Explore the Captivating History and Culture of Mexico
Mexico is the home of fascinating cultures, unique gastronomy, and incredible landscapes.
It’s one of the most productive countries in Latin America, and the booming tourism industry makes it the third most visited country in the world.
Mexico has a captivating history and is known for being one of the 17 Megadiverse Countries in the World—due to the vast variety of wildlife and ecosystems.
What’s more, Mexico’s official language is Spanish, making it an ideal destination for travelers who are looking for Spanish and cultural immersion!
Grab a Mexico map, pack your bags, and join me as I explore Mexico’s history, cultural highlights, best places to visit, and more insightful information for an unforgettable trip to this magnificent country.
A Brief History
Mexico’s history dates back over 10,000 years ago with the arrival of its first inhabitants. The first civilizations to thrive and rule Mexico were the Olmec, Mexic, Teotihuacan, Aztec, and Maya.
These groups occupied large portions of territory and established fully functioning ceremonial centers and cities. The Maya and Aztecs proved to be highly ahead of their time, as they made significant discoveries and advances in math, numerology, agriculture, and architecture.
In the fifteenth century, the Spanish conquistadors arrived and after a long period of war took control over Mexico.
The fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521—Mexico’s largest city at the time—took a toll on the Aztec population. The Spanish enslaved and submitted the native population to their religion, traditions, and language.
Spanish rule lasted until 1821 when Mexico won the war for independence and created the first Mexican Empire and the Federal Republic. Mexico became a country of interest for both France and the United States.
Although France’s attempt to take over was unsuccessful, Mexico lost a large portion of territory to the United States after a lengthy border conflict.
Read more about Mexico’s loss of territory to the United States in this interesting article about The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
With the arrival of the twentieth century and the Mexican revolution against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, the country finally welcomed democracy. Since then, Mexico has experienced several reforms and economic growth.
Key events like la Matanza de Tlatelolco in 1968 and the arrival of neoliberalism shaped the lives of Mexicans.
Following these events, Mexico saw electoral fraud, repression, and privatization of resources. After a long period of the PRI political party in the government, 2018 President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his political party, Morena, took over.
Mexico continues to be one of the most powerful Spanish-speaking countries in the world. The capital, Mexico City, is one of the largest cities in the world. Mexico’s culture, well-renowned cuisine, traditions, and history continue to make it a highly attractive place for travelers with unique experiences to discover.
The official currency of Mexico is the Mexican peso. One United States dollar is the equivalent to approximately nineteen Mexican pesos.
The Mexico time zone varies according to region. The country uses Pacific Daylight Time, Mountain Standard Time, Mountain Daylight Time, Central Daylight Time, and Eastern Standard Time.
The official language is Spanish and there are 68 indigenous dialects. Mexico has a population of approximately 128 million people distributed in its 32 federal entities. The ethnic variety of Mexico stands out for the large presence of 52 indigenous cultures, afro-latino population, and other groups that identify as mestizo (mixed).
Mexican culture is the result of indigenous traditions and Spanish colonization. Indigenous groups are proud owners of millenary traditions, mythology, and native tongues.
The melting pot of cultures makes Mexico stand out in gastronomy, visual arts, literature, music, and architecture.
The predominant religion of Mexico is Catholicism. Due to religious syncretism, many religious holidays are highly important and celebrated around the country.
Semana Santa (holy week), Christmas, and New Year’s are some of the most popular events. However, Mexico has other festivities that are known around the world and are worth mentioning for their uniqueness.
Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos)
El día de muertos is celebrated every November 1st and 2nd. It’s a highly celebrated tradition of Mexico. Mexicans believe that their passed relatives can visit them on the Day of the Dead. They honor their legacy with elaborate altars, dancing, parades, flowers, and traditional foods like sugar skulls and pan de muerto (bread).
Join the colorful día de muertos celebration with this Day of the Dead Essential Spanish Vocabulary List.
Independence Day (Día de la Independencia)
Mexicans celebrate their independence day proudly.
Every September 16th Mexicans commemorate el grito de independencia (Independence announcement). This important holiday marks the beginning and rise of the Mexican independence movement.
El grito also unites thousands of enthusiastic people at Mexico City’s zocalo (square) for an official ceremony. The holiday is so important, it’s widely celebrated throughout the country in schools, public institutions, and more.
