For many Canadians who frequent Mexico, vacations to one of the many beach-front resorts are typical.
Who could blame us. With a dizzying amount of advertisements throwing out words like luxury, cheap and all-inclusive, why not. These resorts offer beautiful surroundings, are generally safe and can arrange local trips to neighbouring towns and villages to view historic sites. As fantastic as they are, if this Mexico is the only you see, you are most definitely missing out! If you are up for a bit more adventure, check out Hidalgo for some wondrous waterfalls, a soothing dip in a natural thermal river or a “magic town”.
Considered one of Mexico’s ’13 natural wonders’, this site is a must for nature lovers. Water that runs from a nearby dam comes crashing over tall colums of rock that, over time, have been formed perfectly into geometric shapes. So perfectly, the columns almost look as though they have been constructed and intensionally placed there.
Enjoy the view from the top of the ravine or venture down to the bottom to get a feel for the grand stature of the columns. The path down is lined with gardens of vibrantly coloured flowers. Stop off at the hut for a traditional snack, or a unique souvenir. A limited selection of local artesian crafts are on display and are available for purchase. For an alternate view if the falls, cross the suspension bridge that spans the ravine.
The rest of the site is very much a full service recreation area. There is a swimming pool, playing fields and places to picnic. Take a hike along the river or rent a four wheeler to explore this natural wonderland. If these activities are too subdued, adrenaline junkies can zip line across the ravine. For stays longer than a day, consider renting a basic cabaña. Details are on their website, but be prepared to enlist a translator as the site is in Spanish only.
Los Prismas Basalticos may be a bit out of the way, but the spectacular view is well worth the trouble.
Real del Monte (Mineral del Monte)
Within reach of Prismas Basalticos is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns). Though a bit disappointing that no wizardry was found here, Real del Monte certainly has many enchanting qualities. This quaint mining town was home to English settlers in the 1800s and the evidence of this is at every turn. Architecture of the town shows signs of English influence and high atop the mountain an English cemetery looms over the town.
Plan to spend the day wandering along the narrow, cobblestone roads or hike up the mountain to check out the view from the cemetery. Silver was the primary resource extracted from these hills which makes it a great place to shop for jewelry or trinkets crafted by local silversmiths. An authentic mine tour is also one of the attractions that can be added to the itinerary.
When you have worked up an appetite, finding something to snack on will be done with ease. Street vendors have stands with a variety of dolce (sweet) treats on offer. With a large selection to sample, it was hard to choose. These little indulgences are made with coconut, peanuts or fruit, but the soft chewy cajeta (caramel) squares were my favourite.
If you are looking for something more substantial to eat, hit one of the local shops for a great food with a local flare. In the centre of town is a market where you can enjoy some freshly made quesadillas or barbacoa. Lamb barbacoa is traditional, but beef, goat, chicken and pork are also common. In this region, barbacoa is classified by the traditional cooking method used. Now prepared in more modern ovens, historically, this meat dish was slow-cooked underground. Barbacoa tacos are a popular dish that is particularly found on the weekends.
By contrast to this Mexican meal, English influence comes in the form of a savory pocket of dough called a ‘pasty’. Traditionally filled with potatoes and meat, pasties are sold in every corner of the region. In true food fusion, the Mexicans have made it their own by preparing it with mole, chillies and chicken or pineapple in addition to the English-style. Initially prepared as a lunch for miners, this piece of culinary history is now taken quite seriously in Real del Monte and the annual International Paste Festival is a must for any foodies travelling to the state of Hidalgo.
It’s uncertain if the beautiful mountain views, the rich history or the delicious food is responsible for the allure of this town. However, the majestic and regal charms of Real del Monte are certainly unique as far as small Mexican mountain towns go.
Las Grutas de Tolangtango
Ever travelled to a place where words cannot do it justice. A place where photos provide a fraction of the picture? A setting that washes you in pure contentment? Las Grutas de Tolangtango is one of these places.
The vistas through the slow and steady climb through the mountains of Hidalgo were stunning. Cliffs and sharp mountain peaks are visible through the tall grasses and wildflowers that the line the country road. Little roadside stores offer food and snacks, but filling up the tank should be done in Pachuca as gas stations are few and far between on this route.
Though the 3 hour journey was breathtaking, the distance and the rough roads might deter some. But the motivation is found in the prospect of wading in a natural thermal river.
East of Ixmiquilpan, leads to a steady decline down a curvy dirt road. The kind of road that makes you grateful that it hasn’t rained in a few days. Traversing down this challenging path leads to the obvious conclusion that this destination must be pretty spectacular, otherwise why would anyone bother.
Upon reaching the entrance, at first glance, it doesn’t seem like much and in truth, this destination is very bare bones with no frills at all. You won’t find any boutique shopping or high end decor. What you will find is an unaltered and unspoiled oasis.
The sounds of water trickling all around combined with incredible views of lush foliage lining the hillside overload the senses while descending along the walking trail. Over 2 dozen pools are on the grounds, including large basins on the mountain hillside where visitors can wade in the warm water while soaking in the vistas of this deep canyon. It is also possible to swim around and explore the water caves. Once at the bottom of the canyon, pick a spot on the river, climb in and splash around in the soothing warm water.
The accommodations at Las Grutas de Tolangtango are basic. Many visitors opt to pitch a tent along the shores of the river but if camping is not your thing, cabin style rooms are available at decent prices. Keep in mind that they do not take reservations for the rooms. Tents and other camping gear can be rented on-site.
In any case, this natural thermal spring and surroundings is one place beyond the beaches of Mexico, that is not to be missed.