I will never forget the view of the volcano from a small hill that I did manage to climb after quite a long walk through Paso de Cortez National Park. Emotionally it was a very powerful experience, and the amazing reward for the hard work and 3-hour climb was the almost incredible view of the volcano, albeit from a distance, but so powerful, real, and yet active! While in Mexico City, I completely accidentally heard in the hostel that you could see this volcano just as a tourist and decided to change my big Mexico tour program drastically for such an occasion.
The Popocatépetl volcano is one of the most breathtaking sights in central Mexico that should be seen by anyone who wants to understand this country and learn about its culture. Still a danger to all locals, it characterizes and vividly describes life in Latin America near the Cordilleras and the Andes. The sense of the power of volcanoes right in everyday life dominated the population, calling for fantasies, giving birth to myths and legends not only in antiquity. To this day, it still brings a special flavor to the lives of Mexicans. That being said, I personally recommend a visit to Paso de Cortez Park to anyone who is tired of the big, noisy and dirty cities of Mexico. It worked for me!
Surprisingly, back in the 70’s this volcano was completely open to the public – Americans, Mexicans, Spaniards were climbing it. But in recent years, the first 15 km were closed to the public without special permission – now the crater can not approach neither tourists nor locals. All because the Popocatepetl volcano is once again recognized as active, and its last eruption was in 2015.
Where is Popocatepetl
The Popocatépetl volcano is located in Mexico, in the state of Puebla, near the capital, Mexico City. The official height of the Popcatepetl volcano is 5,426 meters, making it the second highest mountain in Mexico after Orisaba Peak. I also find the nearby town of Amecameca very interesting for leisurely walks, as the town is sandwiched between two mountain ranges and surprisingly shows the standard, continental life of the Mexican people spread over a quarter of the country.
The last eruption of the Popocatépetl volcano was in 2015, but it is still active. When climbing or from a nearby village, you can see a thin (or not so thin) stream of smoke coming out of the crater. The volcano itself belongs to the Cordillera mountain system in the Mexican highlands, and there is another one nearby, Istaxigutal (dormant).
How to get to Popocatepetl Volcano
I would advise you to get to the national park with a tour, but there are several options on how to get to Popocatepetl Volcano, and only one of them is suitable for regular tourists who are not going to spend the night in the mountains. So here’s a list of them:
- Take a tour from Mexico City, where for a fee you will be provided with climbing gear, a sleeping bag and tent, dry rations, and a guide. Usually the ascent is done in a group of 5-6 people. The cost of the tour for several days may vary from 50 to 250 USD, with the highest price being given for a themed tour where you will experience some amazing entertainment (songs with guitar, shaman dancing animators at dawn and national cuisine, instead of the usual dry food).
- To make a real ascent by yourself and take all your equipment. Such an option is suitable only for experienced hikers who have already climbed more than 4,500 meters. You should take a bus to the town of Amecameca, and from there take a cab to La Joya (18 USD or 350 MXN one way, agree on when you want to be picked up back). There are no buses from Amecameka to the national park, much less to La Joya. Then you can start climbing. In about 2 hours without stopping, you will reach a hill with a view of the valley and behind it, the volcano Popocatepetl. There are trails for hikers here, but we remind you that you will still not be allowed closer than 15 km to the crater. There will be a forbidding sign, it is strict.
- The last option already looks like a walk. You need to drive to the national park Paso de Cortez (through the town of Amecameca), get to the point La Hoya, where you will start your ascent. La Joya is already at an altitude of 4,000 meters. After about 3 hours of leisurely walking with a look back at the scenery and a rest, you will reach the hill, where you can see a stunning panorama of the valleys and the volcano. This is your final point, which can be considered your ascent. You can return back in 1.5 hours with stops, which is convenient enough for a one-day itinerary.
How much does a ticket to the national park cost
The cost to visit Paso de Cortez National Park is 1.4 USD (28 MXN) per day. Payment is only made in local currency. You will need to pay this amount at the entrance to the park near the town of Amecameca and its eastern borders. However, you will have to overcome a small serpentine road.
After payment, you will be given a ticket, which may or may not be checked at the exit. If the ticket has a date, for example, from last week, and you paid for one day, you can be charged double for each day of stay. The border of the park is clearly marked by a guard booth and a couple of buildings, where you can rent a place to stay overnight and have a snack or leave your car.
I think this national park is an amazing opportunity to look at the natural scenery of the area without any interference from civilization. In the Paso de Cortez Reserve you can see white-tailed deer (from a distance only), mountain scatuche rabbits, squirrels, hares and rabbits, possum, armadillo (don’t be scared), and shrews. There are also cougars, bobcats, and rhino, which are on the verge of extinction. Approaching them or scaring them is prohibited.
