After finaaally getting around to visiting the Nevado de Toluca last weekend I can say with total confidence that I totally recommend taking a day trip from Mexico City to visit this volcano because 1) it’s super easy, 2) it makes for the ideal escape from the capital, especially if you want to get away from the noise and pollution and 3) you might even get the chance to see snow in Mexico. What more could you ask for?!
So, if you’re looking to hike or climb to the top of the Nevado de Toluca, then this is the guide for you, because in it I’ll be explaining how we got there, how much everything cost and how long it all took.
VISITING THE NEVADO DE TOLUCA
Situated just outside the underrated city of Toluca (the State of Mexico’s capital), the Nevado is perhaps the biggest attraction in the area, both literally and figuratively, and is actually the fourth highest peak in Mexico. After visiting the Nevado de Toluca this past Sunday, I can totally see why – it’s a total breath of (thin, cold) fresh air outside of the smog ridden capital which allows you to try out hiking in Mexico and gives you an opportunity to see a side of the country that people rarely consider, one that includes snow and the wearing of scarfs! Who’d have thought it?
Wear Some Warm Clothes
Before you pay a visit to the Nevado, I recommend making sure you packed some scarfs, gloves and a decent coat with you, plus a hat if your ears are susceptible to the cold. It really is colder than you expect up there, especially when there’s snow on the tops (sadly, there wasn’t really any snow when we visited).
Even if you don’t have any winter warmers with you in Mexico (I mean, it would be a bit weird if you did), then you can always pick up some at the basecamp of the Nevado, where there were plenty of stalls lined up hawking their knitted wares.
Pack a Lunch
As well as warm clothes, I would also advise packing a lunch, because once you get to the second basecamp (the one just below the lakes), there’s only a small shed selling snacks and drinks, but nothing more substantial than that.
Take an energy boosting and blood sugar levelling chocolate bar just in case you do feel a touch light headed due to the Nevado de Toluca altitude.
Getting to the Nevado to Toluca is actually far easier than you might imagine, particularly if you have access to a car (or, better yet, a kind friend with a car). You can simply whiz out of Mexico City, following the signs to Toluca, and then once you start seeing signs for the Nevado, follow those instead. Everything’s surprisingly well signposted and easy to follow, even if you’re not used to driving in Mexico. It’s worth remembering that you’ll pass by at least one toll stop each way which charge approximately MXN$80 for cars.
If you do go by car, it will take around 1.5 hours to reach the entrance to the Nevado itself (bear in mind that this is based on our journey, for which we left Mexico City at 8am on a Sunday – traffic will be worse later on/ on different days), and you can add another 20-30 minutes for making it right to the top ‘car park’ itself, due to the dirt road you have to drive up. Remember that when it snows, the top ‘car park’ is closed off and you have to leave your car in the basecamp (where they sell hats and scarves and charge you your MXN$40 per car entry fee). Obviously, that means your climb will take far longer and be a lot more difficult than ours was, so think carefully about the weather situation when you’re planning your visit.
It’s worth noting that if you suffer from travel sickness you might not have a great time on the ascent, because it’s incredibly windy, bumpy and, to boot, the air is thinning by the minute. Plan ahead and take some travel sickness pills if you know you might be affected – you’ll thank yourself later.
I actually remember thinking in the car on the way up that the trip (which I’d wanted to make for aaages) was a huge mistake, because I was feeling dizzy already and we hadn’t even arrived, which did put a bit of a downer on my first impressions of the Nevado. However, it turns out it was just the twists and turns of the road, so if you feel similar to that during the ascent then don’t worry too much.
On Public Transport
If you’d prefer to reach the Nevado de Toluca on public transport, then you’re in luck as it’s also remarkably easy. Grab any of the super regular Flecha Roja line buses from either the Observatorio bus station or the Central del Norte bus station in Mexico City headed towards ‘Toluca’. They cost around MXN$80 and the journey will take around an hour. From there, you can either grab a taxi and get the driver to take you right to the Nevado (but that may be costlier than you’d prefer) or take a bus for less than MXN$40 that goes towards Raíces, a.k.a. el pueblo a las faldas del cerro (ask the driver to tell you when that is if you’re not sure). If you take the bus, they’ll only drop you at the bottom basecamp area and you’ll have several options for making your way to the top; you can either walk a fair while (four hours, more or less), hitchhike your way to the top with fellow visitors or try and get a lift on one of the many, many camionetas (vans) that go past. The latter option will probably charge around MXN$50 for the service.
As mentioned above, the road to the top ‘car park’ where we drove to is closed off when it snows, for obvious reasons. That means you have to walk all the way there yourself, but if you’re lucky (and lazy) like we were, you can tough out the travel sickness inducing journey in the car and park right near the famous lakes.
Don’t think you’ve got away that easily though, because the climb everyone must do is the relatively short one to the craters. With the exception of the obviously super fit, and slightly mad, people who were running around (no, I’m not kidding), it was actually comical to see how slow everyone was inching their way up to the top. At the time of the ascent it felt super necessary because it was just so much effort, but when we were coming down, seeing everyone taking the same periodical breaks we did on the rocks that lined the path did seem quite funny.
Even so, if I, the laziest woman on earth, can get to the top (almost, and having driven most of the way), then so can you! (I say almost get to the top because we didn’t really bother with trying to get to the peak; instead, we were focused on checking out the famous Nevado de Toluca craters/ lakes that everyone Instagrams the hell out of. It is worth saying that the peak wasn’t that far above the craters, but the ‘path’ was all but none existent and it looked like a bit of a precarious scramble to reach. So…we passed and went home instead.)
If you’re worried about the altitude of the Nevado de Toluca, really don’t be. It might have a peak that maxes out at 4,680m above sea level, but you get used to the thin air pretty quickly. In fact, of the four of us that went, one was from Toluca and three most definitely weren’t. However, we had still more or less acclimatised to the Toluca altitude by the end of the trip (it’s higher than the already ridiculously high Mexico City!) and didn’t find it all that taxing. Admittedly, it felt harder to chat and walk, and deep breaths were a bit trickier than usual, but it was something we all got used to really quickly.
At the top ‘car park’ there were a handful of orange buildings. One was a toilet block which costs MXN$5 to enter. As mentioned before, take your own toilet roll, because they never really give you that much in exchange for your money. Also, brace yourself for the freezing cold water you have to use to wash your hands. The other orange buildings looked pretty abandoned and there wasn’t much going on in them and the only other place with some activity around it was the small shed selling snacks.
- Take a decent coat, scarf, hat and gloves.
- Pack some lunch, snacks and water, including chocolate.
- Take change for the bathroom and extra toilet roll, to be on the safe side.
- If driving, you’ll need money for toll roads, gas and the entry fee.
- If going on public transport, prepare to hitchhike up to the peak.
- Consider taking pills for travel sickness/ altitude.