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I spent five weeks in Puebla, Mexico, and Malinche National Park was undoubtedly the highlight.
The park was founded in 1938 and covers an impressive 177 square miles on the border of Puebla and Tlaxcala. It’s a protected, wild space with 69 species of birds, 11 species of reptiles, and 27 species of mammals, including coyotes and mountain lions.
Most visitors come to Malinche National Park with one goal in mind: to climb the imposing Malinche Volcano, the 6th-tallest mountain in Mexico.
The volcano rises over 14,500 feet and is named after a highly controversial woman in Mexico’s history.
Malinche was a Nahua woman who was sold to Hernan Cortes as a slave. She interpreted for him and ended up playing a pivotal role in the Spanish conquest, eventually even carrying Cortes’ first born son.
Whether she was a victim or a traitor (I believe the former) she was a powerful woman and Malinche Volcano is a fitting namesake.
So, a visit to Malinche National Park is a work out, a history lesson, and an escape into nature all rolled into one. This guide has everything you need to know to add it to your Mexico travel itinerary!
We had nice weather for almost our entire climb up Malinche, but when the clouds rolled through it was even more beautiful.
Climbing Malinche Volcano: The Stats
Time: 7 – 8 hours
Distance: 9 miles out and back
Starting elevation: around 9,500 ft.
Peak elevation: 14,500 ft. / 4,440 m
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View from the peak! Follow this guide to get there 🙂
How to get to Malinche National Park (without a car)
Getting from Puebla to Malinche National Park is cheap but time consuming. We started from our apartment at 5:50 am and did it pretty efficiently, but still reached the trail at 9 am. To follow in our footsteps, follow these four steps:
1. Catch an ATAH bus to Apizaco from the CAPU station.
The ATAH ‘Ejecutivo’ buses run every 30 minutes from 5 am to 10 pm and take one hour. Tickets cost 85 mxn / 2.50 usd.
ATAH also has an ‘Ordinario’ line that runs every 15 minutes to Apizaco from 6:15 am to 7:45 pm. These tickets cost 47 mxn / 2.50 usd per person but the bus is much less comfortable and the ride takes 1.5 hours instead of only one, so I recommend taking the Ejecutivo.
2. Walk to the Apizaco colectivo station
The colectivo (shared van) station in Apizaco is seven minutes from the bus drop off, so you can easily walk between the two. The colectivos are parked along Aquiles Serdan St. between Av. Hidalgo and Av. Juarex.
3. Catch the Colectivo to Resort IMSS Malintzi
The Malintzi Resort is a set of cabins buried deep in Malinche National Park and conveniently located right at the start of the trail head.
The daily colectivo to the cabins leaves at 8:20 am and does fill up (at least, when we went on a Saturday it did) so try to be ready and waiting at least ten minutes early.
When you arrive at the colectivos, just ask for Malintzi or Malinche and the drivers will point you in the right direction. The ride costs 30 mxn / 1.50 usd per person and takes 40 minutes.
4. Start your hike!
The colectivo dropped us off at the Malinche Volcano trail at 9 am. Everyone who got off with us headed in the same direction, so it was super easy to follow along and begin our hike up Malinche!
(If you don’t want to go on your own, there are also a bunch of guided Malinche tours on Airbnb that take care fo the transport for you. They leave from both Mexico City and Puebla, so double check the departure city before you book.)
Our scenic lunch spot in Malinche National Park. You can see snow-capped Malinche on the left and the rocky false summit on the right.
How long does it take to climb Malinche Volcano?
It took us almost eight hours to go up and down the volcano.
