Cities in MEXICO

Mexico city Playa del carmen Riviera maya

Geography and Landscape


Mexico (Spanish: México; officially: Estados Unidos Mexicanos, = United States of Mexico) is a federated republic in Central America. Geographically, Mexico is part of the continent of North America, culturally it is part of Latin America (Central and South America).

Mexico Satellite PhotoMexico Satellite PhotoPhoto: Public domain

The total area, including 5364 km² of islands, is 1,958,201 km². Mexico takes fourteenth place in the world ranking of major countries. Mexico is the third largest country in Latin America after Brazil and Argentina.

Mexico is bordered to the north by the US states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. This border is 3326 kilometers long, two thirds of which is formed by the river Río Bravo del Norte (United States: Rio Grande). In the south, Mexico borders the Central American states of Guatemala (962 km) and Belize (250 km).

Border with Mexico near San DiegoBorder with Mexico near San DiegoPhoto: Roman Eugeniusz CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

To the west, Mexico borders the Pacific or Pacific Ocean (7360 kilometers). In the east, the country borders the Atantic Ocean (2600 km). The Atlantic Ocean here is called Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.

Mexico includes many islands, of which Guadeloupe, Revillagigedo and Isla de Cedros in the Pacific Ocean, Tiburón, Tres Marías and Angel de la Guarda in the Gulf of California, and Cozumel Island in the Caribbean Sea are the largest. There are two main peninsulas: Baja California in the northwest and Yucatán in the southeast. The capital of Mexico is Ciudad de México (internationally known as Mexico City). Mexico City is located at an altitude of 2,200 meters in a valley surrounded by the Sierra Madre and a number of volcanoes.

Isla de Cedros, MexicoIsla de Cedros, MexicoPhoto: WCCasey CC 4.0 International no changes made


Mexico is generally a very mountainous country with narrow valleys in between where agriculture is possible. Approx. 80% of the country is covered with mountains and no less than 26% of the country has a slope of 25% or more.

The Central Plateau or Mesa Central (also called Meseta de México) occupies three quarters of Mexico and is bordered by the Sierra Madre Oriental (continuation of the Rocky Mountains), the Sierra Volcánica Transversal and the Sierra Madre Occidental (continuation of the American Sierra Nevada). This plateau is intersected by hills, valleys and mountain ranges. The altitude varies from 1500 meters in the north to 2500 meters in the south.

Sierra Madre Oriental, MexicoSierra Madre Oriental, MexicoPhoto: Boligrafoazul CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The pine-forested Sierra Madre Occidental runs parallel to the west coast from the United States border to the south and the Sierra Madre Oriental runs parallel to the east coast. Many canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental are 1500 to 2000 meters deep, such as the Baranca del Cobre in the state of Chiapas. To the west of the Sierra Madre Occidental is a savanna area with large, irrigated agricultural valleys.

Sierra Madre Occidental, MexicoSierra Madre Occidental, MexicoPhoto: Christian Frausto Bernal CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

South of the plateau lies the Sierra Volcánica Transversal chain of volcanoes. Some volcanoes are still active, for example the Popocatépetl, the "smoking mountain" (5452 meters high). In June 1997 the volcano became active again after 67 years and the capital was covered with a thick layer of ash. Other high volcanoes are the Nevada de Toluca (4577 meters), the Ixtaccíhuatl (5286 meters: sleeping woman) and the eternally snow-covered Citlaltépetl (mountain of the star) or Pico de Orizaba, at 5700 meters the highest point in Mexico. Characteristic of this area are crater lakes and lava flows. To the south of this volcanic area lies the coastal mountain range Sierra Madre del Sur. This mountain range is separated by the isthmus of Tehuantepec from the mountainous region of the state of Chiapas. To the west is the volcanic belt of Michoacán, where a volcano was formed in 1943, the Volcán de Paricutín. In total there are about 3,000 volcanoes in Mexico, of which fourteen are active.

Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's highest mountain Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's highest mountainPhoto: Pacomexico CC BY 2.0 no changes made

South of the plateau lies the valley of Oaxaca at an altitude of 1350 meters. In the state of Tabasco there are swamps and tropical rainforests, which also cover much of the relatively flat Yucatán peninsula. To the east of Yucatán are the fantastic sandy beaches that are very popular with tourists.

Along the Gulf of Mexico is a long coastal plain from the Río Grande to the Yucatán peninsula. This coastal plain is about 1280 km long and the width varies from a few kilometers to about 150 kilometers. This lowland consists largely of lagoons and swamps. Also along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean is a lowland, consisting of long hills and plains that merge into the Sonoran Desert in the north.

The mountainous, arid and desert peninsula of Baja California has steep slopes to the Gulf of California and fairly wide coastal plains to the Pacific Ocean. It is the largest peninsula in the world, approximately 1300 kilometers long and 65 to 300 kilometers wide.

In northwestern Mexico is the Sonoran Desert and to the east is the Chihuahua Desert. Both deserts consist equally of sand, gravel and bedrock. The dry northeast was once the bottom of a sea. The soil here usually consists of limestone, a sedimentary rock formed from shells or skeletons of aquatic organisms, such as shellfish and corals. Caves often form in this type of rock.

Chihuahua desert, MexicoChihuahua desert, MexicoPhoto: Ricraider CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Due to the shifting of the ocean floor in relation to the continental plate, there are quite a lot of earthquakes in Mexico. Very severe earthquakes occur sporadically, the most recent being September 19, 1985 when an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale caused thousands of deaths and billions of damage in Mexico City. Approx. 150,000 houses were damaged by the natural disaster.

About 575 kilometers west of Mexico is the Revillagigedos archipelago, whose volcano Mariano Barcena exploded in 1952. Another volcano that exploded was the Chichonal in Chiapas in 1982.

From the island of Isla Contoy off the coast of Yucatán to the port city of Chetumal on the border with Belize is the second largest barrier reef in the world, 700 kilometers long.

Isla Contoy, MexicoIsla Contoy, MexicoPhoto: Peter Maas CC 2.5 Generic no changes made

The largest underwater cave system in the world is that of Nohoch, southwest of Akumal, with 18 kilometers of interconnected underwater corridors and caves.

Rivers and lakes

Due to the dry climate, there are hardly any rivers in the north. After heavy rainfall, lakes may temporarily form basins or valleys. To the south, three large river systems drain the Central Plateau. The river system of the Balsas has carved deep valleys and drains to the Pacific. The Rio Pánuco system flows through a rocky area to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The Santiago System drains into the Pacific Ocean through Lago Chapala.

Rio Panuco, MexicoRio Panuco, MexicoPhoto: Edgar Galindo CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Major rivers are also the Río Usumacinta, the Río Grijalva and the Río Grande de Santiago. Large lakes are Lago Chapala (1690 km2) and the Falcon Reservoir.

Lago Chapala, MexicoLago Chapala, MexicoPhoto: AlejandradlT CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Climate and Weather

Climatically, Mexico can be divided into the east coast, the west coast and the Central Plateau. The climate is also strongly dependent on the altitude at which one is located. Taking the above into account, Mexico has roughly two seasons, the dry season in winter, from October to May, and the rainy season in summer, which lasts from May to October, peaking in July and August. Only in the extreme northwest, around Tijuana has a Mediterranean climate with a lot of rain in the winter.

Climate diagram Mexico City, Central Mexico Climate diagram Mexico City, Central MexicoPhoto: Hedwig in Washington CC 3.0 no changes made

Mexico as a whole can be characterized as arid or semi-arid in that 80% of the country receives less than 800 mm of rainfall. The most arid region of the country is the desert of Altar where it sometimes does not rain for years. The year 1996 was an extremely dry year; the worst drought of the past fifty years was registered. The hurricane season on the east coast starts in June but is most severe in September.

Climate diagram, Merida, Eastern-Mexico (Yucatan)Climate diagram, Merida, Eastern-Mexico (Yucatan)Photo: Hedwig in Washington CC 3.0 no changes made

Furthermore, Mexico has three climate zones:

The "tierra caliente", the warm zone, includes all areas below 750 meters. This mainly concerns coastal plains and regions with swamps and tropical rainforests. Places that are located in this climate zone are famous tourist places such as Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Veracruz, Cancún and Cozumel. The average annual temperature is between 23 and 26 ° C. In the rainy season the temperatures are much higher than in the dry season and are accompanied by high humidity. In the Yucatán peninsula, daytime temperatures barely drop below 24°C. The temperature differences are also small for the other low plains in the south. In the northern steppes and deserts, the temperature differences are large. In the summer it is scalding hot during the day, but in the winter temperatures regularly drop below freezing point at night.

Climate diagram Guadalajara, Western MexicoClimate diagram Guadalajara, Western MexicoPhoto: Hedwig in Washington CC 3.0 no changes made

The temperate subtropical areas lie between 750 and 2000 meters and are called the "tierra templada". Average temperatures are between 17and 23° C, but night and day temperatures can be quite different. For example, much of the Mexican plateau lies in this zone and the daytime temperatures have a spring-like character all year round. This is where the main agricultural areas lie.

