Mexico / Places We Go / Wild Places We Go

Nevado de Toluca

El Nevado de Toluca is an extinct volcano that created Mexico’s fourth highest peak. It also happens to be the central component of Mexico’s Nevado de Toluca National Park. The park, established in 1936, is well worth a visit and is even doable as a day trip from Mexico City.

The drive out to Nevado de Toluca passes through plenty of sleepy villages and scenic countryside:

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After paying a modest fee to enter the national park, one follows a narrow dirt road that winds its way up the mountains. Once in the park, one can fully appreciate the thick pine forests that used to blanket this region of Mexico:

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And one starts to catch glimpses of the volcano on the way up:

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A view back toward the forests once we broke out above the treeline… Unfortunately, illegal logging and illegal mining are taking a serious toll on the ecosystem here. Poor farming techniques have degraded the soil in the surrounding communities and so many are turning to the illegal logging to supplement their income. In addition, the economics of logging dictate that the largest, healthiest trees are taken and so the overall health of the forests is declining even for those trees that are remaining. The deforestation also has an add-on impact in that, with the absence of forest cover, the water table is dropping, causing freshwater springs and streams in the area to dry up:

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After passing the treeline, we parked the car alongside the road (one does not need a 4WD) and headed up the sides of the volcano. The absence of trees is due to the fact that the elevation of the peaks is 15,354 feet (4,680 meters) and so we are well up in alpine territory:

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In ancient times, lava flows splashed down the sides of the volcano and their passage is still quite evident today… However, it is easy enough to walk around these obstacles:

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Cresting the lip of the crater, one is met with the view below:

The first view to the right with the Laguna del Sol (Lake of the Sun) in the background…

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…and the first view to the left, with the Laguna de la Luna (Lake of the Moon) in the background:

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As an interesting “oh by the way”, astronomer priests from the native cultures present before the Spanish invasion would calibrate the years by using two of the peaks in the crater. Twice a year, always at the same times, the sun would pass in a distinct manner that would serve as an unambiguous marker. Such a system helped avoid hiccups caused by something like leap years and would help plan out the needs of the community (such as agriculture). This activity made Nevado de Toluca the highest (known) astronomical observatory of ancient Mexico.

Descending into the crater, one will discover a unique array of plants and animals not found elsewhere in the park:

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Looking back at the way we descended into the crater:

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Our first proper view of the Laguna del Sol:

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Down at the surface of the lake… These lakes also held great significance for the native cultures referenced above. Many offerings were deposited into the lakes, particularly copal (I had to look up what it was too), which was set on fire and then would drift into the lake until it sank. Other objects found in the lakes and elsewhere in the crater include blades of green obsidian, ceramic tiles and sculpted stones. Those with proper diving gear have supposedly done quite well retrieving objects from the bed of the lakes:

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After hiking around the Laguna del Sol and the back side of the crater we ended up at the far side of the Laguna de la Luna… Although it is smaller, Laguna de la Luna is apparently deeper than Laguna del Sol:

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This side of the crater has mostly collapsed and so we made our way back by exiting the crater here and hiking along the outside walls. This is a view down to the valley floor and the city of Toluca far below:

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Many lava flows swept down from this side… The rock outcropping at the top of this flow was a popular launching site for birds, which are the specks in this picture:

nevado-de-toluca-lava-flow

An old road that used to run into the crater, but is now blocked off, returns one to their starting point:

nevado-de-toluca-road

The sun was setting by this point of our journey, which made the forest even more beautiful:

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Glimpses of Nevado de Toluca are offered on the way down as well as up:

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The sun setting over Nevado de Toluca National Park:

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Out of the park now – a final glimpse of the mountaintop still being caressed by the dying rays of the sun before darkness forever closed out that day:

nevado-de-toluca-village

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4 thoughts on “Nevado de Toluca

    • I think you’ll like Nevado de Toluca… Ha, bring some sunscreen along though. You don’t want to make the mistake I did at that altitude.

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