The Sierra de Santa Catarina Volcano Chain

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View of the Sierra Santa Catarina from Lake Huetzallin in the Xochimilco Ecological ParkPhoto: Yavidaxiu on Wikimedia Commons.

A Mexico City Chain of Volcanoes

The Sierra de Santa Catarina is a chain of volcanoes and no fewer than 47 specially administered neighborhoods in the City’s southeast. Once known as the Peninsula de Iztapalapa and the Sierra de Ahuízotl, as a mountain range, it’s one of the most dramatic elements of the entire Mexico City skyline.

Declared an Ecological Conservation Area by the City in 1998, in 2000 it was made part of the Sierra de Santa Catarina Partial Urban Development Program. A City program, the intent is to better manage land use, infrastructure and road construction, transportation, public services, territorial reserves, the environment, and the significant urbanization that’s happened in the entire area.

The Sierra is home to hundreds of thousands of residents, and it’s still a dramatic and interesting place to live and visit.


The “Sierra de Ahuízotl” was named for the range’s appearance which struck some viewers as like the mythical amphibious animal emerging from the lake. It was all part of a peninsula that was called Iztapalapa for the ancient city there.

Like the Sierra de Guadalupe, Catarina has seen its forests cut, and many of the volcanoes have been seriously reduced by the mining of tezontle, the distinctive red stone so prominently used in buildings in Mexico City. There are also mines for basalt and sand used for construction.


The Volcanoes


All of the volcanoes in the range are monogenetic, meaning, they erupted but once and went dormant or extinct.  There are about 3,000 of these volcanoes in all of Mexico. Those of the Santa Catarina mountain-range were all formed during the Mesozoic era, between 252 and 66 million years ago.

Yohualixqui is sometimes called “Alvarado Mountain.” The name means “round place,” and at a height of 2,420 meters above sea level, it is one of the most overexploited and deteriorated volcanoes in the sierra. A private mining company actually purchased the mountain about 40 years ago and it’s overall body has been reduced by about 60%. It was also badly shaken by the earthquake of September 19, 2017 which caused a significant landslide and further deterioration.

One of the most endangered volcanoes, Tetecon is today but a small hill near to the Xaltepec volcano. Surrounded by the communities of Buenavista and Tenorios, it remains powerful visual presence for residents.

At 2,520 meters high, it’s one of the most visually striking in the range. Xaltepec is just northwest of Tláhuac. Sometimes called “Cerro de la Cruz,” it’s been a source of tezontle since its stone was taken to build the House of the Eagles, part of the Templo Mayor complex.

The Tecuauhtzin volcano is sometimes called “Santiago” and is right on the border between Tláhuac and Iztapalapa. With a height of 2,640 meters above sea level, it’s the second tallest. The name comes from Tetl “stone,” cuauhtli “eagle” and tzin, an honorific often translated as “Lord.” Lord Stone Eagle is so-called because a 12-meter stone eagle is believed to have been carved here.

The highest point in both Iztapalapa and Tláhuac, at 2,782 meters above sea level the Guadaloupe is bound to have a bunch of names. Visible from many parts of both alcaldías, it’s also home to San Miguel Teotongo on the northern slope, and to the southwest, is Santa Catarina Yecahuízotl in Tláhuac. The southern slope is a protected natural area and part of an important water conservation area.

La Caldera/Cuexomatl
La Caldera Volcano is the only one entirely in the state of Mexico. Known in the pre-Hispanic era as “Cuexcomatl”. Today, it’s more affectionately known as “The Cauldron” and at but 2,400 meters above sea level it’s the most easily scaled, and a visit will show you that lots of people still consider it a neighborhood park.

Cerro de la Estrella/Huizachtepetl
The only volcano in this list to warrant its own entry here (linked above), the Cerro de la Estrella is not always officially considered part of the Sierra de Santa Catarina. At a height of some 2,460 meters above sea level, it’s not even the tallest. But it does bear the weight of a long history and a thriving culture that has grown up in its shadow and on its slopes.

Declared a national park in 1938 by President Lázaro Cárdenas, the city has continued to take its toll on the mountain. That eventually led to the removal of national park status. Today, it’s a protected natural area, administered by the Mexico City government.

The volcano used to host the New Fire Ceremony, the last one having been performed in 1507. Thus, the Museo del Fuego Nuevo is here, to document some of the art and culture associated with that ceremony. And although every year, that ceremony is commemorated, it will be actually celebrated in earnest again in 2027.

Since 1843, the Cerro and Iztapalapa have also famously hosted the elaborate Passion Play. On Good Friday, the Cerro stands in for Mount Calvary in what is undoubtedly the highlight of the weeks events that begin on the preceding Palm Sunday. Having attracted at times, up to 4 million spectators, it’s a major event in the alcaldía, and the City.


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