The cold areas, the "tierra fría", lie above 2000 meters. The mountain areas and the higher parts of the Mexican highlands belong to this. Mexico City is located in this zone as it is located at an altitude of 2,240 meters. The average temperature in this zone is below 17°C. The differences can also be great in these areas. Mexico City is quite spring-like in temperature all year round, while high in the mountains it can freeze severely. These areas above 4000 meters where snow and ice predominate are also called "tierra helada".

Climate diagram Guanajuato, Central MexicoClimate diagram Guanajuato, Central MexicoPhoto: Hedwig in Washington CC 3.0 no changes made

The east coast is exposed to humid winds that bring in air from the Gulf of Mexico, with heavy rains, especially in the south. Only the north coast of Yucatán, in the wind shadow of the peninsula, is relatively dry. The hottest part of Mexico in the summer is the west coast. The Central Plateau also receives little rainfall, especially in the north. The temperatures on the plateau are considerably lower than in the low lying areas with frost during the winter nights. In summer, however, the temperatures here also rise to high values.

Average temperatures at sea level

Puerto Vallarta21,030,0

Average temperatures at a high level


Plants and Animals


Mexico has a very extensive and varied flora with more than 20,000 plant species. Flowery plants such as the begonia and the dahlia are native to Mexico. Valleys and ridges are covered with flowering trees such as bougainville, magnolia, jacaranda tree, West Indian red jasmine, oleander, poinsettia, hibiscus, banderillo flower and gardenia. The 700 varieties of orchids are also colorful.

Jacaranda, MexicoJacaranda, MexicoPhoto: Soulreaper (assumed) in het publieke domein

Mexico also has the most cactus species in the world on its territory. Two thirds of the 6000 known species can be found in Mexico, especially in the states of Baja California, Sonora, Puebla, Oaxaca and Guerrero.

Special species are the up to 20 meters high and 300 year old saguaro cactus and the maguey or Agave americana, which is used to separate fields and roads and provides a basic raw material for the national alcoholic drink tequilla. The disc cactus is grown for its fruits and leaves, both of which are edible.

Agave americana, MexicoAgave americana, MexicoPhoto: Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

At higher altitudes, there are mixed forests with Montezuma pines, cypresses and eucalyptuses from Australia. Many types of agaves, disc cacti and well-known yucca grow on the savannas.

In the moist areas of the "tierra templada" grows the national tree of Mexico, the ahuehuete, a giant cypress. Mainly in Chiapas and Yucatán we still find one fifth of the original rainforest of Mexico. Mulberry trees, fallow nut trees, sapotilla trees and the tall guanacastes grow here. In between climbing plants, ferns and lianas. The national flower of Mexico is the dahlia.

Ahuehuete, national tree of MexicoAhuehuete, national tree of MexicoPhoto: Heterotrofo CC 4.0 International no changes made
Dahlia, national flower of MexicoDahlia, national flower of MexicoPhoto: Marktee1 at en.wikipedia CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In 1998 thousands of forest fires raged in Mexico, burning about 500,000 hectares of pastureland and forest land. Most of the fires were started by farmers in order to make the soil more fertile for the next crop. This year, however, the fires could no longer be controlled and, among other things, a unique tropical forest in the Chimalpas region was irreparably damaged.


More than 1000 bird species live in Mexico, of which about 750 in the rainforest. The protected island of Contoy is home to the white flamingo and another special bird is the Mexican jay. There are also about 60 species of hummingbirds.

Mexican jayMexican jayPhoto: Alan Vernon CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Contoy Island is one of the most important bird sanctuaries in the Caribbean. Macaws and toucans are still common in the tropical rainforests, but the beautiful quetzal is threatened with extinction. The national bird of Mexico is the golden eagle.

Golden eagle, national bird of MexicoGolden eagle, national bird of MexicoPhoto: Rocky CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The monarch butterfly lives in the northern United States and Canada in the summer. Towards the end of the summer they migrate south and on November 1 they arrive punctually in the village of Angangueo in Michoacán state. During the winter they stay there, die at some point, but their offspring travel north again and this cycle repeats year after year. Sometimes there are so many butterflies in the trees that branches bend!

Monarch butterfly, MexicoMonarch butterfly, MexicoPhoto: LyWashu CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Wolves still occur sporadically in the northern deserts. The coyote, on the other hand, is still very common. Other desert animals include hares, rabbits, badgers, snakes, insects and lizards. Almost all are nocturnal animals that are hunted by the bobcat. The green and the black iguana are crested lizards (iguana) that hardly stand out because of their camouflage color. They can grow up to two meters long. Special is the basilisk or "Jesus Christ lizard", which can walk on water.

Striped basilisk, MexicoStriped basilisk, MexicoPhoto: Bernard DUPONT CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The rare jaguar is still found in the southern tropical rainforests, along with the related ocelot, margay and jaguarundi. A special predator is the silver-gray cougar or silver lion, which now only occurs in the mountains.

Jaguar, MexicoJaguar, MexicoPhoto: Petruss CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Many species of turtles live in and around Mexican rivers and lakes. including the giant sea turtle caguama. This area is also the hunting ground for alligators and crocodiles. Among the many fish, the special largemouth bass and rainbow trout can be mentioned.

Trout, MexicoTrout, MexicoPhoto: Robert Pos CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The largest Mexican mammal is the Central American tapir. Anteaters, armadillos and coatis are common and live at the bottom of the rainforest. Tree porcupines and various types of monkeys, including howler monkeys, live in the trees. The volcano rabbit, in Mexico also known as teporingo or zacatuche, is limited to a few areas on the Popocatépetl and adjacent mountains and has declined in numbers very sharply.

Volcano rabbit, teporingo or zacatucheVolcano rabbit, teporingo or zacatuchePhoto: ProtoplasmaKid CC 4.0 International no changes made

Large groups of gray whales can be seen off the coast of Baja California from January to mid-March, which, among other things, give birth to their calves here. In addition, the seas around Mexico include dolphins, redfish, gold mackerels, barracudas, rays, swordfish, dolphins, marlins, squid, tuna and sharks (including bullhead shark, lemon shark and nurse shark) Many species of coral fish live around the coral reefs and in the lagoons.

Lemon shark, MexicoLemon shark, MexicoPhoto: Albert Kok CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

It is estimated that one hectare of rainforest is good for approx .:

15 tree species

25 orchid species

20 bird species

10 mammal species

150 butterfly species

2500 kinds of insects

American scientists have discovered a vegetarian spider in the jungles of Mexico and Costa Rica, it was announced in October 2009. The Bagheera Kiplingi lives in South America and feeds on the leaves and buds of plants. As far as is known, the Bagheera Kiplingi is the only one of the more than 40,000 spider species that is not a carnivore. Since no prey has to be caught, the animal does not spin a web.

Bagheera kiplingi, MexicoBagheera kiplingi, MexicoPhoto: Maximilian Paradiz CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

In May 2014, it was revealed that on the Mexican volcanic island of Clarion, one of the four Revillagigedo Islands, the Clarion nocturnal snake has been rediscovered. In 1936, the snake was discovered by the naturalist William Beebe. He found only one specimen, further searches yielded nothing, until now. At least eleven specimens were found.

Mexico is the country with the most poisonous animals: 80 in all, including snakes, spiders and centipedes in particular.

Common lancehead, most dangerous snake in MexicoCommon lancehead, most dangerous snake in MexicoPhoto: Danleo CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


First inhabitants

The first inhabitants of Mexico entered probably around 20,000 years BC. the current Mexican territory. Originally they came from Siberia and during the last Ice Age, from the Weichselian, about 40,000 years ago, by the current Bering Strait to North America via the land bridge between Siberia and America. These nomad tribes lived by hunting, fishing and gathering edible crops. Only 6,000 years BC. cultivation of the land was started. The period of 2000 BC. until 1521 AD. is often classified as follows:

The pre-classical period of 2000 BC. to 200 AD.

The classical period of 200-900 AD.

The post-classical period of AD 900-1521.

 Maps depicting each phase of our three-step colonization model for the peopling of the AmericasMaps depicting each phase of our three-step colonization model for the peopling of the AmericasPhoto: Buzzzsherman CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The cultures that flourished during those periods strongly influenced each other. In the pre-classical period, all kinds of new techniques and skills were developed, including weaving, pottery, irrigation of the land and the first writing system and a calendar. Particularly due to improved agricultural methods, the population increased rapidly and cities quickly emerged from the settlements.

Olmec and Tlatilco culture

Around 1200 BC. developed the La Venta culture of the Olmec. They were the first to shape stone and use it to make large structures such as oval-shaped pyramids and large squares. Also typical of this culture are the gigantic stone heads. The main cities of San Lorenzo, La Venta and Tres Zapotes were located in the fertile coastal region along the Gulf of Mexico. Although not much is known about the Olmecs, they are considered the mother culture of Central America. It is not known what language they spoke, but it is known that they used a calendar and the jaguar god had an important place in their religion. They also introduced wrought iron to this continent. About 200 years BC. the role of the Olmec in Central America was taken over by some other high cultures.

