While many nations live to work, Mexico does the opposite. The people are vivacious lovers of free time and socialising, and work will never have the importance that friends and family do. The mother, giver of life, is honoured and respected, and all children, whether belonging to locals or visitors, are doted upon.
The country’s past seems to live at one with its present. In Mexico City, the Plaza de las Tres Culturas celebrates the three major cultures that have shaped Mexico: there are Aztec ruins, the 17th-century colonial church of San Diego and several late 20th-century buildings. Even the dead are alive here, at least once a year; on the Day of the Dead, the living bring gifts to their dearly departed and spend the night in their company, remembering and celebrating how things used to be.
Mexico is at the southern extremity of North America and is bordered to the north by the USA, northwest by the Gulf of California, west by the Pacific, south by Guatemala and Belize, and east by the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
Mexico’s geographical features range from swamp to desert, and from tropical lowland jungle to high alpine vegetation. Over half the country is at an altitude greater than 3,300ft. The central land mass is a plateau flanked by ranges of mountains to the east and west that lie roughly parallel to the coast. The northern area of this plateau is arid and thinly populated, and occupies 40% of the total area of Mexico.
The southern area is crossed by a range of volcanic mountains running from Cape Corrientes in the west through the Valley of Mexico to Veracruz in the east, and includes the magnificent volcanoes of Cofre de Perote, Ixtaccíhuatl, Matlalcueyetl, Nevado de Toluca, Orizaba and Popocatépetl. This is the heart of Mexico and where almost half of the population lives. To the south, the land falls away to the sparsely populated Isthmus of Tehuantepec whose slopes and flatlands support both commercial and subsistence agriculture.
In the east, the Gulf Coast and the Yucatán peninsula are flat and receive over 75% of Mexico’s rain. The most productive agricultural region in Mexico is the northwest, while the Gulf Coast produces most of Mexico’s oil and sulphur. Along the northwest coast, opposite the peninsula of Baja California, and to the southeast along the coast of Bahía de Campeche and the Yucatán peninsula, the lowlands are swampy with coastal lagoons.
Central Standard Time: GMT – 6 (GMT – 5 from first Sunday in April to last Sunday in October).
Mountain Standard Time: GMT – 7 (GMT – 6 from first Sunday in April to last Sunday in October).
Pacific Standard Time: GMT – 8 (GMT – 7 from first Sunday in April to last Sunday in October).
758,449 sq miles.
111.2 million (UN estimate 2009).
Spanish is the official language (spoken by more than 90%). English is widely spoken. 8% speak indigenous languages, of which Nátinate is most common.
89% Roman Catholic, 5% Protestant and 6% other denominations.