Between the entrance to the national park and the point of La Joya at 4,000 meters is only 8 kilometers, this will be your first stop in the park, as it is mine.
Below you can see a map of Mexico with the cities of Mexico City, Amecameca (near the volcano) and Popocatépetl volcano marked on it. The melting glaciers from the volcano and the river into which the meltwater flows are also marked.
What to bring on a one-day climb
I strongly advise you to take into account absolutely all the recommendations given below. If you are going to climb to the point of about 4500 meters with panoramic view, which is enough for about 3 hours of leisurely walking, know that in November and March the temperature here can drop to -5 degrees, so you should dress accordingly. Usually you just need a warm sweater and a windproof sports jacket.
Below is a list of things you should take on a one-day hike up the hill near the volcano Popocatepetl:
- About 3 liters of water per person minimum for your own safety;
- binoculars are a must;
- a snack of two or three sandwiches per person plus snacks of your choice (nuts, Snickers bars, or granola bars), you will have snacks only in Amecamec, which means that the break between visits to this town will be about 6-8 hours
- local currency of at least 100 USD, if you are staying in a hotel in Mexico City and have left most of your money there;
- GPS navigator.
The exact coordinates of Popocatepetl Volcano
The exact official coordinates of Popocatepetl Volcano are 19°01′20″N. 98°37′40″W. They will help you determine your position relative to the volcano.
Who would be interested in climbing a volcano?
I believe that anyone who wants to see the ambiguous and very colorful Mexico should get out to the national park at least once for a nature walk. In rather busy, noisy and big Mexico, the Paso de Cortez National Park is an opportunity to be alone with your thoughts and see the country’s nature in a nature reserve format, not just from a car window or hotel room. Nevertheless, I only recommend a visit to the park to those who come to Mexico without children under the age of 16. But this is not only because of the difficulty of climbing up to the lookout point, but basically the very underdeveloped infrastructure and crime situation in Mexico City.
Volcano Popocatepetl. Mexico
Volcanoes are always and everywhere people’s constant and increased attention. And Mexico, located mostly in the world’s greatest mountain range, the Cordillera, boasts several majestic volcanoes. One of them is the beautiful Popocatepetl volcano.
It is located on the very border of the states of Mexico and Puebla almost in the center of the country.
Volcano Popocatepetl on the map
- Geographic coordinates ( 19.022926, -98.622960 )
- Distance from Mexico City, the capital city of Mexico City, is about 70 km in a straight line
- Nearest airport Internacional de Puebla (originally Aeropuerto Internacional de Puebla) is about 30 km northeast of Mexico City.
The height of the volcano is 5426 meters. It is the second highest in Mexico. The palm is the Orisaba Peak, located 142 kilometers to the east. Its altitude is slightly higher, 5,675 meters. Volcano Popocatepetl, like the famous Fujiyama, is shaped like an almost regular cone, 25 kilometers in diameter at its base. Trough volcano has an ellipse shape measuring 600 by 850 meters. The crater is about 170 meters deep. The age of the volcano is about 730 000 years.
Trench of the volcano Popocatepetl
A brief history of eruptions
Volcano Popocatepetl is active and quite active by volcanic standards. It has erupted more than 20 times in the last 500 years.
Even in the last 70 years recorded increased volcanic activity. A powerful eruption occurred in 1947. In December 1994, the volcano spewed gas and ash, which was blown 25 km around.
Again in December 2005, there was an explosion in the vent of the volcano, which threw smoke and ash to a height of 3 km. The eruption was accompanied by lava flows. In April 2012 there were reports of overheated rock fragments ejected into the air by the volcano. Emissions of ash and water vapor were repeated 15 times within a single day.
In May 2013, the volcano again emitted ash 3 km in height.
In March 2016, an ash column 2 kilometers high was released. This caused the creation of a 12-kilometer dark ring around the summit. And in April of the same year, Popocatépetl erupted, spewing lava and volcanic rocks.
At times, flights from nearby airports even had to be canceled.
Volcano Popocatepetl in good and clear weather can be seen from several tens of kilometers. It rises massively above the surrounding landscape, creating a magnificent landscape.
Given that it is constantly smoking, the local Indians have long called it “the smoking mountain.” This is how “Popocatepetl” is translated. “Popoca” means “smoke,” and “tepetl” means “mountain” or “hill.” As a rule, since ancient times, people have endowed prominent natural objects with mythical properties. This was especially true of mountains and volcanoes. And if the volcano is active and smoky all the time, then the legends and myths are provided for it. Volcano Popocatepetl was not spared this fate.
