Mexico, land of the Aztecs, Maya, and Spanish conquistadors. This beautiful country is full of myths and legends, and the mysterious stone ruins that guard them. Visit the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan peninsula to see the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza, and then travel to the valleys of Oaxaca for the best food in the country. Colonial cities dot the countryside, and beautiful beaches run endlessly along both coasts. A cruise to Mexico is an unforgettable experience.
Aztecs and Mayas
Mexico has been graced by some of the most advanced and fascinating early civilizations in the world.
The first major civilization in Mexico was the Olmec who lived around the south-central area. The Olmec flourished in the Mesoamerican Formative period dating roughly from 1500 – 400 BC and in 400 - 350 BC they went into decline. The cause for this decline is not definitely known but elements of Olmec culture influenced the civilizations which followed.
The Olmec were known to venerate the jaguar; they left behind many artifacts with the combined characteristics of humans and cats.
Three sites have been found and collectively called San Lorenzo. It is here that the famous gigantic basalt heads were uncovered; each of these is 6-9 feet tall and weighs 20-40 tons. These heads were carved from stone that comes from 90 miles away the site, deepening the mystery of their existence. The huge heads appear to be wearing helmets, and have Negroid features.
The Olmec invented the Mesoamerican ballgame, which was played by several cultures throughout the region. Olmec actually means “rubber people” in Nhuatl, and hundreds of rubber balls have been found at Olmec-associated sites. The ballgame is played on a long narrow court, some longer than football fields. Some games went on for days, and the losing team was sacrificed; the game was also played for fun with less serious consequences.
The Olmec disappeared mysteriously around 200 B.C. and little is known about their decline. They were replaced by a culture that located its capital in Teotihuacan, “City of the Gods”, which had more than 100,000 inhabitants. These people had a developed writing system and architectural styles. Teotihuacan thrived until the 7th century, when it was plundered and burned. The perpetrators of the destruction remain a mystery.
The Zapotecs in the Oaxaca valley rose in the wake of Teotihucan, and their geographical isolation led to the distinct architectural style of Monte Alban. It was a large ceremonial center, as the Zapotecs had kings and priests for whom to build great temples.
The Yucatan peninsula was home to the storied Maya people. The Maya civilization extended through current-day Belize and Guatemala, with the cultural seat located at Tikal in Guatemala. The Maya of Mexico left behind the great ruins of Chichen Itza, which became the cultural seat after the collapse of Tikal. A Mexican cruise or tour will provide the opportunity to visit these mysterious ruins.
The Maya created the only fully developed writing system in the pre-Columbian Americas and excelled at architecture, art, mathematics and astronomy. They mapped the stars and their movements to a degree of accuracy which astounds modern day astronomers.
The Maya were spread over a large area of south and central Mexico reaching down into the north of South America. Their cities flourished between 250 and 900 AD although the civilization itself went back much further. After 900 AD there was the Classic Maya Collapse; not to be confused with the pre-Classic collapse centuries earlier. Neither collapse can be explained with any certainty but the disappearances or collapse of civilizations in early Mexico may have heavily influenced subsequent societies and their fixation with impending apocalypse. This in turn encouraged the sacrificial elements of their rituals to become more deeply ingrained.
Unlike the Aztecs, the Maya were not completely wiped out by conquistadors; they lived on and occupied their cities well after the arrival of the Spanish. The modern day definition of the Maya is people in the region once occupied by the civilization who have a cultural or linguistic link to the Maya.
The mighty Aztecs rose in Mexico around the 13th century. They originated in the northern regions and migrated south to the mid and southern regions of the country. They called themselves the Mexica, which is where the country’s name comes from.
The Aztecs’ migration from the north ended when they came upon a prophetic sign: an eagle balanced upon a cactus, devouring a snake. It was there that they built their capital city of Tenochtitlan. The Aztec were known as fierce warriors and talented architects, a combination that resulted in the largest empire in Central America, surpassed only by the Incan empire Peru. Evidence of their advancements are found in their vast trading network, an apparently highly-stratified society with an imperial administration, and a sophisticated agricultural system.
The Aztecs considered themselves to be children of the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, who was also the patron god of war. They believed that he needed a diet of human blood to augment his strength, which is where the legends of Aztec blood sacrifices originate.
Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, also played a fortuitous role in Aztec culture. Ruler of the Toltecs, he was considered to be the son of the sun god, a fair-skinned god himself. He was a progressive king who was well-respected and made many reforms, including abolishing human sacrifice. He was exiled by crafty enemies after several years of his reign, but the legendary ruler vowed to return someday no matter the amount of time that had passed.
