Cross the Rio Grande heading south and you’ll enter the United States’ southern neighbor Mexico. Mexico is a land of many contrasts, from the northern desert to the rainforests of Chiapas, and everything in between. This is a country filled with history and culture–one look at the Mayan ruins is testament to that–but it is also rife with isolated beaches, towering volcanoes, and glitzy resorts in places like Acapulco and Cancun. Whatever your passion, you’ll likely find it in Mexico.
Mexico City is one of the largest urban areas in the world (behind Tokyo and New York), and among the most congested. If ever there was a metropolis that represented the melding of ancient and modern, Mexico City is that place: remnants of colonial Mexico share space with soaring skyscrapers; the Plaza de la Constitución–the city’s historical center–is paved with stones looted from the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlán. Mexico City is situated directly on top of that ransacked Aztec capital, which itself was built on an island in a now reclaimed lake. This means that much of modern Mexico City is slowly sinking into the landfill and swamp on which it stands.
The Baja Peninsula is characterized by its beautiful beaches, serene harbors, and often dramatic shoreline. Throughout history, Baja epitomized the notion of the “Old West,” harboring mercenaries and outlaws. But modern Baja has become a tourist destination for whale watchers, kayakers, sailors, and more. Some historical interests include Loreto, with its Spanish mission history and offshore national park; and Sierra de San Francisco’s pre-Columbian rock art. La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur, known for its outstanding beaches, and Sierra de la Laguna is an ecologist’s and hiker’s paradise.
The Yucatán Peninsula is a diverse collection of archaeological sites, colonial cities, tropical rainforest, seaside activities, and energetic nightlife. The region’s Mayan ruins include Uxmal and Chichén Itzá. Tourists flock to the white-sand Caribbean beaches at Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and Cancún.
Traveling in Mexico
Citizens of most countries don’t require visas to enter Mexico as tourists. However, if you plan to stay longer than 72 hours, or are traveling to certain exempted areas, you must obtain a 180-day Mexican government tourist card (tarjeta de turista), available from embassies or at border crossings for a fee.
Because of its size flying is still one of the best ways to get around Mexico. Most flights are reasonably priced, and the alternative of taking a bus can be an uncomfortable ride. If you are going to fly around the country, make sure to check the timetables for your flights as many of the airlines are small carriers that change their schedules often.
Buses are another option in Mexico; the system is extensive, but the rides can vary. Some buses are nicely air-conditioned and comfortable, while others are not. If you don’t get a “modern” bus you could be in for a long uncomfortable ride. Fortunally most of the major routes have newer facilities.
You can rent a car, but it is wise to know some Spanish and have a lot of patience if you do plan on driving yourself.
On a note of warning, the massive influx of tourism has introduced some bad elements to Mexico. Crime has risen to critical levels. Rarely a year goes by when you don’t hear about some terrible crime inflicted upon tourists in Mexico. This doesn’t tell the whole story as petty crimes like pickpocketing are common, but so are rape and assault. Robbery seems to be the worst, and there are few places you can go where you don’t have to be cautious: taxis robberies, muggings at ATM machines, and purse snatching are all prevalent. There are also reports of credit card fraud and armed robberies. Most of these are reported in or around Mexico City, but if you are traveling throughout the country, it’s best to stay near the main tourist routes.
Weather in Mexico
Because of its location, Mexico is a nice place to visit year-round. The most pleasant time to visit is between October and May. From May to September tends to be hot and humid, especially in the south, while December through February is much colder inland.
Government: Federal republic
Square Miles: 758,866 sq mi (1,958,200 sq km)
Capitol: Mexico City (pop 22 million)
Official Languages: Spanish and indigenous languages
People: 60% mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian descent) and 30% Amerindian (indígena – including Nahua, Maya, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Totonacs, and Tarascos or Purépecha)
Religion: 90% Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant
Major products/industries: Food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum, mining, textiles, clothing, motor vehicles, consumer durables, tourism