Toluca, Estado de Mexico, Mexico

Toluca is in the center of a wide valley just west of Mexico City, about an hour bus ride from Observatorio station. The highway crosses a small mountain chain called La Marquesa. There you can hike, rent horses, or eat trout and rabbit.

Click on any photo for a larger version

At 8,750 ft or 2,667 meters, Toluca is the highest city in Mexico, more than a thousand feet higher than Mexico City and about 2,500 feet higher than Denver, the mile high city. The elevation gives Toluca a pleasant, sunny climate. It can get chilly in the winter, especially at night. Summer afternoons the rain pounds. I’ve seen roads flood in 10 minutes.

The city center has large plazas and a spacious Zocalo. All around are at least 10 churches, the bells of which start banging at 6 AM and don’t stop until you are wide awake and hungover.

Centro has its bars and restaurants but can be really dead on weeknights. Many Toluquenos prefer to hang out in Metepec, a pretty town next to Toluca. But the bars in Toluca are about twice as cheap. There’s a block of good bars between Alameda and Portales, though many are only open Friday and Saturday nights. Also there is the soccer stadium with five dollar tickets, dollar-fifty bottles of beer (70 peso tix, 20 peso beers) and tons of noise and excitement.

One of the most famous sites in central Toluca is the Cosmovitral, a huge botanical garden. You can see plants native to Mexico and marvel at giant stained glass windows depicting the dawn of man, birds in flight, and more, designed by the State of Mexico’s famous artist Leopoldo Flores.


All Mexican towns have a Zocalo (center square), big or small, surrounded by the cathedral and government buildings. Many have cafes and bars, but not Toluca – just lots of government. Sometimes there are events here – I’ve seen political rallies, protests, and even Ruben Blades in concert.


I guess Toluca’s big tourist draw is the Portales, arches which surround the Cathedral and house the central shopping district. Here you can find Toluca’s famous food, chorizo sausage, especially good in a torta (sandwich) with Oaxaca cheese from La Vaquita Negra, a restaurant right next to the cathedral. There are plazas all around which host fairs, clowns, and musical performances. Sunday is the day to go, but events are happening all the time.

Without a doubt the best time to visit the Portales is a week or two before the Day of the Dead on November 1st. They are full of stands selling candy skulls and many other colorful crafts poking fun at death.

Pictured below are calaveras – little skeleton figures. They make great gifts; just buy the skeleton doing whatever job your friend has.

I really don’t like clowns but they always draw the biggest crowds.

No Mexican city would be complete without a market. Toluca’s is just past the Cosmovitral when you walk away from the cathedral.

The city is full of buildings for the University of the State of Mexico, or UAEM. There are two large campuses just outside the city center. One of them is on a little hill called CU, or university city. You can get nice views from the giant head on top.

There’s another small hill close to downtown called Calvario which makes for good walking and good views. It is usually visible from downtown. You will know it by the massive Mexican flag on top. There’s a church up there and trails all around.

The Volcano

The statue is pointing at the volcano

Follow Don Quixote’s finger and you will see Xinantecatl, or Nevado de Toluca, a huge dormant volcano. At 15,354 ft or 4,680 m, it’s the third largest in Mexico and about 1,000 feet higher than Mt. Whitney in California, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. You can drive right close to the top and then hike up, or hike through the forest below.

it’s all a big crater

This is one of the two lakes in the crater.

Yes, it does snow in Mexico! Actually this was hail. I met a few people who told me that there was a government plan to make a ski resort up there, and although it would be sweet to ski in Mexico, really there is only lasting snow for a few weeks or a month between January and February.

You might think that with all these mountains and volcano there would be excellent mountain biking. You would be right.

This was a trail that went through farmland, into the mountains, and came out in a town called Santa Maria. There’s good mountain biking all around Toluca within biking distance. The closest is Sierra Morelos park – a long range of hills right next to downtown.

The trail got a little crazy and we had to carry our bikes!

There are ruins nearby. This one is called Calixtlahuaca. It is just off the highway to Morelia. This too is within biking distance. Other nearby ruins are Malinalco or in Mexico City.

This guy wants you to visit Toluca:

About Ted Campbell

U.S./Canadian writer, translator and professor in Mexico. Travel stories and practical tips on my blog No Hay Bronca: // Twitter: @NoHayBroncaBlog // Contact: nohaybroncablog (at)

Posted on August 20, 2011, in Mexico, Travel, Travel in Mexico and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

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