Photo: Edwin Morales (Some rights reserved)

Clear days in Mexico City are measured by one’s ability to see the surrounding snow-capped mountains.

The most impressive of mountains are the twin volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl, also known as ‘Smoking Mountain’ (5,452 meters // 17,887 feet) and ‘The Sleeping Woman’ (5,286 meters // 17,342 feet), respectively.

Popocatépetl is one of the most active volcanoes in Mexico and the most famous, having had more than 15 major eruptions since the arrival of the Spanish in 1519.

Google Maps

The last eruption of Popocatépetl (commonly known as Popo) occurred in 1802, with additional rumblings throughout the 1920s; but the volcano was awakened from its slumber in December 1994 and has been off-limits to climbers. The danger level could go to red alert at any time. The volcano is monitored by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a webcam provides 24-hour coverage.

History and Legends
Historically, the volcanoes have been used for a variety of natural resources. Historians recount that the Aztecs made trips to the volcano to fetch ice for Moctezuma’s beverages. The Spanish conquistadors used the sulfur found in Popo’s crater as a source for their gunpowder.

And according to legend, a princess was waiting for the return of her warrior lover when she heard an erroneous report of his death. Grief-stricken, she poisoned herself and died. The warrior, still alive, returned from battle and carried her body to the top of Ixtaccíhuatl. Holding his dead lover, he jumped into the crater to his death.

Travelers’ Tips
Mexican volcanoes are higher than most mountains in the United States, but shorter than their South American cousins. Consequently, mountain climbers bound for South American volcanoes use this area as a training ground.

A word about safety: You should not try to climb a volcano without climbing experience. If you’re a novice, find a guide. Be sure to have crampons, rope, and an ice ax — and know how to use these tools. Be alert to the danger of snow blindness, and be sure to wear UV-protecting sunglasses while you are on the ice.

Altitude sickness is potentially life-threatening; know the symptoms (severe headache, accelerated respiration). Allow a few days to acclimatize in Mexico City or Amecameca before climbing to a higher elevation.

Park Status
The park is 25,679 hectares // 63,427 acres in size.

Key Links
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Forum – SummitPost

Mexicans near Popocatepetl stay vigilant as volcano’s activity increases

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