Like most trail runners, spending long days out in the wilderness by myself were what attracted me to the sport. But long before I found myself in the mountains, art, music, and the opportunity to connect with all sorts of weirdos in urban environments were what nourished me.
I’ve lived in culturally thriving big cities nearly my entire life; my soul craves experimental noise shows and avant garde art in the same way it does watching dawn creep over mountain peaks. Mexico City is a unique place in that it caters to both of these tendencies in me. CDMX, as it’s branded, is a behemoth of a city with a flourishing culture fueled by a metropolitan population of over 20 million people – that just so happens to also be a trail running mecca.
My relationship with Mexico began as an attempt to break free from the quotidian of Southern California living. Mexico was in my backyard and I took full advantage of it, even moving to Tijuana for a time. Baja California, its trails, and people will always hold a special place in my heart, but the ease and affordability of domestic flights in Mexico took me to Mexico City again and again until I was deeply in love. Earlier this year, I finally took the plunge and made CDMX my home base. These days you can find me blissfully playing in the nearby mountains most weekends and gushing about the world class running opportunities at one of those noise shows when I’m not.
Where to Trail Run in Mexico City
Parque de los Dinamos
What I have found most surprising about living in the largest megalopolis in the Western Hemisphere is how easy it is to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere with just a little bit of effort. You don’t even have to leave the city limits of CDMX. Parque de los Dinamos is a shining example of this.
There are 4 “dinamos” in the park, I recommend taking the park road to the end and starting at the 4th dinamo. You’ll run very steep trails through lush alpine forest next to waterfalls, rivers, and incredible rock formations. The peaks in this park offer particularly rewarding views of the surrounding terrain if you make it to the top.
Photos: The views from the top at Parque de los Dinamos are well-earned at over 11,000 feet above sea level here, and even higher in some places. Photo Credit: Chava Rivero
Desierto de Los Leones
Arriving at Desierto de Los Leones to run on a weekend morning is like a trail party. This park is very popular with all types of outdoor recreationists and fills up quickly as the day goes on. If the altitude doesn’t get you first, you might run out of breath with all of the “Buenos Días!” you’ll be greeting your fellow trail-goers with.
Desierto de Los Leones has it all. To get some faster trail miles in, there’s a popular flat-ish section of trail called “La Pila.” To get in some more technical running, try one of the routes up to Cerro San Miguel. Like most multi-use trails, you’ll want to keep an eye out for mountain bikers.
Cumbres Del Ajusco National Park
If you’re looking for a long day out, I’ve heard you can link trails from Desierto de Los Leones over to forests of Parque Naciónal Cumbres Del Ajusco. Well, I haven’t done that yet, but it’s on the agenda.
My adventures towards the Ajusco peak have begun by parking at Parque Ejidal San Nicolas Totolapan. From there, you can take the wide cobblestone road up the mountain and pick one of the trails that criss-cross it. After climbing for 3-4 miles on the cobblestone road, you’ll find a monument to la Virgen de la Montaña and a lookout tower that you can climb not too far from it. The view is not to be missed.
Photos: The monument to la Virgen de la Montaña and misty forest running in Cumbres del Ajusco.
Milpa Alta is a rural delegation on the far south side of the city. It’s so out of the way of the hustle and bustle of central Mexico City that most of my native friends who grew up in the city haven’t even been to this burough. Park at the entrance to Parque Turistico El Ocotal and explore the loops in the park. The land here is pleasingly diverse. You’ll encounter grassy fields covered in wildflowers filling the space between expanses of tall trees and cacti. On your way back, be sure to stop and get some pulque for the ride.
Photo: Running through the wildflowers of Milpa Alta, Photo Credit: Mauricio Diaz
Sundays on the Reforma
On The first Sunday I ever spent in the city, I peeled myself out of bed after a night of one too many mezcales and stumbled out the door with the intention of doing a few laps around Chapultepec Park. Without much thought, I began following the swarm of bicycles and traffic cones on my street towards the crossing guards directing traffic. As I crossed over onto Paseo de la Reforma, the headache I was sporting and any trace of fatigue vanished. The energy was palpable as I found myself moving with a sea of thousands of bodies along this main avenue of the city.
