Toluca (also Toluca de Lerdo) was a pre-columbian cultural center and is now the capital of Mexico State.
This is one of the most industrialized and prosperous cities in all of Mexico, a city of numerous factories, hospitals, universities, athletic events, and cultural venues. Toluca is due west of Mexico City, at almost 9,000 feet. After coming from Mexico City, you may get altitude sickness your first day there, so take it easy. Also, bring warm clothing. Nights are always cold, and there may be severe hail any time of year.
International airport in Mexico City is another alternative.
There is no passenger train. Rail transportation is used only for merchandise. A commuter train from Mexico City to Toluca is in the works, but could still be years until its completion.
The highway between Mexico City and Toluca is one of the most modern in the country (and an expensive toll road). Although modern, this highway can be quite hazardous as it climbs up to above 10,000ft. The weather is very unpredictable and often involves rain, dense fog, and hail. The often poor road conditions, coupled with fast-driving commuters causes frequent accidents, many times fatal. As long as you are aware and driving responsibly, you should be fine.
Once you are in the city, the traffic can be horrendous, and not only during rush hour. The infrastructure has really failed to keep up with the burgeoning population and can cause massive traffic jams anywhere where two or more roads come together. Unless absolutely necessary, you should plan to drive during off-peak times.
Drivers commonly ignore speed limits, stop signs, and traffic lights, so even if you have the right away, you should always be vigilant and aware. As with any cities, be aware of drunk drivers in the late evenings and weekends.
Another thing to note is that Toluca does not have a city-sponsored busing system. This means that roads are often clogged with aggressive, competing buses that stop any time someone waves their arm on the sidewalk. Don't follow too close or you might end up rear-ending them.
Toluca has one of the largest bus terminals in the country. From Mexico City you can get several lines to Toluca at the western terminal called Observatorio (at the end of the east-west subway line). Flecha Roja has regular service to the northern terminal, Terminal Norte, as well. Buses for Toluca depart every few minutes. Some lines (e.g., Caminante) have on board movies. From the north side of Mexico City, there is a terminal at Cuatro Caminos also with buses to Toluca. Other buses run from the suburb of Naucalpan to Toluca.
From the main Toluca terminal you can go to any points west (e.g., Michoacan), south (Ixtapan de la Sal), or north (e.g., Queretaro).
Toluca also has another station on Fidel Velazquez just for Caminante busses that have hourly service to the Mexico City airport.
There is no boat here: no lake, no river, no beach. It is too cold for outdoor swimming, but there is an Olympic sized pool on the southwest outskirts of town at the great athletic center.
Toluca has the best taxi system in the world: over 5,000 taxis for a city of about half a million. Just walk to any major street and wave at a passing taxi. The city is fairly compact, so fares are pretty cheap: 30 pesos will take you to most places. If you are feeling adventurous, you can wave down a "micro-bus" that are often pale green and white-colored. They will only cost between 5-10 pesos per ride, but their drivers can be pretty crazy and you need to read the signs in the front window that show where the bus drives to. He may not stop all the way while you are deboarding.
The place to be is the Portales downtown, then you are in walking distance of many interesting parks, gardens, museums, churches, theatres, stores, restaurants, hotels and government offices.
Nestled among the government buildings and town square is the Cosmovitral. This large, warehouse-looking building arrayed with stained glass windows used to be a market but is now a conservatory. It is filled with plants, flowers, and trees from all over the world. It's cheap to walk in and take a look around on a rainy or chilly day.
Another interesting location not far from WalMart would be Parque Urawa and the library.
On the southwest corner of town by ITESM (Tec de Monterrey) is the Centro Cultural Mexiquense with an anthropology museum, folk arts museum, modern arts museum, and library.
UAEM (state university) related events and centers and located all over the city, though most are located in the Ciudad Universitaria and stadium on the west side.
If you are looking for a picnicking/outdoor afternoon, Parque Sierra Morelos to the northwest of the city is a cheap option. Just be sure to stay in open areas near people. Rapes and assaults have been known to happen in forested parks.
