At a cloud-scraping and breathless 5611m, the snowcapped Pico de Orizaba is Mexico’s tallest mountain (and the third tallest in North America after USA's Mt Denali and Canada's Mt Logan) and it dominates the horizons for miles around. Climbing it is a serious, six-day undertaking, suitable only for experienced high-altitude trekkers prepared for extreme cold and possible altitude sickness.

Called Citlaltépetl (Star Mountain) in the Náhuatl language, the views from the summit of this massive dormant volcano take in the mountains of Popocatépetl, Iztaccíhuatl and La Malinche to the west and the Gulf of Mexico to the east. You might imagine then that thoughts of scaling this monster would tempt tourists from far and wide, but it gets relatively few takers, because you need a couple of weeks to spare and must be prepared to take a short technical course on traversing ice fields, as the last section of the ascent is particularly demanding.

Anyone climbing the mountain should be well equipped, and all but the most experienced will need a guide. There are a number of recommended guide companies from the US, but the only local one is Servimont, a climber-owned outfit passed down through the Reyes family. As the longest-running operation in the area, it also acts as a Red Cross rescue facility. It’s based in the small town of Tlachichuca (2600m), which is a common starting point for expeditions. Book your expedition with Servimont two to four months in advance and allow four to seven days to acclimatize, summit and return. Do not attempt to rush up this mountain because altitude sickness, which at these heights can be deadly, is a very real concern. If you experience any kind of symptoms, descend immediately.

The best climbing period is October to March, with the most popular time being December and January.