Maybe it is not quite swimming weather in the mountains of Mexico, but what about dunking yourself in a volcanic hot spring?
Mexico is constantly reshaped by earthquakes and volcanoes. Logically, it also has an abundance of natural hot springs, which have been valued for medicinal purposes since long before the Spanish came.
Most are located in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a strip of land that extends from Jalisco/Colima into northern Veracruz, with others near the faults off the Pacific coast. They become sparser as you move away from these, but one or more can be found in just about all of Mexico’s states.
The more accessible natural hot springs have been developed into what are called in Mexico balnearios, a somewhat vague term. It refers to any location or business that is a water-themed attraction, so it is important to know what your local balneario offers in order to get the kind of experience you are looking for.
Despite being set up around medicinal waters, most of these places are not tailored for adults only but are family oriented with something to keep the kids entertained. The idea is for the kids to run around while the adults hang out.
Such parks will always have pools for kids, but that is just about the only guarantee. However, there are some that cater more exclusively to adults, with a luxurious spa-like feel and some are aimed more at families, with water slides and other activities to keep kids happy.
Most of Mexico’s well-known balnearios are located in the center of the country, particularly in northern Michoacán and the Mezquital Valley of Hidalgo. Michoacán boasts a “health route” (La Ruta de la Salud) that extends from Lake Chapala to the border of México state.
Others balnearios exist in Morelos, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes and elsewhere. This is not only because of the number of hot springs in Mexico, but due to the states’ proximity to Mexico City and Guadalajara. There are many more hot springs but they are undeveloped because they are too remote and/or too hard to get to.
Below are suggestions of balnearios to check out, whether you are looking for a spa-like experience or a place to relax with the kids or grandkids while they visit.
For a hot springs experience off the beaten path, try Cañon de Guadalupe area in Mexicali. An oasis in the desert, there are also some campgrounds here, including one that is also a nature reserve promising that each campsite has its own natural “hot tub,” along with springs that can only be accessed by hiking with a guide.
In this state, the expat enclave San Miguel de Allende has a number of very accessible options just outside town, some family-oriented but also many aimed more toward adult luxury. Kids are certainly welcome, and there will be some pools just for them, but most of these are not children’s water parks.
Escondido Place has a beautiful covered pool with thermal waters that mimics being in a cave. They also have some facilities specifically for kids to relax and splash around. The Mayan Baths definitely goes the adult luxury route, with underground thermal pools and one where you can float and watch a starry night sky. There are also fine dining and spa treatments on the premises, making it a perfect place for adults to pamper themselves. Note, though, that although the waters are mineral-rich, they are artificially heated.
Located in a deep ravine northeast of Ixmiquilpan, Grutas Tolontongo is a communally run resort, taking advantage of a hot-water river that emerges from a cave to fill Jacuzzi-like pools built into the mountain. It has grown quite a bit over the years from just a few pools, campgrounds and a small hotel and now has some attractions for children, but their presence does not overwhelm the overall relaxing experience.
Most other balnearios in Hidalgo are family-oriented. The most unique is El Géiser, and true to its name, it has a small geyser of hot water that shoots out at 95 C to about 100 meters above ground. The artificial pools are cooler than that, of course, with water park rides and spa services. It also has hotel rooms and simpler cabins you can reserve if you want to spend the weekend.
Another destination off the beaten path is the river of heated water in the municipality of Cuquio, in the Los Altos region of Jalisco, where there is a four-meter-deep natural pool. For something with more amenities, El Encanto in the Guadalajara metro area is a hidden treasure even many locals don’t know about. Surrounded by lush trees, it has scattered hammocks around the pools on which to relax, as well as spots for casual dining.
The main hot spring attractions in this region are in Villa Corona, about 40 kilometers from the city. This town has at least nine balnearios, including the family-oriented Agua Caliente and Chimulco, both featuring several pools and water slides. At Lake Chapala, hot springs are the featured attraction at places like Hotel San Antonio San Juan Cosalá, where young families can spend the weekend swimming.
For one of the best-known spa-like experiences in the state, try the balnearios of Los Azufres National Park in the mountains near the México state border. The park has a number of places that take advantage of the area’s lush pine forests as well as its proximity to Mexico City, Querétaro and Guanajuato. They feature hot sulfur-infused waters as well as volcanic mud baths.
Most accommodations are cabins that blend into the environment, even if they are luxurious. Gaudy water park attractions here are relatively rare. For a spa-like experience, try Quinta Los Azufres — featuring overnight cabins with Jacuzzis — and Club Tejamaniles, whose stays include breakfast the next morning.
In Chignahuapan, a town also famous for its artisans who make hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments year-round, the main hot spring is in the Tenextla neighborhood. It emerges too hot at 51 C, but larger establishments such as the hotel Aguas Termales de Chignahuapan have communal pools that moderate the temperature. They also channel water to be enjoyed in the privacy of your room, some of which include Jacuzzis.
San Luis Potosí
A similar experience to that in Chignahuapan can be had at the Lourdes Hotel Campestre in the city of San Luis Potosí. This particular spring has been popular for medicinal purposes for centuries, but the hotel dates from the early 20th century. Curiously, the mineral-rich water is also bottled and sold for drinking.
A similar attraction at the far eastern end of the volcanic belt is the El Carrizal water park and hotel in Apazapan, in northern Veracruz. Its volcanically heated river water has been dammed up to form multiple pools, some with water slides, all in a quiet family-friendly oasis surrounded by forest.
This is obviously just a small sampling of what’s available, and if there are balnearios in your area, putting that term into a search on Google should easily find ones close to you. I should also note that because of COVID, most balnearios have put strict limits on the number of people they can accommodate, and a number have eliminated spa services for the interim. It is best to check with any of these before making a reservation.
Leigh Thelmadatter arrived in Mexico 18 years ago and fell in love with the land and the culture in particular its handcrafts and art. She is the author of Mexican Cartonería: Paper, Paste and Fiesta (Schiffer 2019). Her culture column appears regularly on Mexico News Daily.