Family of mum, dad and two young boys pose in front of the main stage at Hell and Heaven Open Air festival in Mexico. Picture is taken in the sun; behind them is a sparse crowd and the speaker towers

Hell & Heaven Open Air Festival – Toluca, Mexico (with kids!)

Just imagine my joy when I stumbled upon the dates for Hell and Heaven Open Air 2023 (Mexico’s biggest metal festival) and realised it fell during our time in Mexico 🙌

Then in August, I can hardly even describe Griffin’s joy when it was announced that his favourite band – the mighty Guns n Roses – were headlining. Along with Slipknot (a steady fave in our house with the adults) and Muse (not so bothered, but a massive band nonetheless). This all meant that was NO WAY we were missing out on this!

Where is Hell and Heaven Open Air, Mexico?

Hell and Heaven Open Air takes place just outside Toluca, which is about an hour on the bus from Mexico City. Toluca is a small city that doesn’t get many tourists but has quite a nice central shopping area and also some nice little residential areas. The part of the town we stayed in was on a leafy street full of little cafes and restaurants, near the university. It was quiet but with enough shops, cafes and supermarkets to provide everything we needed for a short stay.

How to get to Toluca from Mexico City

The easiest and cheapest way to get to Toluca from Mexico City is via bus from the Terminal Poniente-Observatorio in the South-West of the city. The Metro to Observatorio station will take you to the bus terminal; however, with all our luggage we found it was much easier to get to Terminal Poniente-Observatorio from the Centro Historico in an Uber (which cost us around £8/$170MX).

The bus to Toluca goes regularly (around once an hour) and it cost us £12.75/$270MX for tickets for the four of us. The bus was comfortable and took around 1.5hours in total.

Toluca does have an international airport which might work if you were coming from further afield too.

Where to stay in Toluca as a family

We booked ourselves a room via Airbnb which had a lovely little rooftop terrace/kitchen space with views over the mountains (great spot for a bit of homeschooling between the heavy metal!). We were all in one room but there was plenty of space and the roof terrace gave us more room to chill out when we needed to. There was also a TV with Netflix AND Disney+, which the boys LOVED.

In total the apartment cost us £198/$4,200MX for four nights. Having the kitchen really helped us to keep our food costs down as we were able to make our own breakfasts and cook simple meals for ourselves.

Getting tickets for Hell & Heaven Open Air

We had NO idea how quickly tickets for Hell & Heaven Open Air would sell or how difficult it would be to get hold of them. They announced a pre-sale linked to Santander cards for the 2023 festival where they announced that you could only purchase tickets with a Santander card – however, we took a punt and tried to buy during this period anyway and the sale went through!

As it turned out we absolutely could have waited for general sale as ticket sales were pretty sluggish.

Adult tickets for the full three days cost £214 per person. This was for regular access; you can opt for two other levels of VIP access if you want to splash out a bit more – these VIP levels buy you entry to the front section at the main stage (with general entry you are restricted to the area further back) and/or access to the special VIP area/bar to the left of the stage.

It’s worth mentioning that children under 10 are free (with a paying adult) which makes this quite good value for a festival for a family of four. You don’t actually need to register the kids in advance – you just turn up with them on the day and they get a kids wristband (we took their birth certificates in case we needed them as proof of age but these weren’t checked).

However, with about a week or so to go before the festival kicked off, they started offering 2-for-1 tickets where any paying adult could bring a friend on the day for free! We didn’t know this would happen, and as we were travelling some distance didn’t want to risk not having tickets so I was glad we’d bought them early. But worth a gamble maybe under different circumstances?!

Young boy and his Dad stand in front of the main stage at Hell and Heaven Open Air, smiling and with their hands in metal horns.

Getting from Toluca to Hell & Heaven Open Air

One of the bits of info I found hard to track down online was how to actually get from downtown Toluca to Forum Pegaso, where Hell & Heaven Open Air is held. There is a Hell Bus that is operated via the festival but we struggled to work out when and where this ran from. In the end we opted to take Ubers to and from the festival, as with four of us the cost seemed to be similar to any bus tickets anyway.

We didn’t have any trouble getting an Uber to the festival from central Toluca – we paid between £8-10 ($180-240MX) on each day of the festival and never had to wait more than a few minutes for a taxi to arrive. The taxis dropped us off at the end of the long drive down to the Forum Pegaso, which was around a 10-15min walk to the arena entrance.

On the way home it was more of a mixed bag – on the Saturday (when Steve went in alone and left much earlier) the taxi back was £10 – on the Friday and Saturday when we left just before the end of Slipknot/after Guns and Roses had finished their set the taxis were around £18-19 ($390-400MX). Plus it took a LOT longer (as you’d expect) to get an Uber (we didn’t get home until 3am after Guns n Roses, making this officially the latest ever bedtime for the boys!).

What to expect at Hell & Heaven Open Air

I’d read really mixed reviews about the festival online, but as the boys both got free entry we thought it was worth a shot. 

I’ll say right out that this was easily the worst organised festival we’ve ever been to! We’ve been to quite a few UK festivals over the years, as well as a few in Europe (and one in Australia) and have seen our fair share of problems (often relating to terrible weather in the UK) but this was in a league of it’s own. They were still building one of the stages on the Friday when the gates opened.  

I think in the end around 20 bands cancelled – most of them stating that this was due to contracts/payments not being completed in time. And the festival didn’t say anything online about this – there were just long gaps on the stages when bands didn’t turn up, or you’d be waiting in front of a stage for a specific band and then a completely different band/artist would come on (which is baffling and hilarious at times too). The electricity on site, mainly around the stalls, seemed to go off and on, and even when it was on, there was almost no lighting anywhere so once it got dark it was a real mission to see anything other than the stages! Even the sign in the pic above (‘Welcome to Hell’) didn’t get switched on until a couple of days in to the festival. 

