The La Malinche volcano (4461m), also known as Matlalcueitl, is the perfect place to acclimatize before a climb to Pico de Orizaba. La Malinche is also a very prominent mountain.
From the Tapo bus terminal in Mexico City we got a first class bus to Apizaco at the foot of the volcano. We had read that this journey would only take 2 hours, but it lasted almost 3 hours. Because of this we arrived Apizaco a few minutes too late for the 12 noon collectivo (mini-bus) going directly to the Centro Vacacional resort at La Malinche. Unfortunately the next collectivo would not depart before 16:00. But instead of waiting almost four hours, a local guy advised us to take a collectivo to Huamantla and then change to another collectivo heading up to Altamira. These buses tend to be small and crowded, hence not ideal for people carrying around on 60+ liters backpacks.
When we reached Altamira a couple of hours later, we felt to be in the middle of nowhere. I used my smartphone to check our whereabouts. Luckily the google terrain map was cached on my phone, so then it was easy to see that we were about 6-7 km short of the resort at La Malinche. A sign along the road also confirmed that an "Albergo" was only 6 km away. The good thing was that we had reached 3000 m.a.s.l and that the road west towards La Malinche was pretty much flat. We started to walk and even though we were heavily loaded with our backpacks, it was a fairly pleasant walk along the road.
It took us a little more than one hour on foot to reach the Centro Vacacional at La Malinche. This is a large resort nicely located on the slopes of the volcano. We didn't have any reservation, but it was midweek and almost no other visitors here, hence no problem at all to get a cabin. During weekends it might be a very good idea to reserve well ahead. Unfortunately they don't have any smaller cabins than 6-beds here, so being only two people, it became somewhat expensive. We had to pay 680 pesos per night for the nice cabin. Pitching a tent cost only 55 pesos, a very cheap option for those who actually bring a tent.
We were told that the shop and restaurant close at 17:00, so we were in a hurry to get a dinner and buy supplies for tomorrow's hike. Later we went for a short hike and found out that there is a basic restaurant and also a small shop, just outside the gate of the resort. They are open at least a few more hours.
Tommaso didn't sleep very well in the cabin, maybe it was because of the altitude (3100 m.a.s.l) or perhaps it was a stomach bug. Anyway we managed to awake fairly early next morning and start the hike around 07:40. It was a beautiful day and the forest trail was very obvious and easy to follow. We reached the tree line around one hour later and had good views of the remaining slopes to the summit. To gain the ridge we had to walk up some steep scree and sand slopes. Very exhausting work at this elevation. The ridge was much more pleasant walking/scrambling and we arrived the summit at 10:30.
We could see Pico de Orizaba (5636m) in the horizon. We sat around on the summit (4461m) for more than one hour to make sure that our body would boost the production of red blod cells. Those will certainly come in handy a few days later, when we are high on Pico de Orizaba.
Descending went quickly, especially in the steep sand slopes where we imitated to ski down. Well back at the resort we enjoyed good food, beer and another night in thin air. Next morning we took a collectivo heading for Puebla, where it was easy to get a bus to Tlachichuca at the foot of Pico de Orizaba.