Mexico’s Monster Mountain: La Malinche

Mexico’s indigenous Talaxcaltec people say the mountain of La Malinche was once the lair of an elusive reptilian monster. According to legend, the creature would descend from the peak to kidnap children, and drag them back to its mountain abode. High up on the craggy volcanic rocks, the reptile would devour its victims. The monster only attacked during rainy season, when the mountaintop becomes covered with sleet and frost. Naturally, this was the time of year I decided to check out the peak.

Also known as Matlalcueye or Malintzin, La Malinche is Tlaxcala state’s tallest mountain. With an altitude of somewhere between 4,440 and 4,461 meters above sea level (depending on the source), it’s also Mexico’s sixth highest peak.

The hike to the summit is a short but rewarding ascent through pine forests, windswept planes and finally the rocky peak.

Reaching the trailhead to the summit is easy enough from Apizaco, a regional transport hub for much of northern Tlaxcala state. There’s regular buses to Apizaco from Mexico City’s TAPO, Puebla’s CAPU and Tlaxcala’s main terminal. Colectivos depart to the trail head from the corner of Avenida Hidalgo and Avenida Serdan, outside the large Elektra store (just a few blocks south west of Parque Cuauhtemoc). The going rate at the time of writing was MX$20 (around US$1) for the 45 minute trip. The first colectivo departs at 0820 (arrive early if you can), and the last one returns from the trailhead at 1700. Although it’s possible to do the entire trip in a single day from Mexico City or Puebla, staying overnight in Apizaco isn’t a bad option for anyone hoping to guarantee a seat on the 0820 colectivo. I stayed at the Hotel Catedral (basic rooms for MX$250/US$13), which is located about half a block east of Parque Cuauhtemoc on Boulevard 16 de Septiembre. Apparently there are a few cheaper hotels around, though I was happy to pay a little extra to be close to the centre of town.

Another shortcut I’ve found since originally writing this post is a direct bus that departs every Sunday at 8am from in front of the large Farmacia Guadalajara in Puebla’s Mercado Hidalgo. The mercado is a few minutes by foot from Puebla’s main bus terminal, the CAPU. Also on Sundays, there are return buses to Mercado Hidalgo from the trailhead at around 3-3.30pm and 5-5.30pm. As far as I’m aware, these direct buses between La Malinche and Puebla only run on Sundays.

Both the direct buses and those colectivos I mentioned earlier will drop you off at the Centro Vacacional IMSS La Malintzi, which offers cabins for hire at the base of the mountain. It’s also possible to camp here. The trail head itself is actually a road heading uphill just outside the IMSS guard post. For the first phase of the hike, hikers can either follow the road as it winds uphill, or take the large trail that goes directly up, occasionally intersecting with the road. Both are clearly marked, and you’ll know you’re going in the right direction if you’re heading uphill. Either way, you’ll eventually end up at a large sign marking the start of the trail proper. From there, you walk a few kilometres uphill through a pine forest. The trail is very clear, though it’s a little steep in some areas.

Eventually, the forest gives way to open planes dominated by the peak in the distance. By now, you may have noticed there are plenty of good spots to pitch a tent; though the higher up you go, the more solitude you’ll get. From this point, reaching the peak is a simple matter of following a trail that runs alongside a deep, dry creek bed. Then there’s another steep incline that leads up to Tlachichihuatzi, a side peak on La Malinche’s northern flank. After that, there’s a pretty self explanatory hike directly across the saddle from Tlachichihuatzi to Malinche.

The final ascent is (what seemed to me like) a class 2 scramble to the peak. In good weather, the volcanic rock is easy to grip, making for an easy ascent. However, when I visited, the rocks were covered in frost, and pretty slippery. Standing on the peak was a bit precarious, and I didn’t linger long. At least there were no signs of monsters.

Most people climb La Malinche during the dry season from November to March. However, the mid year wet season makes this easy peak a little more challenging. For most of the hike, I was battered by rain, hail and wind, and the peak was seriously frosty. There was a little snow, but mostly just lots of ice pellets. A bolt of lighting struck close enough for me to get a jolt of static, and the wind and rain made scrambling just that extra bit tougher.

At an easy pace, I reached the summit in around two and a half hours, and spent another two hours descending very, very slowly. Anyone in good physical condition and weather on their side could easily do the entire trip in three hours, though a more casual visitor might want to set aside around six. Either way, if you get the 0820 colectivo from Apizaco, you should have more than enough time to cover the entire round trip before the last colectivo departs from the IMSS at 1700. After the hike, there’s a few places to eat just outside the IMSS, where you can grab a piping hot quesadilla for MX$13 (US$0.70). It’s a nice little reward after a decent hike.

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