Capulálpam Trail Hike – 01/08/2023

Our plans for our visit to Oaxaca this year included hiking in the Sierra Norte mountains. Pat had worked extensively with José, our guide, to plan these and other activities, including a request to make 4-5 mile hikes limited to a few hundred feet of elevation gain. Consulting with him during the first couple of days in Oaxaca, we settled on a plan to spend 2 days in Capulálpam, one of the Pueblos Mancomunados, Zapotec villages in the Sierra Norte (TripAdvisor: Pueblos Mancomunados). He suggested two hikes and other activities; we would stay overnight in the cabins with Ecoturismo Capulálpam. On our 4th day in Oaxaca we were off on our first adventure with José and Alberto, the driver that he engaged to take us to Capulálpam, .

The Drive In

Alberto dropped us off at the office for Ecoturismo Capulálpam. We were shown to our cabin for the night and left our overnight kits there. Then we met our guide Leonel and we were off into the forest.

The Hike

Capulalpam Trail Hike.PatJoseLeonel.2023-01-08

Notes about the Google Earth screenshot: the graph at the bottom shows elevation of the track (pink area) and speed (the blue line).

With Leonel in the lead (on the right), the hike began uphill on a dirt/rocky road. Soon we turned into the forest on a well used trail. After crossing a small creek, we continued uphill for a mile (500 ft elevation gain). Leonel and José paused often to point out various plants, often identifying them with their scientific names and telling us about how the plants are used, some as natural medicines, others for dyeing wool (Pat’s particular interest).

For the next mile or so the trail didn’t gain much elevation (200 feet or so), but there were ups-and-downs which added to the gains (and losses). Throughout the hike we encountered many bromeliads. These are the most colorful plants, attached to the trunks or limbs of trees, many with stalks of blossoms hanging or standing upright from the plants.


Winter at home didn’t allow us to get in good shape for hiking on this trip, and having climbed nearly a 1,000 feet (nearly 2,000 feet aggregate), Pat & I were lagging. When Leonel told us the destination was another mile or more, and we would need to hike back to the trailhead, we asked to turn back at the 3 mile point. So we  turned downhill, with little evidence of a trail. It was a very steep descent (~45 degrees), but on fallen leaves and needles, so it was almost like skiing downhill. We had asked Leonel to request a vehicle to meet us on the road that would take us back to the Ecotourism office. Upon reaching the road, we continued walking until the truck arrived and rode back into Capulálpam and the Ecotourism office.


A big one is to be back in the forest of the Sierra Norte, surrounded by so  many interesting and colorful plants. And next to that, hiking with José and Leonel and learning from them about their back yard.

Video by José.
George, Pat, Leonel, Chili (Leonel’s terrier).



Total Distance:  4.56 miles, 7.32 km
Elevation: start 6,815 ft, maximum 7,821 ft,  minimum 6,815 ft
                   start 2,077 m, maximum 2,384 m, minimum 2,077 m
Gain: gross 1,006 ft.  aggregate ascending 1,939 ft, descending 1,566 ft
           gross 307 m,    aggregate ascending 591 m,    descending 477 m         
Maximum slope: 43% ascending, 48% descending, 13% average
Duration: 4:58

GPS Track Files for Download
If you haven’t explored these hiking tracks with Google Earth, I urge you to try it. With the virtual 3-dimensional presentation, achieved by panning and tilting the view, you can get a much better idea of the hikes and terrain than you can get from the screenshot above. For some ideas, check out  Using Google Earth Track Files.

Related Posts

Other hikes to Capulálpam
Other hikes around Oaxaca.

References and Resources

Turismo Ecológico Comunitario Capulálpam Mágico: Welcome to Capulálpam
Things to do in Oaxaca: Capulálpam – Sierra Norte, Oaxaca
Oaxaca Mio: Capulálpam de Méndez
Oaxaca Cultural Navigator : Norma Schafer: One Day in Capulálpam de Mendez: Oaxaca’s Pueblo Mágico.


The forest in the Sierra Norte is filled with many subtropical plants: deciduous and coniferous trees, mosses and lichens, and bromeliads and hanging vines. We show you a few examples in the photo galleries below.

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