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Mexico

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Travel Guide North America Mexico

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Introduction

San Cristobal - 15

San Cristobal - 15

© All Rights Reserved dontrobus

The present day United Mexican States, usually just called Mexico, has an amazing culture that is the result of centuries of intermingling between the indigenous American cultures and Spanish culture. These cultures have come together to create a modern nation with all the skyscrapers of other Western nations, but with traditional, centuries-old practices still carried on as if white man had never set foot in the New World. For travellers able to tear themselves away from Mexico's metropolitan hot spots and explore the countryside, an engaging insight into prehispanic culture is the reward. But tear themselves away they must, for Mexico's popular tourist spots are popular with very good reason. Whether it be the ancient ruins at Teotihuacan, Spanish colonial towns like Puebla, or the gorgeous seaside resort at Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta or Cancun, Mexico's diversity delights visitors with its brilliant potential. If you really want to get into the Mayan culture travellers should go to Yucatan or Chiapas. The mixture of colonial cities, impressive Mayan ruins like 7th world wonder Chichen Itza and coral white beaches is perfect for a great vacation.

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Brief History

The first major human settlements appeared in Mexico around 9,000 years ago with the domestication of corn, which led to the development of complex agriculture and cities. The most famous of these major civilizations were the Mayans, who built amazing stone cities and temples during their height in southern Mexico from 250 AD to about 900 AD. These city states made of a vast trade network that went all the way to Colorado. After the fall of the Mayans many other cultures came to power and fell until the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. When the Spanish arrived the Aztecs were in control and they were warrior agrarian society with their island capital of Tenochtitlan as their centre. The Spanish conquered the city in 1521 destroying its temple, draining the lake and turning it into the capital of New Spain, which later became Mexico City.

For nearly 300 years the Spanish controlled Mexico. They led a bloody campaign to convert the native population and decimated several different civilizations. The arrival of small pocks destroyed local populations in some areas by as much as 80%. After the appearance of the Virgin of Guadeloupe many native people converted to Christianity. In 1810 Mexico declared its independence from Spain and lead to a bloody 11 year war were half the population fled the country or were killed. In 1845 the United States annexed the northern territory of Texas from Mexico, which caused the Mexican-American War. This war finally ended in 1848 with Mexico losing the northern third of its country that includes all of present day California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Texas, and parts of Utah and Colorado.

In 1858 Benito Juarez became president of Mexico and is considered one of its most important people in Mexican history. The first full blooded Native American to be president and coming from Oaxaca, he instilled reforms that bothered the traditional elite class. This led to a French backed invasion, which occupied Mexico from 1864 to 1867. With the assistance of the United States, Jaurez was able to return and serve out 5 terms in total.

In 1910 the Mexican Revolution started and lasted 10 bloody years. The revolution had no winners and basically all sides just decided to end it. After the revolution the economy of Mexico grew, mainly based around natural resources and oil. Today Mexico is a country of extremes and has a very strong sense of identity and purpose.

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Geography

Mexico is located between latitudes 14° and 33°N, and longitudes 86° and 119°W in the southern portion of North America. Almost all of Mexico lies in the North American Plate, with small parts of the Baja California peninsula on the Pacific and Cocos Plates. Geophysically, some geographers include the territory east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (around 12% of the total) within Central America. Geopolitically, however, Mexico is entirely considered part of North America, along with Canada and the United States.

Mexico's total area is 1,972,550 km2, making it the world's 14th largest country by total area, and includes approximately 6,000 km2 of islands in the Pacific Ocean (including the remote Guadalupe Island and the Revillagigedo Islands), Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of California. From its farthest land points, Mexico is a little over 3,200 kilometres in length. In the north, Mexico shares a 3,141-kilometre border with the United States. The meandering Río Bravo del Norte (known as the Rio Grande in the United States) defines the border from Ciudad Juárez east to the Gulf of Mexico. A series of natural and artificial markers delineate the United States-Mexican border west from Ciudad Juárez to the Pacific Ocean. On its south, Mexico shares an 871-kilometre border with Guatemala and a 251-kilometre border with Belize.

The geography of Mexico is extremely diverse. In the north the country is mainly desert with some low mountain ranges that are home to amazing mineral resources. While the central part of the country is very dry with absolutely stunning mountains and volcanoes, some of them snow capped year round. The southern part of the country is extremely wet that is home to dense jungle with diverse wildlife, amazing ruins and stunning waterfalls. The Yucatan peninsula on the south has amazing jungle landscapes and stunning white beaches with the blue caribbean sea on the background.

