La Huasteca: Grutas Tolantongo
Get There: Off the state highway between Ixmiquilpan and Metztitlan, Hidalgo. Buses will take you there from Ixmiquilpan.
Cost: 120MXN entrance fee
Bring: As much food and booze as you can carry, as the only shops around are pretty expensive.
Under the shadow of a granite cliff reminiscent of Yosemite’s Half Dome you’ll find the Grutas Tolantongo, a sort of natural Mexican waterpark. On the canyon’s floor locals have created a series of pools along a clear river, and on hot weekends they and the surrounding campgrounds, hotels and restaurants fill with locals and make for a lively scene. The quality of the river water is heavily dependent on the weather, however, and if it’s rained recently you’ll find a silty brown mess instead of the pale blue waters from the posters.
If you do find a river of brown sludge instead of idyllic pools, ask for the “pozitas” and you’ll be directed to a resort of sorts overlooking a series of pools built to capture thermally-heated water that leeches out of the mountainside. The water is full of all sorts of strange minerals that form brain-like deposits and drape the rocks in strange colours. Towards the bottom you’ll find a gimmicky suspension bridge (note: rickety old Mexican ladies do not respond well to gringos who rock and sway said bridge when they’re trying to cross) and underneath a tunnel full of hidden caves and pools.
On the other side of the hotel from the pools you’ll find a series of grassy platforms for camping, and if you’re relatively discrete you won’t be asked to pay. The crowd, as always with these sorts of places, is overwhelmingly geriatric but there are the odd group of young Mexicans who show up for a messy and/or relaxing weekend away.