Enormous, friendly, and slightly dangerous? Yes, Mexico ticks all those boxes. You had better start getting ready for your trip. We are Jan and Karin and these are the 12 most important facts you should definitely know about Mexico before you set off.
1. Where is Mexico and how can you get there?
Mexico is a country in North America; it borders the USA in the north and Guatemala in the south. In the west, the country is washed by the Pacific Ocean, and in the south, it is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. (If you had listened to your geography teacher, you would have known that.)
You can comfortably get to Mexico by plane. There are several international airports, the biggest one in Mexico City. It’s the busiest airport in Latin America, making it a perfect opportunity for you to try what the life of a sardine feels like. Of course, if you are from the US or other countries close to Mexico, you can travel by car. But that might not be such a good idea, as Mexico is really large. Instead, consider flying there and renting a car on the spot.
2. How big is Mexico?
Mexico covers the area of 1,972,550 square kilometers (761,610 square miles). In comparison, that’s three times the area of France, and 25 times the area of Czechia—the country I come from. With a population of 126,014,024 citizens, Mexico is the 10th most populated country in the world.
3. The 32 states of Mexico
Mexico is a federation, consisting of 32 states. The biggest one is Chihuahua in the north. Other Mexican states that cover large areas are:
However, even the smaller states are definitely worth visiting and deserve a place of honor in your Mexico itinerary. For example:
- Federal District (Mexico City)
- Quintana Roo
Do you want to know more about travel destinations in Mexico? Read my article Top 10 places to visit in Mexico.
4. Language in Mexico
The most widespread language in Mexico is Spanish. But officially, Mexico has 68 national languages. (Unbelievable, I know. Can you imagine being a local officer?) Six million citizens speak indigenous languages, such as the Nahuatl language (spoken by more than a million citizens), or Yucatec Maya (spoken by 800,000 citizens).
Some of the indigenous languages are still mother tongues to many people, whereas others are spoken only to be preserved. For example, the Awakatek language has only 20 speakers in Mexico.
Do people in Mexico speak English?
Not really. In the most popular tourist destinations, such as Chichen Itza or Mexico City, people probably know some English, but I wouldn’t count on it. You had better start learning Spanish phrases, such as Una cerveza, por favor (“One beer, please”) or ¿Dónde está el inodoro? (“Where is the toilet?”).
But even if you don’t speak Spanish, you don’t need to be lost. Try using Google Translator. You can speak in your language and the app will repeat your words in Spanish, which is a really effective way of communication in Mexico.
5. Mexico money
The currency in Mexico is the Mexican Peso.
- One American dollar is worth 20 pesos.
- One Euro is worth 25 pesos.
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Mexico, and in cities, there are lots of ATMs. Paying in Mexico is therefore no big deal.
6. Mexico climate: What’s the weather like in Mexico?
Mexico is a megadiverse country. Maybe you’ve never heard the term before, but it’s exactly as cool as it sounds. Megadiverse countries are 17 countries classified as the most biodiverse countries of the world. Different types of climate in Mexico are:
- tropical: rainforest, monsoon, savannah
- arid: desert, steppe
What does it mean for you? Well, depending on where exactly you go, you might need both a swimming suit and a winter hat. Not at the same time, obviously.
What’s the temperature in Mexico? That’s not an easy question to answer, as both longitude and altitude play an important role. Generally, the further south you travel, the warmer it is, and with higher altitudes, it gets colder.
The difference can really be enormous. Let’s take Yucatan and the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Beltas examples to illustrate what I mean:
- Average yearly temperature in Yucatan is 24–28 °C (75–82 °F).
- Average yearly temperature in Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt is 8–12 °C (46–54 °F).
Rainy season in Mexico
The rainy season runs from May to September in the northern parts of Mexico, and from June to October in the southern parts. It may be raining cats and dogs, and several lightning bolts may be tearing the sky above your head, but it’s not necessarily a bad time to travel in Mexico. The rain usually takes the form of short showers lasting only a few minutes, and, as a result, the vegetation is greener. For example, Sumidero Canyon has much more water and there are more waterfalls during the rainy season.
Hurricane season in Mexico
The hurricane season affects both coasts of Mexico. It usually lasts from June to November and is linked with hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions. On average, 12 storms occur in the Atlantic during this period, but the number can vary greatly. For example in 2020, there were 26 storms, out of which nine were hurricanes.
7. What’s the best time to visit Mexico?
The most frequently visited tourist attractions are in the south—and the temperatures there are always high so it doesn’t matter if you go in summer or in winter.
But if it’s visiting northern parts of Mexico what’s on your mind, count with snowfall in winter and temperate weather in summer.
Summer, or winter? Consider rain and hurricanes
It’s also a good idea to take rain and hurricanes into account. If you want to avoid the rainy season and the hurricane season, it’s better to go in winter. But don’t visit Mexico during Christmas! Why? Find that out in 33 Useful Mexico Travel Tips You Need to Know.