Mexico is crossed from north to south by two mountain ranges known as Sierra Madre Oriental and Sierra Madre Occidental, which are the extension of the Rocky Mountains from northern North America. From east to west at the center, the country is crossed by the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt also known as the Sierra Nevada. A fourth mountain range, the Sierra Madre del Sur, runs from Michoacán to Oaxaca.
As such, the majority of the Mexican central and northern territories are located at high altitudes, and the highest elevations are found at the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt: Pico de Orizaba (5,700 metres), Popocatepetl (5,462 metres) and Iztaccihuatl (5,286 metres) and the Nevado de Toluca (4,577 metres). Three major urban agglomerations are located in the valleys between these four elevations: Toluca, Greater Mexico City and Puebla.

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Regions

Mexico is divided into 31 states and 1 federal district (Mexico City). The 31 states can be grouped into larger regions.

BajaBaja California and Baja California Sur
Pacific CoastSonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas
Central Northern MexicoChihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and Aguascalientes
Central MexicoGuanajuato, Queretaro, Hidalgo, Estado de Mexico, Morelos, Tlaxcacla and Puebla (State)
The Caribbean Coast and Yucatan PeninsulaTamaulipas, Veracruz (State), Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo

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Cities

Mexico City

Mexico City is the nation's capital and one of the largest cities in the world. It is home to amazing museums, art and one of the best old towns in the world. Just remember to check out some of the lighter side of Mexico City like mariachi bands, catina's and lucha libre! It is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world but if you be aware of that and take care by not bringing valuable thing you will enjoy this exciting city.

Other Major Cities

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Sights and Activities

Barranca del Cobre

Sunrise in Copper Canyon

Sunrise in Copper Canyon

© All Rights Reserved ride165

Barranca del Cobre, also known as Copper Canyon, is a series of 6 different canyons in the Sierra Tarahumura, which is in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua. All the canyons added together are larger and some parts are deeper then the Grand Canyon in the USA, although no individual canyon in Barranca del Cobre is larger then the Grand Canyon. The Chihuahuah Pacifico railroad goes up and down the canyon, which is known by the nickname Chepe. The canyons are the traditional home of the Tarahumara people, which are known for their long distance running ability. These people have been known to run 160 kilometres in order to run down an animal to kill it. The Tarahumara people still live a traditional lifestyle and practice a traditional religion with a Roman Catholic twist. You can travel through it by train. Chihuahua is the starting point for the famous Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico which travels two times daily to the Pacific coastline to the city of Los Mochis, Sinaloa and its port Topolobampo, though the beautiful Copper Canyon. One trip is for tourists only and is much faster, the second daily trip is slower, stopping en route at about 15 places and is a combined trip with cargo.

Beaches

Holbox

Holbox

© All Rights Reserved JOSE_MARIA

Mexico has some of the best beaches in the world. Most of the coast of Mexico is white sand with desert or jungle mountains in the background. Some of the beaches have the best nightlife of any tourist scene, were people can drink all night long. Other places are more quiet, romantic or secluded. And for the real trail blazer there is still lots of coastline with nothing on it at all.

  • Acapulco is on the Pacific Coast.
  • Cabo San Lucas in Baja California Sur.
  • Cancun is on the Yucatán Peninsula in Quintana Roo and is the center for some great scuba diving. Unfortunately it has become very touristic with mainly American tourists in huge All Inclusive resorts. Most of the beaches are private.
  • Huatulco is on the South Pacific.
  • Isla Holbox
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Mazatlán is on the Pacific coast in Sinaloa.
  • Playa del Carmen is on the Caribbean Coast in Quintana Roo. A bit less touristic than Cancun and all the beaches are public.
  • Cozumel - The beach is not that good but the sea is beautifull and the reef starts right at the beach. So you can go snorkeling right away and see amazing fishes and coral reefs.
  • Puerto Vallarta is on the Pacific Coast in Jalisco.
  • Rocky Point is at the northern tip of the Sea of Cortez.
  • Tulum is on the Yucatán Peninsula, approx 130 kilometres south of Cancún and also home to some amazing ruins. The beaches are white and the sea is blue. This is the Caribbean Sea as you imagine it to be. It is a lot more quiet than the other beachtowns in Quintana Roo like Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Chichen Itza

