These Are the Best Hikes in Mexico

Mexicos many mountain ranges, including those of northern Oaxaca, make the country an ideal hiking destination
Mexico's many mountain ranges, including those of northern Oaxaca, make the country an ideal hiking destination | © Brian Overcast / Alamy Stock Photo
Mandi Keighran

Mexico makes for an ideal hiking destination – it has a number of excellent mountain ranges and (generally) ideal weather, which more than make up for the often brutal altitude issues posed by the country’s capital, Mexico City. The best time to hike in this North American country is during the dry season, from October to April, when you can expect temperate weather and the opportunity for some truly epic hiking trail experiences.

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Puerto Vallarta

People walking on Puerto Vallarta beach, Mexico, North America

The hiking around Puerto Vallarta, a resort town on Mexico’s Pacific coast, is known for its spectacular waterfalls. Most of these natural wonders are located to the south, by the beaches near Banderas Bay, and the best time to visit is during the rainy season between May and October when the falls are in full flow. For an easy hike, get a water taxi from Playa de los Muertos or Boca de Tomatlan to the seaside village of Yelapa and follow the signs for the Yelapa Waterfall Trail. For something more challenging, take on the Palo Maria trail, which is located near central Puerto Vallarta and is home to seven waterfalls, some of which require rock climbing to reach.

The treks around Cabo San Lucas offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in Baja’s spectacular desert landscape, including the popular La Laguna Mountains and the fossil fields in the Cape region. If you’re looking for an easier (and shadier) hike, then check out the historic San José Estuary, which is a favorite of birdwatchers. Keep in mind that hiking in Cabo San Lucas is more comfortable in winter months – if you’re planning a summer trek, make sure you head out early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day and take plenty of water. You’ll also need proper hiking boots, as rattlesnakes are fairly common on some trails.

Mexico City

The Desert of the Lions, Mexico City, Mexico

Escape the densely populated and polluted streets of Mexico’s capital, and explore some of the surrounding nature. The city is nestled amidst the Cordillera Neovolcánica mountain range, which boasts three of Mexico’s tallest peaks, as well as wildflower meadows and sprawling pine forests. Take on the 11,1500ft (3,400m) Paso de Cortes (more details below), which winds between two of Mexico’s most famous volcanoes, or take a more leisurely stroll around Desierto de los Leones (more below), Mexico’s first national park. Be warned, however, Mexico City sits at 7,350ft (2,240m) above sea level, so you’ll need to allow time to acclimatize before taking on any mountainous hikes.

Oaxaca

Mexico’s many mountain ranges, including those of northern Oaxaca, make the country an ideal hiking destination

This colonial city, in Southwestern Mexico, is surrounded by towering mountains and offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. These mountains, known as the Sierra Norte Range, are home to eight villages – Pueblos Mancomunados – that operate the Expediciones Sierra Norte ecotourism program, which gives back to the communities and environment. Pay a visit to the head office in Oaxaca City to plan an itinerary with one of the knowledgeable guides. Each village has a comfortable cabin to accommodate visitors and a restaurant serving up affordable local dishes.

Cancún

Cancún, on Mexico’s eastern Yucatán Peninsula, is best known for its lively resorts, white-sand beaches lined with bars and chaotic nightlife – making it a popular destination for backpackers and “spring breakers.” There are, however, also plenty of beautiful hikes within easy reach. One of the most popular is La Ruta de los Cenotes (the Cenotes Route), which is located near Cancún and Puerto Morelos and takes in eight cenotes (sinkholes) that you can swim in. The largest sinkhole on the route is Cenote Las Mojarras, located just over 7.5mi (12km) from the highway running between Cancún and Tulum in the Loma Bonita Eco Adventure Park, which also has bathrooms, camping and picnic facilities.

Sayulita

On route to Sayulita, Mexico

This former fishing village, between Mexico’s Pacific coast and the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains, is known mainly for its surf beaches and marine wildlife, including dolphins and humpback whales. The beaches also set the scene for some epic hikes that cut through pockets of jungle full of birds and wildlife. A notable exception is the enigmatically named Monkey Mountain, which has a trail that winds through lush jungle to a summit that offers sweeping views of the coastline in both directions. A round trip will take about three hours, and it’s advisable to hire a local guide to accompany you.

Santiago

This municipality, in the center of Nuevo León in northeastern Mexico, is part of the Programa Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns Program), an initiative that promotes rural areas offering natural beauty, cultural richness or historical relevance. Nearby the colorful village of Villa de Santiago lies Cascada Cola de Caballo, an 82ft (25m) waterfall also known as the Horsetail Waterfall in the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park. If you’re staying in Monterrey, book a guided tour to make the most of the walking trails. The park also boasts the tallest bungee jumping site in Mexico, a zipline, horse-drawn carriage rides and picnic facilities.

