Tolantongo Hot Springs

We slept in the small deserted car park at the foot of the monolith in Bernal that night. Aimee was clearly enjoying her freedom, as when we left to do the short hike up the monolith that morning she was nowhere to be seen.  Fortunately, it was a safe enough place and were happy to lock up the van and leave her, no doubt hunting birds in the trees.

You have to pay a small entrance fee to get in, and then hike up the steep path to the mid-way point of the monolith. The top section is only for rock climbers with equipment, but you still get a pretty good view from the mid-point.

It was only a short walk, but nice to do something active before another three hour drive. Today was the day we would hit the hot springs. Back at the camper everyone was ready to leave, except Aimee who was still MIA. After we all waited for around half an hour, we told everyone to go on to a nearby vineyard without us while we resigned ourselves to wait. This was the second time in a week she had refused to come back, last time we had only been ten minutes or so behind and we hoped she wouldn’t be too long. One time on Baja, she’d kept us waiting for four hours. Luckily for us, before too long she trotted into view and we could finally head out and catch up with the others.

We had decided to check out a local vineyard, but there wasn’t all that much to see. You could book a tour, but the next English one wasn’t till later. In the end, we bought a couple of bottles of nice wine to enjoy another day and drove on. We wanted to arrive at the hot springs in a narrow time window. Arrive after 5pm and you don’t have to pay entry, arrive much after 6pm and it’ll be dark. Having seen the road on the map it didn’t look like one I wanted to drive in the dark. We knew that Clem and Emilie were still staying at a site across the river, which we also wanted to visit. Logistically though, it made more sense to go to La Gloria first. We headed there in our own time, each of us needing to stop for different things. The road in drops steeply down into a valley and up the otherside, however, this is just the precursor to the final descent towards the springs.

We approached the final section, a near vertical cliff with short sharp hairpins cut into its side. A few hundred metres below us we saw Bruno, perched on a hairpin. The milky blue waters of the thermal water were visible in the valley below. Our brakes had been making a nasty grinding noise the last day, and the thought of going down this incredibly steep slope was a little scary. We edged our way down in 1st gear, trying to get the gearbox to do most of the work. Ruby is just too heavy to hold on the gears alone, so you still have to brake a lot. On the last hairpin, Lee announced the brakes were going. One more bend and we made it safely, just, into the carpark. The parking attendant came and took our money for the next day’s ticket, before telling us that we could still go and enjoy the springs now even though we didn’t need to pay. We didn’t need telling twice. As we reversed into our parking spot, Lee declared that the breaks had failed completely. At least it was at the end!

Grutas road, La Gloria is steeper!

We sat in the hot springs, which were indeed lovely and warm. The top pools nearer the source are hotter, so as night fell we sat in the highest pool and enjoyed the hot water as it poured out of the rock above us at 46 degrees Celcius. We shared this large other pool with one other Mexican family, playing some surprisingly good music. A little while later, Jaro joined us. The main problem now was that we needed to get out, the air temperature outside now closer to ten degrees, that was a little unpleasant.

Photo by Kikki

The car park was basically empty and we enjoyed a quiet night.

In the morning, it was time to explore the park. First we walked down to the thermal river and along it’s banks. It is possible to cross a footbridge and go to Grutas, the other side where our friends were. This is a different park though and has a different entry fee. We wanted to drive around and visit this side on Monday. We walked down the banks of the thermal river, and hopped in for a swim. We were promptly told we couldn’t swim in this bit without another ticket, as if it mattered. So we headed back up a little way and enjoyed a while in the river further up.

The nice thing about the place is that while it has clearly some man-made elements to it, they have done it in keeping with the natural aesthetic. The river is divided into sections, which is actually quite practical the water is exceedingly strong and fast flowing. Without the divides it would probably be quite dangerous to try and swim in, or definitely not as relaxing.

We sat in the river until we were all very wrinkly, which took a surprisingly long time. Must be something to do with the minerals in the water. Then it was time to trek back up the hill for lunch. The next place to visit was the cave, Hanno and Kikki had already been there in the morning and told us it was worth a visit. They also warned us that not all the pools were warm. Some of the springs feeding into the river are cold, the first pool was lukewarm the second definitely cold. Persevere through that, and you can climb out into a warmer pool again. There are some ropes that let you climb up with waterfall a little way with other small and incredibly deep pools alongside. It would have been even nice if some of them were warm, but as they are not hot and the air is cold too, you soon become pretty freezing walking around in a wet bikini. We hurriedly made our way back to warmer territory.

