We are Anne-Sophie and JP from the Instagram profile: @van.gabonds. Welcome to our article on the amazing Grutas de Tolantongo of Mexico. We both grew up in Quebec, Canada, in the suburbs of Montreal City and met at the university where we both studied occupational therapy.
We started dating near the end of the program which was about five years ago. Both of us are sports and outdoors addicts, lovers of good humor, good beer and good music. Anne-Sophie has always been a traveler. She started at a very young age (too young to remember) with her parents. As she grew up, Anne-Sophie continued this passion.
She has backpacked through quite a few countries and even worked as a tour guide for three summers. As for JP, he also started traveling with his parents as a child but it only became a passion a few years ago when he completed his first backpacking trip. He has never looked back since then.
Speaking of which, it was during this backpacking trip in Europe that we “confirmed” we were truly made for each other. Anne-Sophie was doing an eight week internship in France, and after two weeks of traveling together in Slovenia before the internship, we would meet every weekend in new countries. Today, we are traveling the Americas in our self-converted van.
Van Trip from Canada to Patagonia
Anne-Sophie has always dreamed of taking a journey from North America to Patagonia. Two and a half years ago, before she had left for her trip to Asia/Oceania/Pacific Islands (during which JP joined her for five weeks in New Zealand), she was already planning this pan-american vanlife trip and was trying to convince JP to leave his job and travel for a year.
Our five week van trip in New Zealand two years ago confirmed that this had to be the way! So we left Canada on the 9th of December, 2020 – even though we had planned to leave in September but the van wasn’t finished.
Because of the pandemic, the US borders were closed. So we had to ship the van on a commercial truck from Montreal to Burlington and then take a plane to get it, with a tiny little detour to Chicago. All in all, it took us eight hours in total while the Montreal to Burlington distance is only 90 miles.
We probably brought the Canadian temperatures with us because we got snow in the Great Smoky Mountains and in Big Bend National Park. Hiking was cold but it looked amazing with the white carpet! We traveled the east coast on our way down and it took about a month. We hope to do the west coast on the way back. So far, our highlight in the US was Big Bend.
After the US, we drove down to Mexico, again mostly on the east coast. Sadly, a couple of the volcanoes were closed because of the pandemic but most of the stuff we wanted to see was open. After Mexico, we went down to Guatemala and spent around a month there too. And boy it was beautiful! It was the first time we saw erupting volcanoes!
Again, we left some great spots for the way back like Lake Atitlan. As for the vanlife, we feel it is the best way to travel. We can do everything: cook with a real oven, take a shower with hot water, sleep in a comfy bed with a comfy mattress and we can go wherever we want. In our minds, vanlife is freedom. Even with COVID-19, we have met many vanlifers.
A Wonderful Day at Grutas de Tolantongo
We stayed in Mexico for a month and did mostly the Atlantic Coast and some other states on the mainland like San Luis Potosi and its waterfalls. We loved chasing waterfalls and cenotes, scuba diving, exploring the jungle, paddle boarding on rivers and lagunas, and eating tacos with locals.
We also fell in love with the Sian Ka’an Reserve and its marine wildlife. And of course, we enjoyed relaxing at Grutas de Tolantongo. In fact, we had a great time at Grutas de Tolantongo! We arrived late at night, spent the next day at the Grutas and slept in the same spot as the night before.
The road to get there is gorgeous by itself. It’s a bit tricky to navigate but it’s breathtaking! We didn’t have the chance to visit the area around the Grutas – so we can’t tell you what the township is like. However, the Grutas are definitely the main attraction. Since we had our van and a fantastic free spot to camp, we didn’t need to explore the surroundings.
Our first impression upon arriving was that the view from the entrance was beautiful. So we were anxious to see it from the pools. And surprise surprise, we had them all to ourselves for at least one and a half hours because we got there at the opening time. We really didn’t expect to be alone like that in such a magical place but there we were!
Activities to Enjoy at Grutas de Tolantongo
Besides the pools that you see on Instagram, you can also go inside a cave where the water comes from. To do that you need to go through a waterfall which makes the experience really cool. Then you have the river showcasing clear blue waters that descends down limestone pillars.
Inside the actual site, you have multiple viewpoints and different activities to enjoy. These can all be experienced by foot. Outside the site, there are other viewpoints on the mountains. Our camping spot, for example, was located right on the side of the road near the entrance. It was a great place to photograph the stars at night (low light pollution) and the sunrise.
Where to Stay near Grutas de Tolantongo
We suggest staying in your van if you have one! There are some great spots by the road that are free and close to the entrance. To stay for more than a day, you can park overnight for free in the parking of the Grutas or camp in a tent (but you do need to pay for another day in the park).
There are lots of locals that stay overnight. You can easily find BBQ’s for cooking, picnic tables, etc. The prices of the restaurants in the park are fair but most close before 6pm. So keep that in mind before coming.
Need to Know Before you Go
We recommend waking up early and getting there at the opening time if you want to have the pools all to yourself and take gorgeous photos! Also, it’s highly recommended to bring your swimsuit. If you have water shoes, bring them for the Grutas. Last but not least, don’t listen to Google Maps for the ETA. The road is lovely but it takes longer than expected.
Before we go, we would like to tell you about our favorite memory from Grutas de Tolantongo. It was the morning where we had the Grutas all to ourselves. The scene was incredibly beautiful with the sun just rising, the mountains and the warm water. It was so easy to relax and enjoy the moment – especially because we had hiked and driven a lot beforehand.