Olmec head, Xalapa, Veracruz, MexicoOlmec head, Xalapa, Veracruz, MexicoPhoto: Mesoamerican CC 4.0 International no changes made

Another culture of the pre-classical period was the Tlatilco culture, which developed in the place where Mexico City is now located, on the Mexican plateau. At the end of the pre-classical era, two political powers remained: those of Teotihuacán and of Cuilcuilco. After Cuilcuilco was destroyed by a lava flow, Teotihuacán was left as a new center of power and developed into one of the largest and most powerful cities of the time. The heyday of this city was around AD 400 when it had more than 200,000 inhabitants. In general, it was the case that in the classical period from 200 to 900 AD. the population moved in large numbers to the cities where most of the economic life took place.
It was characteristic that most of the power was in the hands of priests and that they were able to erect impressive structures with great mathematical and astronomical knowledge. Visual art was also at a high level. Important gods were the rain god Tlaloc and the god of creation Quetzalcóatl.

Image of Quetzalcoatl, god of creation, MexicoImage of Quetzalcoatl, god of creation, MexicoPhoto: Cangadoba CC 4.0 International no changes made

Teotihuacán's influence reached very far through trade contacts, from the southern United States to the Mayan regions of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

Zapotec, Mixtec and Maya

Zapotec culture developed from 300 to 800 in the valley of Oaxaca. The history of this people is also still relatively unknown, but it is clear that all kinds of small principalities united at one point and that they also made buildings of considerable size. The empire was administered from the Monte Albán hill. Between 800 and 1000 the Zapotecs were replaced by the Mixtecs with Mitla as the main city. The Mixtecs were known for the artful working of silver.

Mitla is an important Zapotec culture archeological site in MexicoMitla is an important Zapotec culture archeological site in MexicoPhoto: Arian Zwegers from Brussels, Belgium CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

One civilization that reached its peak at the same time was the Mayan culture. They lived in the current states of Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche and furthermore in the neighboring states of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. The Maya did not have a central government, so each city functioned as an independent state. It was a real class society and the people believed in reincarnation.
The oldest buildings of the Maya date from the period between the 4th and the 9th century AD. and all kinds of art forms were at a high level. Also in the field of mathematics the Maya were phenomenal and had, for example, a more accurate calendar than we have now. Important half-human, half-animal gods included Itzamná (creator and god of the sky), Chac (rain god), Ix Chel (god of the moon and birth) and Ah Puch (god of death).

Mayan pyramid of the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, MexicoMayan pyramid of the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, MexicoPhoto: Lox CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


In the post-classical period (900-1521), instead of the priest-kings, the military was in charge. Walled cities are typical of this period and Toltecs and especially Aztecs were important cultures.

Statues in the shape of Toltec soldiers in the city of Tula, Mexico Statues in the shape of Toltec soldiers in the city of Tula, MexicoPhoto: AlejandroLinaresGarci CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Toltecs of Tollan were actually the successors of the city-state of Teotihuacán around 900. Tollan was about 80 kilometers north of present-day Mexico City. Human sacrifice was an important event in Toltec religion to satisfy gods. They often used prisoners of war for that and war was often waged to get them. They extended their power to the Yucatán Peninsula and southern Mexico and around the year 1000 the Maya were subdued and the city of Chichén Itzá occupied. This city slowly became a militaristic belligerent city-state and grew into the most important city in the Yucatán Peninsula. The former capital of the Toltecs, Tolla, was destroyed by the Chichimecs in 1156, after which the Toltec empire fell apart.


After the dissolution of the Toltec Empire, the central highlands became a battle site for hegemony that was eventually won by the Mexicas, better known as the Aztecs. The Aztecs were not much of a civilization in the early 14th century. In 1325, the construction of floating gardens in Lake Texcoco started. Mainly maize was grown in these gardens and later a huge city, Tenochtitlán, was created in the middle of the lake, with canals, bridges, palaces, sewers and a population of about 300,000.

Model van Tenochtitlan, Mexico Model van Tenochtitlan, MexicoPhoto: Steve Cadman CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Like the Toltecs, their uncontrolled war drive had a religious background. They needed thousands of prisoners of war who were sacrificed to prevent natural disasters and had subdued all the peoples in that part of Mexico. How the Aztecs managed to do all this in barely a hundred years is still a mystery. At the time of the arrival of the Spanish in 1519, the absolute ruler of the Aztecs was Montezuma II.

Statue of Montezuma II, MexicoStatue of Montezuma II, MexicoPhoto: Basilio CC 2.5 Generic no changes made

The two main gods of the Aztec empire were Huitzilopochtli, the sun god, and Tlaloc, the rain god. The god of creation, Quetzalcóatl, like Tlaloc, occurs under different names among different peoples.

Spanish conquistadors

It was the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés who was the first European to set foot on the Mexican shore with several hundred soldiers on April 21, 1519, near Veracruz. The Aztecs were friendly to him because they believed that Cortés was the god Quetzalcóatl returning from the sea. Cortés, however, unexpectedly captured Montezuma II with the help of many thousands of Tlaxcalan Indians who hoped to escape the Aztecs' terror. The Spanish used Montezuma as a hostage, but the Aztecs revolted nonetheless. Montezuma tried to prevent this but was killed by his own people.

Hernán Cortés, MexicoHernán Cortés, MexicoPhoto: Anonymous CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Montezuma's younger brother, Cuitláhuac, became the new leader and dealt to the Spaniards a severe blow. Many Spaniards died and they lost all the riches they had stolen in one night that would go down in history as the "noche triste". In 1521 the Spaniards attacked again and the Aztecs, now under Cuauhtémoc's leadership, lost their lives. Thousands of Aztecs were killed and the capital Tenochtitlán was also destroyed. The area was declared a colony in the name of Charles V and called New Spain. A new city was built on the foundations of Tenochtitlán and was renamed Mexico.

Cuauhtemoc was the last Aztec leaderCuauhtemoc was the last Aztec leaderPhoto: Jose Francisco Del Valle Mojica CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Forced labor, oppression and new diseases such as smallpox, caused the death of many Indians and the number fell in the 16th century from about 25 million to about 2 million. Some time later, the Spanish Crown protected the Indians to some extent. The villages were recognized as "pueblos de indios" and some land ownership was possible. The Indians had to adhere to Catholic teachings and pay taxe. In "New Spain" only pure Spaniards, the so-called "peninsulares", could hold high offices and all industrial products had to be obtained from Spain and exports, since the 18th century in particular silver, were only aimed at the motherland. Land ownership was entirely in the hands of Spaniards and the church, which was integrated into the public administration. In 1535 the new colony was given the status of viceroyalty. This system could last for centuries.

Mexico independent

At the end of the eighteenth century, the idea of independence began to take shape. It was not until 1808, after the deposition of the Bourbons in Spain, that the first major revolts against the system broke out. On September 16, 1810, army captain Ignacio Allende and priest Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo, together with Creoles, Mestizos and Indians, entered into battle with the Spaniards (Grito de Dolores = the cry of Dolores). Although the battle was lost in 1811, that day is still commemorated as the day the struggle for independence began.

In 1815 the authority of the Spanish viceroy was restored. In 1820 a liberal constitution was promulgated in Spain and this was the signal for the Spanish colonists to declare independence. Spain sent an army led by General Iturbide, which, however, defected to the insurgents. Independence was proclaimed on September 17, 1821 and Iturbide was crowned Emperor as Agustín I. In 1822 Iturbide was overthrown by the liberals led by Antonio López de Santa Ana.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, MexicoAntonio Lopez de Santa Anna, MexicoPhoto: Yinan Chen in the public domain

The population at that time consisted for more than 80% of Indians and Mestizos of Hispanic Indian descent. They were from bad to worse because the new president Santa Ana was not interested in the poor population. For example, the "pueblos de indios", the laws that protected Indians and farmers a little, soon disappeared.

A federalist-republican constitution was enacted in 1824 after the states of Central America separated from Mexico. In the period 1821 to 1857, many coups d'état took place as a result of contradictions between different political currents, but also by soldiers who competed for power. Santa Ana held the presidency several times during that period. In 1829, Spain made a futile attempt to reclaim Mexico and Veracruz was occupied by the French due to an unpaid debt.

War with the United States

While Santa Ana was ruling, the United States started a war against Mexico. The weak Mexican army could not prevent Mexico City from being occupied by the Americans in 1847. Earlier (1836) the Mexicans had already lost the state of Texas and were forced to cede more than half of their territory, including present-day California, central Mexico, Arizona and parts of Colorado, Nevada, Kansas, Utah and Oklahoma. Texas joined the United States in 1845.

