Mexico flag Mexico is a traveller's paradise, crammed with a multitude of opposing identities: desert landscapes, snow-capped volcanoes, ancient ruins, teeming industrialised cities, time-warped colonial towns, glitzy resorts, lonely beaches and a world-beating collection of flora and fauna. The bursting megalopolis of Mexico City is a one-hour flight from the tropical rainforests and Mayan villages of Chiapas. Up along the northern border, Mexico's tumult of heritages merge with the air-conditioned cultures of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Mexico's profusion of people and landscapes reflects the country's extraordinary history - part Amerindian, part Spanish. One look at this country is enough to remind visitors that there is nothing new about the so-called New World. Despite the considerable colonial legacy and rampant modernization, almost 60 distinct indigenous peoples survive, largely thanks to their rural isolation. This mix of modern and traditional, the clichéd and the surreal, is the key to Mexico's immense popularity as a travel destination, whether your passion is throwing back margaritas, listening to howler monkeys, surfing the Mexican Pipeline, scrambling over Mayan ruins or expanding your Day of the Dead collection of skeletons.
Full country name: Estados Unidos Méxicanos
Population: 100,350,000 (growth rate 1.53%)
Area: 1,958,200 sq km (758,866 sq mi)
Capital city: Mexico City (22 million people)
People: Approximately 60% mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian descent) and 30% Amerindian (indígena - including Nahua, Maya, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Totonacs, and Tarascos or Purépecha)
Language: Spanish and 59 indigenous languages
Religion: 90% Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant
Government: Federal republic
Head of state: Vincente Fox Quesada
GDP: US$915 billion
GDP per head: US$9100
Annual growth: 7%
Major industries: Food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum, mining, textiles, clothing, motor vehicles, consumer durables, tourism
Major trading partners: USA, Canada, Japan, Germany
Visas: Citizens of many countries - including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Chile and virtually all Western European countries - do not require visas to enter Mexico as tourists. However, if they are staying longer than 72 hours, or are traveling beyond the Border Zone or certain exempted areas, they must obtain a 180-day Mexican government tourist card (tarjeta de turista), available from embassies or at border crossings (US$18).
Health risks: Malaria, Chagas' disease, cholera, dengue fever, filariasis, hepatitis, rabies, tetanus, typhoid. Air pollution in Mexico City is extremely high between November and February. Water must be purified or boiled.
Time: Most of Mexico is on Central Standard Time (six hours behind UTC). Baja California Sur and several other states in the northwest are on Mountain Standard Time (seven hours ahead of UTC) and Baja California Norte is on Pacific Standard Time (eight hours ahead of UTC).
Electricity: 110V, 60Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go
Mexico is enjoyable year-round, but October to May is generally the most pleasant time to visit. The May-September period can be hot and humid, particularly in the south, and inland temperatures can approach freezing during December-February. Facilities are often heavily booked during Semana Santa (the week before Easter) and Christmas/New Year, the peak domestic travel periods.
Mexico's climate has something for everyone: it's hot and humid along the coastal plains, and drier and more temperate at higher elevations inland (Guadalajara or Mexico City, for example). Try to avoid Mexico's southern coast between July and September - the resorts are decidedly soggy and jam-packed, as July-August is also the peak holiday months for foreign visitors.
LAND & CLIMATE
Region: North America
Neighbours: Mexico is bordered on the north by the United States, on the east by the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, on the south by Belize and Guatemala, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean.
Size Comparison: More than twice the size of Venezuela
More than half of Mexico is an immense, elevated central plateau, a continuation of the plains of the Southwest United States. The plateau is flanked by mountain rangesthe Sierra Madre Occidental to the west and the Sierra Madre Oriental in the eastthat descend sharply to narrow coastal plains in the west and east. The two chains meet in the southeast, where they form the Sierra Madre del Sur, a maze of the highest volcanic peaks in Mexico. The Sierra Madre del Sur leads into the Istmo de Tehuantepec. This narrow isthmus lies between the Bahía de Campeche and the Golfo de Tehuantepec. Two large valleys form notable depressions in the plateau: the Bolsón de Mapimí in the north and the Valle de México in central Mexico, the site of Mexico City.
