With world-renowned restaurants like Pujol, iconic local artists like Diego Rivera, and hip neighborhoods like Condesa, Mexico City is arguably the cultural and culinary capital of North America. Lesser known, however, is that beyond the city’s haze spreads a world of volcanoes and mountains to climb, ancient ruins to explore, and villages to experience. Wake up early to take a break from city life and make the most of a day’s escape with these diverse excursions.
History in Teotihuacán
It’s no surprise the Aztecs named this abandoned city of unknown origins Teotihuacán, meaning “the place where the gods were created.” Two pyramids—the Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon—tower over the impressive archaeological site that was once home to one of the most influential ancient cultures in Mesoamerica. When visiting, arrive as early as possible to climb the hundreds of steps to the tops of both pyramids for panoramic views without crowds. Back on ground level, walk the central Avenue of the Dead and wind through the Palace of Quetzalpapálotl to admire the colorful artistry of painted murals and carved pillars. End with a visit to the museum to marvel at artifacts that were found where you just walked.
Distance from Mexico City: 30 miles, ~1 hour
How to Get There: Take a bus from Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte, Gate 8.
Don’t Forget to Pack: Bring cash for bus and entrance fee, water, sunblock, snacks, camera, and athletic shoes
Nature in Nevado De Toluca
Nestled within the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, Mexico City is a day hiking dream come true. Two hours southwest of the city is the magical, alpine landscape of Nevado de Toluca, an extinct snow-dusted volcano with two sapphire and turquoise crater lakes. Whether you're simply looking to picnic with a view, or a mountaineer attempting to summit Pico de Fraile (15,354 feet), Nevado de Toluca is an exhilarating escape for nature lovers of all types. This is a popular weekend destination for locals, so arrive early to beat the crowds—and pay attention to your body’s reaction to high altitude while hiking the one-mile trail from the main parking lot to the crater rim. For the adventurous, local guide Miriam Diaz recommends the trail from Los Venados, where you’ll hike through pine forests and grasslands before reaching the rocky ridge to the summit for stunning panoramic views.
Distance from Mexico City: 60 miles, ~2 hours
How to Get There: Hire a local guide to maximize peace of mind, time at the crater, and safety if attempting to summit. Public transportation is possible but requires transferring from the Flecha Roja bus to a taxi, or to a local bus and then walking or hitchhiking further to the main starting point.
Moon Lake is one of the crater lakes found in the extinct Nevado de Toluca volcano.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RAUL TOUZON, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
Don’t Forget to Pack: Bring cash for entrance fees or to pay a guide, layers, water, sunblock, lunch, snacks, hiking boots, camera. If attempting to summit, pack appropriate gear to safely scramble loose rock and traverse snow and ice.
Culture in Cholula and Puebla
Cholula may be best known as the hot sauce adding spice to Americans' lives, but more impressive is its namesake, known as a "Pueblo Mágico." At the foot of the active Popocatepetl volcano lies colorful Cholula, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas since its settlement during the first few centuries BCE. Its focal point is the burnt orange façade of the Church of Our Lady of Remedies, perched atop what appears to be a large hill—but which is actually the largest pyramid by volume in the world. Spend the early morning exploring its grounds, tunnels, and views. By lunch, head to the historic city center of neighboring Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Stroll its streets to admire colonial buildings covered in painted ceramic Talavera tiles, peruse the markets to take home your own Talavera pottery, peek into the Church of Santo Domingo’s opulent chapel, and savor the rich, spicy-sweet taste of authentic mole poblano.
The Convent of St. Gabriel is one of Cholula's many beloved old churches.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RODRIGO CRUZ, THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX
Distance from Mexico City: 80 miles, ~2 hours
How to Get There: Take the Estrella Roja bus from Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajeros de Oriente (Le Tapo), and use taxis or rideshares once there.
Don’t Forget to Pack: Bring a tote bag for shopping, as well as cash, water, sunblock, snacks, camera, and athletic shoes.
Waterfront in Valle de Bravo
Surrounded by lush, green, pine-covered mountains two hours west of Mexico City lies the popular lakeside retreat, Valle de Bravo. Water sport enthusiasts flock to this charming colonial town on the shimmering Lake Avándaro for sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, paddle boarding, cliff jumping and waterfall hopping. For those preferring to stay dry, hike to Mirador La Peña for panoramic views of the idyllic landscape, or go even higher with a paragliding excursion. Traveling in the winter (Nov - Mar) offers a unique opportunity to visit the nearby Piedra Herrada, a sanctuary that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Millions of monarch butterflies overwinter in its oyamel fir forests, making for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Distance from Mexico City: 90 miles, ~2.5 hours
How to Get There: Take the Express Zina-bus from Poniente Bus terminal, and use taxis while there.
Don’t Forget to Pack: Bring a bathing suit and towel, plus cash, water, sunblock, snacks, camera, and athletic shoes.
Healing in Tepoztlán
Revitalize the spirit and body in Tepoztlán, a quaint town wrapped in jungle-like vegetation and protected by majestic, craggy cliffs, where the Tepozteco pyramid still stands. As the legendary birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of pulque (a milky, fermented agave alcoholic drink), Tepoztlán is believed to exude a healing energy and has been a destination for spiritual pilgrimages throughout the centuries. Hike to the mountaintop to see for yourself, or participate in a variety of mystic practices offered throughout the city. From new age aura photography to the ancient temazcal, a shaman-led cleansing steam bath ritual that takes place in a stone, igloo-shaped structure, Tepoztlán will ignite your spiritual spark.
Distance from Mexico City: 50 miles, ~1.25 hours
How to Get There: Grab a Pullman de Morelos bus from Terminal Central del Sur (Tasquena).
Don’t Forget to Pack: Bring a bathing suit and cover-up for a temazcal, plus a tote bag for shopping, and cash, water, sunblock, snacks, camera, and athletic shoes.