I’d say I’m on the slow side of average when it comes to hiking (Dan definitely would have done it faster without me) but this timeline is a good benchmark for your climb:
Arrived at the trail head: 9 am
Reached the tree line: 11:30 am
Started the steep ascent: 11:45 am
Reached the ridge: 1 pm
Reached the peak: 1:30 pm
Left the peak: 1:45
Returned to the tree line: 3 pm
Finished our hike at the colectivo pick up point: 4:30 pm
Stray boi teaching us all a lesson in zen
How to Climb Malinche Volcano
If you’re not worried about the specifics, this section can be summed up into one sentence: follow the crowd and keep going up. However, I’m going to break it down into a little more detail for those of you who like to come prepared!
The climb up Malinche covers about 4.5 miles each way and is broken up into three main sections: the forest, the field, and the climb. Each part has its own beauty and its own pros and cons.
The very start of our climb up Malinche, where the trail winds through a thick forest for the first few hours.
Part 1: The Forest
The forest is the first and longest section of the Malinche hike and the question isn’t whether or not you’re going uphill, but how steep it is. The trek starts with a gradual incline and get steeper as you go.
After about an hour and a half, the trees will thin and you’ll start to get panoramic views through the trunks.
After two hours, you’ll begin to see the dual peaks – a false summit on the right and the main attraction on the left. We stopped for an early lunch in the shaded forest when we first got these views, but if you keep going they just get more spectacular.
In total we hiked for 2.5 hours in the forest section (with a lunch break) before coming to the next part of the climb.
Leaving the tree line and entering what I’ve creatively named ‘the field.’
Part 2: The Field
The field is the best part of the Malinche hike because it’s mostly flat and has insane views of the Malinche peak in front of you and miles of the forested park spread out below.
Unfortunately, it’s also the most fleeting section of the hike! The field begins when you emerge from the tree line and ends when you begin the true uphill push to the summit.
Expect to spend 10 to 20 minutes in this magical place before it’s time for the last section of the hike.
(If you don’t think you have it in you to climb Malinche, I recommend hiking out halfway to this field. Surrounded by mountains, forest, and natural beauty on all sides, the experience is unforgettable whether or not you decide to go to the peak.)
Up, up, and up some more
Part 3: The Climb
The summit push up Malinche volcano is not easy, especially at high altitude.
When it’s time to make the climb, you have your choice of two routes: a winding route up the ridge (on the right side) or a straight shot up the steep side (on the left).
We went up the path that climbed straight up the side of Malinche and then descended on the more winding ridge route. Both were tough in their own way (with sand and scree to slog through) and I think they’re pretty much evenly matched in difficulty.
View of the climbers on the ridge while I struggled up the steep side.
However, if I climbed Malinche again I would probably do it the opposite way and climb up the ridge route, so take that as you will.
Either way, expect sweat, an elevated heart rate, and lots of water breaks.
We started climbing Malinche on the left, steeper route at 11:45 am and reached the ridge over an hour later at 1 pm. From there, it was a final rock scramble to the peak, which took about another 30 minutes.
(We actually didn’t go all the way to the very, very top because I was slightly worried about making the colectivo back to Apizaco. If we had I think it would have taken another 20ish minutes to the peak).
Taking a break on the ridge where the two routes meet, before we made the final rocky scramble to the peak.
Part 4: The Long Descent
Our descent took almost three hours. It’s not easy in the sand and scree and I fell an impressive seven times.
We went down the ridge line because it was less steep and I was happy with the choice. It meant we got slightly different views (until we reached the tree line, at least) and a mist rolled in that made for some magical photography.
Finally, we reached the tree line around 3 pm and descended through the forest until we got back to the colectivo stop at 4:30. We bought some snacks at the many shops / restaurants that had opened up while we were climbing and joined the crowd waiting to hop onboard and head home.
Rock scramble at the top of Malinche Volcano (and a husky with way more energy than me). We stopped about half-way up the rocks because we were pressed for time with the colectivo (and because I was tired).
How to Get Back to Apizaco
The colectivo from Malinche to Apizaco picked us up where it dropped us off eight hours earlier. It was packed to standing room only and we even left eight people behind (but the driver called another one for them).