Three Kings Day (Día de Reyes)
El día de reyes is celebrated on January 6 and is a highly awaited holiday following Christmas and New Year.
This special event is celebrated with gifts for children. Mexican kids often wait for this day more than they do for Santa Claus.
El día de reyes stands out for the traditional rosca de reyes (king’s cake), a sweet pastry with crystallized fruit, and a hidden figurine of a child. The Mexican tradition says that whoever gets the figurine when they cut the rosca de reyes is in charge of inviting everyone present to tamales on the Day of Candelaria on February 2nd.
Day of Mary, Virgin of Guadalupe (Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe)
Mexico’s patron saint is the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.
People believe that in 1531, Mary manifested herself four times to Juan Diego, an indigenous man. Faithfuls and followers are strongly devoted to her and believe in her power to grant miracles.
Every December 12th, hundreds of thousands of believers from Mexico and around the world gather at her sanctuary to pay her respects and honor her.
Music and Arts
Music and arts are a signature elements of Mexican culture. Local music genres like mariachi, cumbia, tex-mex, and banda are the favorites of people from different corners of the world. Mexico is home to recognized, award-winning rock bands, performers, musicians, writers, and artists of unmeasurable talent.
Mexican television and films stand out for ingenious productions and cinematography. Mexico’s telenovela industry has conquered television and streaming platforms. It has a massive fandom worldwide. The country has also produced critically acclaimed films, literary classics, and theatrical shows.
A few emblematic figures of Mexico’s music and art industry are:
- Rock band Café Tacvba
- Actress Maria Felix
- Actress Salma Hayek
- Actor Diego Luna
- Actor Gael García Bernal
- Film director Guillermo Del Toro
- Cumbia band Los Angeles Azules
- Pop singer Julieta Venegas
- Author Juan Rulfo
- Contemporary artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Mexican cuisine blends authenticity, flavor, and personality. It’s considered among the best food in the world and is incredibly diverse according to region. The use of native ingredients like chiles (chilis), maíz (maize), frijoles (beans)—and even insects—make Mexican cuisine stand out.
The use of traditional techniques honors Mexican indigenous legacy and culture. The street food culture of Mexico is impressive. It’s in local food venues where Mexican families, friends, and people from all backgrounds find each other and enjoy an experience with tasty tacos, enchiladas, pozole, tamales, and much more.
Mexico is home to exclusive restaurants that are honoring this ancestral background and fusing it with modern trends.
The productive and prestigious production of tequila, beer, and mezcal are also worth remarking. All three goods are valuable exports for Mexico’s developing economy.
Travel to Mexico
A trip to Mexico is worth your time and money due to the large variety of landscapes and activities it offers. The country has beaches, forests, jungles, mountains, deserts, and more. Taking the time to experience and immerse yourself in the culture is also guaranteed to enhance your Spanish.
Mexico is easily connected with international flights around the world. There are 77 different international and local airports. Mexico City’s airport is actually one of the busiest in the world. It welcomes over 1,100 flights every day.
Large cities have functional public transportation and solid, well-designed infrastructure, and highways. This makes Mexico also accessible by land through the United States, Belize, and Guatemala.
Only certain countries require a visa for visiting Mexico. Travelers from these countries that possess the United States or Canadian visa can enter Mexico territory with this permit.
You can always check Mexico’s visa requirements before planning your trip.
What To Do in Mexico
Mexico offers amazing routes, history, archaeology, nature, adventure, and ecotourism. Each of its unique regions has astonishing cultural landscapes. It’s a favorite destination for families, backpackers, solo travelers, volunteers, and groups of all ages.
Mexico’s coastlines are known for having pristine beaches, and wildlife sanctuaries. The Mayan Riviera and Yucatán Peninsula have incredible white sand beaches, luxury resorts, cenotes, theme parks, and Maya archaeology, and culture. Places like Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and bohemian Tulum, attract cruise ships, partygoers, and people who are simply looking to relax and enjoy nature.
Plan an intrepid adventure in the Mayan Riviera with this exciting list of 8 Adventure Activities To Do In Mexico’s Mysterious Cenotes.
Surf lovers and enthusiasts are drawn to the beaches of Oaxaca like Puerto Escondido and Zicatela.
