Mexico, officially known as the United Mexican States is a federal republic in North America. In the north it is bordered by the United States; in the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; in the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and in the east by the Gulf of Mexico. It is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area covering almost two million square kilometres (over 760,000 sq mi). With an estimated population of over 120 million, it is the eleventh most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world. Mexico is a federation comprising thirty-one states and a Federal District, its capital and largest city.
Mexico offers breathtaking coastlines and a diverse landscape of mountains, deserts and jungles. Ancient ruins such as Teotihuacan (Aztec) and Chichen Itza (Mayan) are scattered throughout the country, as are Spanish colonial-era towns. In the capital Mexico City, upscale shops, renowned museums and gourmet restaurants cater to modern life. One of the world’s great civilizations, Mexico is a melange of Mesoamerican cultures and modern indigenous tribes, Spanish traditions and a vibrant modern economy, the biggest in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico’s landscapes are just as diverse, from the shimmering blue coastline of Baja California and the iconic cactus-strewn deserts of the north, to the Mayan villages and gorgeous palm-smothered beaches of the south. You can climb volcanoes, watch whales, swim underground and tour tequila farms. And sprinkled throughout you will find richly adorned colonial churches, giant ancient pyramids and a sophisticated cuisine that has little in common with the world of nachos and burritos.
Communities of full-blooded indígenas represent around ten percent of the population, with the Nahua, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Otomí and Totonac the largest groups. There are also a few Mexicans of pure Spanish or European descent, invariably forming the ranks of the mega rich, even if billionaire Carlos Slim is actually of Lebanese ancestry. The great majority of the population (over eighty percent), though, is mestizo, combining in themselves European and indigenous traditions with, to a greater or lesser extent, a veneer of urban sophistication. Add in a multitude of distinct regional identities, from the cowboy culture of the northern deserts to the Mesoamerican traditions of the south, and you have a thrilling, constantly surprising place to travel.
Despite the inevitable influence of the US, looming to the north, and close links with the rest of the Spanish-speaking world (an avid audience for Mexican pop and soap operas), the country remains resolutely individual. The music that fills the plazas in the evenings, the buildings that circle around them, even the smells emanating from a row of taco carts: they all leave you without any doubt about where you are. Many first-time visitors are surprised to find that Mexico is far from being a “developing” nation: the country has a robust economy, the world’s fourteenth largest, a remarkably thorough and efficient internal transport system and a vibrant contemporary arts and music scene. Indeed, in the last twenty years or so Mexico has finally become a middle-class society, perhaps the country’s greatest achievement since Independence.
Fly in Business or First Class to the numerous airports in Mexico. The local currency is Mexican Peso (MXN) and Spanish is the official language. The time zone varies between UTC/GMT -8 to -5 hours in winter months depending on the region and UTC/GMT −7 to −5 in the summer months due to Daylight Savings Time.
THINGS TO DO
There are many exciting places to visit and things to experience all across Mexico such as:
This gorgeous colonial town, sandwiched into a narrow ravine, is home to one of the country’s finest Baroque churches, a thriving student scene and a relaxed café and bar culture.
The town of Taxco, an interesting place in itself, offers the most exquisite silver products in the country.
SIAN KA’AN BIOSPHERE RESERVE
A huge, stunning coastal nature reserve with ecosystems ranging from tropical forest through fresh- and saltwater marshes to barrier reef. Wildlife of every sort lives here, but it’s especially good for birdwatching.
Visit the town that gave birth to Mexico’s favourite tipple, surrounded by fields of blue agave, and enjoy tours of local distilleries.
THE BONAMPAK MURALS
The ancient temples at Bonampak depict vivid scenes of Maya life.
The Sea of Cortés coast around Bahía Concepción, with pristine azure waters contrasting with desert-fringed mountains.
DIVING IN COZUMEL
Mexico has fantastic diving opportunities: the coral reefs off Isla Cozumel provide some of the best.
BAJA WHALE WATCHING
From December to April, thousands of grey whales come to mate in the lagoons of Guerrero Negro, San Ignacio and Bahía Magdalena.
THE ZÓCALO,MEXICO CITY
The eternal heart of the city, the capital’s main plaza is surrounded by its cathedral and the ruins of Aztec Tenochtitlán.
VOLADORES DE PAPANTLA
An ancient religious ritual, this gravity-defying spectacle is still mesmerizing.
This important Maya spiritual and cultural centre is one of the most picturesque, with a spectacular beach.
Take a refreshing dip in crystal-clear sinkholes, one with the roots of a huge alamo tree stretching down into it.
MUSEO FRIDA KAHLO
Politics, art and national identity combine at the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
This Maya site is remarkable for its distinct architectural style and its setting in jungle-smothered hills.
The most famous of the Maya sites. See the sprawling ruins and complex carvings over a couple of days.
You will find mariachi played the length and breadth of the country but most notably in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi.
MUSEO NACIONAL DE ANTROPOLOGÍA
An enormous collection of artefacts from all the major pre-Hispanic cultures.
NIGHTLIFE IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Dance on the sand or in super-hip small clubs alongside stylish Mexico City weekenders and European expats in this Caribbean boomtown.
Take in the carnival atmosphere and colours while being punted around the canals and serenaded by mariachi bands.
Any market in Mexico is a feast for the senses, but Oaxaca’s are especially vibrant, with everything from fresh produce to some of the country’s most imaginative textiles.
PYRAMID OF THE SUN,TEOTIHUACÁN
The granddaddy of all ancient Mesoamerican pyramids, built in 100 AD and some 70m high.
ACAPULCO’S CLIFF DIVERS
Watch the clavadistas plunge into the sea from precipitous cliffs.
If bullfights aren’t for you, head to a charreada (rodeo) instead; the ultimate charro (cowboy) event, traditional charreadas make a brilliant spectator sport.
THE COPPER CANYON
Whether you take the awe-inspiring train ride or hike along the canyon floor, a visit to this vast system of chasms is the definite highlight.
WEATHERThe weather in Mexico is as varied as its geography: there are tropical forests, arid desserts, fertile valleys and snow covered mountain peaks. The coasts are generally warm throughout the year, although it is very rainy during some months. In Mexico City, the weather is quite pleasant, neither too hot nor too cold. In the central highlands, the weather is cool, as well as in the mountainous areas. In some northern states, such as Monterrey and Chihuahua, it is very hot in summer and extremely cold in winter.
High Season is from December to April, the driest months over most of Mexico. May, June and September to November is classified as Low Season. During these periods temperatures peak. September is also the heart of the hurricane season, which does not always bring hurricanes but does bring heavy rains on the Gulf and Pacific coasts.