Overview: Mexico, buses, travel, oasis, Grutas Tolantongo.

Let me start at the beginning…

We’re in Mexico for 5 days to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos and of course my b-day and we’d had our eyes on Las Grutas Tolantongo, or the Tolantongo Caves, for almost a year. These are hot spring pools that are built into the cliff-side and surrounded by volcanic mountains in Hidalgo. 

Absolutely beautiful.

Read more: Mexico City Day of the Dead Pays Tribute to Quake Victims 

We’d watched so many travel videos and read so many blogs. We were trying to plan a trip at the right time, coordinate flights, and map out the route for a taxi to drive us 4 hours outside of Mexico City to Hidalgo. We kept putting it off with “We’ll look at it laters” or “Let’s look for better directions” and “I’ll keep checking for better prices.” Well, 2 days into our Mexico trip, we asked each other if we still wanted to go, and as soon as we locked eyes, we both knew the decision was yes. So we decided to bite the bullet and make the trek out to Hidalgo.

We collected our Frida's and Diego's and we were off! 

The transit situation to get there was cray y’all, CRAY!

5 switches one-way from buses to taxis to shuttles and 5 hours later, we were finally in Grutas. The most insane part of all this is that we were well-prepared with instructions on how to get to Grutas by bus, but no matter how prepared you are, Mexico still finds a way to throw you curve balls. We took a bus from Mexico City to Pachuca, then hopped on another from Pachuca to Ixmiquilpan where the directions said we would “deboard at a stop next to a garden and municipal building.” We both dozed off on this bus ride. I happened to crack my eyes open as we passed the garden and municipal building and I was like, “OMG, we missed our stop!”

When you’re in a foreign place and you don’t know the route or what’s coming up next, it’s perfectly logical to freak out. I thought we were going to be lost in Mexico forever. Luckily, we stopped at a bus station a couple miles up the road where we were able to catch a shuttle bus to the market.

That's when the real fun started.

We were 2 of 3 people on this broken down shuttle and we stuck out like a sore thumb because of our big ass luggage. The shuttle driver explained that he couldn't drive through the market so we'd have to get out, walk through the market with our luggage, and catch ANOTHER shuttle bus on the other side which would take us the rest of the way to Grutas. There we were, two easily marked tourists with our two big bags of luggage running through a bustling Mexican market trying to locate the next shuttle bus stop. Several turns and queries later, we finally arrived in the shuttle bus corral which was tucked behind a pharmacy and hidden from the main road. We would have never ever known it was there had a shop owner not told us we had to go behind the buildings to find it.

The drive to Grutas was bucolic and mesmerizing. There was a point where I happened to glance out the window and caught a man walking behind his horse in his backyard. I'll never forget that moment - this is not a vacation memory of a perfectly staged farmer tending his fields, this is a life memory to remind me that this was a real person and this is their real life in Mexico. This man does this daily. It's not a charade for the tourist bus driving down his street.

Sometimes we forget on our vacations that the people we see or come in contact with, the people driving your taxi or making your food, the maids cleaning your rooms (if you can afford lodging with maids), are doing this job every day. Not just for you on the day of your visit. Be nice and gracious to these people. 

The drive from the market to Grutas took about an hour. The last 15 minutes was a steep descent with swtichback after switchback down a mountain side in a shuttle with squealing breaks and a race car driver at the wheel. Death felt imminent. And Mexico doesn’t believe in putting guard rails on every turn so it was real real.

We realized once we got there that we didn't pack sneakers and/or water shoes so we literally walked around for the first couple hours barefoot and fueled by adrenaline.

My sensitive feet paid for it later but it was well worth it. The naturally-heated mineral-infused water eased the pain.

Watching the sunset in the canyon with someone you love is one of the most magical and relaxing experiences.

The next morning we bought water shoes and hiked up the canyon where we found a thermal cave with a trickling waterfall entrance. 

Then we trekked a couple miles in the opposite direction to the other side of the resort and found the pozitas - little pools that cascade down the hillside so far down that your eye loses sight of them.

Ultimate beauty is in these mountains and if you plan accordingly to make the journey out there and you're willing to take a couple twists and turns on the way, I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Recommended book: Under The Volcano