Overview Mexican WarOverview Mexican WarPhoto: Kaidor CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Despite this humiliation, Santa Ana managed to remain president and proclaimed himself dictator in 1853. Despite everything, he was still supported by conservative movements in the country and by the army, the church and the landowners. To protect their position, it was to their advantage to keep the political situation as it was. The liberals, on the other hand, strongly advocated a free market economy and a separation of church and state.

Period Benito Juárez

In 1855 Santa Ana was deposed by the liberals led by the Zapoteek Indian Benito Juárez. He made a new constitution that included the right to free education and freedom of religion and expression. The division between church and state and, very important for the population, the redistribution of the many land that the church owned, were also regulated by the constitution. The Conservatives revolted, but the three-year war was won by the Liberals.

Benito Juárez, MexicoBenito Juárez, MexicoPhoto: Avery Jensen CC 4.0 International no changes made

The civil war had cost a lot of money and Mexico could no longer meet its financial obligations to Spain, England and France. These countries decided to intervene, Spain and Great Britain withdrew when they realized that France was planning to make a protectorate of Mexico. In 1863, Mexico was occupied by Napoleon III and Archduke Maximilian of Austria was appointed Emperor of Mexico by the French. He was the brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz-Josef. This occupation lasted only a short time because in 1867 Maximilian was defeated and executed and Benito Juárez was again president of Mexico.

Mexican Civil Revolution led by Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa

After the death of Juárez in 1872, General Porfirio Díaz seized power in 1876 and remained so until 1911. The poor people suffered under dictatorial rule that at one point could no longer even provide enough food, especially maize. Only profitable export products such as coffee, tobacco and sugar were grown. The industry did flourish due to a well-constructed railway network and a developing mining and oil industry. However, the profits from this largely disappeared abroad and in the long run Diaz was no longer able to face the growing popular resistance.

Porfirio Díaz, MexicoPorfirio Díaz, MexicoPhoto: El Ágora CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In 1911 the revolution broke out with the main figures as Francisco Madero, Álvaro Obregón, Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, with his slogan "tierra y libertad", land and freedom. Díaz was ousted and Francisco Madero became the new president who was no match for the landowners and made a weak impression. Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata felt cheated. Another coup was committed by Victoriano Huerta who killed Madero, but was defeated again in 1914 by Carranza, Obrégon, Villa and Zapata on the other.

Villa and Zapata's land reform plans went way too far for Caranza and Obrégon; they were in favor of a modern, industrialized society. However, Zapata in particular continued to demand that the large landowners be expropriated in favor of the small farmers, the "capasinos". Carranza, meanwhile, had become the new leader of Mexico and went to war against his former companions Villa and Zapata. In December, the army of Villa and Zapata entered Mexico City.

Commemorative statue of Villa and Zapata, MexicoCommemorative statue of Villa and Zapata, MexicoPhoto: Diego M.P. CC 4.0 International no changes made

However, Carranza and Obrégon were allowed to reorganize and Villa and Zapata withdrew, after which Obrégon put Villa's army to flight. Zapata withdrew to the state of Morales and expropriated the landowners there. Supported by the farmers there, Zapata waged a guerilla war against Carranza and Obrégon. In 1917, Carranza drafted a new constitution that enshrined revolutionary ideas, including an eight-hour workday and major land reform proposals.

The civil revolution came to an end after this, but more than one million Mexicans had lost their lives. Nevertheless, even after the new constitution of 1917 it remained very restless and a power struggle took place between the revolutionaries. This battle cost many victims. Zapata was ambushed and murdered by the government army on April 10, 1919, and Villa was murdered in 1923. In 1920 President Carranza was assassinated. Initially, after the revolution little came of the land reforms. It was only under the Obrégon government that agricultural reforms and the renewal of social legislation took place.

Álvaro Obregón, MexicoÁlvaro Obregón, MexicoPhoto: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Mexico under Presidents Callas, Cárdenas, Alemán, López Mateos and Díaz Ordaz

President Callas came to power peacefully in 1924. He came into conflict with the powerful Mexican Church over the anti-clerical provisions of the constitution. The conflict grew into a revolt of the so-called "cristeros" that was crushed in 1929.

Plutarco Elías Calles, MexicoPlutarco Elías Calles, MexicoPhoto: Aurelio Escobar Castellanos CC 2.5 Generic no changes made

In 1929, the National Revolutionary Party was created to bring together all revolutionary groups. It soon became apparent that in this way the party and the government could keep power in a small group and trade unions and farmers' unions became puppets of the government. After President Calles, Lázaro Cárdenas was elected president in 1934. He kept his word and began to expropriate the landowners. Until 1940, 19 million hectares were expropriated under his rule, despite armed resistance from the large landowners.

The land was divided among the farming communities divided into "ejidos", state lands that were worked together. Another important decision was also made by him after a wage dispute between the North American and British oil companies and the workers. In 1937 he nationalized all foreign oil companies to get out of the deadlock.

In 1942, Mexico joined the Allies and declared war on Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Lázaro Cárdenas, MexicoLázaro Cárdenas, MexicoPhoto: Doralicia Carmona Dávila CC 2.5 Generic no changes made

In 1946 the name of the NRP was changed to Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI: Partido Revolucionario Institucional). This happened under Mexico's first civilian president, Miguel Alemán. Under him and his party, the economic and technological development of Mexico was central but social justice fell out of the picture. Until now, this party is still in charge in Mexico and, for example, controls the entire government apparatus. The opposition has little to say. The political situation has been somewhat liberalized in recent decades. For example, a tradition has grown that a center-right president is succeeded by a center-left president. One such center-left presidents was López Mateos who came to power in 1958. In his policy he again focused on land reform and the division of large land ownership, typical left-wing favorite topic. The conservative Díaz Ordaz ruled from 1964 to 1970, and he again focused more on the expansion of the industry.

Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, MexicoGustavo Díaz Ordaz, MexicoPhoto: MagnoGunslinger CC 4.0 International no changes made

Student uprisings and economic downturn

In the late 1960s, opposition to the existing system began to grow in some sectors, both within and outside the ruling party.

In July 1968, shortly before the start of the Olympic Games, students demanded radical reforms. The demonstrations were broken up and more than 500 students and workers were killed. Many students fled into the mountains to wage guerrilla warfare from there.

In the 1970s, under the rule of Luís Echeverría Álvarez, Mexico borrowed billions of dollars abroad to boost the industry. The oil industry in particular should save Mexico from the financial collapse, which was caused, among other things, by the enormous population growth. However, oil prices fell sharply and Mexico was unable to repay its debts. Inflation soared, living standards fell, unemployment rose and there was no more money for better education and health care.

 Luis Echeverría Álvarez, MexicoLuis Echeverría Álvarez, MexicoPhoto: Carl Albert Research and Studies Center, Congressional CollectionCC 4.0 no changes made

Under Álvarez, efforts were also made to modernize the PRI and liberalize the political system, but domestic problems continued to haunt him. As far as foreign policy is concerned, he strived for a more independent position from the United States. Conservative López Portillo y Pacheco came to power in 1976 and tried to combat the economic crisis through private sector stimulation and tight wage policies.

Private banks were also nationalized under López Portillo. Increasing oil exports also fueled economic growth, but corruption was also rampant. When another economic crisis broke out in 1982, López Portillo nationalized the private banks. At that time, the government was no longer able to pay off its foreign debts and tried to use this measure to strengthen government control over the economy.

José López Portillo, MexicoJosé López Portillo, MexicoPhoto: Anefo in the public domain

López Portillo stepped down in 1982 and was succeeded by Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado. He sought the solution in strict austerity, liberalization of the economy and the privatization of state enterprises. Following congressional elections in 1985 and governor elections for some states in 1986, the Hurtado government was charged with electoral fraud. On September 19, 1985, Mexico City was hit by an earthquake that killed about 20,000 people. Again, allegations of corruption and negligence followed, including the control of building permits.

Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, MexicoMiguel de la Madrid Hurtado, MexicoPhoto: Wendolyne78 (CC BY 2.0) no changes made

Hurtado was succeeded on December 1, 1988 by Carlos Salinas de Gortari. He was nominated as a candidate by the PRI party leadership after serious internal problems in that party. In November 1989, the PAN (Partido Accíon Institucional) candidate was elected Governor of Baja California Norte State. For the first time in 60 years, an important office was held by someone from the opposition. Salinas tried to do something about corruption and arrests of senior police officers and trade unionists followed. After congressional elections, some governors were forced to resign on corruption charges.

Statue of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, MexicoStatue of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, MexicoPhoto: Drkg CC 4.0 International no changes made

Chiapas state: scene of uprisings and violence

In the southern state of Chiapas on January 1, 1992, an uprising broke out by armed Indian farmers. They demanded far-reaching economic and social changes in their region. Army posts were regularly raided from May 1993 and in January 1994 some towns were occupied by guerrillas of the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army), consisting of Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tjolabal, and Chol Indians. In March, some demands from the EZLN were granted, but after election fraud and the appointment of a PRI candidate (Eduardo Robledo Rincón) as governor of Chiapas, the EZLN rebelled again. The EZLN demanded his resignation, but President Zedillo, who has now taken office, refused to comply. Not much later Robledo resigned anyway.

