Tourism and Tours

Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park | A Must-Visit Destination for Nature Lovers

The two towering peaks which give this national park its name are impressive to behold as their snow-capped summits standout from their surroundings, looming over the barren slopes around them.

The second (Popocatépetl) and third (Iztaccihuatl) highest mountains in the country make for delightful hiking and the forests that cover the lower slopes of the volcanoes only add to the stunning scenery on show. From the higher realms of the mountains, incredible panoramas of the world below stretch before you. Simply spectacular.

Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park was decreed by President Lázaro Cardenas in 1935, making it the oldest national park in Mexico. In 1937, the Hacienda of Zoquiapam was included, so its official name is the Parque Nacional Iztaccihuatl-Popocatepetl Zoquiapan, although people usually refer to it simply as the Izta-Popo park. It’s spread over 98,395 acres and crosses three state lines: Puebla, Morelos, and Estado de Mexico.

The main attractions in Izta-Popo are the two prominent snow-capped volcanoes that are an imposing part of Mexico’s landscape, and also figure prominently in mythology. Local legend imagines them as star-crossed lovers: Smoking Mountain (Popocatepetl) was a fierce warrior, and his love, the White Woman (Iztaccihuatl) was a princess. They could not be together in life but were transformed into mountains so they could be together for the rest of time. When viewed from the west or east, the top of Iztaccihuatl does look distinctly like a sleeping woman.

In 1519, the Spanish invaders, led by Hernan Cortes, crossed between the two volcanoes on their way to Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), giving the pass its name: “El Paso de Cortes.”  Cortes would later send some of his men back to climb Popocatepetl and obtain sulfur from inside the volcano, which they used to make gunpowder.

Things to Do at Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park

This national park is an ideal place for nature lovers and makes for a peaceful getaway in the great outdoors as a day trip from Mexico City or Puebla. There are lots of options for hiking. Mountaineers, with the necessary preparation and equipment, can ascend its peaks, while other visitors can hike easier trails at mid-elevation or go mountain biking, camping, or enjoy a picnic with fresh air and wonderful views.

The park is home to several different ecosystems, including pine forests, grasslands, alpine areas, and mixed pine-fir forests, which are home to a great variety of plants and animals. Keep an eye out for the teporingo (also known as zacatuche or volcano rabbit), a very cute, small rabbit that is only found on the slopes of Mexico’s volcanoes, and now in danger of extinction. There are also white-tailed deer, grey foxes, lynxes, coyotes, opossums, and badgers, besides many bird species. See the species

Some choose to make the drive over the Paso de Cortes on their way from Puebla to Mexico City (or vice versa), as an alternative to the toll highway. It takes longer but it’s much more scenic. The road on the Mexico City side is paved and signage is good whereas the Puebla side is not paved and at times is in bad shape—so if you’re considering making this drive, it’s best to go in a vehicle with good ground clearance, and preferably with four-wheel drive.

The Paso de Cortes Visitor’s Center is located between the volcanoes at 12,000 feet above sea level. This is the starting point for exploring the park and offers spectacular views of the volcanoes. There are restrooms, and water, and snacks for sale here, as well as tourist information available. If you’ll be doing any hiking or camping, register and pay admission to the park.

Best Hikes & Trails

There are several options for hiking within the park. There are several trails that start at Paso de Cortes, and La Joya is the trailhead for the hiking paths to the peaks of Iztaccihuatl. Most people drive to La Joya and start hiking from there, but you can also opt to hike from the Paso de Cortés to La Joya, about 5 miles. ExperTurismo offers day and overnight hiking trips at all difficulty levels. Mountain biking excursions are offered by 3Summits Adventure. Choose a one or two-day adventure. They have bicycles or you can bring your own.

Many visitors come just to take on the challenge of ascending Iztaccihuatl, which at over 17,000 feet above sea level is the third highest peak in Mexico. Due to its eruptive activity, climbing Popocatepetl is prohibited. If you’re planning to climb to the summit of Iztaccihuatl, you should go with a guide. There are different companies that offer tours, or you can ask at the visitor center if a guide is available. Although Iztaccihuatl may not seem like too challenging a climb, the upper areas are covered with snow and ice and should only be ventured with the necessary equipment and experience.

Where to Camp

Camping is allowed at Paso de Cortes, La Joya, and Llano Grande sites, but you must obtain a permit. Facilities are minimal: bring everything necessary for your stay. If you will be ascending Iztaccihuatl, there are a few “Refugios” or shelters that you can stay in, but space is limited and again, you will need to bring everything you need: a sleeping bag, food, water, toilet paper.

Where to Stay Nearby

Many people on climbing expeditions choose to stay in Amecameca, about 16 miles from Paso de Cortes, to get an early start. There are a few simple but serviceable hotels here, such as Hotel Fontesanta, Hotel San Carlos and Hotel El Marques. The Hotel Campestre Eden is located within the park and has cabins and offers a temazcal experience. For something more upscale, the Hacienda San Andres in Ayapango is a good option, with a spa and farm-to-table dining.