The Aztec empire reached its height under the reign of Montezuma II, covering most of central and southern Mexico. When the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes landed on the shores of Mexico, the superstitious Montezuma believed it was the fair-skinned Quetzalcoatl coming back to his people. The Aztec emperor allowed the small Spanish company into the capital, which numbered over 300,000 in Aztec population. Cortes took the great emperor captive, and held him for 8 months.
In one of Cortes’ absences from the city, his second-in-command Pedro de Alvarado ordered the slaughter of over 3,000 Aztecs in the midst of a religious ceremony, which incited a dangerous rebellion by the famously vicious Aztecs. Upon his return, Cortes attempted to quell the situation by sending Montezuma to appease his people. The Aztecs responded by stoning their emperor to death, and mounting an attack upon the conquistadors.
Cortes retaliated with the more advanced weapons at his disposal, and as European diseases ravaged the Aztecs population, the great empire began to fall. By 1521, the Spanish had laid waste to Mexico.
Mexico: After the Conquistadors
The Spanish were quick to colonize their vast new territory. Haciendas were set up with Indian slaves to keep them in production. Mexican mines yielded unprecedented amounts of gold and silver, making Mexico the most prosperous of Spanish colonies in the New World.
The first yearnings of independence in Mexico began in 1807 when Napoleon invaded Spain. Mexico’s elite was divided into two; Liberals who wanted a democratic Mexico, and Conservatives, who wanted Mexico ruled by a monarch who would maintain the status quo. The commonality was clear: Mexico needed her independence.
Mexican War of Independence
The Mexican War of Independence was an uprising against colonial rule. In the Spanish caste system peninsulares, full-blood Spanish individuals, were ranked highest. This group was followed by the criollos whose blood line was mostly Spanish.
On September 16th 1810 in the town of Dolores a criollo priest called Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla declared independence from Spain. This “Grito de Dolores” or “Cry of Dolores” marked the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. Hidalgo was executed in 1811 and is now hailed as the Father of the Nation.
Jose Maria Morelos, Guadalupe Victoria and Vicente Guerrero were all important revolutionary figures. Ultimately Colonel Agustin de Iturbide turned the fortunes of the cause by switching sides and joining the movement for independence. Mexican independence was attained in 1821 on September 27.
The Mexican-American War
U.S President James Polk disputed with Mexico over establishing the U.S Mexican border along the Rio Grande rather than the Nueces River. The subsequent invasion by U.S forces into Mexico City ended with a last battle fought at the Castillo de Chapultepec. Six, young military cadets were the last to die defending the Mexican flag.
Polk had achieved expanding the American borders, but relations between the two countries were heavily affected. An American president would not set foot in Mexico until 1947 when Harry S Truman visited the Castillo de Chapultepec and laid a wreath at the foot of the war monument dedicated to the boy heroes, Los Ninos Heroes. Mexico also sold the area encompassing the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico for $15 million to the U.S.
Mexico’s government underwent a series of upheavals and revolts, and the country fell into civil war from 1857-1861. The two camps created their own governments, with the Conservatives ruling from Mexico City and the Liberals from Veracruz. The Liberals were ultimately victorious, and the famous president Benito Juarez began his administration from Mexico City.
Ever turbulent, Mexico found itself again in turmoil when the French invaded in 1862. French forces were defeated at the Battle of Puebla, which is now celebrated as the Mexican independence day of Cinco de Mayo. However, the French eventually conquered Mexico and set Emperor Maximilian I on the throne. Benito Juarez kept his administration functioning during these years of occupation, and in 1867, his forces captured and executed Maximilian. Juarez remained in power until he died in 1872.
From 1876-1911, Porfirio Diaz held the post of president of Mexico, during which time the country experienced a rare period of peace and prosperity.
The Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 and lasted until 1920. The revolution began as an uprising against Porfirio Diaz and progressed to a complex and multi-sided civil war.
Diaz came to power in 1876 as a liberal but he became autocratic. Diaz furthered industry, economy and modernization but he did so at the expense of the working class, who then revolted.
The rebellion was launched by the famous revolutionary figures Franciso I. Madero, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. They wanted true democracy, ruling government to be held within bounds of law and well defined and upheld rights for Mexicans. Eventually Diaz’s regime collapsed, but revolutionary leaders differed significantly enough in their political beliefs that a cohesive organization of the new government proved impossible. A twenty-year struggle for control ensued, in which it is estimated that 900,000 people died.