2009.09.05 Chichen Itza (4)

2009.09.05 Chichen Itza (4)

© All Rights Reserved JOSE_MARIA

Chichen Itza is one of the new 7 world wonders and for good reason. The site is located on the Yucatán Peninsula between Mérida and Valladolid. The site is very popular for daytrips from tourists who stay in the Riviera Maya. The main attraction is the big pyramid of Kukulcan or El Castillo. Unfortunately it is not possibly to climb up the pyramid anymore but it is also impressive to see the building and to imagine how the Mayans have constructed it. They must have had quite some knowledge of mathematics and astrology. The ground plan of the pyramid has square terraces with stairways on every side to the temple on the top. Two times a year during the Spring and Autumn equinox it seems like a snake comes down the stairs of the north staircase. This symbolises the feathered snake which represents Kukulcan or Quetzalcoatle. The shadow moves down by the movement of the sun during the rising and setting of the sun. Underneath the temple archeologists have found another temple. Inside the temple was a Chac Mool statue and a throne in the shape of a jaguar, painted red with spots made of inlaid jade. As most other archeological sites Chichen Itza also has a ball field but it is bigger than many others. Although nobody knows exactly how the ballgame was played the pictures on the walls suggest that the game ended quite bloody.

Calakmul

IMG_3910

IMG_3910

© All Rights Reserved edmtp

Calakmul, also known as Kalakmul, is one of the largest Mayan cities ever discovered. Located deep in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve near the Guatemalan border in the state of Campeche, this ancient city is well preserved. Only found in 1931 the city was a major seat of power for the Kaan dynasty and had a population of over 50,000. The city was a rival to Tikal during the late classical period with the Caracol as an alley. The city was occupied from the 6th century to the 10th century and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Palenque Ruins

The Palenque Ruins are the main reason why people come to Palenque. Although not as massive as Tikal, its rival to the south, Palenque is home to some stunning structures and well preserved wall art that few other major Mayan sites can claim to have. Remember that during the busy season Palenque can have over a 1,000 visitors a day, so it can get awfully crowded.

Palenque

Palenque

© All Rights Reserved Lavafalls


Although it is possible to take tours to the ruins most of the time the tours do not stay long enough. This is practically true for day tours from San Cristobal de las Casas, which only give 2 hours at the ruins. In order to really experience the awe, wonder and every corner of this ancient city it takes 4 to 6 hours. It is best to bring good walking shoes and plenty of water. As a warning the mushrooms sold by locals near the entrnace in the spring time are of the magic variety.

Other Archeological Sites

The central and southern parts of Mexico were home to the Aztec, Mayan and Olmec civilizations among others and numerous ruins from these civilizations can be visited.

  • Monte Albán was one of the oldest Mesoamerican cities and is in Oaxaca.
  • Tajín - Found in the heart of the gulf of Mexico, north of Veracruz.
  • Teotihuacan - the pyramid and the sun and the moon are close to Mexico City.
  • Ek Balam - this ruin is close to Valladolid and really worth a visit. You can climb up the big temple. And except of some Mexican families having a picnic you will hardly find any tourist here.
  • Uxmal - this site is on the way from Merida to Campeche. The site is very big and the architecture is amazing and quite different from other sites.
  • Coba - Just about an 1 hour away from Tulum you will encounter Coba. While monkeys are screaming and jumping through the trees you can ride around the site by bike and even climb up the big temple to have a great view over the jungle.

Popocatépetl

Popocatepetl volcano in activity

Popocatepetl volcano in activity

© All Rights Reserved marianojf

Popocatépetl is an active volcano located in the heart of Mexico, about 70 kilometres southeast of the capital Mexico City. The mountain has been climbed since a long time ago. The Tecuanipas tribe is said to have climbed it in 1289, followed by the Spanish in the 16th century. Literally meaning the 'smoking mountain', it is the second highest peak in the country and on one of those rare clear days it can be seen from the higher parts of Mexico City. Popocatépetl is one of the only three mountains in Mexico that has glaciers near the summit. Popocatépetl has had over 20 eruptions in modern history, with the eruptions of 1994, 1996, 2004 and 2005 (still continuing as at 2009) [1] being the most recent ones. In the 1996 eruption, tens of thousands of people were evacuated by the government based on the warnings of scientists. The volcano then experienced its worst eruption in thousands of years. Popocatépetl is one of the only three mountains in Mexico that has glaciers near the summit.