If you do a CTRL + F on my training log for “happy cries,” you’ll find several hits on the Sunday mornings I run the Reforma. Every Sunday, the local government closes 55 kilometers of city streets to cars and opens the streets to all modes of human powered movement. You’ll see the people dancing salsa and doing zumba, fathers teaching their daughters how to ride a bike, families on roller skates, and runners of all shapes and sizes. To me, being in the presence of people from all walks of life moving their bodies together is one of the most beautiful and profoundly human experiences.
Photo: Sunday bikers on Paseo de la Reforma near El Ángel de la Independencia.
What to Bring While Running in Mexico
Your best manners
When I first began spending time in Mexico, I spoke 0 Spanish, except “por favor” and “gracias.” Before the first trail race I had run over in Baja, the only phrase I had committed to memory was “Am I going the right way??” Thankfully, I’m well beyond that point now, but I spent a long time managing with gestures, Spanglish, and the kindness of strangers. Most people will try to help you. Please, thank you, and patience go a long way.
Your best attitude
Mexico City is at nearly 7400 ft above sea level and some of the mountains mentioned in this article surpass 15,000 ft. Be prepared to feel the difference. I know it’s easier said than done. After all of the time I’ve spent here, it’s still hard to check my ego, especially while I’m acclimating. Throw your concern for pace out the window and enjoy the view.
Trust me, you’ll want to have some cash to try some of the typical street food afterward. During many tough runs at altitude, the only thing that has got me through to the end of the run is the thought of devouring quesadillas at the finish. More often than not, there are food stands near the parking areas of local mountains or trails. My post-run go-to is a quesadilla filled with fermented corn smut called “huitlacoche.”
Photo: Huitlacoche on a handmade blue corn tortilla. It tastes far better than it looks, I promise.
Not hungry? You’ll definitely have to use the bathroom at some point. Most places charge 5 pesos to use the facilities. Even on city runs, I keep some change in my running belt just in case. You’ll also need 10-20 pesos to pay the parking attendants if you happen to drive to any of the trailheads.
A Fully-Charged Phone
Mexico City is not a place with an intuitive grid of city streets. Make friends with google maps. Apps like Uber or Cabify make it easy to get to the trailhead and back.
A Plastic Baggy
Don’t let your phone fall victim to surprise showers in the rainy season. It rains in Mexico City – a lot. It’s always a good idea to keep a spare zip-lock bag in your hydration pack for trash pack-out on the trails, but here it’s vital for protecting your phone.
Other Resources for Trail Runners in Mexico City:
Trail Races Near Mexico City
There are so many trail races within a few hours of Mexico City that it’s hard to keep track. The Ultra Trail de México is probably the biggest trail race in the country, offering racers a tour through the gorgeous mountains of Hidalgo. In 2018, the race organizers also launched a tough sister race called Desafío en Las Nubes in Puebla. If you’re looking for well organized races that offer UTMB points, a competitive field, and challenging terrain, these races are sure to please.
Photo: At Desafío en Las Nubes. Shortly before this pictures was taken there was a local woman ahead of me wearing a skirt, carrying a machete, and straight kicking my butt up a climb. Photo Credit: Diego Sebastian
Mexico City has come a long way in recent years in terms of pollution, but it’s still far from perfect. Whether or not you’re sensitive to it, it might be a good idea to check the air quality if you’re running around the city.
Interested in venturing further out of the city for big adventures with warm folks? Check out Aire Libre, which is run by friends of mine based out of Mexico City. They offer guided retreats and experiences across the most beautiful trail running locales in Mexico. Check out the #weekendtrails section of their website for more routes and trail run ideas near Mexico City.
I don’t have a car here in the city, so all of my trail adventures start with an uber ride, catching a ride with friends, or Parkbus. Parkbus is an affordable shuttle that takes you to some of the National Parks around Mexico City. So far, I’ve used their service to visit the Parque Naciónal El Chico in the state of Hidalgo and Parque Naciónal Nevado de Toluca in the State of Mexico.
Photo: El Lago del Sol at Nevado de Toluca
Photo: I like ridge running, yes I do. I like ridge running, how about you?!