Tulum

Mayan Ruins at the city of Tulum near Cancun, Mexico

Want to explore some of Mexico’s most impressive ruins and get a taste of the country’s spectacular jungle? Head to the Muyil Archaeological Zone near Tulum, where you’ll find a walking route that runs through the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, Mexico’s third-largest biosphere reserve and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The route takes in historic sites – including Mayan pyramids, temples and altars – as well as thick Yucatan jungle and views over the Caribbean Sea. The best way to get there is to book a guided tour from Tulum.

Todos Santos

A view of the beautiful Punta Gasparena located on the Pacific coast, just south of Todos Santos

his seaside town, on the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, is one of the prettiest in the area – and has transformed over the years from quiet fishing village to a bustling destination known for surfing, galleries, whale-watching and mountain hikes. One of the most popular is the Pacific Bluffs trail, which starts at Punta Lobos beach and follows the cliffs along the coast. It takes around 3.5 hours to complete, and there are several swimming spots to stop off at along the way.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, a quintessential resort town, is famous for its palm-lined beaches and coral reefs that make it one of the world’s top diving and snorkeling destinations. If you’ve had enough of the beach, head inland into the rainforest. Traveling with kids? Xcaret Park is a family-friendly ecological theme park that gives visitors of all ages the opportunity to explore the tropical jungle.

Copper Canyon/Tararecua Canyon

Copper Canyon at Divisadero, Chihuahua, Mexico.

The Copper Canyon, ranked one of the best in the world by National Geographic, is actually a misnomer – it really should be pluralized, since the Copper Canyon range is made up of six separate canyons. The Tararecua Canyon is arguably the best for hiking, due to the thermal springs at the base. It cuts right through the northern state of Chihuahua, and combines indigenous culture with great scenery and rough wilderness.

Desierto de los Leones

One of Mexico City’s most popular and attractive hiking spots is the rather ominously named Desierto de los Leones, meaning “desert of the lions.” Not to worry, though, as it’s neither a desert nor home to any lions; instead you’ll see hikers, bikers and families tackling the craggy trails of this spectacular national park. The trails here range from moderate to difficult, but all are easily located and followed. One of the most challenging hikes heads to the park’s highest peak, Cerro San Miguel, which clocks in at 12,400ft (3,780m) above sea level.

Chipinque

A view of Monterrey from Chipinque natural park

This northern natural park, located in Monterrey, is blessed with a wealth of excellent hiking routes that will delight experienced pros and introduce newbies to the world of outdoor fitness. While the official Chipinque website has three recommended trails complete with maps, there are far more that you can undertake yourself over the 30mi (50km) expanse of this natural park.

Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve

This Biosphere Reserve, located in the south of Veracruz state, is the ideal hiking destination for fitness fiends interested in learning about culture and rituals while hiking. Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve occupies a vast expanse of over 380,000 acres (155,000ha) and is known for having areas such as Catemaco, which is populated with healers. Before starting any hike, legend says that you ought to be cleansed first. Many trail options are available here, from lakeside walks to mountainous hikes.

Paso de Cortes

Popocatepetl volcano, Paso de Cortes

Paso de Cortes, a specific hiking trail, is sandwiched between the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl, and is named for Spanish conquistador Hernán Córtes. The altitude proves an issue on this hiking route, which is around two to three hours outside of the capital, so it’s not for the fainthearted or the unacclimated. That being said, it’s more than worth the journey if you’re a fan of spectacular views.

Nevado de Toluca

Yellow jeep on runway to Nevado de Toluca,Volcano,Mexico

Located in Toluca, this is one of Mexico’s most popular destinations, which offers hiking that is more than suitable for beginners or amateur enthusiasts. Either hike to the summit of Mexico’s fourth largest mountain – Friar’s Peak – which sits at more than 1mi (1.6km) above ground level, or simply head to the twin lagoons that offer truly spectacular views. Since you can drive and park at many points up the Nevado de Toluca, hikes in this area can be tailored to various levels.

Iztaccíhuatl (Ixtacimhuatl)

This is the inactive half of Mexico’s set of twin volcanoes (the neighboring Popocatépetl erupted in 1994), and it makes for a popular hiking spot – although only among the more experienced and physically capable. While the summit is open to climbing attempts, it can prove fatal and the altitude proves brutal, so don’t push yourself on this two-day hike to Iztaccíhuatl.

Cumbres de Ajusco

Easily Mexico City’s most frequented hiking destination, Cumbres de Ajusco boasts well-trodden trails and well-worth-the-journey views. It is considered a much “lighter” hike, compared to many of the capital’s hiking offerings; it can be attempted by those with less experience, but the summit, at almost 13,000ft (4,000m) above sea level, can still cause problems. While there are technically many trails, all of them converge at one point or another on the peak, so don’t fret about getting lost.

Tepozteco

Tourists at El Tepozteco

The Tepozteco Mountain, in the town of Tepoztlán, is an easy hike to find and a delight to hike. It makes for a steep climb, but the altitude doesn’t even factor in for most people, given that the peak is still slightly below Mexico City itself. The truly magical reward for completing this hike is the pyramid that sits atop the summit, offering great views over the surrounding valleys and vistas.

Lauren Cocking contributed additional reporting to this article.

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