The Pico overlooks the valley and city of Orizaba, from which it gets its name. The name Citlaltépetl is not used by Nahuatl speakers of the Orizaba area, who instead call it Istaktepetl (Iztactépetl in the traditional orthography for Classical Nahuatl) 'White Mountain'.
A regionally dominant peak, and in fact the highest peak between Colombia and the Yukon, the Pico de Orizaba is ranked 7th in the world in topographic prominence. It is the second most prominent volcanic peak in the world after Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro. Although it is about 110 km (75 miles) inland, to the west of the port of Veracruz, its peak is visible to ships approaching the port in the Gulf of Mexico, and at dawn rays of sunlight strike the Pico while Veracruz still lies in shadow. The Pico is ranked 16th in the world for topographic isolation.
A companion peak lying about six km to the southwest of the Pico de Orizaba is the Sierra Negra, at . This subsidiary peak, though far lower than its massive neighbor, is still higher than anything in the 48 contiguous states of the U.S., and on its summit, serviced by the highest road in North America, is one of the world's premier astronomical instruments, the Large Millimeter Telescope.
The summit and its surrounding foothills are part of a national park. There are many routes for approaching and climbing the volcano, and many people visit it.