Which is better: Hierve El Agua or Las Grutas Tolantongo?

by Gabby Beckford
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Mexico's outdoors is a beautifully diverse landscape, and one of its most unique features is the abundance of natural springs found across the country. Two springs are most well-known: Hierve El Agua and Las Grutas Tolantongo. But are they worth visiting? Where are they? And which is better? Here is my guide and review to each, with comparisons.

I traveled through Mexico for 3 months during my 2021 travels as a full-time digital nomad. Both of these springs were in the Top 5 things I did while there, so by the end of this article, you should know which one is most right for you!

This post may have affiliate links. Meaning if you buy something using them, I get a small % for recommending it. It doesn't change the price for you at all and it's a super easy and nice way to say thanks for the work I did writing this 🙂 Cool? Cool!

Summaries

Hierve El Agua

Want to feel awed by the majesty of Mother Nature? Hierve El Agua is your travel destination.

One of the three pools at Hierve el Agua. Look at that view!
One of the three pools at Hierve el Agua. Look at that view!

Two dazzling waterfalls appear frozen in midair, and cool turquoise pools bubbling with mineral deposits overlook a stunning view of mountains and valleys.

At Hierve el Agua, you are standing in an ancient social hub, a site sacred to the Zapotec people over 2,000 years ago. Surrounding towns and villages are filled with rural people who inhabit the areas once irrigated with the same mineral-rich water that fills the pools.

Although Hierve El Agua’s two waterfalls appear to be frozen, they’re actually petrified mineral deposits. Similar to how stalactites form in caves by mineral-rich water dripping down from the roofs of caves, these petrified beauties were formed by mineral-rich water trickling down a cliff face over thousands of years!

The name Hierve El Agua means “boiling water” but, ironically, it doesn’t mean the water is warm! In fact, these pools are actually quite chilly most of the time as the water comes from higher up in the mountains.

“Boiling” refers to the water bubbling up from holes in the ground. They are calm, still, and easy to access, with a breathtaking view of the mountain ranges.

Las Grutas Tolantongo

Las Grutas Tolantongo, also featuring turquoise pools, is a canyon and hillside laced with underground thermal waters and offers everything you could need to splash, play, bask, and relax for days.

The main pools of Las Grutas de Tolantongo
The main pools of Las Grutas de Tolantongo

A tunnel full of naturally heated water and steam lies next to a cave centered around a massive hot waterfall, and the hillside is covered with man-made pools developed so that you can bask in the natural hot springs of this little retreat.

There's even a beautiful, clear river to swim and wade in with many stunning waterfalls to enter.

And there's a water slide for the kids to play in! Cross a swinging bridge, and you'll be enjoying La Gloria Tolantongo, a quieter property with waterfalls, a zip line, and more pools.

Where are there? Location & Distance

Grutas Tolanttongo and Hierve el Agua are very far away from each other, in different states in Mexico. To drive between them would take more than 13 hours!

Map Hierve el Agua compared to Mexico City
Hierve el Agua compared to Mexico City

Where is Hierve El Agua?

Hierve El Agua is located in the state of Oaxaca, about one hour from Oaxaca City rental car, bus, or private taxi. To reach Oaxaca City from Mexico City, it's about an 8.5-hour bus ride or a 1.5-hour plane ride.

The spiritual attraction is rural and undeveloped, but there are tours that visit Hierve El Agua and other Mexican travel destinations including the Zapotec ruins of Mitla, the world's widest tree in Tule, and a mezcal distillery.

Map Grutas Tolantongo compared to Mexico City
Grutas Tolantongo compared to Mexico City

Where is Las Grutas Tolantongo?

Las Grutas Tolantongo is a four-hour drive from Mexico City and can be reached by rental car, bus, or private taxi.

Las Grutas Tolantongo is located in the state of northern Hidalgo, also home to attractions like the Basalt Prisms of Huasca De Ocampo, giant stone prisms formed by slow-cooling volcanic rock, and Real De Monte, once one of the biggest mining towns in Mexico.

