Popocatepetl is an active volcano located about 40 miles southeast of Mexico City. At almost 18,000 feet, this volcano is the second-highest mountain in Mexico, following only Citlaltepetl, which is also part of the Cordillera Neovolcanica range. The name translates as “smoking mountain” in the native Aztec language, and depending on the weather, it can often be seen from Mexico City. The glacier covered mountain is also home to the Popocatepetl monasteries, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These sixteenth-century buildings cling to the slopes of the mountain. If you’re looking for Mexico City volcanoes with some history to explore as well, look no further than Popocatepetl.
Of all Mexico City volcanoes, Popocatepetl is known for being one of the most violent. Since the Spanish arrived in the early sixteenth century, this volcano has erupted more than 20 times. Major eruptions in recent years include December 2000, when thousands of people were evacuated from the area, and 1994 when the volcano spewed gas and hot ash that was carried on the wind as far as fifteen miles away from the mountain. Despite this level of activity, many people still desire to climb Popocatepetl, but it’s best to check if there are any geological warnings when you plan your ascent.
Others arrive not to climb the mountain but to visit the Popocatepetl monasteries. Built in the sixteenth century by Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian monks, these monasteries were a major influence on the Christianization of the area. Since becoming a World Heritage Site in 1994, more attention has been brought to these Popocatepetl monasteries as a tourist attraction. Structurally impressive, these buildings also contain a museum and the original frescoes that adorned the walls with images of stories of Catholicism. If you’re looking to experience some history outside of Mexico City, it’s worth planning a day trip to explore these monasteries.
Mexico City volcanoes are a dominant feature of the landscape. Popocatepetl was first climbed by a European in 1522, but the significance of the mountain goes much further back in history—the Aztecs thought that it was one of their most sacred mountains. It had very rich soil, which is often a feature of volcanic areas, and the crops grown in this area were especially good. In more recent history, revolutionary Che Guevara climbed to the top of the mountain in 1955, even though he suffered seriously from asthma that made the climb especially challenging for him. The next tallest of the peaks is Iztaccihuatl, and many people climb this mountain as well.
Today, tours are available that climb and explore the Mexico City volcanoes. Although they can be quite expensive, all transportation, food, accommodation, equipment, and guides are usually included in the price. Acclimatization to the new altitude is an important part of the climbing process, as you will become accustomed to less oxygen in the air as you climb. If you’re looking for an adventure outside of Mexico City, climbing Popocatepetl and the other nearby volcanoes could easily be the adrenaline-inducing trip of a lifetime.