Some of the places we visit have been suggested by other travelers or by folks along the route. But the stop at Tolantango made our list several years ago. After seeing a story about these waters, we knew that we would need to go there when we were in the region. After our emotional stop in Zimapan, Hidalgo area (where we said goodbye to Seri-dog), we knew it was time to take in some healing waters and relax for a few days. This would give us all a chance to adjust to the new dynamics of having two dogs and two humans. And an opportunity to enjoy the mineral waters of Grutas Tolantango.
Getting to Tolantango is quite a process. Passing through several small villages, sharing narrow roads with huge tour buses and avoiding potholes and cows; these are the expectations of the route. Then comes the dirt switchbacks to climb down the steep canyon walls and reach the river. Those winding dusty roads are just wide enough for two cars to pass. There are no gaurdrails and few pullout areas. Using lower gears, taking it slow and letting the crazy buses pass was the strategy to get us down there.
We were directed to the corner of the parking lot. So we found a flat spot with shade and went out to explore the place.
We had heard that weekends were crowded. But we had no idea just how crowded it could be. Almost every bit of flat ground had been taken up with a tent. And all the shaded areas were filled with a grill, chair and family member. It was as crowded as a full-scale, festival area. There were pathways between the tents to get from one location to another. This was the scene on a Sunday at about noon. The family camps are right along the edge of the river.
One amazing part of this was watching these folks clear out of there by nightfall. There was an elaborate system for packing, loading and waiting for buses to haul them to the top of the mountain. Names were called and people hauled ice chests, suitcases, trash bags and kids onto waiting buses. Then they vanished, up the hillsides to where ever they came from. When we went back to the river bank the next morning the tents were cleared out, the trash was gone and we practically had the place to ourselves! From over 3,000 people to about 300 people in a matter of 4 hours. An incredible process.
The river itself is gorgeous. The color is hard to believe. It comes from suspended particles of calcium, talc and other minerals. The temperature is about 95 degrees. The flow is swift enough to keep debris moving, but slow enough to sit on a rock and enjoy it. In this area the river has been terraced or dammed with rocks to create large pool-like areas to swim in.
These walking trails lead to additional features of this facility including a cave of warm and cold water. It is a little bit difficult to imagine, but once you pass through the mouth of the cave you are inside a large cavern. Water is flowing from mineral-laden holes in the walls and roof of the cave and pouring over you. It pools around you as you walk inside the cave. This is some of the water that creates the flow of the river. Some of these gushing holes release flows of hot water, and some release flows of cold water. They blend to the perfect temperatures as they create a large swimming pool inside the cavern and then flow out of the mouth of the cave and tumble down the hillside toward the river.
Above the cave are several huge waterfalls. The source of these are the springs that feed the river below. The water flows over ferns, algae and mineral buildup at various temps ranging from hot to cold. This water also pours into the river below and flows through the terraced river area where the swimmers are camped.
Another walking trail at the park leads through the desert and forest to the area of Pozitos and Pozos. These are the concrete and mineral build-up pools. Each pool is like a mini hot tub, and there are over 50 of them dotting the sides of the canyon above the river. Warm water flows into and out of each tub. It makes its way down the canyon walls and ends up in the river below.
The services at this location include restaurants, hotels, clothing, souvenirs, snacks, rental gear and transportation. The snack bars vary along the river bank. This one had huge rock-lined BBQ pits for slow cooking delicious smelling BBQ That is also where we saw this funny sign. While it worked for a busy swimming area, it would also be appropriate in a classroom, home or office! Just general good rules for life Being Mexico there could not be a gathering of humans without a nod towards the Virgin of Guadalupe. The shrine in Tolantango is an elaborate set up of rocks, mineral deposits, flowers and a glass case containing the Virgin of Guadalupe doll. Folks have offered up their bottles of water as donations to the Virgin in the shrine.
Back at our parking lot campsite there was much to do. We relaxed in the shade of the huge trees, enjoying the breezes as they blew through the canyon. We left our door open, hoping to catch any cooling breeze that happened by. Our wet, river clothes hung on a line to dry. Mike took the two dogs for long walks along the trail system. These trails offered amazing views of the river, and a place for Mango to run and enjoy herself.
We laid out our maps and notes and began planning the next few weeks of our journey. We welcome tips from other travelers, locals and anyone who makes a suggestion. Then we research the locations to see if it will work for us. If you have suggestions, don’t be shy….. send them our way! In the late afternoon the sun would slip behind the giant rock walls of the canyon behind and begin cool things down for the evening. The night time temps were around 70 degrees.
After a couple of days we felt as though we had fully explored and enjoyed this area. We felt relaxed and ready to head on as a family of 4. We packed up and climbed back up those dusty, winding roads to get out of the deep canyon. Zeb assumed his position in the rear window and we looked ahead to our next stop along the way.