About a two-hour drive from Mexico City, you will find one of the four highest mountains in Mexico: the volcano Nevado de Toluca. The highlight of this huge natural park are the two beautiful lakes in the volcano itself: the large Lake of the Sun and the smaller Lake of the Moon. The walk here can cause some breathing problems: it is located at 4680 meters above sea level, making them ostensibly the two highest lakes in the world. 4680 meters, almost as high as Mont Blanc.
Why is the Nevado de Toluca National Park a popular tourist attraction?
Yes, Nevado de Toluca National Park is a tourist attraction. You won’t be alone here anytime soon. If you google Nevado de Toluca, you will find tours from 60 to 90 dollars, but think about it a little longer. The entrance to the park is only 2 dollars and beyond it is a matter of driving there. I myself went on a tour of the Paseos Chilangos, a walking club that organizes weekly outings. Including transport, guide and fun this cost me 500 pesos, about 25 dollars. But independently by car is also possible and then it only costs you petrol costs.
How do I get to Nevado de Toluca?
We left Mexico City at 5:30 am, because we had about 28 kilometers of walking on the program. Then you better leave on time. You first drive to Toluca and from there it is about 22 kilometers through winding roads. First with asphalt, later on rock. The entrance to the park consists of shops and restaurants. Here you can, for example, buy a coat, a scarf or mittens. Not a superfluous luxury, however: when we arrived it was freezing. I bought mittens there for 80 pesos.
To hike or with the taxi?
From this entrance you have two choices: you can go with a van, which will take you close to the two lakes. Then you only have to climb up a (tough) part. I went with a tour of hikers, of course, so we walked to that place. A trip through the woods and the last six kilometers on the highway, right through the mountains. From that road you have beautiful views that reach as far as Veracruz and Oaxaca. So very far away. Nevado de Toluca is a natural park that covers 51000 hectares and the valley allows to see far away.
Straight through the woods is beautiful. Narrow paths in the coniferous forests, with winter roses everywhere and sleet on the moss in the morning. After climbing for a while, fewer and fewer trees grow, until you don’t find a tree at all. You are above the tree line. In Nevado de Toluca, many finds from the pre-Hispanic era have been made over the years, such as vegetable fibers, resins, wood, and basketry. At that time it was called Xinantécatl, “naked man”.
Breathing at this height
After those six kilometers, you come to a kind of base camp, with toilets and where you buy your entrance for 50 pesos. From here it goes up steeply. As a Dutchman, I am certainly not used to these heights and I quickly developed breathing problems here. Short steps and keeping breathing deeply is the motto.
After this steep climb, you get a view over the two lakes and that is phenomenal. Pictures say a lot, but in reality, it is even more beautiful. In the winter months, the mountains are often covered with snow, which in combination with the crystal blue water must be phenomenal. And yes, you can walk to the lakes. Here your walking sticks are really essential; without it, you have to be absolutely careful.
As mentioned, it is quite chilly, but the sun is still shining brightly. Sunscreen or protective clothing is highly recommended, as is plenty to drink and eat. Also bring some bars, for sugar. They don’t sell stuff like that locally.
Some more knowledge about the area
There are coyotes, reptiles, squirrels, rabbits, rodents, and birds living here. And: you can dive in the lakes if you can dive deep. You will have to deal with a very muddy bottom, which requires real experience.