Spanish Colonial History

With a long colonial history, Mexico has some amazing places to see from that era. There are wonderful 16th and 17th century churches to explore. There are town squares that look like they should belong in Spain and historic old towns to explore in most of the larger cities. Remember that some of the areas have started to deteriorate, so be careful.

Other Natural Sites

  • Calakmul Biosphere Reserve - The largest reserve in the country (South of the Yucatan Peninsula).
  • Cozumel is very popular for its scuba diving. You can go snorkeling right from the beach. The coralreefs and fishes are amazing.
  • La Bufadora is a blowhole on the Punta Banda Peninsula in Baja California.
  • Sian Ka'an is a national park in Quintana Roo.
  • Xochicalco -
  • Isla Holbox - This little island north of Yucatan is perfect for some relaxing days. However the beach is quite hard because golfcarts go over it the whole time you can make nice walks over the island and take boattrips to other deserted island to see many birds and dolphins along the way. Even more special to go here in the summermonths (June to September) because then you have the oppurtunity to go snorkelling with the immense whale shark!

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Events and Festivals

Mexico's rich history and blend cultures gives birth to many amazing festivals and events. Like most Latin American countries everything means somethings and has a purpose. Many festivals are extremely local and are a blend of Spanish, Moorish and Native American traditions and beliefs.

Day of the Dead

Although the Day of the Dead is also celebrated in many Latin American countries except Mexico (and also in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa), the Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) is most intensily celebrated in Mexciowhere where it is equal to a National Holiday. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Although it is about the Dead, it is also a celebration where eating and partying both are common as well.

  • Dia de Independencia or Indepence day which is celebrated on the 16th of september. On this day in 1810 Mexico became indepedent of spain. The big hero in this war was Miguel Hidalgo.
  • Cinco de Mayo - this is national holiday for Mexico but the day is mostly celebrated in Puebla. The holiday commemorates the unlikely victory over the french on the 5th of may in 1862 in the battle of Puebla. The Mexican general who still has many streets named after him was Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin.
  • San Marcos Fair in Aguascalientes
  • Puerto Vallarta festival
  • Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca - During Guelaguetza the city of Oaxaca has festivities during a whole week. There is even a special stadium build for it where plays are held with fireworks and music is played. From the stadium you will have a great view over the city. This festival is held in july.

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Weather

Mexico's climate is divided by the Tropic of Cancer. North of it, the climate is temperate and experiences cooler months during winter. In this part of the country north of the 24th parallel, summers are hot and humid and winters are mild.
South of the 24th parallel, temperatures are fairly consistent year round and vary based on elevation. Areas up with elevations up to 1,000 metres average between 24 °C and 28 °C. Many of Mexico's cities are located in the Valley of Mexico or adjacent valleys with altitudes above 2,000 metres. The climate at that altitude is more temperate averaging 16 °C to 18 °C throughout the year, with cool nights.
Most of Mexico experiences a rainy season during the summer. Regular rains are most likely from June to September. Mexico's northern regions have a dry climate, while the tropical lowlands in the south of Mexico have an average annual rainfall of 200 cm. Mexico has unfortunately suffered from hurricanes many times. Hurricane season usually runs from june to october but in case of a hurricane the Mexicans are very well prepared. Every hotel has got an evacuation plan and if you are travelling with an arranged plan by a trustfull agency they will always help you to reschedule your travelling plan in order to avoid that you are in a hurricane area.

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Getting There

By Plane

These are the main gateways to Mexico, with the busiest being at its capital, Mexico City.

Apart from these cities, there are a few dozen of Mexican cities with direct international connections, mostly from neighbouring countries like the USA, Canada and Central American and Caribbean countries. Check the Aeropuertos Mexico website for more details.

National carrier Mexicana operates services to North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. AeroMéxico, the largest airline in the country, has connections to Asia, Europe, Central America, South America and USA.

By Train

There is no international rail connection to Mexico, but Amtrak provides a few services up to the border, where you can cross into Mexico and travel further, mostly by bus. There are a few luxurious tourist trains though, including the Sierra Madre Express connecting from Tucson, Arizona to the Copper Canyon.

By Car

There are plenty of crossing spots (about 40) between Mexico and the USA. San Diego/Mexicali, El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, Tucson/Nogales and Laredo/Nuevo Laredo are the busiest ones.