Los Cabos in Baja California are also an ideal destination for sports fishing, sailing, and whale watching. The state of Baja California Sur is home to El Viscaíno Biosphere Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in Latin America.
Magical Villages (Pueblos mágicos)
Mexico has 132 pueblos mágicos. This exclusive title is given to those Mexican villages that stand out for having exceptional historic, cultural, architectural, and culinary value.
Mexican Magical Villages are considered of great relevance to the country’s history.
Some of the most representative and picturesque pueblos mágicos are:
- San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
- Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí
- Tulum, Quintana Roo
- Taxco, Guerrero
- Cholula, Puebla
- Tequisquiapan, Querétaro
- San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas
- Valladolid, Yucatán
- Mazunte, Oaxaca
- Tequila, Jalisco
- Sayulita, Nayarit
- Patzcuaro, Michoacan
Mexico’s pre-Hispanic cultures left a mark in every corner of the country. The valuable influence of these ancient civilizations can be admired in well-preserved temples and structures.
The country has close to 193 archaeological sites across its territory, many of which are still hidden in the jungle and modern cities.
Several of these sites are considered UNESCO world heritage and have been declared protected areas by Mexican authorities. Aztec and Maya archaeology is one of Mexico’s best assets for adventure travelers and history fanatics.
Mexico’s most popular archaeological sites among travelers are:
- Cobá, Quintana Roo
- Teotihuacán, Estado de México
- Paquimé, Chihuahua
- Palenque, Chiapas
- Uxmal, Yucatán
- Calakmul, Campeche
- Tajín, Veracruz
Some of these sites are a must-visit to anyone who travels to Mexico. For example, Chichen Itzá in the Yucatán Peninsula is considered one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and receives over 800,000 visitors each year.
Make time to Explore Chichen Itzá after reading this fun blog post full of curiosities and useful tips.
World Heritage Cities
Mexico is the fourth country in the world with the largest number of UNESCO heritage cities. There’s a total of 14 cities that earned the title for their cultural, historic, archaeological, and artistic qualities. These destinations are considered valuable to Mexican and World history.
Here’s a list of a few wonderful World Heritage Cities worth visiting during your trip.
- San Miguel de Allende
- Mexico City
Mexico’s capital is the most populated city in Latin America. Its location in the valley of Tenochtitlan makes its history fascinating. The city’s massive growth over the years is impressive. Its skyscrapers and classic architecture give color to beautiful, trendy neighborhoods like Roma and Condesa.
Mexico City attracts travelers interested in arts and culture. It’s home to enchanting museums, parks, and 4 UNESCO world heritage sites such as Xochimilco and El Zocalo.
Avoid the 12 Mistakes Most Tourists Make When Visiting Mexico City by reading this essential blog post.
Is Mexico Safe?
Mexico may have a bad reputation due to its violent history and sensationalist Mexican news. Without a question, there are parts of Mexico you need to avoid. Still, the country works tirelessly to ensure safe travels for tourists who visit its most important destinations.
Going to Mexico requires listening to your instincts. There are certain scenarios for which you should prepare. The best thing you can do is plan ahead and do thorough research before your arrival.
Currently, Mexico’s Covid restrictions allow travelers to enter the country freely. There’s no need to present testing or vaccination cards. Travelers are required to fill out a health declaration form on arrival.
Only the land border to the United States is currently closed to all, but essential travel.
Mexico’s vaccination plan is advancing nationwide, however local restrictions that limit capacity and the development of certain activities are in place. There’s a traffic light color-coded system that defines safety measures according to the amount of covid cases per location.
If you’re close to your trip, make sure to review the security measures, follow safe travel protocols, and prioritize nature activities and time outdoors.
¡Vamos a México!
Let’s go to Mexico!
Show your commitment to learning Spanish with a holiday in this sensational country. The warm welcoming nature of Mexicans offers exceptional engagement opportunities for you to practice conversation with native speakers.
Join a free class with our certified, Spanish-speaking teachers. They’ll teach you all sorts of useful vocabulary and will give you the tools for a smooth sailing trip.
Communicating in Spanish lets you move around easily in most Latin American countries. You learn how to use local transport, shop for souvenirs, order at restaurants, and connect with new friends through fluid conversations.
Experience Mexico to the fullest and embark on a life-changing Spanish immersion trip.
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