Volcano El Cuatlapanga is situated near the town of Apizaco, in the state of Tlaxcala in central Mexico. When you are driving to Apizaco from Mexico City or Puebla you'll see it on your right side as soon as the roads goes up after passing Tlaxcala, the capital of the state with the same name.
Although it is generally known as a ‘cerro’, (Spanish for ‘peak’ or ‘hill’), a study from 2005 by scientists from the Universidad Autónoma de México has found volcanic ashes on its slopes and therefore proclaimed it a volcano. El Cuatlapanga also appeared to be older than La Malinche. Most INEGI maps (Insituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía) still mention it as a ‘cerro’ and locals also refer to it as 'el cerro Cuatlapanga'.
The name Cuatlapanga comes from the indigenous language Nahuátl and means ‘cabeza partida’ or ‘head split in two’. This is believed to refer to the head of nearby volcano Malinche, a stratovolcano that seems to have had its head chopped off which landed a few miles away and thus created Cuatlapanga.
The name Cuatlapanga is also mentioned in a local Nahuátl legend as being the warrior engaged to lady Matlalcuéyetl (the Nahuátl name of La Malinche). When Cuatlapanga was called to go fight a war far away, Matlalcuéyetl was left behind very saddened but hopefull to see her beloved one return in good health soon. Cuatlapanga's war however did not come to an end as soon as was expected. As such many years went by and when he did return home he found lady Matlalcuéyetl to have died out of sadness and loneliness. He went to her grave where he cried and stayed transformed into what is know today as 'El cerro Cuatlapanga'.
The people of Cuaxomulco have built fourteen chapels along the trail that goes to the summit, where a big statue of Jesus Crist has been put in place. Every year in July a procession (with supposedly as many as a thousand participants) goes up to the summit halting at every chapel for prayers with a final mass at the feet of Cristo Rey on the summit.
It makes a nice day hike from Apizaco, although it doesn’t receive as many visitors as its famous neighbouring volcano La Malinche. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed 80 acres of forest (which is about half of it) on the slopes of El Cuatlapanga in April 2009. The trail to the summit takes you partly through the burned forest but the upper part still has dense forest as you go up on a steep rocky trail. At 2900m it is an easy climb with a summit that is reached in about an hour from the trailhead.
You'll find the trailhead in the village of San Antonio Cuaxomulco. To get there, first go to Apizaco. From Mexico City it takes two hours to get there by bus (100 pesos) from the east-bound bus terminal or TAPO (metro San Lazaro).
In Apizaco you can take a collectivo (local minibus) to Cuaxomulco from the corner of Calle Jesus Carranza and Avenida Benito Juarez. It drives through the village of San Andrés Ahuahuatepec and then to Cuaxomulco. Tell the driver you'll get off at the stop named 'La Palma', in the neighbourhood of 'Primera Seccion' (on the corner of Calle Baltazar Maldonado and Calle Guadelupe).
From here it's about half an hour to get to the actual trailhead where the road turn into a trail. From La Palma walk towards the volcano, turn left, then right and go straight ahead untill you reach a church on your right and a soccer field on your left side. To get to this point you could also take a taxi across the road from where the collectivo's leave. The taxi have signs saying 'Cuaxomulco' or 'El Cuatlapanga', the fare is about 35 pesos.
From the church on your right side at the trailhead the road splits in two after about 100m. This is where you have to take the trail going right! The road going left goes all the way around the volcano and ends up in San José Teacalco, the village behind it. After about 10 minutes you will see on your right hand side an little white chapel (this fourth out of fourteen). Twenty meters further up the road, take the trail going left. This is the trail the will take you all the way up to the summit. You will see plenty of white chapels on the way up.
There are no sidetracks, and the trail is very easy to follow. At the lower slopes you'll walk through the part of the forest that was destroyed by the fire, but further up the volcano (around chapel IX), the trail becomes more uneven, more narrow with rocks. It takes about an hour from the trailhead to reach the summit, which has a big statue of Jesus Christ on it (locals call it Cristo Rey).
When to go & other things to do in the area
You can climb El Cuatlapanga year round. However, during the rainy season (roughly June to October) there is a decent chance of rain, especially in the afternoon. There will also be more clouds blocking any views so I would really consider going there in the dry season November to March.
I've observed clear skies and no rain for days in a row during the rainy season, and cloudy days with afternoon rains during the dry season, so exceptions are possible!
The nearest next climb would be La Malinche with is 4462m. You can take a collectivo to the 'Centro Vaccional La Malintzi' after climbing El Cuatlapanga from the bus stop La Palma in San Antonio Cuaxuomulco, although you might have to wait a while if you just missed one. If you do return to Apizaco, you can take a collectivo in front of the Elektra shop near the corner of Avenida Benito Juarez with Calle Aquiles Serdan.
Tlaxco slot canyon is also an interesting place to visit. Head north to the town of Tlaxco (45min by bus). It's a short walk from Tlaxco's main square to the canyon.
El Peñón del Rosario is at 3420m another nice climb in the area. You'll find the trailhead in Acopinalco del Peñón, 8 km west of Tlaxco.
Red Tape and camping
There is no red tape, no restrictions. I guess you could camp somewhere in the forest, but it's quite uncommon because this is a rather short hike. There is plenty of budget accomodation in Apizaco. Hotel San Pablo on Calle Francisco Sarabia, in front of the Atah bus terminal has rooms at 150 pesos for a single, 250 for a double room (with tv and hot shower).