Mexico is located in the southern part of North America, and spans an are of over 760,000 square miles. Two mountain ranges run across the country from north to south, the Sierra Madre Oriental and Sierra Madre Occidental. In the central part of Mexico, the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt crosses from the east to the west coast and holds some of the highest elevations in the country. This article takes a look at some of the tallest mountains in Mexico.
Pico de Orizaba
Pico de Orizaba reaches 18,491 feet above sea level, making it the tallest peak in Mexico. This mountain is located on the border of the states of Puebla and Veracruz and is classified as a dormant volcano. Boats approaching the shore in the Gulf of Mexico can see its top. Gran Glacier Norte, the largest glacier in Mexico, is located on this mountain. Due to its elevation, Pico de Orizaba experiences several micro-climates from tropical at its base to alpine at its upper levels. Culturally, this mountain has played an important role, particularly in Nahuatl speaking cultures. Geographically, the mountain slowed down the inland progress of Spanish invaders.
Popocatepetl stands at 17,749 feet above sea level, making it the second tallest peak in Mexico. As with Pico de Orizaba, this mountain makes up part of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. It is located on the borders of the Puebla, Mexico, and Morelos states. In the 1990’s, climate change and volcanic activity have worked together to diminish the size of its biggest glacier, Glaciar Norte. The glaciers had disappeared by the beginning of 2001. This is the most active volcano in the country. In 1947, it had a major eruption. Since then, it has had significant activity, emitting smoke, ash, and lava as well as producing tremors. Fourteen monasteries were built on the slopes of the mountain during the 16th Century. Today, several of these are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Standing at 17,159 feet above sea level, the Iztaccihuatl peak is Mexico's third tallest. It is registered as a dormant volcano and located between the states of Mexico and Puebla. This mountain has 4 individual peaks which, according to local beliefs, represent the head, chest, knees, and feet of a woman. The name means “white woman” in the traditional Nahuatl language. In Aztec legend, Iztaccihuatl was a princess who fell in love with one of her father’s troops, Popocatepetl. The king sent him to war and lied to the princess, telling her that her love had died. Iztaccihuatl died of grief. When Popocatepetl returned, he buried her where the mountain stands today and knelt by her body where the Popocatepetl mountain stands. It is believed that the gods covered them in snow. Some locals attribute the current volcanic activity of Popocatepetl to his rage and sorrow from having lost his one, true love.
Nevado de Toluca
The Nevado de Toluca is located around 50 miles to the west of Mexico City, and rises to 15,387 feet above sea level. The summit of this mountain houses 9 separate lakes which is thought to have given the peak its Nahuatl name, Xinantecatl. A road leading to the lakes once made this the most accessible mountain in the country although today, state officials have blocked the road for around a mile before reaching the lakes. The crater at the top was likely caused by a major eruption that occurred approximately 10,500 years ago. Nevado de Toluca has an arctic climate at its peak with little to no plant life. Archaeologists have discovered 18 ritualistic sites used for ceremonies and sacrifices, suggesting that this mountain played an important role in indigenous practice of religion.
The remainder of the list of tallest peaks in Mexico all fall under 15,000 feet above sea level. For their names and elevations, take a look at the chart listing them below.