Flag of the EZLN, MexicoFlag of the EZLN, MexicoPhoto: Lucha CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In November 1993 a free trade agreement was concluded with the United
States and Canada, the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

In March 1994, the PRI's presidential candidate, Luís Donaldo Colosio, was assassinated. At the end of that year, the secretary general of the PRI, José Francísco Ruiz Massiau, was also murdered.

The presidential elections of August 1994, meanwhile, had been won by PRI candidate Ernesto Zedillo, but had a strong fraudulent character. Zedillo promised that democratization and reform of the judiciary would continue. In the simultaneous parliamentary elections, the PRI was defeated and lost 24 seats in the House of Representatives. There was also opposition in the Senate for the first time. The ongoing problems in Chiapas hit the economy and Zedillo was forced to declare an economic emergency program.

Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, MexicoErnesto Zedillo Ponce de León, MexicoPhoto: World Economic Forum CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The PRI suffered significant defeats in state and municipal elections, but retained power in 28 of 32 states and 85% of municipal councils.

In March 1995, the US anti-drug agency DEA announced that it had evidence that former president Carlos Salinas held $ 500 million in many bank accounts in nine different countries. This wealth would consist of kickbacks from the cocaine mafia.

Under pressure from the peasant uprising and the peso crisis, President Zedillo reached an agreement in January 1995 with the three largest opposition parties on democratic reforms. As a result of the peso crisis, Mexico experienced the worst depression in its history in 1995. The United States (Clinton) contributed more than $ 12 billion with a rescue plan. In March 1996, Raúl Salinas, brother of former president Salinas, was officially charged with the murder of Colosio.

Raúl Salinas de Gortari, MexicoRaúl Salinas de Gortari, MexicoPhoto: 1995egv CC 4.0 International no changes made

In municipal elections in November 1996, the PRI suffered major defeats in several states, especially in the important state of Mexico. In the July 1997 parliamentary elections, the PRI lost the absolute majority in favor of the social-democratic PRD for the first time in its 70 years of existence. In December 1997 violence in the state of Chiapas renewed when 45 unarmed Indians in the village of Acteal were killed by a paramilitary organization. It was later revealed that the weapons and uniforms had been provided to them by the PRI governor of the region. As a result of this massacre and the deadlock in negotiations with the Indians of Chiapas, the Minister of the Interior Emilio Chuayffet was fired in January 1998.

In 1999 the number of soldiers in Chiapas was increased to more than 60,000. The violation of human rights was widely criticized, including by the United Nations Special Reporter on Human Rights, Mary Robinson. State elections showed a recovery of the PRI, but in early July 2000, the presidential elections were surprisingly won by Vicente Fox Quesada of the PAN who assembled a government team of mostly technocrats and industrialists. This ended the 70-year reign of the PRI, the longest ruling party in the world. Quesada has been in office since December 1, 2000.

Mexican president Vicente Fox (left) and Austrian politician Christoph LeitlMexican president Vicente Fox (left) and Austrian politician Christoph LeitlPhoto: Oliverdg CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The July 2006 elections were unclear, two candidates claimed the winnings. After two months of wrangling over the results, the Electoral Tribunal awarded the victory in the elections to Calderón, who obtained 230,000 more votes than López Obrador. The latter, however, maintains that his votes had been stolen. Even before Calderón officially takes power from outgoing President Fox on December 1, López Obrador is inaugurated as alternate president. In the years 2007 and 2008, Calderon made the war on drugs the spearhead of his policy.

Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa, MexicoFelipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa, MexicoPhoto: World Economic Forum / Photo by Remy Steinegger CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Schools will be closed in April 2009 due to the Mexican flu outbreak. In July, the opposition made up a lot of ground in congressional elections, winning 48% of the vote. In December 2009, the government announced that the number of deaths from the war on drugs was 6,500. In March 2010, Calderon called on the US to share responsibility for drug trafficking. In December 2012, Enrique Pena Nieto becomes the new president of Mexico.

Enrique Pena Nieto, MexicoEnrique Pena Nieto, MexicoPhoto: CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Miguel Angel Trevino Morales of the Zetas drug cartel is arrested in July 2013. The fight against the cartels continues in 2014, with the lowest point being the disappearance of 43 students in November. In June 2015, the ruling party loses a number of seats but retains the majority in the elections. Top drug boss Joaquin "El Capo" Guzman escapes from prison but is arrested again in January 2016. In February 2016, Pope Francis visits Mexico. He speaks to Mexicans not to give up their fight against drugs, violence and corruption.
In March 2016, Mexico declared that it was not willing to pay for the wall that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump says he wants to build to combat immigration. In January 2017, Guzman is extradited to the United States, within his cartel a power struggle ensues that is accompanied by a lot of violence. Left-wing former mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel López Obrador, is inaugurated president in december 2019 after winning an overwhelming victory in the July presidential election.

Andres Manuel López Obrador, MexicoAndres Manuel López Obrador, MexicoPhoto: Agencia de Noticias ANDES CC 2.0 Generic no changes made



124,574,795 people live in Mexico (2017). This means that there are approximately 63 inhabitants per km2, of which 78% live in cities. The population is increasing fairly steadily every year by just over 1% (by 1.12% in 2017; the birth and death rate was 18.3 and 5.3 per 1000 inhabitants respectively in 2017.

The population of Mexico is growing rapidly with more than 1 million Mexicans coming by every year.

The largest and fastest growing city is the capital, Mexico City (Distrito Federal). Including all its suburbs, the entire agglomeration has approximately 21.5 million inhabitants (2017). Another large agglomeration is Guadalajara (5 million), major cities are Monterrey, Puebla, León and Torreón. The most populous states are México with Mexico City, Veracruz, Jalisco and Puebla. These states cover 10.6 of the total area and 41% of the population lives there.

Map of Mexican states by population 2015Map of Mexican states by population 2015Photo: Cookieo131 Cihuaweb CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The population structure is very uneven. More than 44% of the population is under 25 years; 49% is between 25 and 65 years; 7% of the population is over 65 years.

The Spanish conquerors and later immigrants mixed with the Indians and these people with both Spanish and Indian blood are called mestizos (mestizos). About 62% of the population consists of mestizos who mainly live in the cities. The Indians (indígenas) make up about 21% of the population. About 9% of the population is of white Spanish descent; they are called criollo. They are the most influential in the governance of the country. Approx. 1% of the population is of African or Asian descent.

Population density MexicoPopulation density MexicoPhoto: AlexR.L. CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

A special group are the Mennonites, descended from North German and Dutch Mennonites who emigrated to Mexico in 1922. This orthodox, traditionally living Protestant group was founded in the 16th century by the Dutchman Menno Simons. They mainly live in northwestern Mexico, including in the vicinity of Chihuahua and Cuauhtemoc. Through the use of modern farming methods they have achieved a reasonable amount of prosperity.

High unemployment and poverty in rural areas are the main causes of urban migration and strong migration to the United States. Legally, the number of Mexicans moving to the United States is about 60,000 people per year, but the number of illegal emigrations is much bigger.


The people of Native American descent live mainly in Central and Southern Mexico, in the states of México, Puebla, Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo. They live mainly in rural areas in often difficult circumstances. Health care, education, housing and the food situation are often worse than in the cities. They also hardly have their own land and therefore cannot provide for their own maintenance. They often hire themselves out as seasonal workers.

Mexico indigious peopleMexico indigious peoplePhoto: Unknown CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

There are 59 different tribes, each speaking their own language. The largest tribes live in Central Mexico, such as the Náhuatl who descended from the Aztecs. Other tribes are the Tarascans, the Totonacs, the Mazahua and the Otomí. Southern Mexico is home to descendants of the Maya, such as the Chontal, the Tzeltal and the Tzotzil. Furthermore, Mixe, Chinanteken, Mazatec, Zapotec and Mixtec still live here.

According to official counts, there must be between three and four million full-blooded Indians living in Mexico. Most tribes have integrated Christianity into their own traditional beliefs. Christian saints are revered, as well as ancient gods.

Some details:

The long-haired Lacandones belong to the Maya and form a small group of less than 500 Indians who live together in groups of two or three families. They live in the south in the state of Chiapas, near the border with Guatemala in the tropical rainforest.

They are fishermen, hunters and farmers who, when the soil becomes exhausted, move to another area. They still worship their ancient gods, especially the important sun god and the rain god; the missionaries don't visit their homes because of the ther inhospitability.

Lancandon Maya, MexicoLancandon Maya, MexicoPhoto: AlexMexicanGuide CC 4.0 International no changes made

The Náhuas descend directly from the Aztecs and therefore still speak the Aztec language, Náhuatl. It is the largest group of Indians in Mexico with about 1 million members. They live from livestock and agriculture and mainly live in the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo, Veracruz and Guerrero. They adhere to the Catholic faith but also believe in supernatural beings.

