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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Natural Hidden Gems in Mexico | Volcanic Hot Springs & Formations

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

Want to experience something that most people visiting Mexico miss out on? Then read on. The Mexican state of Hidalgo was actually home to both of these gems, and although it was a bit out of the way, these two natural wonders were definitely worth the extra hours in the vehicle to get there! We spent one day at Grutas Tolantongo and another day at Basaltic Prisms of Santa Maria Regla and both were so amazing! We'll share all the details you need to visit these two amazing natural hidden gems while planning your Mexico trip itinerary!

Grutas Tolantongo

This place was seriously one of the most beautiful and unique spots we have ever visited and moved into one of the top 5 spots of experiences we have had on this year of travel. Grutas Tolantongo is actually a volcanic hot spring, where the water is heated in the lower layers of the earth because of its proximity to the magma. However, this isn’t your typical hot spring – they had caves, waterfalls, thermal pools and a river that are all bathtub-water-warm that visitors can swim in and explore! They even have a slide and suspension bridge! These were definitely THE most unique hot springs we have ever experienced and a TRUE hidden gem! While there are tourists there, almost all of them were domestic tourists.

It's important to take note, there are actually two separate zones at Grutas Tolantongo: Paraiso Escondido Zone & La Gruta Zone. We actually never made it to the Paraiso Zone because we were enjoying the other one too much. In fact, we didn't even notice it on the map & ran short on time, so we definitely felt like we didn't allot enough time here. Here is a map that shows the layout of the sight as well as the two different zones:

Also, make sure you spend some time on their website prior to your visit, so you have a good idea of how you want to attack your day there!

Getting There

The hot springs are located in the state of Hidalgo, about 4 hours from San Miguel de Allende (where we were previously stayed) and just a little less than 4 hours from Mexico City. We opted to stay in Cardonal the night before so we could get a full day at the hot spring, and it was definitely worth doing that. The hot springs was only a 40-minute drive from Cardonal. In fact, in hindsight I wish we would have spent 2 days at the hot springs or at least spent 2 nights in the area so we would have had a true 'full day' and not worry about getting to Pachuca before dark.


Admission was $150 Pesos per person ($7.33 USD/$9.22 CDN) - children 5 and older also paid this price – and parking was $20 pesos per vehicle. However, admission includes both zones of the park which are Paraiso Escondido Zone & La Gruta Zone. There is actually another side called ‘Gloria Tolantongo’ that cost $120 Pesos per person. You can either pay admission & cross a bridge to access it from the Grutas side or there is a separate entrance on the other side of the river. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to fully enjoy both sides so we decided to pass, but it looked a bit quieter on that side, and our Airbnb host said it was also nice.

Upon arriving at the site, they had quite thorough health and safety procedures that were being conducted at a big white tent. They fumigated the inside of the truck and we all had to exit the vehicle to sanitize, do temperature checks and walk through a fumigation tunnel as well.

Health inspection tent at the entrance of Grutas Tolantongo.
The large tent at the vehicle entrance to the Hot Springs that does all the health & safety checks.

Food prices at the stands on site were reasonable and although food is not allowed up by the caves of Grutas Tolantongo, we saw several people bring their own food and drink down by the river, as overnight camping is allowed here. You can even rent a tent for the night and stay along the river.

Therefore, the only other costs to consider is the locker rental fee & buses between locations. Pretty much only a towel, shoes and a swimsuit are allowed up by the grotto. (We tried to bring inflatable water wings for Connor and they wouldn’t even let us bring those.) Therefore, a locker is super beneficial to rent. It was only $80 pesos for the whole day + a $70 Peso refundable deposit, plus you got unlimited access to it. If you want to check out the other zone and you don't have your own vehicle then there are buses that run back and forth for a small fee.

Grutas Toltantongo Grotto

On your way to the grotto at the top of the stairs, there are beautiful cascading falls everywhere to keep you mesmerized.

When you get to the grotto there is the main entrance and then up above it you'll notice another entrance that is to a tunnel.

Cascading waterfall at the grotto of Grutas Tolantongo.
The grotto at the top of the hill with entry into the hot springs below, as well as the cave on top.