However, this was on a Saturday, and I think if you go during the week when most local families are at work and school it’ll be much less crowded. I only saw a handful of foreigners and tourists on the mountain.
Our colectivo got us back to Apizaco in one piece and then it was time for the last step in our long, exhausting day: taking the bus back to Puebla.
Peaceful moment on our descent down the ridge. You can see where the two routes meet, with the steep climb on the left side and the longer but more level ridge climb going straight. We went up the steep left path and down the ridge path.
How to get from Apizaco to Puebla
We totally bungled this part because you don’t get on the bus where you got off.
Instead, there are two totally different places where you will board, depending on if you want the ‘Ordinario’ service or the ‘Ejecutivo’ service back to Pueba.
To catch the Ordinario bus, put the ATAH terminal into your GPS, not the Apizaco terminal! From here, the bus leaves every ten minutes and takes 1.5 hours to get back to Puebla. The bus costs 47 mxn / 2.50 usd but is much less comfortable than the Ejecutivo one.
We took the Ordinario back to Puebla because we didn’t know the Ejecutivo service left from another station.
The Ejecutivo bus leaves from the Matamoros station nearby and I recommend taking this one because it’s faster and more comfortable for only 40 mxn / 2 usd more.
Whichever you choose, it’ll take you back to the CAPU station in Puebla where you can jump in an Uber and head home to relax after a climb well done!
Rolling clouds made for a pretty magical atmosphere on our descent. This was taken in the field before we re-entered the forest to finish our hike.
How much does it cost to climb Malinche Volcano?
Like most hikes, climbing Malinche Volcano is pretty budget friendly. In total, Dan and I spent:
- 170 mxn – two Ejecutivo bus tickets from Puebla to Apizaco
- 60 mxn – colectivo from Apizaco to Malinche National Park for two
- ~100 mxn – various snacks like chips, coke, etc. (we packed a lunch)
- 60 mxn – colectivo from Malinche National Park to Apizaco
- 94 mxn – two Ordinario bus tickets from Apizaco to Puebla
- ~100 mxn – round trip Uber ride to CAPU bus station in the morning and back to our apartment at night
In total, we spent 584 mxn / 31 usd for our day trip to Malinche National Park for two people. If you have your own car, you can cut costs almost to zero.
What to pack for your day trip to Malinche National Park
There are restaurants and shops in Malinche National Park at the trailhead, but no amenities once you start to climb. Malinche is also at high altitude (topping out over 14,500 feet) so you must come prepared.
I packed my fav small day pack with:
- Two water bottles per person (remember you will be hiking around eight hours)
- A healthy / protein-heavy lunch
- Sunscreen – there is no shade above the treeline and the sun is strong at high altitude. I missed a small spot on my neck and got super burned there.
- Heavy jacket and extra layers to take on and off as you climb (i alternated between a cardigan and a heavy coat).
- Cash for colectivos and buses
- Sturdy hiking boots (I’ve been climbing in these for years)
- And a phone or camera to take photos!
Bonus: Where to stay in Malinche National Park
Last but not least in my Malinche National Park guide is overnight accommodation in the park.
You can stay in the cabins at the start of the trailhead, which has the huge benefit of allowing you to start your climb way earlier than we did.
Cabins start around $50 usd per night but you have to call them to book it, which is kind of a pain in the a** and what ultimately deterred us.
There are also lots of affordable Airbnbs in Apizaco. If you’re coming from farther away (like Mexico City) spending the night in Apizaco so you don’t have to travel for hours in the morning makes a lot of sense. If you’re coming from Puebla, though, climbing Malinche is totally possible in a day trip with no overnight necessary.
Ready to go?
Finally, don’t forget to join our new Sustainable Hiking Collective on Facebook to connect with the international hiking community, discover new destinations, join virtual trail cleanups, and take part in monthly sustainability challenges!
This article is part of the Puebla Planner series. Read the rest below:
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