Visting The Nevado de Toluca National Park
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?
Park information of Nevado de Toluca National Park
Days Park hours
Tuesday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm
Wednesday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm
Thursday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm
Friday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm
Saturday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm
Sunday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm
What to bring (most importantly) from March through November:
- Sunscreen and sunglasses – at that altitude the sunlight is strong and you can easily get burnt without even realizing it.
- A hat and/or ear protectors and warm gloves – it will be cold.
- Dress in layers – the first layer (in contact with your skin) being the most absorbent and delicate, the second to isolate your body from the wind, and the third to protect from the cold.
- Water – it is very important to stay hydrated.
- Bring snacks – I cannot eat when I am making so much effort at such a high altitude, but many people need to eat all the time, so chocolate and nuts would work, and a couple of sandwiches if you are a big eater.
- A comfy backpack – not too big, just big enough to transport all of the above
- Last but not least, a good camera – to capture the beauty and works of nature.
In the coldest months from November through February, more layers, very warm gloves, and a cap are heartily suggested.
Tour options: There is a second option of a tour that has a higher level of difficulty (imagine that), going up to 4690 meters, which is the maximum height and which, of course, requires a high level of fitness and no vertigo issues.
You start walking at 4000 meters to reach ‘’Paso Quetzal’ at 4100, then head off down to the crater, crossing it, and starting your hike again up to 4400 meters to a place called El Campanario at 4400.
From there, you continue the walk all along the crest until you get to 4690 meters in about 4 hours, at which point you have an amazing view of the entire crater.
After a rich meal to fill up on energy again, you start the descent towards the lakes and you’ll be walking for about another 3 hours. It’s a long day, but certainly worth it.
There is also the possibility of a 2-day tour, sleeping in a cabin in the Parque de los Venados, a wooded zone, but you need to reserve it well in advance. It is located in a beautiful area with an amazing view of the volcano. Ecotura can arrange this too also as a private tour.
Before You go to Nevado de Toluca National Park
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.
How to get to Nevado de Toluca National Park
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.
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.
When you’re at Nevado de Toluca National Park
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.
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.
SUMMARY: A guide to visiting Nevado de Toluca National Park
- 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.