The approximately 200,000 Tzotzils and the Tzeltals descend from the Mayas and still speak a Mayan dialect. They live in several villages in the highlands of the state of Chiapas around the city of San Cristobál de las Casas. The Tzeltals live on the lower slopes, while most Tzotzils live in the same area above the 1500 meter border. It is striking that each village has its own identity, which is reflected in the color of the clothing. They too have been converted to the Catholic faith but still believe, for example, that Jesus has changed into the sun. Chulmetic, the goddess of the earth, is also still revered.

Tzotzil carnival participants doing rituals and traditional carnival dances in the San Juan Chamula templeTzotzil carnival participants doing rituals and traditional carnival dances in the San Juan Chamula temple, MexicoPhoto: Jonathan Alexis G CC 4.0 International no changes made

The approximately 60,000 Tarahumaras live in the state of Chihuahua, in small villages and sometimes even in cave houses scattered across the mountainous country. Due to the isolated location of the villages, they have been able to largely retain their traditional way of life. The running races in which the Tarahumaras sometimes run for hundreds of kilometers are famous. They call themselves "Raramuri", riders on foot.

The Tarahumaras have converted to the Catholic faith but still believe in a sun and moon god.

The nearly 100,000 Tarascans, who call themselves Purépecha, live on a high plateau in the state of Michoacán around Lake Pátzcuaro. They live from agriculture and fishing and are also known as craftsmen who make beautiful things from wood, they are also making pottery, especially beautiful pitchers, pans and bowls. Fishing is done with hollowed-out tree trunks and very special butterfly-shaped nets. The Tarascan village of Ocumicho specializes in making clay devils of all shapes and sizes. The Catholic faith is satureded with traditional Native American customs.

Purhepecha people MexicoPurhepecha people MexicoPhoto: AlejandroLinaresGarcia CC 4.0 International no changes made

Just like the Lacandones, the Seris tribe consists of less than 500 members, making them one of the smallest Mexican Indian tribes. They live between the Gulf of Mexico and the western Sierra Madre in the state of Sonora, mainly in the village of Desemboque. They are fishermen and hunters of sea turtles, who also earn a little extra with handicrafts of reed, hardwood animal figures and shell strings. The heavy, decorative baskets made from the "torote" fiber are known. This tribe has succeeded best in preserving their own identity and their religion.

The approximately 8,000 Huichol Indians live in the western Sierra Madre of the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. They live from agriculture, livestock and handicrafts. Although converted to the Catholic faith, nature gods still play a much more important role. The Huichol are therefore considered one of the peoples of Mexico least affected by Western influences.

Huichol women, MexicoHuichol women, MexicoPhoto: Jupagame CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Very important in their religion is the peyote cactus, a thornless cactus species. The peyote buds of this cactus species provide consciousness-expanding experiences and visions. Eating peyote is also associated with ceremonies held on the occasion of sowing and harvesting. The plant is also eaten to come into direct contact with the gods. The most beautiful wool paintings are made under the influence of the hallucinatory effect of the peyote.
Every Huichol is expected to make the pilgrimage to the desert of San Luis Potosi once in his life, where the peyote cactus grows. In a centrally located round temple or "tuki", religious ceremonies are held after the tour led by a singing medicine man or "tzauririka". Deer hunting is also an important part of their way of life.

The approximately 4000 Cora Indians live in the mountains of the Sierra de Nayarit, in the state of Nayarit. They are very fond of their own culture and have many similarities with the Huichol Indians. They too know the use of the peyote and nature gods also play an important role in their religion. They cultivate small plots of land (milpa) for their own use and sell cattle and beautifully woven fabrics.

In the states of Veracruz and San Luis Potosi still live about Huasteken. They speak Spanish as well as a Mayan dialect. They have been converted to the Catholic faith, but traditional Indian ceremonies led by shamans still play an important role. They make a living from corn, beans and rice production and make hats, mats and bags.

Traditional Huastec clothes, MexicoTraditional Huastec clothes, MexicoPhoto: AlejandroLinaresGarcia CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The approximately 150,000 Totonacs live in the tropical coastal regions of Veracruz and the highlands of the Sierra Madre of Puebla. As with many Mexican Indian peoples, the Totonacs also interprete Catholic rituals in their own way. Oil has been found in their area and among other things their traditional way of life is strongly influenced by modern western society.

The state of Oaxaca and the mountainous region of Guerrero and Puebla are home to nearly 300,000 Mixtecs who live from agriculture and livestock. They also produce "mezcal," an alcoholic drink. The Catholic faith is combined with its own traditional customs. Supernatural powers and healing shamans play an important role in their religion.

The approximately 350,000 Zapotecs also live in the state of Oaxaca, where they live from arable farming and the production of beans and honey. The Zapotec language consists of 42 different dialects.

Approx. 630,000 authentic Maya still live in the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatán. They are mainly arable farmers and they grow a lot of tobacco and sisal. The famous Panama hat is made from sisal. Women wear beautiful embroidered white dresses and a wide shawl, the "rebozo".

Rebozo shawls, MexicoRebozo shawls, MexicoPhoto: A01610095 CC 4.0 International no changes made


The official language in Mexico is Spanish, and it is also spoken by an increasing number of Indians. However, there are still some seven million people who do not speak Spanish, let alone write it. Because of its population size, Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.

Many words are derived from the many indigenous languages. Through Spanish, some Native American words have entered Dutch, e.g.:

Náhuatl Spanish Dutch

Tomatl tomate tomato

Xócoatl chocolate chocolate

Within the Native American languages 59 language groups can be distinguished, of which the Náhuatl has the widest spread.

Some Náhuatl words:

Atl - water michi - fish
Auakatl - avocado nojpali - cactus
Ayotl - turtle okuili - caterpillar
Chichiltik - red oselotl - jaguar
Elotl - corn papalotl - butterfly
Istak - white sitlali - star
Itakatl - food siuatl - woman
Itkuintli - dog tekolotl - owl
Kalatl - frog tepetl - hill
Kali - house tlaxkali - tortillas
Kili - parrot tliltik - black
Kimichi - rat tlitl - fire
Coatl - snake teocuitla - gold
Kolotl - scorpion tokatl - spider
Kostik - yellow owlotl - bird
Koyotl - coyote xochitl - flower
Kuakuake - beetle
Kuautli - eagle
Masatl - deer

The main language families are Uto-Aztec (including Náhuatl), Oto-Manque, Zoque-Mixe-Totonak (including Zapoteeks), Maya-Quiché and Taraskan. Uto-Aztec also includes the languages spoken Comanches, Pima, Shoshones and other tribes of western North America.

Languages spoken by over 100,000 residents in Mexico Languages spoken by over 100,000 residents in MexicoPhoto: Yavidaxiu in the public domain

The Aztecs used pictograms to communicate through writing. Some images symbolized ideas and thoughts, and others were used to indicate the tone of individual syllables.

The name Mexico comes from the Aztecs: literally means "mexi'co", "in the navel of the agave", a common fruit in Mexico.

Since 1994, after the first uprising in Chiapas, bilingual education has been given to Indian children.

Mayan hieroglyphs have only been deciphered for a few years and have been found on stone stelae, buildings or e.g. on fig bark.

Mayan languages, MexicoMayan languages, MexicoPhoto: GNU CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


Many shrines and documents were destroyed by the conquistador Cortés and his men during the capture of Tenochtitlán, the ancient capital. The Roman Catholic Mission began in 1522 and completed the "work" by destroying all remnants of the original inhabitants' religion. In 1859 it was established in the constitution that church and state should be separate. This constitution was revised in 1917 and even included explicitly anti-ecclesiastical provisions, which have only been normalized since 1934.

In fact, the 1917 constitution stripped the Church of all political power. Article 130 read as follows: "The law does not recognize religious associations known as churches". The church was no longer allowed to own real estate and its own schools and newspapers were also banned. All these measures led in 1926 to the so-called "Cristero Uprising," a bloody guerrilla war waged by fanatical Catholics, which was crushed in 1929.

 Flags such as this one were used by the Cristeros when resisting the secular government forces in the Cristero War, MexicoFlags such as this one were used by the Cristeros when resisting the secular government forces in the Cristero War, MexicoPhoto: User:Immaculate CC 3.0 Unported no changes madeade

The tense relations were created by the close cooperation of the Catholic Church with the Spanish rulers and the fact that the church was one of the most important landowners for a long time.

A characteristic of the relationship between religion and state is the fact that Mexico did not establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican until 1993.

An altar is an important part of the Día de la muertos festival. Usually decorated with the things the dead person liked the mostAn altar is an important part of the Día de la muertos festival in Mexico. Usually decorated with the things the dead person liked the mostPhoto: Bala Manivasagam CC 4.0 International no changes made

Despite all the bans, the bans were violated on all sides, often with the cooperation of the government. That could hardly be otherwise because Mexico has always been a thoroughly Catholic country. One of the restrictions that still applies is that religious have neither the right to vote nor to stand as a candidate.

Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de MexicoCatedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de MexicoPhoto: Frankmx CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

At the moment about 90% of the population is Roman Catholic. There are also some small groups including about 5% Protestants (including Mennonites), Jews and followers of other religions. A trend in recent years has been that Protestant sects and Evangelical churches are visibly gaining ground against Roman Catholicism.

Mexican Christianity is characterized by a high degree of syncretism, the amalgamation of the Roman Catholic, but also the Protestant faith, with the Indian faith. For example, the Aztec goddess Tonantzin has been replaced by the Virgin of Guadalupe, whom all Catholic Mexicans worship.

 Image of the god Tonantzin Image of the god TonantzinPhoto: Thelmadatter CC 3.0 Unported no changes made


State organization

Mexico (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) is a federal democratic republic with a great deal of autonomy for the individual states. All this is laid down in the 1917 constitution, which has since been amended many times.

The president heads the executive branch. He is elected in direct elections for no more than one six-year term. The cabinet consists of fifteen ministers, three secretaries of state and an attorney general. The president is a powerful man because he appoints the ministers himself, but can also dismiss governors, for example.

Legislative power rests with the parliament (Congreso de la Unión), consisting of a Senate (Cámara de Senadores) with 128 members (4 per state), elected for six years, and a Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) with 500 members , of which 300 are elected every three years by the district system and 200 by the proportional representation system from lists of candidates submitted by registered parties.

"Cámara de Diputados" Mexico"Cámara de Diputados" MexicoPhoto: EdwinDlacruz CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The right to vote is open to all citizens aged eighteen and older, and married persons from the age of 16. Women have only had the right to vote since 1953.

Mexico is politically divided into five regions with 31 states and the Federal District in which the capital Mexico City is located with twelve surrounding so-called delegaciones. Each state has its own constitution, its own taxes and an elected governor who remains in office for six years and is elected by the residents of the state themselves. The Governor of the Federal District is appointed by the President. The states are subdivided into approx. 2300 municipios (municipalities).

States MexicoStates MexicoPhoto: Alex Covarrubias CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In 1997 there were been elections for the office of mayor of Mexico City for the first time in history. Until then, the mayor of Mexico City was directly appointed by the president. At the municipal level, the mayor still has the option of appointing his own civil servants and police officers. For the current political situation see chapter history.


Public primary education is free and now compulsory for children aged 6 to 15 years. Yet only about 60% of the children finish primary school. Especially in the traditional Indian communities, work is often much more important to boost the income of the parents.

Elementary school Ignacio Zaragoza, Mexico Elementary school Ignacio Zaragoza, MexicoPhoto: Oskarale CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In the Indian areas, the educational level is also low due to too few teaching materials. School buildings also usually do not meet the standards and there are too few teachers who have often had a poor education. Furthermore, there are 60 children in one class, especially in rural areas. Secondary education is almost impossible for the poor part of the population to afford and many children drop out after primary education. Of the thousand children in primary school, only eighty go to secondary education. Only half of these eighty will graduate!

Education continues to suffer from annual strikes and demonstrations by teaching staff for higher salaries and better educational facilities.

For the wealthier Mexican children there are private schools, both for primary and higher education.

There are 85 universities and nearly 4,000 higher education institutions in Mexico. The UNAM (Universidad Nacional de Autónoma) is the largest university in the world with more than 300,000 students and more than 20,000 teachers.

Building of the Universidad Nacional de Autónoma de México (UNAM), largest university in the worldBuilding of the Universidad Nacional de Autónoma de México (UNAM), largest university in the worldPhoto: Armineaghayan CC 4.0 International no changes made

Nationally, illiteracy rates are about 8% among men and 13% among women. Among the indigenous population, this percentage is generally considerably higher, up to 80% in some village communities.



At the beginning of the 20th century, agriculture and mining were the most important economic sectors. Silver and other metals, and later petroleum then accounted for about 75% of export earnings. The discovery of vast reserves of petroleum would become very important for the domestic energy supply, the petrochemical industry and for the foreign exchange earnings from the export of petrochemical products.

In 2017, 13.4% of the economically active population was employed in agriculture, 24.1% in mining and industry and 59.8% in trade, tourism and services. The share of these sectors in the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 was: agriculture 3.6%, industry 31.9% and trade and services 64.5%.

Peso, currency of MexicoPeso, currency of MexicoPhoto: AKS.9955 CC 4.0 International no changes made

Mexico is very popular with foreign investors, especially large North American multinationals. The government still plays an important role in economic activities: in particular, the extraction of petroleum and some basic industries such as iron and steel, electrical energy, rail transport and telecommunications are in the hands of the state. Economic policy is based on cooperation between government and private industry. In recent years, entire sectors of the economy have been privatized or liberalized at a rapid pace. This mainly concerns telephony, media, roads, railways and energy generation. For political reasons, the oil sector has been excluded from privatization.

Rising revenues from oil exports laid foundations for a strong economic force in the 1960s and 1970s; the gross national product (GNP) increased on average by 6.5% per year between 1965 and 1980. In 1982, increasing inflation, a growing debt burden and a fall in oil prices led to an economic crisis, which did not improve until 1990; Between 1990 and 1995 GDP grew by an average of 1.1% per year, but picked up again afterwards (2% in 2017). Very important to the Mexican economy was the 1994 accession to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Logo NAFTALogo NAFTAPhoto: Nicoguaro CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The number of people working in the duty-free assembly industry - the maquiladoras - exceeded the million for the first time. This sector brought in more hard currency than the oil sector or tourism.

Mexico is currently Latin America's main trading nation, and its size has surpassed the Brazilian economy. Over the past two decades, the Mexican economy has developed into a service economy.

The informal sector (including street trade, illegal employment) is large.

Street trade San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, MexicoStreet trade San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, MexicoPhoto: Adam Jones CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Agriculture, forestry and fishing

The agricultural reform at the beginning of the 20th century attempted to end large land ownership. Under President Cárdenas, a lot of land was divided among the farmers on the basis of the cooperative ejido system. This system means that the members of the cooperative may work and exploit a specific piece of land for their own account, while the land remains the property of the state. Currently, about 60% of all arable land is worked by ejido companies. The rest of the companies are smaller than 5 hectares, so that the owner hardly has enough income to be able to provide for himself.

Cornfield MexicoCornfield MexicoPhoto: Judgefloro CC 4.0 International no changes made

The agricultural land can be divided as follows:

Agricultural land 22 million ha

Pasture land 74.4 million ha

Forests 40.6 million ha

Unsuitable / not in use 40.6 million

Until the early 1980s, Mexico was able to provide almost all of its food needs and even exporte agricultural products such as vegetables, fruit and cotton. Due to a lack of credit, low prices and declining investment in agriculture, food production fell and many agricultural products had to be imported again. Self-sufficiency had to be restored by 1994. Maize is the main product (6.5 million ha) and the states of Jalisco and Veracruz are the main domestic suppliers.
Other important products are wheat (especially in Sonora), beans, cotton (Valley of Mexicali; Coahuila, Tamaulipas), coffee (third producer in Latin America; Chiapas and Veracruz) and henequén (sisal; more than 50% of world production comes from Yucatán); and further bananas, citrus fruits, tobacco, cocoa and maguey. In the north we find very modern and capital intensive farms (mostly in foreign hands) that mostly produce for export (tomatoes, fresh vegetables, fruit - strawberries - and flowers).

Hacienda Tlalayote, Apan, Hidalgo, MéxicoHacienda Tlalayote, Apan, Hidalgo, MéxicoPhoto: Sergio Kasusky Pech CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Horticulture is experiencing great development due to capital from the United States. Fifty percent of the value of agricultural exports comes from horticulture. The cultivation of vegetables with full climate control has grown from 70 to almost 500 hectares.

Cattle are mainly kept on the high plains in Northern Mexico (mainly for export to the United States) and in the Isthmus states, pigs mainly in Central Mexico, Jalisco and Michoacán. Apiculture (Yucatán) produces honey for export.

Pig production is becoming more efficient, but it is clear that only large farms with a minimum of 1000 sows can survive. At the moment there are six modern companies with 10.000 to 30,000 sows.

The forest exploitation consists of approx. 75% coniferous wood, of which a considerable part (approx. 30%) is still used as fuel (charcoal). In addition to wood, the woods and forests are an important supplier of rubber, resins, carrots, chicle (raw material for chewing gum) and candelilla wax produced. About 25 million cubic meters of wood are produced annually.

Sawmill in Oaxaca, MexicoSawmill in Oaxaca, MexicoPhoto:Oregon State University CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Fishing is becoming increasingly important; many North American companies are allowed to fish in Mexican waters, especially the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California, and that makes a lot of money. The shrimp catch, which is mainly exported to the United States, is important, and the catch of sardines, tuna and oysters is also important.

