Hiking Nevado de Toluca.
It’s one of the most popular daytrips from Mexico City. Nevado de Toluca has the 4th highest peak in Mexico at 4,680 meters (15,354 feet). A highlight are the two spectacular lakes (one green, another blue) within the volcanic crater at the top of the mountain. Yet, despite the high altitude, it is a very accessible volcano that can be visited by anyone.
I took the tour with Vibe Adventures, a tour operator specializing in authentic, off-the beaten-track experiences. It’s a full day, 12-hour tour that also includes the city of Toluca (which really impressed me). But I’ll cover Toluca in a separate post. This post covers only the incredible Nevado de Toluca.
What is Nevado de Toluca?
It is a volcano that may have once been as high as Popocatépetl (at 5,393 m, Popocatépetl is the 2nd highest peak in Mexico) until, about 25,000 years ago, the volcano erupted. The eruption blew an approximate 900 meters off the peak of Nevado de Toluca and created the 1.5 kilometre crater that you see at the top.
The last eruption of the volcano was 10,500 year ago. Just to illustrate the size and impact of Nevado de Toluca, the eruption covered Mexico City (which is 110 km away) with about 50 cm (or 2 feet) of volcanic dust.
Today, the volcano is inactive. Within the crater you’ll see a mound – that’s what is referred to as a volcanic plug (a large chunk of magma that hardened and is blocking the vent of the volcano). You’ll also see two lakes: one is the larger green lake (the “Lago del Sol” or “Sun Lake”) and the smaller, but deeper, “Lago de la Luna” (“Moon Lake”).
Getting to Nevado de Toluca
It takes about 2 ½ hrs to drive from Mexico City to Toluca: about an hour to Toluca (which includes some beautiful geography) and then a further 1 ½ hours from Toluca to the parking lot at the top of the mountain (the 4th highest road in Mexico, culminating at 4,254 m).
Note that the last 18 of the road is unpaved. There are spectacular views looking down the mountain at the valley below.
Hiking Nevado de Toluca
When you arrive at the parking lot at the top of the mountain, you’ll be surprised by how cold it is up there. We were hiking Nevado de Toluca in late September and temperatures were 12C. But with the brisk wind it felt quite cold. Make sure to bring a good sweater or windbreaker. You might also see snow, I read that it can snow anytime of the year up here (although chances are higher November to April). In fact we met a Mexican lady on the way up and she said “why are you going? There’s no snow!”. Seeing snow is definitely a reason many come to Nevado de Toluca.
The other thing is the altitude. It’s only about 15 minutes from the parking lot to the lip of the crater but I really felt it in my lungs. Then it struck me that I had never been at 4,254 meters…most mountains I’ve climbed have been around the 2000 meter mark.
Once you get to the lip of the crater, there are two hiking options. 1) Going down and doing the tour around the two lakes. Views are great and it’s a very easy walk that takes around 2 ½ hrs. 2) Climbing the lip of the crater. This is way more challenging and a 7-8 hour hike that includes the highest peak (Pico de Fraile) at 4,680 m. We obviously didn’t do this more challenging hike but I found this post which covers it.
So why hike Nevado de Toluca? Most people agree that this hike offers the best views and most spectacular geography in the region.
As I said at the top, I took this tour with Vibe Adventures. Great tour which included the city of Toluca (which I’ll be writing about in the near future).
Related: Hiking the Peña de Bernal (Mexico)