How do you get there? and Price Comparison

To put it simply, though entry tickets into both springs are very affordable, Grutas Tolantongo is a longer drive and has more to do, and thus is more expensive.

How much does Hierve el Agua cost?

Price: 💰

🎟 Entry ticket: 50 pesos

🚐 Transportation: 40 – 800 pesos

From Oaxaca, you can have a private driver take you directly to Hierve el Agua for 800 pesos (USD $39) per person (up to 6 people). Or you can bus to Mitla for 40 pesos (USD $2), and then take a taxi. Overall it should take 1.5-2 hours to get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca City.

But, you really should get there early! When I went, we arrived at 9AM and barely got some photos in before the crowds came. The entrance fee to Hierve El Agua is 50 pesos. 

All in all, you’ll need about 850 pesos (USD $42), for travel and the entrance fee. If you decided to stay in one of the cabanas, you’d need another 200-300 pesos per night (USD $10-15).

You also have the option of booking a tour to see Hierve El Agua and surrounding attractions, like this one that includes a mezcal tasting and a visit to the city of Teotitlan de Valle, where you’ll learn about the production of traditional Mexican dyes. 

How much does Las Grutas de Tolantongo cost?

Price: 💰💰

🎟 Entry ticket: 150 pesos

🚐 Transportation: 300 – 2000 pesos

You can travel to Las Grutas Tolantongo by private driver, bus, or tour. It’s a beautiful 4-hour scenic drive by car through the countryside but be warned that the roads become very winding during the last hour. The public bus is 300 pesos (USD $15) and takes about 6.5 hours.

The entrance fee at Las Grutas Tolantongo is 150 pesos (USD $7.50), and shuttles to different areas inside the park are 10 pesos (USD $0.50) per person. Lockers are 50 pesos (USD $2.50).

If you decide to stay the night, you’ll need to pay the entrance fee for the next day as well. Room prices are from 800 pesos (USD $40) to 1800 pesos (USD $90) per night. You could get a room, pay the entrance fees, and use a locker and shuttles for around 1400 pesos (USD $69) per night.

If you’re wanting to make this a day trip, there are private tours starting at about 1600 pesos (USD $79) per person. These tours don’t include time for shopping in the souvenir shops or eating in the restaurants, but they will get you to and from the springs in one day—something that would be very difficult to do otherwise. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of a tour guide who already knows all of the local travel tips.

Things to Do & Accommodations

Hierve El Agua, the natural park

Hierve El Agua is a small area that's not overdeveloped and is perfect for solo travelers looking for a spiritual experience, a small group looking for an intimate or romantic day out, or a larger group looking for an outing that will immerse them in nature.

During the day, right inside the gates, you'll find a row of small, locally-owned food carts selling food and drinks. You can expect snacks like chips, churros, fresh fruits, and pastries, and enjoy drinks like pina coladas, cold beers, and horchata.

There are two frozen waterfalls, Cascada Chica and Cascada Grande, two swimming pools, and four natural springs. 

The only accommodations on site are rustic cabins, which cannot be booked in advance. These cabanas have two beds, a private bath, and a back deck with stunning views.

Hierve el Agua pool
The colors of the pool change because of the mineral deposits. They're beautiful

Once the gates to Hierve El Agua close at night, cabana occupants are locked into the park until the next morning, with no access to restaurants, so it's important to bring adequate food and water if you plan to stay there. Staying in these cabanas is a rustic experience for the true adventurer who wants to be immersed in nature & have the entire place to themselves after everyone has left for the day.

It offers the opportunity to watch the sunset from the pools in the morning before anyone else arrives.

If you're looking to cleanse your soul, clear your mind, and connect with the significance of these waters that used to irrigate the entire region and that is renowned for the healing power of their minerals, an overnight stay in a cabana may be your best bet.

Watch the sunset over the mountains while dipping your feet in the cool mineral waters and pondering what nightfall would have been like here 2,000 years ago.

Another option is a room available for rent above the home of the owners of Comedor Citlaly, a restaurant serving fresh meals at reasonable prices in the local village. You won't get to stay at Hierve El Agua after hours, but you'll be in a village instead of alone on a mountainside.

