Hiking and Backpacking

Mexican Geography & Major Landmarks

Thinking about a Mexican vacation? Before you dive in and rent in Mexico, learning about the geography and landmarks will help.

Mexico has many different biomes: Some areas are hot, dry, and flat, while others are rocky and mountainous. There are even jungles!

The area you decide to rent in will make a tremendous difference, including what kind of scenery you'll enjoy, the nearby amenities, and what time of year will be best to visit.

Mexico's States

Mexico has 31 different states spanning more than 761,500 square miles. As a matter of fact, Mexico is approximately one-fifth the size of the continental United States, or three times the size of Texas.

Each Mexican state has its own flavor and culture. Indigenous communities tend to be focused around the interior of the country, while many vacation properties are in Baja California, owing to the area's pristine beaches and inviting surf. The peninsular states of Baja California and Baja California Sur are an easy drive for residents of Texas and California.

In terms of security, many people prefer to rent in Mexico around the federal district of Mexico City. The southern state of Oaxaca is a hotbed of Aztec ruins, while those whose Spanish skills are advanced or who love Central American culture might choose the far southern states of Campeche or Quintana Roo, which border Guatemala and are accessible by boat via the Gulf of Mexico.

Mexico Facts and Trivia

Mexico as we know it got started with the 1910 Mexican Revolution, when the local people threw off Spanish colonial rule. It shares other similarities with the United States as well: For example, its formal name is Estados Únidos Mexicanos, the United Mexican States, whereas in Spanish, the U.S. is often simply called Estados Únidos.

The history of major crops like maize, chocolate, and chilies begins in Mexico, and it is also home to the biggest wildcat on the North American continent, the jaguar. Despite breaking with Spain, Mexico's culture still has many aspects influenced by it: For example, it's home to the oldest university anywhere in North America, which was founded by Spain's King Charles V all the way back in 1551.

The spirit of ancient indigenous culture is alive and well in many places, too. For example, Mexico City's very foundations were laid atop the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán. Mexico has the largest Spanish-speaking population worldwide and the second-largest number of Catholics: In this, it's second only to Brazil.

Mexican Culture

Although modern Mexico is only about 105 years old, much of Mexico's culture dates back millennia. The modern flag has three stripes laid out vertically: From left to right, these stand for hope, unity and purity, and the memory of Mexico's past heroes.

Mexico has more holidays than virtually any other nation, with 15 national holidays and perhaps twice that when other major feasts and festivals are counted. Like Americans, Mexicans also recognize Columbus Day, which takes place on October 12: Some choose to celebrate the arrival of Spain and Hispanic culture, but protests also take place on this day. The rest of the calendar is marked by many Catholic observances: Almost 83% of the population is Catholic.

The best-known holiday for international visitors is probably Carnival, also called Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday." This wild street party stretches across more than 200 communities, but the cities of Veracruz and Mazatlan are the focal points.

Know Before You Go

Mexico uses the peso for currency, which has weakened against the dollar in recent years. Modern medical facilities are available in major cities, and a thriving industry of expatriate health care in English helps to accommodate long-term visitors.

In a general sense, the Mexican lifestyle is a little more laid back than in the United States. Influenced by the old culture of Spain, Mexicans' approach to many of life's annoyances is de nada: literally "it's nothing" or "no problem." The traditional siesta has fallen out of favor in recent years, but Mexicans still take time to enjoy the pleasures of life. Their relaxed approach to time can sometimes frustrate their northern neighbors!

Still, it's a good idea to get used to the local customs and to try to live at the same pace as everyone else.

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