If you look closely at the map (or better to see it in person), then you can consider 17 kilometers north of the second volcano named Istaxihuatl. It is slightly lower than Popocatepetl. Its height is 5230 meters (ranks third highest in Mexico).
Volcanoes Istaxihuatl and Popocatepetl. View from the top
Both volcanoes are located in the National Park “Istaxihuatl – Popocatepetl”. And both volcanoes have the same legend since ancient times.
One legend for two
In ancient times a strong Indian tribe lived in these places. As it should be, the tribe had a chief and he had a beautiful daughter named Istaxiuatl (translates as “White Woman”). The tribe had a strong, young, and handsome (how could it not be) warrior, whose name was Popocatepetl. The chief’s daughter and the warrior fell in love. But the father was against their union, because he was going to give his daughter in marriage to one of the important men of his tribe. He sent Popocatepetl to war with another tribe in Oaxaca (now one of the states of Mexico). The war was fierce, and the chief expected the brave warrior to die there.
Without waiting for reliable information, the father told his daughter that her fiancé had been killed in battle. Istaxiuatl could not bear the news and died of grief. When Popocatepetl unexpectedly returned home alive and learned of his beloved’s death, he lifted her body in his arms and went with it far into the mountains. After burying Istaxiuatl, the warrior himself soon died of longing.
The gods saw it all, and in honor of such great love, they covered the bodies of the lovers with blankets, which later turned into two tall snow-covered mountains.
The second version
According to the second version, the legend has a slightly different scenario.
The beginning is the same as in the previous version, but the continuation is different. The chieftain turns out to have nothing to do with it. In fact, there was another man besides the warrior who was courting his daughter. He was making intrigues and trying in every way to prevent the love of Istaxiuatl and Popocatepetl. It was at his request that the chief sent Popocatepetl off to war. The new-found suitor told the girl that her fiancé had died and, taking advantage of Istaxiwatl’s distressed state, persuaded her to marry him.
And so it happened. The girl was very unhappy, and when she found out that her lover was alive, she could not bear her unintentional betrayal and committed suicide. Popocatepetl found out what had happened and became enraged. Angered at everyone, the young man took the girl’s body to the mountains and built a large pyramid-shaped tomb for her. He built a second pyramid for himself and lived there until he died of homesickness. This is how both mountains came to be. And the periodic eruptions of the volcano express Popocatepetl’s revenge on the people.
This is how Popocatepetl and Istaxihuatl are usually depicted
The conquest of the Popocatepetl volcano.
Many climbers have visited the top of the volcano, but the first was Diego De Ordas in 1519. In honor of such a momentous event, Diego placed the Popocatepetl volcano on his family crest. Although archaeologists claim that the ancient Aztecs repeatedly climbed to the top of the volcano. Ritual artifacts have been found in the vicinity of the volcano crater. It is most likely that the Indians made sacrifices in an attempt to placate the spirits. The Aztecs believed these mountains sent rain, and in times of drought they prayed and offered sacrifices to them.
There are 14 missionary temples located around the volcano. They are all on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Temple at the foot of the volcano Popocatepetl
The choice of sites for the construction of temples is interesting. Records show that the Indians were fine with the preachers and suggested safer places for the temples. But the missionaries built their temples in close proximity to the volcano, thereby promoting their faith by claiming that God was protecting them from everything.
Access to the volcano may be restricted during periods of high activity. It is recommended that you visit Popocatepetl in March-April and September-October. During this time, the activity of the volcano is minimal.
Interesting facts about Popocatepetl volcano
- The volcano is a symbol and a calling card of Mexico City
- Locals usually call Popocatepetl simply “Popo” and volcano Istaxiuatl simply “Ista”
- At the end of the 19th century, sulfur was mined at the mouth of the volcano.
- It is known that the legendary Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna, better known as Che Guevara, climbed Popocatepetl volcano twice
- 34 kilometers east of the volcano is an interesting town of Cholula. The attraction of the town is the specific food. Since the volcano is constantly smoking, a lot of ash and other volcanic substances are brought by the wind to the neighborhood of this town and get into the food. Locals are used to it, but tourists find the food very unusual.
Volcano Popocatepetl photo
Volcano Popocatepetl can be seen from afar Volcanoes Popocatepetl and Istaxihuatl from afar
Volcano Popocatepetl against the background of sunset