HOWEVER, I’d had a bit of an inkling about this before we arrived, and we’d talked about it and agreed that as long as Guns and Roses and Slipknot came on the stage and played, it would still be worth it. 

And in the end, it was. We watched a few bands on the Friday – mostly smaller punk bands on one of the smaller stages, and then we managed about 2/3 of Slipknot before we had to take the boys home (it was 1230am by this point). Slipknot were, as ever, pretty good. 

I think we’ve seen them 15+ times now and they are always pretty solid, even if that exciting edge has gone a bit these days. 

Two young boys stand in front of giant skeleton sculptures at Hell and Heaven Open Air festival

Steve went in on the Saturday to have a bit of time to himself (mainly doing what he loves most – hanging out in the middle of the mosh pit) and I stayed home with the boys to give them some recovery time (and to try to make sure that they would last the distance on Sunday for GnR). 

And apart from the fact that GnR came on an hour late (which, as we’ve seen them four times over the last few years and they’ve always been meticulously on time, I’m going to guess was something to do with the festival) they were fab – Griffin absolutely loved it, Angus managed to last until about midnight before he fell asleep on the floor wrapped in towels.

The festival is cashless – including the sellers who wander around selling snacks and drinks – so you have to add funds to your wristband at one of the wristband recharge places before you can buy and food or drink. This process was actually pretty quick and painless, only taking around 5minutes.

One aspect I totally I hadn’t taken in to account was the altitude – Mexico City sits at 2400m above sea level (just below the 2500m threshold that usually triggers altitude sickness) and I’d kind of just assumed that Toluca would be similar, but at 2660m you could definitely feel the thinness of the air. This made the mosh pits more challenging for Steve for a start!

Highlights from Hell & Heaven Open Air

Probably the highlight of the weekend though for us was Machine Head – they played a fab hits set and the boys (who have never seen them before) loved it. Steve got his proud Dad moment of headbanging along with both of them. Also a mention for Amon Amarth, who Angus loved (think the viking props and all the fire were a winner for the kids). I’d never seen Billy Idol live before and thought he put on a really good show; Steve got to see Suicidal Tendencies too which he’d waited a long time for.

Young boy poses in front of the stage at Hell and Heaven Open Air festival, wearing a cap and ear defenders. In the background you can see the crowd and the big screens on either side of the stage.

In general the sound was pretty good and both Slipknot and Guns n Roses brought their full stage shows and both worked well.

One of things that was pretty cool was the sheer amount of merch for sale outside the festival from rows and rows of little stalls – we got some pretty cool t shirts and keyrings etc from these. The boys also really liked the ferris wheel and the giant pirate ship ride (although they were pretty costly so they only got one go on each!). 

There was a reasonable sized market with stalls selling jewellery, handicrafts and lots of viking related stuff which was quite cool to wander round.

The dual stage thing I also quite liked, especially with the boys. In theory, it meant that there was very little waiting around between bands and we didn’t have to hike across the site to get between stages. In practice it didn’t work so well, partly because of all the gaps due to cancellations.

How family-friendly is Hell & Heaven Open Air?

There were a lot of kids at Hell & Heaven Open Air, probably on account of the free tickets for under-10s. This didn’t mean that the festival really catered for them in any way specifically but it wasn’t too difficult as a festival to navigate with kids.

The festival site itself is not too big so is fairly easy to get around, at least during daylight hours.

There were two fairground rides that the boys liked – a giant ferris wheel and a pirate ship. These though were £5 per person so they only got to go on them once each!

Two young boys smile for a photo in the carriage of a ferris wheel, with their ear defenders round their necks

There was also a very small mini moshers area for kids where they ran puppet shows etc over the weekend; we only hung out here for an hour or so but it was quite funny and definitely fun for younger kids.

There was a range of food that the kids liked – the usual festival fare of hotdogs, burgers and pizza plus tacos and burritos. These were not that cheap but weren’t over-the-top; in total we spent around £100 on the wristband over the three days, which was basically soft drinks, a couple of beers for me and a meal for each of us on Friday and Sunday.

On the downside, the lack of lighting at night (it was very, very dark even by festival standards!) meant that you really had to have a tight rein on the kids at all times as you literally couldn’t see them if they were more than about 5feet from you!

Young boy dressed in Guns and Roses cap and ear defenders poses on a viking style throne with two men dressed as viking warriors with swords on either side of him

Also the site is flat, not sloped/tiered, which means that when there’s a big crowd it’s quite tough for the kids to see if they’re not up on shoulders.

The other major downside is the late-running of the sets – the headliners didn’t come on until around 10-11pm and played until around 1am, by which point our two were exhausted!

The verdict – and top tips for doing Hell & Heaven Open Air with kids

All in all, I’m pleased we went as it was pretty cool to experience another festival overseas and to be able to take the boys along – and both boys were pretty excited to be able to see GnR. I wouldn’t rush back though if we ever found ourselves back here at this time of year again (unless, of course, Rammstein are on the bill!).

A few tips for anyone thinking of attending Hell & Heaven Open Air with kids:

  • Be prepared for queues on the first day as the system for separating people in to 1-day, 2-day and 3-day entry is pretty haphazard!
  • You can’t officially take any food in with you, but we took backpacks in and these were only given a cursory glance over so we did take in plenty of snacks
  • It gets cold – really cold! – at night. Make sure you are layered up!
  • Buy your merch from the stalls outside – there is a huge range of stuff and it’s obviously much cheaper than inside the arena
  • Don’t forget the ear defenders 🙂

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