The drive from the tropical mountains of San Luis Potosi to the state of Hidalgo was long. VERY, VERY long. But I had read about this place that had stunning hot springs in the mountains and I was determined we should see it even if it was a nine hour trek. I pictured us relaxing in the 100 degree water, looking at the mountains, and convinced Sam it would be worth a hell day to get there.
Below is a picture of where we ended up eventually, but I am jumping ahead……
The drive from Xilitla to Tolantongo was on one of the curviest roads I have ever been on. EVER. To add to the torture of the road we woke up in the morning to the foggiest day we have had on our entire trip. We drove almost the entire
nine (twelve with the accident) hour trek in fog so thick we could barley see the road. It was a two lane road through the mountains and the fog was actually a blessing because it kept me from seeing the thousand foot drop offs. I have pretty bad vertigo and these roads make my stomach turn.
About five hours in, we got pulled over for the first time in Mexico by the local police. Three fairly bad ass looking guys on a narrow mountain road with three very large guns. I told Sam “I think this is our first shake down!”
Sam jumped out of the car and in his sweet and disarming way introduced himself as Samuel from San Francisco. I literally saw the look on the police officers face as the situation turned from bad to good as he told them how much we loved Mexico and that we were searching for the Grutas de Tolantongo. Within five minutes they were writing directions for us in my journal in Spanish to show people, searching on their personal iPhones for directions (apparently it is not easy to find) and were telling us about other places we had to visit in their state. Every time we are kind to people instead of getting defensive or rude things have worked out well. I am sure it will not always be the case, but it is the way we are trying to approach all situations on this trip.
After about another hour on the road we came to a line of cars that were not moving. I got out of the car to investigate and found this:
It took almost three hours of crazy attempts to pull this truck up the cliff. Everyone watched in the 50 degree mountain weather. It was a miracle when it made it up and everyone was thrilled to be moving again. The bad news was it was getting late and we still had a few hours of driving to a place we had no map to. We never drive in the dark in Mexico (well, until this day) so we were a little worried about what was going to happen. We ended up finding the Grutas and driving the final way down steep switch backs in the pitch dark but we made it!
The Grutas de Tolantongo are on an ejido (a cooperative of 112 families that share control of the land) and there is a ton of camping. This place is not a secret to the Mexican’s and we were there from Friday to Sunday. There were definitely people around, but it never felt too crowded. We camped along the river away from the tent campers and spent our days hiking, soaking in the 100 degree pools and rivers and swimming in dark, hot caves. This was one of our favorite places so far on the trip. It was so much fun and completely different from anything we had ever seen or done before.
Las Pozas (hillside pools)
Next to our camp spot the river runs from the caves through the valley. The river is a crazy aqua blue and is about 95 degrees. It was fun to just jump in and relax.
Las Grottos (the caves)
This area was our favorite part of the area. The source of the river comes out of the hills through tropical caves that you can swim through and explore. The water is hot and you can swim in the pitch dark into giant caverns with waterfalls falling from the ceilings. It was just nuts and so much fun. The strange thing was that even though we were swimming in caves in the pitch black, I never once worried about what was in the water (you would think it would be a little creepy). Maybe it was that the water was hot and always moving from the waterfall currents. It was amazing and a place I will never forget.
Since this place was not easy to find, Sam created this to help future travelers get there:
Here is a link to a GPX file that you can use to find this place. It starts just outside Ixmiquilpan, routes you through the city (this route was not ideal, but it got us there), and then out to the canyon where the hot springs are. The last leg of this route was completely missing from our Garming 2014 North America map, but it looks like Google Maps has a pretty good route. You can also just plug in the coordinates N 20.643829, W 98.992273 into your GPS. From Ixmiquilpan, the road is nearly perfectly straight, and once you are through the city you’ll see signs that are directing you here.