How to Get There

  • Getting to the Izta-Popo National Park in a private vehicle is the most convenient way to go. It’s about an hour and forty-five minutes drive from Mexico City to the Paso de Cortes via Amecameca or, if you’re coming from Puebla, about two hours via Cholula and San Buenaventura Nealtican. Some of the roads within the park are quite bumpy and a vehicle with high ground clearance is recommended.
  • There are many tour companies that offer activities in the park and will provide transportation from Mexico City or Puebla to the Park.
  • If going by public transportation, from the TAPO bus station in Mexico City, you can get a bus to Amecameca. In Amecameca’s main square, you may find a colectivo (a collective van) that goes to the Paso de Cortés, or hire a taxi (and arrange to be picked up later).

How to Get There

  • Getting to the Izta-Popo National Park in a private vehicle is the most convenient way to go. It’s about an hour and forty-five minutes drive from Mexico City to the Paso de Cortes via Amecameca or, if you’re coming from Puebla, about two hours via Cholula and San Buenaventura Nealtican. Some of the roads within the park are quite bumpy and a vehicle with high ground clearance is recommended.
  • There are many tour companies that offer activities in the park and will provide transportation from Mexico City or Puebla to the Park.
  • If going by public transportation, from the TAPO bus station in Mexico City, you can get a bus to Amecameca. In Amecameca’s main square, you may find a colectivo (a collective van) that goes to the Paso de Cortés, or hire a taxi (and arrange to be picked up later).

Tips for Your Visit

  • Popocatepetl is an active volcano, so you should check its activity before departing for your trip. It’s not uncommon for the volcano to spew ash and dust, and in this case, access to the site may not be permitted. You can check the Mexican government website CENAPRED which offers updated information about volcanic activity (in Spanish).
  • Get an early start as the best visibility is early in the morning and closer to sunset. You’ll be very disappointed if you come to the park and can’t see the volcanoes!
  • Register at the Paso de Cortés Visitor Center, or at the national park headquarters in Amecameca. You will need a permit to get to La Joya, which is the base of the trails to Iztaccihuatl.
  • If you’re going hiking, be sure to carry sufficient water with you. You’ll find bottled water for sale at the Paso de Cortes, and sometimes at La Joya.
  • Wear sunscreen. Although you may be bundling up to ward off a chill at this elevation, the sun is still strong, so make sure any exposed skin is protected.
  • Dress in layers. With a great range of elevation, temperatures within the park can vary greatly. Come prepared with a sweater and jacket, and if you’ll be climbing, a hat and gloves also.

How to get to Izta-Popo National Park, Mexico

By Tour

Obviously the most hassle-free way to reach Izta-Popo National Park is by booking a guided tour.

Whilst I think the hiking trail we completed is relatively easy to follow, I think getting to the park on your own might be intimidating for some. It’s a long way from Mexico City with multiple changes of transportation and will require at least some basic Spanish for buying tickets and booking taxis. Therefore, if you’re short on time, want to meet with other people or just find the way there by public transport to be too complicated, then browse through different tours.

In addition, you should definitely go with a guide if you’d like to hike to the top of Iztaccihuatl.

By Private Vehicle

Obviously the other more convenient way to get to the national park is by private transport. You can rent a car for a day or for the duration of your stay in Mexico City.

You’ll need to drive to Paso de Cortes or La Joya via Amecameca which can take just under 2 hours depending on traffic.

By Public Transport

Step 1: Getting to TAPO Bus Station in Mexico City

Your first step to reach Izta-Popo National Park by public transport would be to get to TAPO bus station where the buses to Amecameca depart from. There are a few ways to get there depending on where you’re staying in Mexico City.

Please Note – Mexico City has 4 bus stations: Terminal de Autobuses del Norte (North), Terminal de Autobuses del Sur (South), Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros Oriente (TAPO) and Terminal de Autobuses del Poniente (Observatorio). Make sure to arrive to TAPO!

The cheapest way to get to the bus stop is by metro. One way will cost you 5MXN (yes, Mexico City has one of the cheapest public transportation systems in the world).

Step 2: Getting the Bus to Amecameca from Mexico City

Once at TAPO, look for the ‘Volcanes’ bus sign and buy your ticket to Amecameca. The bus ticket will cost around 35MXN per person. (We paid slightly less on the way back and aren’t sure why.)

There are pretty regular buses to Amecameca, however I recommend getting an early one so you can start your hike as early as possible. The ride to Amecameca could take 1.5hrs if not more due to traffic. For reference, we took a 7AM bus and we managed to start our hike around 10AM.

Step 3: Getting a Taxi from Amecameca to Izta-Popo National Park

Once in Amecameca, walk out of the bus terminal and find a taxi that will take you to the national park. There are definitely quite a few circling around the main street. You can also try and book an Uber, which might be cheaper.

It’s up to you but you can either get the driver to drop you off at Paso de Cortes or at La Joya. Paso de Cortes is the main entry point to the park, and La Joya is a popular starting point for hiking Iztaccihuatl. Since it was our very first time hiking at such altitude we asked our driver to take us to La Joya.

In either case, the taxi driver will have to stop at the main entrance and you’ll need to pay the entry fee to the park (50MXN per person) and fill out a form with your details.