Cars from other countries need a special permission to go further than 32 kilometres (20 miles). It is recommended to buy Mexican car insurance, even for day visits, when driving in Mexico. Most USA insurance plans do not cover driving in Mexico. There are several companies offering competitive rates for short term Mexican car insurance.

By Bus

If coming from the USA Greyhound has connections with some bus companies in Mexico. There are other border lines also that will take you between 2 cities in both countries and direct bus rides mainly operate from Texas to cities in the north of Mexico. Autobuses Americanos offers cross border services between southern USA and northern Mexico as well, while Autotransportes Tufesa has connections from Phoenix and Tucson and Transportes InterCalifornias travels from San Diego across the border to Mexicali and Tijuana.

In many other cases, you have to take the bus to the border, cross it by foot and then jump on another bus on the other side. Buses will wait for all the travelers to cross the border.

Still, there are also many more direct connections from other countries, mainly from Belize and Guatemala. To and from the latter, there are about 10 border crossings with frequent direct services from Guatemala City and a few other Guatemalan cities to Tapachula, Chiapas and Chetumal. Chetumal is extremely well connected to Belize, with many companies offering direct connections from Belize City and a few other towns in the north and central parts of Belize, like Belmopan and San Ignacio.

By Boat

Belize
San Pedro Water Taxi offers direct water taxis between Ambergris Caye (San Pedro) in Belize and Chetumal, Mexico. Belize Water Taxi offers the same connection and both operate on a daily basis.

Guatemala
There are a few options to get from Palenque, Chiapas, to both Flores/Tikal area in Guatemala by a combination of riverboats and (mini)buses. The route via the Río Usumacinta is the most popular one, with the best connections.

Other than that, it will be by cruise ship when you will arrive in one of Mexico's ports. Although the Caribbean area is the most popular one, with Cozumel and Cancun as hot spots, there are also many ports on the Pacific side, including Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.

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Getting Around

By Plane

There are dozens of airports in Mexico, many of them having international connections, which enable travellers to choose from a wide range of cities for onward transport to smaller regional airports. The biggest carriers within the country are Aero California, Mexicana and AeroMéxico.

By Train

Almost all passenger trains have been suspended since 2000 but several trains remain which are of particular interest. These are operated by Ferromex and basically include only 2 trains:

  • The Tequilla Express operates two tourist trains a week doing the Guadalahara-Amatitán route as a roundtrip on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • The Chepe, which is the most used and most impressive train ride and handles most traffic. It travels on the Chihuahua-Los Mochis route 2 times a day in each direction, travelling across the beautiful Copper Canyon.

For several other services that might be operating (either for locals, or very touristy trains), check the Mexlist website, which has detailed information about local trains, tours etc.

By Car

Although renting a car gives you maximum flexibility, driving in Mexico can be a bit of a challenge sometimes. There are very good toll roads, but rural roads can be in a bad potholed condition, or aren't even tarred at all. If you feel adventurous though, there are many international and local companies offering cars in resort areas, bigger cities and airports. Yucatan is one of the more popular areas to rent car, especially if you want to visit the historical inland treasures from the coastal zones. The major cities can seem to have very hectic driving rules and can intimidate many drivers.

If you rent a car it is best to pick up at the same place as you drop it off since the drop off feest can be very high if you drop the car of in another city. Renting a car is very popular in the Yucatan area. A good route woulde be: Playa del Carmen - Chichen Itza - Merida - Campeche - Villahermosa - San Christobal - Palenque - Calakmul - Playa del Carmen. This roundtrip would take you about 2.5 weeks.

By Bus

Buses are the way to go in Mexico, combined with a few plane rides now and then to avoid spending too much time in buses. There are loads of companies, but a few examples of bus companies having extensive networks include Estrella Blanca and Autotransportes Tufesa.

The larger cities will have multiple cities, sometimes even for the different bus companies. Most smaller cities will only have one bus station and central counter representing all the different companies. Most bus stations will have ATM's, food options, and bathrooms for 3 to 4 Pesos.

Buses are divided into different classes and can very greatly. Most foreign travellers will mainly use 1st class buses, which have bathrooms and a movie. 1st class buses will only stop at major cities and towns. Elite class buses are much nicer then 1st class buses but the tickets are very expensive. 2nd class buses usually don't have bathrooms and stop in every small town.

In the Yucatan Area most 1st class buses are run by ADO which is a very reliable company. The buses are very comfortable and mostly run on time.

For an overview of schedules and connections, also international ones, see thebussschedule.com.

