About 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Ixmiquilpan, Tolantongo is a naturally hot river. Waterfalls explode over the sides of the dramatic limestone box canyon, combining and joining with individual hot springs to form a watercourse that’s impressive even at the end of the dry season. The rushing river (parts of which are about 34 degrees Celsius, or 93 degrees Fahrenheit) obtains its beautiful aquamarine color and high mineral content in part because of the chalky white limestone bed over which it rushes.
Arriving from Ixmiquilpan, the visitor drives past beautifully manicured agricultural fields before descending a graded gravel and dirt road that leads steeply down to the site. Within the canyon are organ and candelabra cacti as well as mesquite, yucca, pepper trees, acacias, and other drought-resistant plants. Located in the semi-arid Mezquital Valley in central Hidalgo, the landscape becomes more semi-tropical near the canyon’s base.
Tolantongo (which, according to a gruff manager at one of the hotels, comes from a bastardized phrase meaning “ small waterfalls” in the Nahuatl language), was known mainly to locals until 1975, when a travel article in Mexico Desconocido brought it to the public’s attention. A trickle of hardy visitors followed, all carrying in their own food, drinks, and provisions. Since then the site is increasingly accessible and “touristy,” with several large swimming pools with high dives, a couple of full-service restaurants, changing rooms, and bathrooms, in addition to other modern installations.
Although purists bemoan the days when the place was their own little secret, the site is still beautiful and appealing. Trails lead up into the hills and into caves---one of which sports both cold and hot jet streams of water. The turquoise river, frothed in white, forms natural (and manmade) pools in some places where bathers can languish for hours in the warm, ebullient water.
Tents can be rented and installed right along the river bank; you can listen to the water surging over the rocks as you drift off to sleep. Several accommodations, one more hotel-like, the other cabin-style, offer simple but decent lodgings to those wishing to explore the area more thoroughly over a period of days.
There are two main areas. The closest to the entrance has cabins for rent and is the place to stay if you want to be close to an amazing series of cement hot tubs with excellent canyon views. About a dozen mineral pools of varying size accommodate from two people to a dozen each. A few are fed by their very own waterfall. From here it’s a hike to the river, or you can drive if you have a car. At the top of the property on this side is a swimming pool with water slide, a restaurant, children’s play area, and a small camp site.
Farther down the mountainside there’s another parking area, a simple hotel, and restaurant. From here a cement walkway with handrail zigzags down to the river. This is the place to be if you want to explore the waterfalls and caves, swim all day in the river, or pitch a tent on the pebble-strewn riverbank. Whichever section you choose, however, gives you access to the other. You can hike or drive between the two.
The site gets crowded on weekends, although it is large and can accommodate a lot of people. But for tranquility, plan to visit midweek. Bring cash: there are no ATMs, and credit cards are not accepted. Don’t bring your dog; they are not allowed.
TOLANTONGO TRAVEL GUIDE
Getting There and Away
From Mexico City, take the toll road toward Pachuca and the Indios Verdes turnoff. Follow the road toward Ixmiquilpan. In Ixmiquilpan head toward the main church of San Antonio and from there follow a signed road near the town market to Las Grutas de Tolantongo. It’s about 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Ixmiquilpan. From Mexico City to Ixmiquilpan the drive is approximately 170 kilometers (105 miles).
Buses (Ómnibus de México, Flecha Roja, and Valle del Mezquital lines) leave for Ixmiquilpan from Mexico City’s Northern Bus Station. Vans leave for Tolantongo from the vicinity of the municipal market (you’ll have to ask around for the exact location) approximately every hour and a half, though the schedule varies depending on season and day of the week.
For more information (in Spanish only at the present time) visit www.grutastolantongo.com.mx or place a call to the onsite cell phone at 772/126- 5156 or, in the town of San Cristóbal Cardonal: 200/125-2234, 125-2235 or 125-2237.