There is a waterfall of to the side of the warmish pool which is hot. We stood under it like a hot shower and warmed up. If you climb to the top of this you are rewarded with a small private, hot tub. We sat here for a while, enjoying the view. No one can see you are there and you are completed surround by the jungle, it a lovely place. Hanno and Kikki had also managed to find another private little hot pool a bit further up. It’s definitely worth exploring the nooks and crannies.

We stayed for a while, before going back down to the river. I wanted to go through the gap in the waterfall that means you can stand at the base of the falls. Again, it was cold, but worth a quick visit before warming up again in the river.

It was dusk as we left the river and headed up, we same Hanno and Kikki in another pool a bit further up and joined them until it was dark again. Now we had to get out again into the chilly breeze, even worse than yesterday I now had a soggy and cold towel to wrap around myself. A brisk walk up a lot of steps soon warmed us up though, and we rounded off the evening with a hot chocolate in the restaurant.

We decided to leave fairly early the next day, to avoid paying another ticket. The staff seemed pretty relaxed about it all though, and we had no problems leaving at 9am. We managed to stay two nights and enjoy a full day for 260 pesos, that’s about a tenner and worth every penny.

We planned to spend the weekend in a quiet forest spot, before driving around the other side for money. It was not the place to visit at the weekends. The brakes were definitely in need of attention, we had thought we had brake fade due to the heat but it seems more likely that we boiled our brake fluid. We would need to address that issue before try to leave through the large valley we had come in on. Fortunately, the forest spot was mainly uphill so we could manage. We caught up with Bruno, fighting his way through an overgrown forest track, clearly nature had regained control somewhat since the last review.

After cutting a path through the worse sections, we made it to a small clearing. After some juggling of vehicles we managed to park up with space for Clem and Emilie who were joining us later. We then had time to get the substantial amount of air we had in our brake lines out, feeling much better about the drive tomorrow, we could relax and enjoy the forest.

That night we enjoyed a fire together, for what might well the last time. Clem and Emilie were on quicker timeframe than us and therefore heading off in the morning. We got some final pictures before they left, sometime it’s hard to know when you’ll meet again.

We left later in the afternoon, stopping for some groceries. Then stopping a bit more as Bruno had a puncture. We still made it down to the camping spot on the other side at just the right time, the 5pm rule applies here too. It is clear that this is the touristy side though, we had to go through some kind of disinfection booth to enter, and they sprayed the inside of the car too, completely traumatising the cat.

At the bottom there were restaurants and hotels everywhere, the camping spot was nice though. A quite place right on the river.

Photo by Kikki

In the morning we headed out to look at the cave and the tunnel. After paying a ridiculous price for a locker we didn’t know we needed, we were allowed in. There would have been more pictures of this event, as Lee took his phone. Unfortunately, it transpires that when they cleaned the camera in Guanajuato, they didn’t seal it very well. Therefore, it got wet inside and to try and fix it he reset it, losing all the pictures that he had got it wet for in the first place. There are a few of Kikki’s though. The tunnel was pretty cool, if hard to breathe in the hot wet air.

Then there was the cave, where rivers poured in through the ceiling from all sides. Again, it was worth looking at but it was quite busy.

We decided now we would head to the pools. This is what the place is famous for. We walked around aimlessly not sure where to go before a waiter told us it was 2km away. We began to walk. It was a bit of a trek to be sure, Lee and Jaro gave up towards the end and decided to sit in the river with a beer back at the campers.

Photo by Kikki

The three of us continued on, determined that we would at least see it. after a while and a lot of hills we made it. Clearly there is a bus that most people get, we hadn’t realised how spread out the park was compared to the other side. The pools are pretty enough, but not as natural as the other side, they are also not as warm. The view though, that’s pretty good.

The main point of interest turned out to be the later identified Coati. Here, Kikki got out the pool to take a photo before quickly running back in when it looked like it was about to attack her.

Photo by Kikki

We made our way back to the cars, satisfied to have seen it, but pretty clear that we preferred the other side. We spent the remainder of our day in the river by the cars, enjoying the last of the sun. one other good thing about this side is that it gets the sun, while the other is permanently in the shadow of the mountain. Picking one, I would definitely recommend La Gloria, it’s slightly cheaper, much less touristy and has a much more ‘lost in jungle’ feel to it. It’s also reasonable to walk everywhere, the only downsides are that Grutas has a better camping area and a bit more sun, not enough for the win.

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