The coastal plains are generally low, flat, and sandy, although the Pacific coast is occasionally broken by mountain spurs. Baja California, a long, narrow peninsula extending south for about 1,200 kilometres (about 760 miles) from the northwest corner of the country, is traversed by mountains that are a continuation of the coastal ranges in the U.S. state of California. The low, flat Yucatán Peninsula forms the southeastern tip of Mexico.
Major Rivers and Lakes
Mexico’s longest river is the Río Bravo del Norte (called the Río Grande in the United States), which extends along the Mexican-U.S. border. Several other much shorter rivers water the country’s northern and southern regions. Laguna de Chapala, in the west, is the largest lake in Mexico. The Valle de México contains several shallow lakes.
Weather and Climate
Mexico is bisected by the Tropic of Cancer. Climate generally varies with elevation. The Tierra Caliente, or “hot land,” which includes the low coastal plains, extends from sea level to about 915 metres (about 3,000 feet). The weather here is extremely humid, with temperatures varying from a mild 16° to a scorching 49°C (61° to 120°F).
The Tierra Templada, or “temperate land,” extends from about 915 to 1,830 meters (about 3,000 to 6,000 feet), with average temperatures of 17° to 21°C (63° to 70°F). The tierra fría, or “cold land,” extends from about 1,830 to 2,745 meters (about 6,000 to 9,000 feet), with average temperatures of 15° to 17°C (59° to 63°F).
Mexico’s rainy season lasts from May to October. Although sections of southern Mexico receive about 990 to 3,000 millimetres (about 39 to 118 inches) of rain per year, most of the rest of the country is much drier. Rainfall averages less than 635 millimetres (25 inches) annually in the tierra templada, gradually decreasing to about 254 millimetres (about 10 inches) in the semiarid north.
The long coastlines and mostly mountainous terrain of Mexico provide the greatest variety of ecosystems and biotic habitats on Earth. The country’s geographic position has resulted in an eclectic mixing of the flora and fauna from both north and south. Mexico follows only Indonesia, Brazil, and Colombia in richness of biodiversity. It has the highest reptile diversity in the world and the second highest mammal diversity. Nearly one-third of Mexico’s terrestrial vertebrates are endemic, and about half of the country’s plant species are found nowhere else. Fourteen percent of the world’s fish species inhabit Mexican waters.
Mexico’s burgeoning population and its heavy resource demands, however, have taken a heavy toll on the environment. Agricultural expansion and farming methods are not well controlled. Soil erosion, salinization, and pollution of watercourses and aquifers with farm chemicals are widespread. The most acute environmental problems occur in Mexico City, the most populous city in the world. A high concentration of industry, traffic, and domestic energy use plus unfavorable geographic and meteorological conditions have resulted in severe air pollution.
The rate of deforestation in Mexico is high0.89 percent (1990-1996)and more and more land is being cleared for agriculture. For example, wet tropical forest, which once covered 6 percent of the country, has been reduced to half that extent. The most threatened habitats are montane broad-leaved forest, mangroves and coastal wetlands, moist tropical forest, dry tropical forest, and arid zones.
Mexico’s heritage of environmental protection dates at least as far back in history as Mayan culture, when special forest reserves were recognized and farming proceeded according to an ecological framework. Ancient land-management traditions were lost after the conquest of Mexico by Europeans, and degradation proceeded until the late 1800s, when the modern environmental legacy began. By 1992 there were 68 protected areas in Mexico, including 46 national parks, covering approximately 20 percent of the country’s area. But the extent of many such areas is unclear, and the degree of protection varies depending on the classification of the land, the interpretation of the law, and the government’s resolve to enforce it. Therefore, only about 2.4 percent (1997) of the land is actually protected, and many protected sites are still threatened by deforestation, poaching, dumping, mining, overgrazing, and erosion. Six internationally recognized biosphere reserves have been established within Mexico as part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Program.
Mexico is party to a number of international environmental agreements, including those concerning Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, and Whaling. Regionally, it is responsible under agreements protecting the Caribbean Sea and the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere.