Cerro Huitepec is an extint volcano near the town San Cristobal de las Casas in the state Chiapas in southern Mexico. It is covered with a beautiful forest and it is a great opportunity to get a feel of a cloudforest, which you'll find on the upper parts of the volcano. It's very easily accesible and can be visited in half a day.
San Cristobal de las Casas, often just called San Cristobal is one of Mexico’s most visited towns, and is part of many people's visiting route on the way too or from the beaches on the Yucatan peninsula and Oaxaca, Puebla and Mexico City further north. It's more like hiking a mountain than hiking a volcano: it is not a stratovolcano and you won't see any crater. It's the cloudforest that makes it very interesting.
Cerro Huitepec lies within the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, which is part of the Cordillera Centroamericana that stretches further south into Guatemala and El Salvador. Together with Cerro Tzontehuitz Cerro Huitepec is one of the highest points of Chiapas at 2750m. Huitepec means 'mountain of colibries' in the indigenous language Nahuátl. In tzotzil, another indigenous language of the area call it 'Muk’ul-huitz', or 'big mountain'. Although Tzotzil is the dominating indigenous language in the area the Nahuátl name made it to become the official name.
To the local Tzotzil population, Cerro Huitepec is still considered a sacred place, to whom offerings are being made in order to keep the mountain gods happy. The many springs and creeks at the bottom of Cerro Huitepec are also important to provide the surrounding communities with water.
Well aware of the ecological importance of Cerro Huitepec, the east-northeast side was turned into a reserve in 1986, the first private in Mexico, at the request of some neighbours worried about the state of the forest because a lot of logging was going on. Part of Cerro Huitepec was then acquired and has been managed eversince by the ecological organisation Pronatura. It covers 135 hectares and covers much of the cloud forest of the volcano.
Information at the entrance says the wildlife in the reserve 'counts more than 100 species of birds, both resident and migratory. There are also 38 species of mammals and 16 species of amphibians and reptiles at the reserve.' You do hear several birds in the forest indeed but it is pretty hard to spot one in the thick canopy, bring your binoculars. November and December are the best months for bird spotters as that's when most migratory birds arrive in the area.
The volcano is best hiked via the Huitepec Ecological Reserve, which is about 5 km from San Cristobal de las Casas (which is some 60 km from Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital, and about 1200 km from Mexico City). The cheapest direct buses from Mexico City take you in fourteen hours to Tuxtla Gutierrez for only 350 pesos, departing from the notorious 'La Merced' market (near the metro stop of the same name).
To get there from San Cristobal de las Casas, you can take any bus that goes to the village of San Juan Chamula and ask the driver to drop you off at the Reserve. These depart near the main market. Collectivo's (minibusses) saying 'San Ramon' or 'La Quinta' also go that way (4,5 pesos). You'll find these in front of the Santo Domingo church (that's the one with the beautiful baroque facade). There is a big sign to the side of the road at the entrance of the reserve, so you can't miss it.
The entrance fee to the reserve is 20 pesos. A well indicated trail takes you through the forest on the 'Oxyquet trail', which is about 2 kilometers long. At the entrance you'll be given a trailguide that gives some explanation about the reserve, with a map and the answers to the thirteen questions related to the forest you'll find along the trail. Four rest places have been constructed along the trail, so there are plenty of options to rest and listen to the birds. It is not really a difficult hike, and it generally only takes about two hours to do the whole tour. The fourth resthouse is at the highest point of the trail. Behind it, a clear trail goes up for another fifteen minutes to the top. The summit is not indicated, and the trail goes up and down a bit, so its guessing for the 'real summit'. You won't get any good views anyway, so you might as well stick to the main trail. Another trail is going up from the opposite side of the volcano, but I'm not sure where the trailhead is, probably at one of the villages on the other side of the volcano.
When to go
You can hike Cerro Huitepec any time of the year. Because San Cristobal de las Casas is situated at about 2200m altitude, it doesn't get as hot as in the lower parts of Chiapas, as in Tuxtla Gutierrez for example. So it is usually quite chilly at night, with sun during the day. There will be storms during the rainy season rougly May to October. Cold fronts make temperatures drop during December and January to near freezing point at night, although during the day there will be sun which makes it a pleasant weather for hiking.
Red Tape and camping
No red tape. There is an entrance fee of 20 peses when entering the reserve. No camping is allowed in the reserve. Being only 5km from San Cristobal de las Casas, it is recommended to stay in one of the many hotels there.
Pronatura (www.pronatura-chiapas.org): Pronatura is a Mexican organization dedicated to the 'conservation of flora and ecosystems and works towards the development of a society that lives in harmony with nature'.
Go visit the Cañón del Sumidero while you are in the area, you'll be impressed.
Another amazing place to visit is the Cañón Río La Venta, about two hours west of San Cristobal de las Casas on highway 190, near Ocozocoautla.