It’s located in the seismic hot zone known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, renowned for its high frequency of tectonic plate activity, volcanoes and earthquakes. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Mexico has a rich range of high mountains, including 35 peaks with an elevation of over 10,000 feet and five over 15,000 feet. Even less surprising is that the vast majority of the highest mountains in Mexico are volcanoes. These are concentrated heavily in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.
Known as the Snowy Mountain Range or “Sierra Nevada”, the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt is a large volcanic region that extends through central Mexico. Home to a mix of active and inactive volcanoes, the belt stretches for over 600 miles, and includes some of Mexico’s largest cities, such as Mexico City and Puebla. The region is susceptible to frequent seismic activity and volcanism, such as the 2022 eruptions of Popocatépetl.
So, what are Mexico’s highest peaks? We’re on top of it, starting with the tallest mountain in Mexico.
1. Pico de Orizaba: The Tallest Mountain In Mexico
Height: 18,255-18,406 feet | State: Puebla and Veracruz
The biggest mountain in Mexico is a volcano. At between 18,255 and 18,406 feet above sea level, Pico de Orizaba, also known as Citlaltépetl, is the highest point in Mexico and the tallest volcano in North America. Located 60 miles from the city of Puebla, it is a popular tourist destination.
Formed in the late Pleistocene and Holocene, Pico de Orizaba has a symmetrical snow-capped cone and its summit crater is around 1,000 feet in depth. It’s what is known as a stratovolcano, a reference to its layered structure. Having last erupted in the 19th century, it is currently dormant.
Height: 17,802 feet | State: State of Mexico, Morelos and Puebla
At an elevation of roughly 17,802 feet, Popocatepetl is the second biggest mountain in Mexico. Located on the boundaries of the states of Mexico, Morelos and Puebla, it’s on the eastern end of the Sierra Nevada and can often be seen 40 miles away in Mexico City. Often referred to as ‘El Popo’, its full name translates as Smoking Mountain from Nahuatl.
Today, Popocatépetl stands on the site where a series of ancestral volcanoes erupted and collapsed, each time laying the ground for the next to rise. Popocatépetl as it is now was formed in this way some 23,000 years ago in the crater of its predecessor. Like Pico de Orizaba, it is a stratovolcano, however while Mexico’s highest peak is dormant, Popocatepetl is active. In fact it is considered one of the county’s most active volcanoes and erupted in 2022.
Popocatepetl is connected to and often twinned with the next highest point in Mexico, Iztaccíhuatl. Indeed, the two lend their names to the national park in which they reside, Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park.
Height: 17,126 feet | State: State of Mexico and Puebla
The third highest mountain in Mexico, Iztaccíhuatl, is also the lowest point in the country covered in ice and snow. Straddling the state border of Mexico and Puebla, this dormant volcano is famed for its mythological connection.
The Aztecs told of a princess whose father sent her beloved to war, then falsely told her he’d died. The beloved returned to find that the princess had died of grief. So he sat with her body and the gods turned them into the mountains of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatepetl.
The outline of Iztaccíhuatl’s peaks is said to resemble the form of a sleeping woman. And the mountain’s name translated from Nahuatl to mean “White Woman”, a reference to the snow at the top. Popocatepetl fits into the story as the warrior who stayed with her in death, the eruptions of the active volcano seen as expressions of rage at her father’s duplicity.
4. Nevado de Toluca
Height: 15,354 feet | State: State of Mexico
Had this list been made 23,000 years ago, Nevado de Toluca may have been the second or third tallest mountain in Mexico. However a gargantuan eruption blew off its cone around that time, cutting it down to size. The last time Nevado de Toluca erupted was around 10,500 years ago and it has since developed a plug known locally as ‘the navel’.
Various theories have been considered as to the etymology of the name of the fourth tallest mountain in Mexico. Some believe Nevado de Toluca translates as The Naked Lord, others The Lord of Nine. Whatever the case, this stratovolcano’s highest peak reaches 15,354 feet above sea level.
5. Sierra Negra
Height: 15,026 feet | State: Puebla
The name of the fifth biggest mountain in Mexico tends to cause some confusion. Sierra Negra is the name of a nearby mountain range. Indeed the moniker suits a range, translating as it does to “black mountains”. This oddity dates back to the Spanish conquest, when several mountains were given such names. Its official title is Black Lady Hill or “Cerro La Negra”.
Rising up to 15,026 feet, the extinct volcano is a hub for astronomical studies, home to both the High Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory and the Large Millimetre Telescope.
The Highest Mountains in Mexico
That snow-caps off the list of highest mountains in Mexico. We hope you hiked it.