The main one takes you to the large cave where you enter to relax in the warm water with the cave surrounding you. It was so amazing to swim in a cave that had its own series of waterfalls inside as well. There was even a tunnel that takes you to a section of another cave, but it was super dark and had quite a strong current. Alex and I took turns, but we waited until we saw someone with a flashlight ahead so we’d be able to see inside.

Above the main entrance of the cave is another little tunnel where to enter you have to walk under the waterfall and then proceed through this smaller and narrower tunnel. The water is actually a tad bit warmer up there as well. We didn’t head back too far, as the ground was rough and the kids weren’t fans of continuing to walk in the dark.

As you follow the river flowing from the grotto, there are numerous river pools where you can swim. The water here is also heated, although not as hot as up top by the cave. However, since you’re out in the sun, it just feels perfect. Actually, I wouldn’t even call it cool, it still felt like bath tub water. The kids had a blast playing in the river pool section. There is a tad bit of a current, as it is a river, but because the dams are built up, it slows down the flow significantly. However, the kids liked to hang out at the top of the dam, which sometimes the current was a bit stronger there. It’s also a river, so there are large rocks on the bottom of the pools which were a bit rough on the body at times.

Some Things to Keep in Mind While Visiting

Visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds! Plus, it would be a smart idea to bring along water shoes! There are several spots where the ground is a bit rough where you have to walk, and they would have been especially useful to have while in the river portion where the rocks were large and rough. We had ours in the back of the truck, but just didn’t think to bring them with us! And like I mentioned above, plan for more time here than you think! One full day at minimum, but 2 days would probably be even better if you enjoy the water.

Grutas Tolantongo blew our expectations out of the water! I honestly, wouldn’t have even been able to dream up something like this!

Basaltic Prisms of Santa Maria Regla

When you think of Basalt Columns which places come to mind? Ireland, Iceland or Eastern Europe? Did you know that Mexico has their own basalt columns as well? Located in Huasca de Ocampo, just 90 minutes from Mexico City or 38 km away from Pachuca, are the Basaltic Prisms of Santa Maria Regla. It has been dubbed as one of the '13 Natural Wonders of Mexico', so we felt like it would be worth a trip to check out.

The Basalt Prisms (or columns) are formed by the cooling and contracting of basalt lava, oftentimes against a body of water. It is the constant cooling that causes the lava to contract and fragment into different parts. Then through river erosion over time, they have formed into hexagon pillars. Today these columns reach up to 40 meters in height to form a bit canyon where a couple different waterfalls flow through.

To view the columns we entered the park & paid admission, which was only $100 Pesos per adult (less than $5 USD/about $6 CDN); they didn’t charge us for the children. The admission included access to the sports courts and playground they have on the grounds as well. We proceeded to the suspension bridge for the overhead viewpoint of the prisms and the valley; and then once exiting off the bridge we proceed to the right to go down to the lower level to check out the prisms from the lower level.

We later checked out the area to the left of the suspension bridge as well, which provided aerial views of the other side of the canyon. Supposedly there is ziplines or ATV rides as well, but we didn’t do those.

The site was set-up a bit more touristy than I had imagined, although it was mostly domestic tourists that we saw. I mainly say this because there were vendors lining the canyon and for some reason I thought we would get to do a 'hike' to the waterfalls. However, even though we didn't hike like we had hoped, the site was pretty spectacular with the basalt columns and amazing to see how far it stretched. (If by chance there was hiking in the area, it was hard to identify on the map.)

If you're in the Central Mexico area and you have transportation, I would highly recommend going to Hidalgo to check out these spots! If I could only pick one it would definitely be Grutas Tolantongo! I can't wait to go back again one day - it was truly spectacular! We hope you enjoy these natural hidden gems of Mexico, as much as we did!

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1 Comment

Jan 25, 2022

Wow so amazing!! I’ve never heard of these hot springs before! We have so much of Mexico still to explore but this region is going to the top of my list now. Seeing as we have never been to SM de Allende seems a good combo trip to do. Wonderful photos.


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