Collectivos

Collectivos are small vans that usually link small towns to each other and cities. Usually costing 10 pesos per hour these rides can be very tight but sometimes are the only option. Most collectivos will be at different stations or street corners depending on their destination with a large sign in the window with the name of town on it.

By Boat

Popular routes include ferries operating regularly between Mazatlán and La Paz (Baja California) on a daily basis. There are also services between Guaymas and Santa Rosalia, across the Gulf of California and between La Paz and Topolobampo three or four times weekly. From Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas there are two ferries a week.

On the Caribbean coast, there are two companies offering ferries between Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel of the coast of Yucatan. Crossings are about 15 times a day, with very early (starting at 5:00am) and late (up to midnight) sailings being a possibility to do some long day trips. There are also ferries from the mainland to Isla Mujeres.

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Red Tape

People from Andorra, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America, Uruguay or Venezuela will be granted a 90-day tourist visa upon arrival.

People from Eastern Europe, Africa, other Asian countries and the Middle East need to check with a Mexican Embassy or Consulate for more information. On arrival you will receive an entry card that you must keep with you. If you lose this card it there will be a US$50 fine. Although oddly, if you fly out of Mexico, no government official will take this card, the person at the ticket counter will take it from you when you get your boarding pass.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

Mexico uses the New Peso (MXN). One Peso is made up of 100 centavos. In general people don't like to break notes over 200. This makes breaking those 500 and 1000 notes extremely hard.

  • Banknotes come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $200, $500 and $1,000.
  • Coins come in 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.

Because many Americans travel to Mexico dollars are excepted in most places. But things are usually a bit more expensive since the exchange rate is usually in your disadvantage.

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Work

Working in Mexico can be an interesting experience. Most expat jobs are hired from abroad then brought into Mexico. There is a growing demand for computer experts and people involved in telecommunications. It is also possible to do NGO/Non-profit work in Mexico. As in most countries in the world, were English is not the mother tongue, there is always a demand for English teachers. American Schools and other bilingual schools also hire foreign teachers in a variety of disciplines from pre-first through high school.

When you want to work in Mexico you always have to apply for a work visum (FM-3). You can do this from your home country at a Mexican Embassy. You have to fill in a bunch of paperwork and when you enter Mexico you should still go to the immigration office (INM) in the town where you will work. Alternatively, you can enter the country with a tourist visa (called an FMT) and apply for your work visa from within the country. You are allowed to request your tourist visa to cover a 180-day period, which will allow you more than enough time to sort out your work visa paperwork. The FM-3 visa can be requested at any INM office. Usually, when you enter the office to request a work visa, you will be given a checklist of documents that you need to assemble. Fees for processing the application are payable at major Mexican banks.

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Study

Many people come to study Spanish in Mexico. Although the Spanish is not as pure as some other countries in South or Central America, Mexican Spanish is fun and good. There are also many private language schools that offer classes all over the country. Therefore a student has plenty of choices about where they want to study. Some places along the coast will offer programs that give Spanish classes in the morning then surfing or yoga lessons in the afternoon.

A very popular place to take a language course is Playa del Carmen. The only problem here is that almost everyone speaks English so you are not really forced to speak Spanish outside of the classes. Therefore it might be better (and cheaper) to take a language course in other Mexican cities such as Guanajuato or Guadalajara, or in Guatemala, where you will be forced to speak more Spanish in daily life.

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Language

Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases

Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in Mexico, although it is not an official language. It is spoken by 97% of the population. There are 62 indigenous Amerindian languages which are considered national languages.

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Eat

Many travellers come to Mexico for the food. Mexican food is amazing and anyone can find something they like. Some areas are more famous for their food such as Oaxaca, Jalisco, and Puebla. Most of the food involves different meats and sauces wrapped in tortillas. Some dishes just have meats in different sauces.

One thing that is not to be missed are avocados. Mexico is the home of the avocado and they put is on everything. Mexican guacamole, however, is traditionally unlike what most foreigners think of as guacamole. Instead it is more like a liquid sauce, and is often very spicy.

Mexicans generally eat their main meal between 2:00pm and 4:00pm. This meal is called "Comida". It is therefore often difficult to find restaurants that serve between 4:00pm and sunset. A late, snackish dinner is often observed after nightfall. Night-time taco stands generally open after dark.

Bakeries are common in Mexico and are called "Panaderias". They often feature a mixture of breads and pastries, many corn-based. Influences of many cultures, both colonial and indigenous can be seen in these products.

