Mexico Life
Tequila Volcano in Guadalajara. Tequila Volcano in Guadalajara.

Beat the heat in crater of the Tequila Volcano

Crater is a picturesque landscape of oaks and pines, flowers and tall bunchgrass

“There is a bottomless pit at the top of Tequila Volcano and no one has ever gone into it.”

This was a rumor I heard many years ago and because cave exploration is my hobby, I made up my mind that I would be the first to reach the bottom of that pozo sin fondo.

Tequila Volcano is located at the southern end of the famed town of Tequila, Jalisco, towering above it like a giant with his head in the clouds. Even on the hottest day you may need a jacket at the very top, which is 2,920 meters (9,580 feet) above sea level.

Curiously, we may never have heard of Tequila the town if it weren’t for Tequila the volcano. Up until its last eruption 200,000 years ago, this classic stratovolcano produced vast quantities of lava, including enough obsidian to rank the state of Jalisco fourth largest in the world in terms of obsidian deposits.

The ash released by the volcano covered a large area where, combined with abundant springs and near-tropical climates in the already fertile Santiago-river canyons, it helped produce the perfect environment for growing agave.

When I first asked the local people how to reach the peak of the volcano, I was told I would find a good cobblestone road which is well maintained to provide access to the microwave antennas perched on the crater rim.

“Crater? That might be more interesting than the so-called Bottomless Pit,” I thought.

The long and winding road up the volcano is a favorite for botanists and biologists who say that with every 200-meter rise in altitude, they find themselves in a different environment, with new plants, bugs and animals to explore.

One of those plants is carnivorous and appears at around 2,000 meters above sea level. It’s a delicate mountain violet or butterwort that traps tiny insects on its sticky broad leaves, which lie flat on the ground around the stem. You’ll often find this plant on the side of the road, in places where nothing else is growing, because it gets its nutrition from bugs rather than soil.

Searching for butterworts, we stumbled upon bright yellow Caesar’s mushrooms, an edible amanita which got this name because they were supposedly a favorite of the Roman emperor Claudius. In Spanish they are called yema de huevo, or egg yolks.

At altitude 2,838 meters, there’s a barely noticeable path leading to the rim of the crater and, by the way, to the so-called Bottomless Pit, which you can still see there today. This hole turned out to be conveniently located right next to a sturdy tree, making it very easy for me to rappel all of 20 meters down to its bottom where I found — absolutely nothing.

“This looks like a valiant attempt to dig a well,” I shouted up to my compañeros. Now before you suggest that it surely must have been a waste of time to dig a well at the top of a volcano, let me mention what we found only 230 meters away: a delightful cold spring from which clean, drinkable water bubbles all year round.

Fortunately, the crater of Tequila Volcano proved to be far more interesting than the 20-meter pit. The craters of some volcanoes have steep slopes covered with loose scree or ash where nothing whatsoever grows.

Tequila Volcano is just the opposite. Oaks and pines, flowers and tall bunchgrass combine to form an unusually picturesque landscape that I have found bewitching, no matter in what season of the year I have visited it. Tall trees offering lots of shade are the order of the day right up to 2,880 meters altitude, above which all you can see are “dwarf” trees, nature’s bonsais, so to speak.

A short walk on a relatively level path takes you along the perimeter of the crater rim, past trees and rocks covered with brightly colored lichen and velvety moss. Here you’ll see tall, prickly Saint Benedict’s thistle, supposedly good for all sorts of things from curing anorexia to promoting lactation and, if you keep your eyes open, you may spot a small white Govenia orchid which grows not in tree branches, but on the ground, often right next to the path.

In less than half an hour you’ll arrive at the base of the massive volcanic plug rising straight up above you, popularly known as la tetilla, the nipple. It is said that this spine represents the final gasp of volcanic activity in the crater after its last eruption 200,000 years ago.

Today this monolithic spire challenges the adventurous to climb to the very top for a spectacular view of what at first they might take for countless lakes stretching out in every direction. Of course, it’s only an illusion because this volcano is located precisely in the heart of tequila territory and what you are really looking at are vast fields of blue agave.

I’m not a mountain climber, but I found it easy (albeit scary) to reach the peak of the pinnacle, well belayed and under the supervision of an alpinista friend. The rush of adrenaline on the climb was followed by the rush of exhilaration upon discovery of the glorious view from the very top.

A visit to the crater of Tequila Volcano is something you’ll still be talking about when you’re 80.

If you’re visiting the town of Tequila and not too tipsy after the experience, you’ll find the cobblestone road to the top at the extreme south end of town (N 20.87231 W 103.84263). After following it uphill for 15.7 kilometers, you come to a locked gate. Park here and continue on foot another 1.6 kilometers until you reach N 20.78951 W 103.84820.

Here is the beginning of the trail to the base of the lava plug. For more information on this site, see Scouting the Tequila Volcano.

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for 31 years, and is the author of “A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area” and co-author of “Outdoors in Western Mexico.” More of his writing can be found on his website.

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