visiting for the day, an annoying predicament can be where to keep your stuff while adventuring. There are lockers that you can rent throughout the park. They cost between 150-200 pesos, but this includes a 50 peso deposit that you’ll get back when you return the key. We used the lockers by the waterfall and caves because that was close to the main entrance and 50 pesos cheaper than the one right at the main entrance. You have to grab your stuff and return your key by 5 PM, which was very, very inconvenient because our day suddenly had to revolve around being back to the lockers by 5 PM.
When you’re going between different parts of the park, it can be annoying having a locker on the other side of the park. Keep a little cash on you and maybe bring a small bag or purse with the essentials. There are parts of the park where you won’t be able to bring your stuff, which is why we had to get a locker in the first place. In other parts of the park without lockers, you might just have to leave your things lying around and hope for the best.
Getting Around Grutas Tolantongo
This park is biiiiig. I thought we’d be able to walk everywhere, but in the midday heat with lots of uphill and downhill, it can become a lot. You’ll also want to maximize your time here, so sometimes going everywhere by foot isn’t the way to go.
The park has shuttle buses that can take you from different sections of the park for 10 pesos per person. Like most buses in Mexico, they only leave once they’re full. Depending on how far you need to go, it might be quicker to walk than to wait for the bus to fill up.
There are motorcycles that can take you around the park. There’ll be a little trailer with a small truck bed that can fit around 3-4 people, and the motorcycle will lug you around where you need to go. There are two types of MotoTaxis in Grutas Tolantongo. There are the ones with set routes that’ll basically just take you up and down the hills in a specific section of the park. These ones cost 10 pesos per person and it’s a good option if you don’t feel like climbing back up a hill. The other type of Moto-taxi can take you anywhere, but is a little pricier. We were cutting it close with the last bus out of the park, so we had to pay 100 pesos to get from the turquoise pools back to the park entrance.
If you have the luxury of time, walking is the way to go. Grutas Tolantongo is absolutely stunning everywhere you look. Take it slow, walk along the river, and admiring the view everywhere. And hey, it’s free. If time wasn’t a factor, I would’ve gladly walked everywhere in this park.
What To Bring to Grutas Tolantongo
A Lot of Cash
Within the park, everything is cash only. Don’t make the same mistake we did. We brought about 800 pesos in cash and that disappeared very quickly. We had to ration our 5 taquitos that we bought in the market beforehand. It was sad. If you’re only going to spend the day in Tolantongo, I’d recommend bringing 1500 pesos. That should be enough to pay your entry fee, the bus there and back, the lockers, food, drinks, and still leave you with some money leftover in case of emergency.
If you plan on staying overnight, I’d say double that amount so that you can pay for a hotel or a tent rental, as well as the extra daily entry fee. All in all, I’d reckon 1500 pesos per day is a good amount, although you don’t have to spend anywhere near that amount if you don’t want to. Food is affordable, with menu del dias (lunch specials) being offered at some restaurants for 85 pesos ($4.25 USD). Accommodation will take up the brunt of your budget, with hotels being around 800 pesos on average, which is very doable if you have friends you’re traveling with. I mentioned that tents are pricy to rent, but can squeeze up to four people in them, so it’d work out to maybe $5-6 per person if you choose that option.
Water, Snacks, Sunscreen, A Bathing Suit, Towels
I truly thought Grutas Tolantongo was going to be a tourist trap Instagram opportunity. Never did I expect just how vast and full of adventure this park was. Be prepared to be hiking a little bit, exploring caves, and swimming in thermal springs and rivers. Obviously, a bathing suit and towels goes without saying, but bring lots of water and sunscreen as well. You can buy water shoes at the park for 150 pesos, which would have honestly been an amazing investment if I had any cash left.
Water-proof covers for your phone or camera
There are some parts of the park that will absolutely drench your phone if you don’t have a cover for it. I bought one for 150 pesos at the park, although you can get them for much cheaper outside of the park. If you want to take pictures without worrying about your phone, just buy one of these. It also came in handy so we could store our cash and other things in there.
Is Grutas Tolantongo Worth It?
Grutas Tolantongo is absolutely vale la pena. This is easily one of my favorite places I’ve visited in Mexico, and that’s saying something. I gotta update all my “best of Mexico” blog posts now, dang it. Any way you can make it happen, make it happen. Grutas Tolantongo will take your breath away.
Also, be sure to check out my complete itinerary for backpacking in Mexico with 77 jam-packed pages covering over 33 different destinations in this amazing country!
My Complete Mexico Backpacking Itinerary
By popular demand… Here is the complete itinerary for one of my favorite countries in the world, Mexico. In this 77-page guidebook, I cover 30 of my favorite Mexican destinations, including how to get to each city, where to stay, and the best things to do in each city. I also include tidbits of useful information like things to know before going to Mexico, as well as my favorite party destina…
If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by buying me a beer! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.