Cheeses in Mexico vary from those found elsewhere. Different kinds of cheese found in Mexico include:

  • Oaxaca cheese (also called Quesillo) - the original string cheese, often braided into rounds, with a very mild taste.
  • Manchego - a medium-hard, white cheese with a bite.
  • Panela - a fresh cheese with the consistency of Feta but with a very bland, creamy taste.
  • Asadero - usually cheese for melting, often used to make quesadillas.
  • Requeson - soft, spreadable cheese much like ricotta.

There are many variations on the tortilla/taco. It is important to understand the distinctions in order to know what you're ordering! Some of these include:

  • Taco - A corn tortilla lightly pan-fried and filled with some kind of meat. Fillings include: Asada, adobada, carnitas, al pastor. Toppings generally include onion, cilantro, and some type of salsa.
  • Taco al vapor - Steamed tortilla with varied fillings, which can include potato (papas), picadillo, nopales, frijoles, etc.
  • Taco dorado - Hard shell taco with some meat filling.
  • Quesadilla - Corn (usual) or flour tortilla lightly pan-fried and filled with asadero cheese, folded in half. It is important to note that in some parts of Mexico (e.g. Mexico City), a quesadilla does not necessarily have to include cheese - you must request a "quesadilla de queso". Also in many places, a quesadilla can come with any number of "guisos" or additional stewed toppings, including Potato (papas), picadillo, nopal cactus, beans, rajas, mushrooms, etc.
  • Gringa - This is usually used to describe a tortilla which carries cheese and meat in it (so either a quesadilla with meat or a taco with cheese).
  • Gordita - A thick corn tortilla built with a pocket inside (literally "little fatty") much like a pita bread, with any number of "guisos" as filling.
  • Huarache - A tongue-shaped tortilla with toppings piled on it, chosen from different kinds of meat or "guisos". Usually served with cabbage, onions, cilantro, salsa, and cream on top.
  • Tlayuda - A specialty from Chiapas which is a plate-sized, thin tortilla that is well fried, covered in beans, cabbage, and crumbled cheese, and sometimes other toppings. You must cut or tear it into pieces to eat it!

Tortas are a sandwich made on a bun that can be found in most cities in Mexico. They range from 15 to 30 pesos depending on the area and can have completely different things in them depending on the location, such as beef, pork or cheese. Tortas are a good reliable cheap meal in most cities in Mexico. A typical variation in the state of Jalisco include Tortas Ahogadas, which are tortas which are literally "ahogada", or drowned, in a non-spicy tomato-based sauce. Additionally in Jalisco, "Lonches" are effectively tortas made on typical French-style bread.

Mole is a typical and popular dish which generally involves chicken stewed in a chocolate-based sauce. There are many different kinds of Mole, usually named by its color: Verde, Rojo, or Negro, for example. Chocolate is commonly grown in the Chiapas region and is usually prepared with sugar and spices to be used as a drink, known to many foreigners as Mexican hot chocolate.

There are a few unusual drinks that are typical in Mexico. These include Horchata, which is a drink made from rice flour and has a very sweet, milky taste. Jamaica is best described as a sweetened iced tea made from Hibiscus flowers. It has a very particular taste that takes some getting used to. It is common in Mexico to refer to fruit juices as "Aguas" of that particular fruit. So "Agua de Melon" is literally the juice of a melon. These aguas are often made fresh from the fruit. "Liquados" are liquid smoothies. They can be made in many flavors, including oats ("avena"), cereals, strawberry, and many others. They often include milk and make very nutritious snacks. In Mexico, "Limonada" refers to limeade made from key limes. You may often be asked to specify if you wish for your limonada to be "mineral" or "natural". A mineral limonada is made by squeezing limes into carbonated water and adding sugar. A natural limonada uses flat water.

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Sleep

The tourist industry in Mexico is massive. There are hotels, hostels, guesthouses and B&B's for anyone on any budget. Some of the high-end resorts along Mexico's coast cost just as much as any high-end resort in the United States or Europe, although plenty of good cheap accommodation can be found in the more popular tourist areas. In smaller cities, or places rarely visited by foreign tourists, one can still find moderately priced local hotels that range in cleanliness.

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Drink

Beer

Mexico has several brands of national beer that are quite good. Corona, Rio Negro and Pafico are some very popular brands. One of the traditions in Mexico is to add lime to beer, adding a pleasant acidity.