Las Grutas Tolantongo, the resort!

You could easily make a full vacation out of a trip to Las Grutas Tolantongo. The canyon and surrounding hillsides are packed with natural attractions, and with everything from hotels to restaurants onsite, there isn't much reason not to stay for at least a couple of days.

For the energetic and outdoorsy, there's a zip line and a cave where you can swim in some strong currents. For the kids, there's a water slide and a river to play in.

Las Grutas Tolantongo mountain view
Look at that view!
Las Grutas Tolantongo main warm springs
The water is bath temperature—perfectly warm to relax in!

For those with a wellness focus who want to have a relaxing spa day, there are naturally heated pools. And for those who want to explore, there are multiple tunnels and a swinging bridge with plenty of waterfalls on the other side of it.

If you're in need of a place to get your mindset right and heal your inner child, this just might be the one. All of us need to play in a flowing river of turquoise sometimes.

Beyond all of the different attractions already mentioned, this place has the works when it comes to accommodations. There are five different hotels located within the park and plenty of camping areas.

Everything in the park operates on a cash-only basis, and the hotels do not take reservations, so you won’t be able to reserve a room until after you arrive at your destination. The park's website recommends arriving between 7AM and 9AM if you want a room during a busy period like a weekend.

Las Grutas Tolantongo natural waterfalls
Las Grutas Tolantongo natural waterfalls

If you show up and no rooms are available, you can still rent camping equipment and take the rustic route! Be prepared for lots of music and partying as most people there are doing their best to have a good time.

Also inside the park are multiple restaurants, open on different days and serving a variety of Mexican foods. You're unlikely to be disappointed by the abundance of tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, sopas, and chilaquiles.

Is Cancun a stop in your Mexico adventures? Read our post: 2022 Review of Hotel Xcaret Mexico, Xenotes, and Xichen tours!

Accessibility

How accesible is Hierve El Agua? Very!

Hierve El Agua is relatively accessible, with no hiking necessary. It's a 10-minute walk on an unpaved dirt path, from the parking lot to the main area with the pools.

If you are looking for more exercise, though, there are trails that give better views of the two petrified waterfalls from below. These are relatively strenuous and will take about an hour both ways.

How accessible is Las Grutas Tolantongo? Not very.

Las Grutas Tolantongo covers the side of an entire mountain and has made of many different parts. Small springs, crowded springs, secluded springs, all up and down and the mountainside This means that if you want to see everything you'll need to be prepared to do a bit of walking.

Map of Los Grutas de Tolantongo
Map of Los Grutas de Tolantongo

There were very strenuous parts of it, and the main pools are not accessible for older people or those in wheelchairs.

There are buses available to travel between some of the pools, but even still there are limestone stairs which can be very slippery with people fresh from the pools walking up and down them. The waterfalls aren't accessible via wheelchair either, as they require many steps to access the river and waterfalls.

So, which springs are better?!

As you can see, there’s no right answer! The two springs are in two completely different areas of Mexico, are very different experiences.

These two popular natural wonders were two whole different moods. Hierve El Agua was a quiet, spiritual experience with great hikes, while Las Grutas Tolantongo was a family-friendly, resort-like experience.

Is Las Grutas Tolantongo worth it? Is Hierve el Agua worth it?

Bott springs are absolute natural wonders of Mexico, and worth seeing!

Can you swim at Hierve el Agua?

Yes! The pools are natural and though they are cool mountains, mineral water, they're safe and legal to swim in.

Is it safe to visit Hierve el AGua? Is it safe to visit Las Grutas Tolantongo?

Both springs are very safe to visit. While the drives there might be remote, they are tourist attractions and thus have a lot of locals and visitors around at all times. At both places, you won't have anyone scamming you or harassing you to sell things.
Hierve el Agua especially is a sacred land, and your tour guide will be a local. At Las Grutas Tolantongo, it's a regulated park with security. Speaking Spanish will help you navigate your experience and feel more comfortable, of course, but I would tell any solo female travelers and women of color that they would be fine visiting.
If you still feel nervous, I would recommend booking a tour.

Gabby Beckford

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