At a towering 5,636 meters, Pico do Orizaba is absolutely humongous and is the highest mountain in the whole of Mexico. Its snow-capped peak rises dramatically towards the heavens and has nine glaciers dotted around its higher realms. Beautiful to behold, the caldera of this stratovolcano is also well worth viewing and from up high, the panoramic views it offers of the plains below is mesmerising.
El Pico de Orizaba (known as Citlaltépetl which means Star Mountain) is a striking volcano. From the west it towers over the town of Tlachichuca in the form of a beautiful white cone. The glacier starts around 4900-5000m and covers the upper aspects of the mountain. Pico de Orizaba is the highest mountain in Mexico and the third highest in North America after Denali and Mount Logan. Orizaba makes for an excellent first experience at high altitude.
One issue with this mountain is the numerous published summit heights that you can find. Anywhere from 18,400 feet to 18,900 feet are claimed as the true height of the summit. With the increased reliability on GPS numerous informal and at least one scientific survey has been taken to determine the true height of the mountain. According to Stephen Brown, a professor at the University of Texas–San Antonio, they recorded the height at 18,490.5 feet with a +/- 50 feet.
One very memorable aspect about climbing Orizaba is the shadow the mountain casts on the surrounding flat plains when you stand on the summit at sunrise. Witnessing this effect has been the highlight of many climbers’ trip, including my own. See the profile photo above for an idea of what this looks like. It’s something that truly takes your breath away!
International climbers flock to the national park due to the impressive mountain and a number of trails and paths snake around its lower slopes for hikers to enjoy.
Get in Pico de Orizaba National Park
Tlachichuca (on the Puebla side of the park) is the closest town with support services for climbers and hikers going to Pico de Orizaba. There are several guides in town who can provide proper equipment, instruction, and guidance on route selection if you plan to go to the summit.
To get to Tlachichuca from Mexico City, go to the TAPO bus station and find the ticket counter for Autotransportes Tlaxcala. You can ask for a ticket to Tlachichuca, but the closest they’re likely to get is Alchichica (2-1/2 hours, M$500). From there, you can take a taxi (40 minutes) to Tlachichuca.
Fees and permits Pico de Orizaba National Park
Admission to the national park is free for all. No fees or permits required.
Get around Pico de Orizaba National Park
Getting from the base of the mountain to the Piedra Grande shelter, which is the starting point for most climbing activities, is best done by 4×4 truck. Climbing guide services in the area can arrange round-trip transportation to Piedra Grande.
Activities Pico de Orizaba National Park
Recreational activities in the park include hiking, mountain climbing, horseback riding, and backcountry camping.
- Mountaineering: Orizaba can be a challenging mountain with numerous dangers. There are multiple pathways up the mountain, crossing any of nine different glaciers, and requiring very different levels of technical skills. Inexperienced climbers should not attempt to ascend Orizaba above about 4000 meters without an experienced guide and proper equipment and instruction. Some climbing guides will also arrange transportation from the Mexico City airport direct to the Pico de Orizaba area.
Local climbing guides
- Servimont, J. Ortego #1-A, Tlachichuca, Puebla, email@example.com. Operated by Reyes family of climbers. Includes lodge with private rooms and showers for nights preceding or following a climbing trip. Also offer horseback riding, rock climbing, mountain biking, and trekking services.
- Summit Orizaba, 3 Poniente No 3 Tlachichuca, Puebla, firstname.lastname@example.org. Climber’s hostel and mountain guide service run by climber Joaquin Canchola Limon and his daughter Maribel. Lodge with 10 private rooms with 3 shared baths with hot showers.