Tequila

For many, Mexico is synonymous with tequila. There are countless brands of tequila, ranging from absolutely horrible to some that are smoother than water. Remember though, you don't have to eat the worm!

Mezcal

Mezcal is a very intense drink, mainly drunk in southern Mexico. Some of the poorer varieties have a terrible after taste, but the nicer ones can be ok.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Mexico. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Mexico. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Malaria is prevalent in several parts of the country, including the border regions with Belize and Guatemala, remote rural areas in the southeast (Oaxaca province) and some rare cases elsewhere. It is recommended to take malaria pills and take other normal anti-mosquito precautions as well. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Do not drink tap water ever in Mexico, unless it has been boiled for 3 minutes. Only drink bottled water and make sure the cap has been sealed.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

Some of the larger cities can be a bit dangerous while most smaller towns are pretty safe. The border areas with Guatemala and the United States can be very dangerous, especially during the night. Although most of the crime is focused around drug smuggling, gun running and human trafficking therefore making it very easy to avoid.

Where there's tourists, there's pickpockets and petty crime, which is why you should consider the following tips:

  • Leave unnecessary valuable items (like jewellery) at home. Leave valuable documents (passport, tickets etc) in the hotel safe - don't forget them when you leave! Scan your passport, driver's licence and ticket and send a copy by email to your own address. That way you can download and print a copy wherever you are.
  • Don't carry too much cash around, or keep your valuable camera in plain sight. Keep a close eye on your money, camera and backpack and stow your money in a money belt or carry it round your neck. On the beach, don't leave your bag lying behind you but use it as a pillow.
  • When travelling by car, on your stops take any visible bags (for example on the back seat) out of the car and make sure you lock the car. Be wary of anyone approaching you the moment you're parking the car or if you've broken down. When travelling by bus, keep an eye on your bags.
  • If you're staying in a hostel, take notice of the other people staying in your room. A current scam that has been going around major tourist areas in Mexico is for locals checking in to a hostel room in the afternoon and checking out later in the evening with other travellers goods. Once your belongings are gone, there is no getting them back. These are backdoor scams that hostel staff are normally in on.

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Keep Connected

Internet

There are internet cafe's in most cities and towns in Mexico. Sometimes photocopy stores or photo processing stores will double as an internet cafe with a couple of computers. Look for signs reading "Acceso a Internet" or "Cibernautica" or "Cibercafe". Charges range from approx. US$1 an hour to US$3 an hour, depending on the location.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Phone cards can be purchased anywhere in the country and are needed for the majority of public phones. To call any number outside your region you have to dial 01 then followed by the area code. If calling a cellphone from a normal phone start with with 044. If calling cellphone to cellphone just dial the 10-digit number. To make an international call dial 00 followed by the country code then the local number. To call to Mexico, also dial 00 (most of the times) followed by the national code 52.

Post

The Mexican postal service is operated by Correos de México. The post service in Mexico is pretty good although not very cheap. It is reliable regarding the sending of postcards, but it takes at least a week to send it to other countries (US/Canada), more so if you send it to Europe or Australia. For packages it is better to use international services like FedEx or UPS. If you are sending a package internationally with the Mexican postal service, take the package OPEN to the post office, they may want to inspect it. Seal it up at the post office. Post offices typically open from 8:00am to 6:00pm Monday to Friday, and 9:00am to 1:00pm Saturday. You will find post offices (Oficina de Correos) is almost any town or city in Mexico, and some are actually very pretty buildings. To buy stamps it is best to go to the post office, although you can also get them at stamp machines, located outside the post offices, at bus stations, airports and some commercial establishments.

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References

  1. 1 Eruptive History - Popocatépetl - Global Volcanism Program. Natural Museum of Natural History. Smothsonian Institute. Retrieved on 2009–08–02.

Quick Facts

Mexico flag

Map of Mexico

[edit]

Local name
México
Capital
Mexico City
Government
Federal Republic
Nationality
Mexican
Population
112 336 538
Languages
Spanish, 67 native tongues.
Religions
Christianity (Catholic, Cristhian)
Currency
Mexican Peso (MXN)
Calling Code
+52
Time Zone
various (UTC -6 to -8)

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    I am 26 year old mexican who loves traveling his country. I know many famous tourist places but also many very beautiful hidden places and we must not forget the cheap places. Also I live here so I can tell you the truth of many places and security tips; if I not know the answer I'll search for it.

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