Metepec, a traditional town that borders Toluca to the southeast, is the best place to find artisan goods, food, and culture in general. There is a chapel on a hill in the center of the town. From the top of the steps is a great lookout over Metepec and Toluca. Metepec is particularly known for its artisan crafts, the pinnacle of which is the Metepec "Tree of Life." Parking is fairly easy to find and relatively inexpensive.
Avoid coming to Toluca on Fridays. Some guide books talk about a "quaint Indian market" but it is a flea market that clogs many streets. Also, when the afternoon comes, many Mexico City families come through Toluca to get into the countryside.
The state university (UAEM) is here with several campuses for medicine, dentistry, nursing, chemistry, humanities, engineering, business, public administration, economics, behavioral science, and neuroscience. The most prestigious private university is a Tec de Monterrey campus (ITESM). There are dozens of newer private universities, some for-profit.
This is the city to come to for employment in factories, the state government, hospitals, construction, and a growing service economy.
Casa de las Artesanias. On the corner of Tollocan and Urawa Av. There you can get many nice hand made typical things.
Toluca is likely best-known for its chorizo, a type of sausage. It can be seen hanging in links throughout the city, some red, some green. It is often ground up and eaten in tacos, but can also be eaten as whole links. This delicacy is a must if one visits Toluca. Traditional Mexican fare is very available as well. Probably the best area for food is on the street Venustiano Carranza just south of the city center. Locals often call it "Venustaco." There are loads of restaurants and stands offering whatever you're looking for like barbacoa, tacos al pastor, carnitas, and Mexican antojitos like pambazos and gorditas.
Internet cafes are around and are cheap. Also, coffee shops, restaurants, and cafes usually offer free wifi with your purchase(s).
With common sense, Toluca and its neighboring municipality of Metepec are generally safe. However, there are some things to keep in mind. Do not leave valuables in your car, visible or not. Vehicle break-ins are quite common in certain neighborhoods. It's rumored that thieves have developed devices to detect electronics like computers, tablets, and cell phones even if they are not visible from outside of the vehicle. Assaults and muggings do occur but walking the town in the daytime and staying around busier areas is quite safe. Keep your money and other valuables in your front pockets and don't flash money or jewelry. If possible, be accompanied by a local. As always, locals will know the do's and do not's better than anyone else.
If you find Toluca too calm, take the hour bus ride to Mexico City. The easiest thing to do is to take one from the main bus terminal. Take a Flecha Roja bus to Observatorio. The bus will usually say "Observatorio-Poniente." It costs about 40-50 pesos one way. Observatorio is the western terminus of the Mexico City metro. From there you can access most tourist points in Mexico City and the Mexico City airport by the metro.
If you find Toluca too traditionally Mexican, just taxi to the southeastern suburb of Metepec, and you will think you are in southern California with malls, multiplexes, big box stores, and luxury car dealerships.
If you find Toluca too stressful and modern, take a taxi or bus southwest, past the big prison, to Almoloya de Juarez. Walk around the sleepy town square and look at the church built on the grotto of water (ojo de agua). Look for the magic line in the water.
You can get out of Toluca for a daytrip to the volcano (El Nevado de Toluca) but that might trigger altitude sickness in some, or the Zacango Zoo, or the spas at Ixtapan de la Sal, or Valle de Bravo.
Drive north on the highway Toluca-Atlacomulco to Jocotitlan. It is a traditional town built on the side of an extinct volcano and is surrounded by ranchos. Take the hour or so drive around the base of the volcano and stop at the small towns that surround it.
Drive south to Tenango del Valle. This town features the Teotenango ruins on top of a hill that gives you a great view of the Nevado de Toluca volcano and the Valley of Toluca.
Drive south out of the altitude of the Valley of Toluca to Ixtapan de la Sal, Tenancingo de Degollado, or Tonatico, all located along the same north-south highway/tollroad. All these areas are warmer and dryer than Toluca and offer plenty of things to do and see.