Orizaba, located in the mountains of the state of Veracruz, Mexico, is the best little city you’ve likely never heard of. The people are friendly, the vibe is relaxed, and best of all, they have several outdoorsy options right in town, just a short walk, cab ride, or bus ride from your lodgings (it’s a small city overall). While Orizaba is deservedly listed as one of Mexico’s “Pueblo Magico,” the city doesn’t feel tourism-focused at all, so these outdoor activities are actually geared toward the locals just as much as any visitors that happen to drop by.

Those of you who already know of Orizaba likely have heard of it because of the Pico de Orizaba—a mountain of the same name—which is the third highest peak in North America. The mountain is located roughly 25 kilometers northwest of the city of Orizaba, as the crow flies, and it’s actually visible from several vantage points throughout the city, when the weather is clear. While the Pico de Orizaba is an exciting hiking option, it is outside of the city, so it falls beyond the scope of what we’re discussing today, and honestly beyond the scope of our hiking abilities. (It’s the snow-capped peak in the center of the photo below.)

Outdoor Activities in Orizaba, Mexico

During our month-long visit to Orizaba, we found three great options for spending time outdoors, near nature, in Orizaba.

500 Escalones

We stayed in Barrio Nuevo, which put us just a 10 minutes’ walk from the park that houses the 500 escalones (500 steps). Don’t be intimidated: it’s only 250 stairs each way and you start your journey at the top of the stairs. The park at the rim of the gorge from which the stairs descend is quiet, relaxing, and a great place to sit and enjoy the sounds and sights of the waterfalls below. If you take the escalones, you’ll find yourself about halfway down into the gorge, where there’s a trail that leads across a dam, around a mountain, and over north along a foot path. We hiked this one day—it’s low impact and mostly shaded. Pack a lunch and spend a few hours out there: it’s lovely and well-used by local joggers and families out for a weekend stroll.

Outdoor Activities in Orizaba, Mexico

Río Orizaba

Cutting north-south, right through the city center, is the Río Orizaba. It’s a fast moving but shallow river whose channel has been paved with stones and concrete. The river has pathways on both sides with a free eco-zoo along the length housing rescued captivity-born and raised animals such as jaguars, tigers, camels, llamas, a bear, birds, pigs, ostriches, coyotes, and various reptiles and primates. You can easily spend three to four hours walking up and down the riverside, enjoying the sounds of the water, the cool air, observing the groups of people walking and the animals, and catching countless photo-worthy views of the river and its environs. When you’re done, you can grab a snack and a cold beer (or a michelada, like the locals do) at the riverside area beneath the Puente Independencia carrying Avenida Poniente 3, near the terminal for the teleférico (cable car line).

Outdoor Activities in Orizaba, Mexico

Cerro del Borrego

Speaking of the teleférico, for a $50 peso per person fee (about $2.50 USD at time of writing), you can ride in a cable car up to the top of Cerro del Borrego. Trust us, it’s worth the pesos (American tourists will find this price cheap, anyway!). The views from the cable car are breath-taking and the ride is rather short overall. Once atop the mountain, there’s a small park with several scenic overlooks, a restaurant, snack shop, restrooms, two small museums, an observation tower, plenty of covered picnic tables to sit and eat, and even a short zip line. There are also some ruins up here of an old fort and church which featured in a battle during the French Intervention in the mid-19th century. It’s a peaceful place to explore or just sit and take in the view of Orizaba and its sister town to the west, Río Blanco. There’s also a hiking trail up to the park, which we took to return to the city instead of returning on the cable car. We recommend taking the cable car up and descending on the hiking trail, assuming you’re wearing the proper footwear: some of the trail is rather steep and rocky, but it’s a pretty easy 45-minute descent, otherwise.

Outdoor Activities in Orizaba, Mexico

If you ever visit Orizaba—and we highly recommend that you do—be sure to check out these easy, fun, and largely free outdoor activities. The only thing that you’ll need to pay for is the cable car ride. Otherwise, visiting the 500 escalones, the Río Orizaba, and Cerro del Borrego are all free! We’re all about free activities that put us closer to nature and allow us to enjoy the outdoors. It’s not hard to enjoy the outdoors in Orizaba any time of year, because the temperature is fairly moderate overall, though you may want to bring your umbrella or raincoat because it rains here most days in the afternoon, but the locals never seem deterred by it so you shouldn’t be either! So next time you’re in Mexico, get away from the tourist scene for a while and spend some casual, relaxing time outdoors with Mexicans, in the beautiful city of Orizaba.