Mexico Overview and Highlights
Sweeping gently south-eastwards from the northern frontier with the United States to its borders with neighbouring Belize and Guatemala, Mexico dominates the Central American region – in size, population and economic influence. Mexico is a big country. Its Pacific, Caribbean and Mexican Gulf coastlines stretch for 6,250 miles, encapsulating over 1.2 million square miles of desert, forest and jungle, rugged mountains and vast fertile plains. A landscape steeped in history, culture, conflict, legend and enchantment.
Mexico’s historical development reaches back over 3,000 years through ancient, pre-Colombian civilisations including the Olmecs, the Teotihuacan, the Zopatecs, the Mixtecs, the Maya, the Toltecs and the Aztecs. All have left their mark on Mexican culture and heritage, through their achievements in the arts and architecture, science and astronomy, including the archaeological splendours of the Mayan Kingdoms in the Yucatan peninsula as well as those of the Aztecs at Teotihuacan, near Mexico City.
The conquest of Mexico by the Spanish conquistadores in 1519 heralded a new colonial era, still in evidence today through Mexico’s numerous historic towns and cities, including Guanajuato, Puebla, San Cristobal de las Casas and Merida, all boasting picturesque colonial plazas, grand cathedrals and churches, noble mansions and courtyards.
Today Mexico’s population of around 106 million people is a distillation of all that has gone before, distinctly Mexican in nature, a nation of friendly, courteous and welcoming individuals who retain a fierce pride in their country and their national identity. The teeming capital, Mexico City, is the country’s premier international gateway and major tourist attraction, central to everything that goes on elsewhere.
Massive and seemingly chaotic, the city is home to over 20 million people, offering a safe, chic, modern lifestyle sitting side-by-side with ancient culture and tradition. With such an extensive coastline Mexico is all too readily associated with beach culture, popularised by the international resorts to be found in the Yucatan Peninsula, the Caribbean and Pacific Coastline, many of them crowded, brash and lacking in identity. Others, as featured here, remain relatively undiscovered and brimming with character and charm. Beaches aside, Mexico offers a myriad of experiences, readily available and deserving of further exploration.
A. Mexico City & The Colonial Heartlands.Mexico’s sprawling capital is surprisingly safe after years of bad press. Awash with museums and galleries, ancient monuments and plazas, mostly set amidst the accessible ‘centro Historico’ and Alameda Central districts. Roma district is the city’s bohemian quarter with impressive French-style architecture, and Xochimilco districts’ canal boat rides are a popular attraction. The surrounding area is equally compelling. The temples and pyramids of Teotihuacan are a popular draw. Spanish-colonial settlements extend into the Northeast. Taxco, Puebla and Cuernavaca are nearby, while San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Zacatecas lie a little further afield.
B. The Yucatan Peninsula. International resorts, unspoilt hideaways and island getaways hug the beaches of the Mayan Riviera while inland a treasure trove of ancient Mayan temples and ruins await, side-by-side with colourful colonial towns and villages. The Yucatan Peninsula is a stunning natural spectacle with one foot firmly in the distant past.
C. Chiapas. A low-lying, jungle- and highland pine forest-clad region bordered by the state of Tabasco to the north. Chiapas is Mexico’s southernmost state, home to some of the greatest Mayan riches in Mesoamerica.along with little-changed colonial settlements. San Cristobal de las Casas stands out amongst the latter while the Mayan ruins at Palenque and Yaxchilan are a reminder of ancient Mayan power and influence across the region.
D. Oaxaca. A friendly, captivating state dominated by the vibrant and elegant capital city of the same name. The area is a centre for creative arts and crafts, festivals, unique cuisine and mezcal spirit. Areas of note include the villages of the Pueblos Mancomundos, set in the cloud forests to the north of the capital, a stunning and largely undeveloped coastline to the south and the ancient ruins of Monte Alban, lying to the immediate west of Oaxaca City.
E. Copper Canyon. The highlight of Northern Mexico, one of the World’s great train journeys and a marvel of engineering. The ‘Ferrocaril Chihuahua Pacifico’, or ‘Chepe’ for short, winds its way upward for over 400 miles, from near-coastal Los Michos to Chihuahua in the central high plains. Enroute the train travels through one of the natures wonders – The Copper River Canyon – four times larger than the Grand Canyon and deeper in parts by several metres.