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Toluca, the State of Mexico’s humble capital, is also one of the most underrated day trips from Mexico City that has plenty of non-tourist filled activities to offer to those willing to break away from the well-trodden Mexican traveller trail. It also happens to be the place that (former) President Obama visited in 2014.
But ‘what is there to do in Toluca?’ I hear you wondering. Plenty, is the answer to that; whether you enjoy hiking, botanical gardens or beautiful, colourful buildings, these are some of the best things to do in Toluca, Mexico.
CLIMB THE NEVADO DE TOLUCA
I’ve written a full post about climbing this fantastic Mexican peak, which is the fourth highest in the country and also one of the top places to see snow in Mexico. Honestly, it had been on my bucket list for so long and it was definitely worth the minor car/altitude sickness that might hit you on the way up. If you’re interested in visiting this volcano, best known for the twin craters-turned-lakes then click here for the full guide! It’s easily one of the best, most well-known and enjoyable things to do in Toluca, Mexico.
VISIT THE COSMOVITRAL JARDÍN BOTÁNICO
By far and away the best thing I saw in the city centre of Toluca was the Cosmovitral. For some reason, I’d convinced myself that this botanical garden-cum-stained glass window lover’s paradise was in Querétaro, but nope, it’s smack in the heart of Toluca. For an entry fee of just MXN$10 you can wander around at your leisure through the cactus filled section, the herb garden and the Asian plants area (featuring bamboo!). There are water features and Instagram worthy angles everywhere you look and it’s somewhere everyone and their mum would love.
But don’t be an idiot and graffiti on the poor plants.
TRY GREEN CHORIZO AT LA VAQUITA NEGRA DEL PORTAL
Supposedly the best place to try chorizo (Toluca’s culinary claim to fame), La Vaquita Negra del Portal was absolutely rammed full of people when we stopped by at roughly 4pm one Sunday afternoon. Keep that in mind if you’re looking for a quick lunch and fancy a famous chorizo torta (sandwich). Although, if you would rather pick up some chorizo to try later, this one-stop shop also serves as a deli where you can buy the chorizo (or cheese) by weight.
I asked what the difference between the red and green chorizo was and received no conclusive answer, but we can assume there’s probably a variation in the spices used. Anyway, if you want to try both green and red chorizo in one fell swoop, I recommend you try out the torta diabla which I had as it combines the two alongside cream cheese and a bit of tomato. Spicy and delicious, it filled a hole.
As a final addition, one thing that really impressed me was that they also offer Basque txistorra (pork sausage, quite chorizo-esque) on their menu!
PHOTOGRAPH THE COLOURFUL BUILDINGS
You may have seen a viral post circulating on Facebook that talks about the most colourful places in Mexico to visit. Well, if you know the one I’m talking about, the cover photo is actually of Toluca. And it’s true, there are plenty of vibrantly painted buildings in the heart of the city for you to snap away at to your heart’s content.
However, this wasn’t always the case – the paint used to spruce up these houses (which are mainly located in one of the city’s least reputable neighbourhoods) was funded by the government in anticipation of the Obama visit way back in 2014, when all was right with the world and Trump wasn’t the leader of the free world. It caused some controversy, especially with residents who claimed it would never have been done were Obama not stopping by. Either way, take photos all you want but venturing into the web of painted houses isn’t worth it, because, well, they’re just houses.
STOP BY THE MUSEO TORRES BICENTENARIO
I didn’t manage to make it to Museo Torres Bicentenario when I paid my flying visit to the city of Toluca, but I have it on good authority that it makes for a pretty decent visit. And even if museums aren’t reaaaally your thing, like me, the architecture of the building is at least minorly impressive.
VISIT ONE OF THE MANY CHURCHES
A good church picture never goes amiss, and Toluca has plenty of photographic material to offer in that sense, whether from the yellow Iglesia del Carmen which is next to the Cosmovitral, to the Cathedral, a weirdly austere but beautiful looking offering. Alternatively, you can make the journey to El Calvario which lies in Parque Matlatzincas.
Toluca is great and there’s a handful of excellent things to do in the city centre, but if you’re wondering what to do in Toluca and beyond, then there are a few little towns that could also be worth adding to your list. Please note, I’ve sadly yet to visit them, but they each offer something unique and are well worth adding to your Mexico itinerary!
The home of one of Mexico’s most famous pieces of folk art, the Tree of Life sculptures, Metepec is another destination that could take your fancy while you’re down near Toluca. It’s only about 15 minutes from the city and you can pick up some of the highly elaborate and detailed árboles de la vida to take home as a unique souvenir for yourself or loved ones. If you want to get there from Toluca, you can either drive, order an Uber, or grab a bus, but it’s worth asking around the locals who can point you in the right direction.
VALLE DE BRAVO
Holiday home central for Mexico City’s wealthy workers, Valle de Bravo is also one of the 111 pueblos mágicos in the country and is around an hour away by car, taxi or Uber from Toluca. Again, I have it on good authority that this is a really lovely, picturesque place to visit and it’s definitely somewhere I’ll be trying to get to before I have to leave Mexico. If you want to get there by bus, you can add another 30 minutes on to your journey (buses depart for Valle de Bravo from the Terminal de Toluca every half hour with the Autobuses Zina line)
First job, find a friend who lives in Toluca and who also has a car. If that can’t be achieved, then head through Santa Fe (a.k.a. the Mordor of Mexico City) and follow the signs for Toluca. You’ll be taken past the entrance to popular national park La Marquesa and from there you literally just follow the very intuitive route and signs that point you towards Toluca. In the centre, there are plenty of secure car parks for which you pay by the hour.
If you don’t fancy driving and can’t find anyone to give you a lift then you can always grab a bus from literally any of Mexico City’s bus stations, although Poniente and Terminales del Norte are probably your best options. Either go on one of the cheaper (~MXN$80) services that leave frighteningly often, or pay ~MXN$200 for a swankier ETN service route, that leave less often.
Have you been to Toluca, Mexico? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!