Mining and energy supply

Oil has been extracted in Mexico since the early 1900s and the first exports were made in 1911. The first petroleum refinery was commissioned in 1917. In 1938, the petroleum industry was nationalized and the oil was mainly used for the national energy supply, especially for industry and the transport sector.

In 1975, huge oil reserves were discovered both onshore and offshore and production has increased enormously, making Mexico a major world producer today. There are now also large-scale exports, mainly to the United States, Europe, Brazil and Japan.

Production oil Mexico 1950-2015Production oil Mexico 1950-2015Photo: Plazak CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

From 1953 a lot of natural gas has been exported to the United States. These exports were severely limited in the period 1971-1980 in order to provide the own industry with energy. The main natural gas fields are in Chiapas, Tabasco and Veracruz. Production stood at about 1.2 billion cubic feet per day in 2000.

In 1983 the Real de Angeles silver mine was opened, making Mexico the largest silver producer in the world in one all at once.

Other important metals are lead, zinc and copper (especially Chihuahua and Sonora), iron ore (including Peña Colorado basin in Colima; Las Truchas in Michoacán; and also gold and mercury (Zacatecas), tin and uranium (Sonora and Chihuahua).

Mexico is the second world producer in sulfur and Mexico is the first world producer in fluorite. Other mining products are coal, Sonorabarite, graphite and phosphorite.

Sulfur from Baja California, MexicoSulfur from Baja California, MexicoPhoto: James St. John CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Hydroelectric power plants account for 71% of electricity production. 88% of electricity production takes place in state-owned companies. The largest power stations are the Infiernillo hydroelectric power stations in Río Balsas, and the La Angostura power station in Río Grijalva.

In 1988, the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant in Veracruz was commissioned on an experimental basis.


The expanding petroleum industry made it the fastest growing economic sector in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, the industry stagnated due to import restrictions and reduced demand.

Rapid industrialization after World War II has made Mexico less and less dependent on imports from abroad.

Major industries such as petroleum extraction and processing, the iron and steel industry and the production of cellulose and cement are largely in the hands of the government. Furthermore, many North American multinationals have a branch in Mexico.

Bellavista Yarn and fabric factory Bellavista Yarn and fabric factoryPhoto: Ray PVR CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The main industrial areas are in and around Mexico City and further in the states of México, Nuevo Léon (Monterrey), Puebla, Morelos and Jalisco (Guadelajara). The many assembly factories (maquiladoras) along the border with the United States are becoming increasingly important. Foreign investors settle there because of the favorable tax and business conditions.

The petrochemical industry is growing very fast. Basic production is entirely in the hands of the state-owned PEMEX with approximately 60 different factories that have been supplying the country with petrol and diesel oil since 1974. The steel industry is very important, with more than two thirds of the production coming from the three companies within the state-owned Siderúrgia Mexicana (SIDERMEX). Cement production, which is also largely government-owned, is unable to meet domestic demand.

Gas station PEMEX MexicoGas station PEMEX MexicoPhoto: Unknown CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Monterrey is the country's second industrial center. Torreón has an important metallurgical industry. The main industrial area is formed by the State of México and the Distrito Federal. Other industrial centers can be found in Guadalajara, Veracruz and Puebla.


The main exports are petroleum and petroleum derivatives, tomatoes, coffee and cotton; furthermore, shrimp, zinc, lead, copper, fluorite, canned meat, fruit and flowers are exported. Imports are mainly means of transport, parts for the assembly industries, machines, raw materials and semi-finished products, wheat and maize.

Mexico exportproductsMexico exportproductsPhoto: R Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al. CC 3.0 no changes made

The main trading partner is the United States and furthermore the European Union (including Germany, Spain, Italy, Great Britain and the Netherlands), a number of Latin American neighboring countries, Canada, South Korea, China and Japan. In 1992, a free trade zone (NAFTA) was agreed with the United States and Canada. Agreement was also reached with Colombia and Venezuela to create a free trade zone in 1994. Imports were $ 421 billion in 2017 and exports were $ 410. The trade balance is therefore virtually neutral.

Traffic and transport

Since 1952, road transport has been more important for transport than rail transport. The total road length is over 400,000 km, of which 50% is asphalted. About 95% of passenger transport and 80% of freight transport takes place by road. The main road connections are part of the Interamerican road network (Carretera Interamericana, Carretera Central, Carretera del Pacifico).

New highway Chalco Puebla, MexicoNew highway Chalco Puebla, MexicoPhoto:Arps9311 CC 4.0 International no changes made

Mexico City is the hub of the 26,000 km long rail network, which has been largely state-owned from 1937 till 1998 (Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México or N de M).
One of the most beautiful train routes in the world: the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico (Chepe), which connects Los Mochis, on the Pacific Ocean, with Chihuahua. The Chihuahua al Pacífico railway has a length of 653 kilometers and runs through northwestern Mexico, passing no fewer than 87 tunnels and 37 bridges. The highest point of the route is at 2,424 meters above sea level.

Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico (El Chepe), Mexico Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico (El Chepe), MexicoPhoto: Interspectrum assumed CC 2.5 Generic no changes made

Despite the great length of the coastline (almost 10,000 km), Mexico has few good seaports, seventy in all. The main ports on the Gulf of Mexico are Tampico, Coatzacoalcos (mainly coastal shipping) and Veracruz. The main ports on the Pacific Ocean are: Lázaro Cárdenas, Salina Cruz, Puerto Ensenada and Santa Rosalía. Founded in 1958, the national shipping company Transportación Marítima Mexicana is increasingly involved in international shipping. Inland shipping is relatively unimportant. Coatzacoalcos (Puerto México), Salina Cruz and Topolobampo are free ports. The port of Altamira has become one of the most important ports in Mexico with an area of 9,573 hectares. The port is located about 300 kilometers south of the United States and a huge industrial and port complex is developing there.

Puerto Ensenada, MexicoPuerto Ensenada, MexicoPhoto: Cesar bojorquez from Tijuana, Mexico CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Mexico has 1200 airports, of which 28 are for international traffic (including Mexico City, as te the largest, Monterrey, Tampico, Acapulco, Tijuana, Veracruz, Cancún, the second largest, Mérida, Guadalajara and Mazatlán).
Aerovías de México, S.A. de C.V. operating under the name Aeroméxico (stylised as AEROMEXICO), is the national airline of Mexico, based in the capital Mexico City. Aeroméxico operates scheduled services to more than 90 destinations in Mexico, North, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner of AeroméxicoBoeing 787-9 Dreamliner of AeroméxicoPhoto: Anna Zvereva from Tallinn, Estonia CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The country has an extensive network of pipelines for the transport of oil and natural gas.

Holidays and Sightseeing

For Mexico, tourism is of great importance: foreign exchange, mainly coming from American tourists, makes up about 10% of the current account of the balance of payments. Daytime tourism from the United States is worth many millions of dollars. The tourism sector has thus become the country's third largest foreign exchange contributor. About 10 million foreigners visit Mexico every year.

Through the Fondo Nacional de Turismo (FONATUR), the government tries to greatly increase and improve tourist capacity.

Mexico City is the capital of Mexico. Mexico City's historic center and Xochimilco's "floating gardens" in the southern part of the city have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Famous sights in the historic center include the Plaza de la Constitución, the main central square. The Cathedral and the National Palace, also the ancient Aztec temple ruins of Templo Mayor are a short distance away. Read more on the Mexico-City page of Landenweb.

Trajinera on one of the canals of Xochimilco, MexicoTrajinera on one of the canals of Xochimilco, MexicoPhoto: Jflo23 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Mexican east coast sometimes feels like paradise and the town of Playa del Carmen is no exception. Pearly white beaches as far as the eye can see, a sky blue sea and swaying palm trees are the standard here. Although almost every tourist in Playa del Carmen comes for sun, sea and sand, it is also good to know that there is more to do. For example, you can spend a day at Xcaret. This is a nature park and a culture park in one. Remains of the ancient port of the Maya have been found here, who left for Cozumel Island from here. It was also a spiritual place and there was plenty of trade in goods.

Aerial of Playa del Carmen, MexicoAerial of Playa del Carmen, MexicoPhoto: Dronepicr CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Riviera Maya is a beautiful destination for a holiday full of sun, sea, beach, party, nature and culture. Chichen Itzá is located near Playa del Carmen. This used to be a city of the Maya. Today you can visit various relics of that period, such as the Temple of the Tables, The Red House, the Tomb of the High Priest and the Nunnery. These ancient treasures are still in good condition and will remain so for now, as Chichen Itzá is included on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

Chichen Itza, touristic highlight MexicoChichen Itza, touristic highlight MexicoPhoto: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

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Daling, T. / Mexico : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur, milieu
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen / Novib

Dunlop, F. / Mexico
Van Reemst,


Rokebrand, R. / Mexico

Rummel, J. / Mexico
Chelsea House Publishers

Wagenvoort, E. / Reishandboek Mexico

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated December 2021
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