Cofre de Perote seen from El Conejo. Cofre de Perote from Pico de Orizaba
El Cofre de Perote or Nauhcampatépetl is an extinct volcano in the Mexican state of Veracruz and the eight highest peak in Mexico at an altitude of 13944 ft or 4250 m (according to INEGI), and with a prominence of 4331 ft or 1320 m. It is located where the Cordillera Neovolcanica that strechtes west to east in central Mexico joins the Sierra Madre Oriental that goes all the way up into Northeastern Mexico.
This volcano got its name from the volcanic outcropping that constitutes its peak which resembles a steep four-sided box or ‘cofre’. Its original, indigenous name in Nahuatl, ‘ Nauhcampatépetl’, means ‘four-sided mountain’, thus also referring to its shape. Unfortunately the summit is nowadays covered with antenna's that do take away some of the 'cofre's' beauty.
El Cofre de Perote lies within the 'Parque Nacional Cofre de Perote', which was established in 1937 and covers about 11,700 ha. It is an extinct shield volcano, which gives it a rather broad profile and therefore doesn’t really match the popular stereotype of a volcano. Because of this and its close proximity to other, more famous Mexican volcanoes such as El Pico de Orizaba, El Cofre de Perote is often overlooked by many.
It still makes, however, for an easy and pleasant day-hike that takes you for the bigger part through a pine forest with great views of the surrounding volcanoes on clear days and could make for an easy
acclimatization climb for those planning to climb neigbouring volcanoes.
The road to the summit. Beginning of the trail as it goes up from El Conejo. The road on the left goes to the center of El Conejo. The summit. On the way to the 'Centro Recreativo' (which is still under construction).
El Cofre de Perote is best accessible via the town of Perote (2400m), located in the Mexican state of Veracruz . Perote is about 265km east from Mexico City, and some 130km from Puebla on highway 140 towards Xalapa. Buses run several times a day from Mexico City, Puebla and Xalapa. Perote itself isn't much of an interesting town, contrary to Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz.
From Perote, there are several access routes to ‘El Cofre’ but the one most commonly used is via the village of ‘El Conejo’ (3250m). By bus you will get to ‘El Conejo’ from Perote in about one hour for 16 pesos, by taxi it takes about half an hour for 80 to 100 pesos (some taxi drivers might show you a sheet with what are supposed to be the official tariffs, twice as much, but most will take you for less than 100 pesos). Buses only run every three hours, the last one at 7pm, so taking a taxi is the best thing to do.
The village of El Conejo has only one entrance road, the bus making a turn at the church before heading back to Perote. There are no hotels in El Conejo, so you better choose to stay in Perote, and take an early taxi in the morning. If you do end up in El Conejo you can ask in the grocery store ‘Miscalleanea Lizbeth’, right in front of the first bus stop as you enter the village, where they rent out some basic rooms for the night and can prepare you a meal although it is not really advertised. Also ask here about buses going back to Perote as there are no taxi's in the village.
To get to the trailhead turn right as you enter the village (turn left to get to the church) and after a couple of minutes you will see a blue sign indicating the way to the ‘centro recreativo’. From this sign, the rocky paved road takes you all the way to the top, in 3 to 4 hours. If the weather allows you could actually drive your car to the top. You’ll reach the ‘Centro Recreativo’ in 30-40 minutes up from the trailhead. You cannot get lost if you stick to the road.
To get to the actual summit a concrete staircase has been built on the side of the cofre with a metal bar on both sides to hold on to. Once you're at the top of the cofre make your way through the antenna's to the easily visible highest point where you will find two small crosses in memory of deceased mountaineers.
Cofre de Perote The 'Centro Recreativo', which is still under construction, as of October 2009.
You can pitch your tent anywhere up the volcano, and you might see several cleared spots where people have been camping on your way up.
A ‘centro recreativo’ is also being build, at about 30-40 minutes from the trailhead, with several cabins to stay at but it might take some time still for them to be finished. Apparently the idea is to build a site for people to enjoy the forest or a weekend outdoors without necessarily going to the summit, similar to the 'Centro Vaccional' on La Malinche
When to climb
El Cofre de Perote can be climbed all year round. However, during the rainy season, roughly July to October, there is a bigger chance for rain. But as it mostly rains in the afternoon, if you are lucky and with an early start, you can get back without getting wet. The winter season from November to March is colder, but has less clouds and rain , so you'll get better views. Expect snow near the summit during winter months. Hiking boots are recommended as the path gets slippery with the rain. It gets quite cold and windy as you get closer to the top.
There is no entrance fee to the Parque Nacional de Perote, there are no camping fees either.
http://www.uv.mx/cofrep/ : Programa de Manejo del Parque Nacional Cofre de Perote