Nevado de Toluca, at over 15,000 feet, is Mexico’s fourth highest peak. Now extinct, the volcano had its last major eruption a scant 10,500 years ago. It’s hard to imagine an atmosphere so different just 80km outside of Mexico City, but the volcano has a cold alpine climate year round. In the wet season —- May to October —- it’s covered in snow (nevado means ‘covered in snow, or snow-capped), but frost and snow can really happen at any time.

The volcano and the surrounding area is now a national park, but it’s been a place of cultural significance since indigenous times. It used to serve as a ritual center for ceremonies and sacrifices. The two deep lakes on the floor of the summit caldera -— Lago del Sol (Sun Lake) and Lago de la Luna (Moon Lake), the smaller, but much deeper of the two lakes —- have received a large number of offerings, many of which were excavated (and pocketed) by divers over the years. Today, it’s closely monitored. There also used to be a road that took you directly into the caldera and distributed you lakeside, but that road is now gated 2km before the lakes.

The crater rim actually has two summits. Closest to the parking lot is the lower summit, Pico del Aguila, and the more popular day hike. The higher summit, not much though (only 84 meters), is called Pico del Fraile —- you’ll need to hike 3-4 hours more to see that one.

Nevado de Toluca, or Xinantecatl in the indigenous language, is an epic way to get out of the hectic city and into another world.

How to get there

Nevado de Toluca is only about 80km west of Mexico City, near the city of Toluca. From Mexico City, you can drive or take a bus (Flecha Roja has frequent service) to Toluca. From there it’s another hour by car (or taxi) to the parking lot for the summit. Then you’ll walk the final 2km to the lakes. There are also several tour companies that originate from Mexico City and take care of all transportation.

What to consider

  • Wear warm clothes—think: scarves, gloves and hats—and layers. It’s much colder than you expect at the top of the volcano.
  • Pack a lunch. Even though at second base camp (just below the lakes) there’s a shack selling snacks, they don’t really specialize in substantial fare.
  • The hike from the parking lot to the lakes is about 30-40 minutes.
  • If you want to hike to the peak from the lake (the first one) it’ll take you an additional 40 minutes.
  • You’re at altitude, so be prepared and take it slow.
  • There’s a very small fee to enter the park.
  • The summit road is gravel and can be quite bumpy. If you’re driving, make sure you have a vehicle that can handle it.