For this taxi ride we paid 450MXN and it took us a good 45 minutes or so to reach La Joya.

Step 4: Getting Back to Mexico City

For your return to Mexico City, either agree on a time for the taxi driver to pick you up or ask for his phone number so you can call him when you’re ready.

Don’t forget that it’ll take a good 30 minutes for the driver to reach Paso de Cortes, and you might not have good enough signal to call along the trail. Even though our driver gave us his phone number it didn’t work, so we had to call the main office and request a driver. Their contact number is +55 2326 9514, so make sure to have a Mexican SIM card. At the end we waited nearly an hour before our driver turned up.

The way back to Amecameca cost us 370MXN since our pick up location was Paso de Cortes.

After that it was a pretty smooth ride and getting the bus back from Amecameca to Mexico City was also straight forward. Apart from the fact that the bus was packed and we had to stand for at least an hour before we could get a free seat.

Things to Know Before You Go to Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park

Cost of Hiking in the Izta-Popo National Park

Here’s a quick cost breakdown including bus tickets, taxi fares and entry fees:

  • 5MXN for one metro ride in Mexico City
  • 35MXN for one-way bus ticket to Amecameca
  • 400MXN – 500MXN for one-way taxi ride to Izta-Popo National Park from Amecameca
  • 50MXN for Izta-Popo National Park entry fee
  • Cost of your food, drink and snacks for the day

You’ll have to double up everything to calculate in your return journey.

Length of the Izta-Popo National Park hiking trail

Our chosen hiking route in Izta-Popo National Park was approximately 8.5 km (5.2 miles) long. Depending on your speed, how long it takes you to reach the viewpoint and how many breaks you take, this route could take around 4 hours. Walking uphill will inevitably make you stop more often to catch your breath at such high altitude. In addition, you’ll need to be cautious going downhill as the trail might be slippery.

For reference, we started our hike around 10:00AM, and finished the route around 14:30PM. We took our time at the viewpoint between the two volcanos because it was just so beautiful and peaceful there. As always we were also filming and taking a lot of photos. So, we probably completed the trail a bit slower than if you were constantly walking with minimal breaks.

Level of Difficulty

Elevation and Altitude: 

This hike can be a little bit of a struggle, especially if you’re not used to hiking at altitude. La Joya is located at 4,000m above sea level and you’ll have a steep section with nearly 200m of elevation gain before you reach the volcano viewpoint. Being at an altitude of over 4,000m on its own can be challenging, let alone hiking uphill on a rather slippery path. For this reason, I recommend getting used to the altitude in Mexico City first before you attempt hiking in Izta-Popo National Park.

Top Tip – I think this hiking trail is actually a great way to get used to hiking in altitude, especially if you’re planning on completing other hikes around South America like we did.

Length of the Trail:

If you start your hike from La Joya like we did, then the length of the trail won’t feel too long, especially because you’ll be hiking downhill for the most part. However, if you’re planning on starting your hike from Paso de Cortes (3,692m), then you will have an additional 6 km long hike with about 400m of elevation gain just to reach La Joya. This could be a struggle if you’re not used to hiking in altitude.

Weather Conditions:

Due to the high altitude you’ll have to be ready for any kind of weather conditions when hiking in Izta-Popo National Park. You’ll likely have lower temperatures, crisp air but also very strong sunlight.

Best Time to Hike in Izta-Popo National Park

There are a few things to consider when it comes to when to hike in Izta-Popo National Park:

Firstly, I highly recommend checking Popocatepetl’s up-to-date activity. Sometimes, if the volcano is too active, you won’t be able to enter the national park for obvious safety reasons. In terms of the best time of year, obviously during winter the weather conditions can be harsher here, just like anywhere at higher altitude. The coldest months are January, November and December, although the sun was pretty strong in the middle of the day in December. In February, March and December there’s also much less rainfall compared to July and August when it rains the most.

The daylight will be shorter in winter too, so take that into consideration when visiting during this season. For reference, the shortest daylight will be in December and the longest in June. We visited at the end of December and if you follow our timings for getting to the park you should be fine.

Similar to just about everywhere in the world, weekends and holidays equals a lot more people on the trail. Therefore, I recommend checking out Mexico’s holidays and trying to avoid weekends if you’d like a slightly quieter hiking experience.

Lastly, I highly recommend starting your hike as early as possible for multiple reasons. Firstly, the journey to the park, especially with public transport, could take a long time there and back. The roads are a bit quieter in the morning, so you might get there quicker. Secondly, you’ll have a much clearer view of the volcanos and the surrounding area in the morning before the smog and the clouds roll in in the afternoon.

Facilities Around Izta-Popo National Park

Places to eat – For your trip I highly recommend bringing enough food, snacks and water with you. You can only buy food at TAPO bus station and then in Amecameca, but there won’t be any opportunities to buy food in the national park. Having said that there are always street vendors who will sell some light snacks and fruits but I wouldn’t rely purely on that, so come prepared.

Toilet facilities – Obviously TAPO station and Amecameca bus terminal will have toilet facilities. These toilets normally cost between 5 or 6MXN, so have enough change with you. However, there won’t be any toilet facilities once in the park.