On the contrary, if you don’t mind a bit of rain, summer could be a better choice. There are fewer tourists and lower prices.
8. The history of Mexico in a nutshell
This blog is not a history book, so I will keep it brief. Mexican history starts with ancient civilizations.
The Olmecs (the ones with the heads)
One of the first ancient cultures in Mexico was the Olmec culture, which appeared around 1200 BC in Veracruz. The Olmecs built temples, where they practiced ritual bloodletting. Their civilization flourished and lived in prosperity, mostly thanks to fertile soil which allowed for agricultural practices. The end of the Olmec culture came in the 4th century BC but we don’t know why.
The characteristic feature, differentiating Olmecs from other ancient civilizations in Mexico, are their statues. There are several “Olmec heads” in Mexico.
The Teotihuacans (the ones with the big city)
Between the 1st and 8th centuries AD, the Teotihuacan culture flourished in Central Mexico. The civilization formed a military empire and had a significant political influence. Teotihuacan was one of the largest cities in the world, renowned for its monumental pyramids. However, the civilization collapsed around the 8th century AD, and again— the reason is not clear.
Tip: Teotihuacan is a very interesting tourist destination. I recommend visiting it.
The Aztecs (the bloodthirsty ones)
The Aztec Empire was a military confederation of three cities: Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. It was founded in 1428, and soon became the most powerful culture in Latin America. At its peak in the 16th century, the civilization had 11 million citizens. The Aztecs carried out ritual human sacrifices on an enormous scale—they allegedly sacrificed over 80,000 prisoners during four days. The civilization ended in 1525, when the Spanish led by Hernán Cortés came in like a wrecking ball and conquered the country.
The Maya (the clever ones)
The Maya developed their first civilizations in 2000 BC. They were famous for their calendars, mathematics, and astronomy. They had a complex system of hieroglyphic writing which we haven’t completely deciphered till today. The empire was gradually conquered by the Spanish, but the Mayan culture remains in Mexico. In the 21st century, there’s still a population of over 7 million Mayan people in America.
Tip: Do you want to unwrap the mystery of ancient civilizations and peek behind the curtain (or should I say behind the pyramid)? Read about visiting Chichen Itza: Price and other tourist information you need to know.
Mexico as New Spain
After the conquest of ancient civilizations, Mexico was ruled by the Spanish but remained a very rural and indigenous area. Hundreds of thousands of foreign people who were arriving in Mexico (Europeans, Asians, and African slaves) brought deadly diseases. It wasn’t a very happy period. In the 19th century, the War of Independence followed.
The declaration of independence was followed by a little bit of chaos. First, Mexico was an empire, but very soon the First Mexican Republic was declared. After a few years, an empire was declared again, and then, the republic was restored. See? Chaos, I told you.
Now, Mexico is a federation of 32 states and its president is Andrés Manuel López Obrador (as of April 2021).
9. Mexico: Religion
89% Mexicans are Christians—78% being Roman Catholics and 11% being Protestants. That’s why there are numerous chapels, churches, and cathedrals in Mexico. 8% Mexicans are atheists.
10. Mexican food
Mexican food is world-known. Traditional Mexican cuisine includes these dishes:
Some of these rock, others suck. You don’t have to find out for yourself—read my article about the food in Mexico.
11. What are people in Mexico like?
There are two points of view:
- Objective: 126 million people live in Mexico, making it the 10th most populous country on the planet. And that’s a hell of a lot. The number includes various races, ethnicities, and nationalities, creating a multicultural environment for everyone.
- Subjective: Almost everyone we met in Mexico went bananas when we asked for something, and did their best to help us. And I mean it: the people we met were friendly, generous and kind.
12. Mexican economy
- Is Mexico rich? Yes, it has the 15th largest GDP in the world (as of 2018).
- Does the Mexican economy grow? Yes, as fast as greased lightning.
- Is there still incredible poverty? Also yes.
How is that possible? Even though the Mexican GDP was 8,421 US dollars per capita in 2020, 46% of Mexican citizens live in poverty according to the CONEVAL. The salary in Mexico usually moves in the range of 8,400 Mexican pesos (420 US dollars) and 148,000 Mexican pesos (7,500 US dollars) per month. You may call it economic disparity, but I call it crazy.
Things don’t always go without sleaze in Mexico. The country deals with high crime rates, drug production, and official corruption. Don’t be surprised to meet a cop asking for a bribe. It’s one of the most urgent problems modern-day Mexico is facing.
Travel Tips and Tricks for Mexico
These were the basic facts you need to know about Mexico. But maybe you should dig a few inches deeper and discover other helpful tricks about traveling in Mexico. Explore my article with 33 useful Mexico travel tips.