The revolution resulted in the establishment of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 and Mexico finally came to rest when the National Mexican Party was formed in 1929; it convinced the revolutionary generals to dissolve their armies into the collective Mexican Army. It later became the PRI (Partido Revolutionario Institucional), the “stool with three legs”: workers, peasants, and bureaucrats. The PRI retained control of Mexico until 2000.
Mexico's Current Politics
Mexico’s political structure is that of a federal presidential representative democratic republic. Government is congressional and the president of Mexico is head of state and head of the multi-party government. It has three levels: federal, state, and municipal government. Mexico City is the Federal District of Mexico and therefore the seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. Mexico City is not part of any of the other thirty-one Mexican states; instead it belongs to the federation. The political system of Mexico is based on the 1917 Constitution, drafted during the Revolution. The constitution has undergone multiple amendments such as the 2005 amendment which banned the use of capital punishment.
The three dominant political parties in Mexico are the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institutional or the Institutional Revolutionary Party), the PAN (Partido Accion Nacional or the National Action Party) and the PRD (Partido de la Revolucion Democratica or the Party of the Democratic Revolution). The PRI ruled Mexico for seventy-one consecutive years but lost to PAN in 2000. After decades in power corruption and fraudulent practices had become deeply ingrained.
In 2006, Felipe Calderon of PAN very narrowly defeated Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD. Obrador briefly set up his own government after his supporters named him the Legitimate President, establishing the Cabinet of Denunciation to counter moves made by the Calderon government. In the 2012 election after a twelve year hiatus PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto was voted in to take over from Felipe Calderon whose name has become associated with the USA’s controversial War on Drugs.
Shortly after the 2012 election PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador insisted on a recount of votes. This and allegations of vote buying overshadowed Nieto’s result in the election. Nieto insisted that change of strategy would be one of his party’s priorities. He claims to represent a modernized party ready to tackle the issues facing Mexico today and determined to avoid the mistakes of the past.
From Mountain Ranges to Endless Beaches
Mexico is the largest country in Central America. It is bordered on the north by the United States, and on its southern border by Belize and Guatemala. Mexico watches the sun rise on its coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and sees it set over its beaches on the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean. Mexico is over seven hundred and fifty square miles in size and the territory includes numerous islands. It is made up of 31 states, each with its own unique culture and history. A Mexican cruise has the potential to be endless.
Located in the north west of the country is the world’s third longest peninsula; the Baja California peninsula. This stretch of land lies between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez). The Gulf of California separates the Baja Peninsula from the mainland. The peninsula is divided into two states; Baja California and Baja California Sur. Baja California is bordered to the north by the U.S state of California, to the north east by the state of Arizona and Sonora, the Gulf of California is to the east, Baja California Sur to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The southernmost town of Baja California Sur is Cabo San Lucas.
North Mexico is covered in desert, with the Sonoran desert extending down from California into Baja and the formidable Chihuahuan desert along the northern border. The Chihuahuan desert is walled on one side by the Sierra Madre Occidental, which extends more than half of the length of Mexico’s Pacific side. Parts of the system are longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon. There is a low coastal plain between the range and the shores of the Gulf of California. The mighty Sierra Madre Oriental runs along the country’s opposite flank, and both of these ranges run into the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt that bisects Mexico’s southern midsection.
The Mexican Altiplano (“high plain”) lies between the majestic mountain ranges all the way to the southern state of Zacatecas. Visitors to Mexico will not want to miss the famous cities of Guadalajara and Mexico City that lies in the valleys of the southern altiplano.
Mexico City, is located in the south of the country three hundred kilometres from Acapulco on the coast. In the nineteenth and twentieth century the Aztec Templo Mayor was found and began to be uncovered. It was located just a short distance from the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.
Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas forms part of the Mundo Maya or Mayan World. A visit to the world famous Maya ruin of Palenque is part of many Mexico tours. Part of the mystique of this ruin is that only a proportionally small amount of the city has been excavated and explored. The way the ruins are nestled in the jungle and only partially exposed gives those on a Mexico vacation the same feelings of awe and wonderment which has possessed generations of explorers.
Another main Mundo Maya centre, the Yucatan is located on the northern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula in south-eastern Mexico. In the northern centre of Yucatan is the world famous Chichen Itza site. North Yucatan is the site of the famous Chicxulub Crater. The crater takes its name from the town of Chicxulub which lies near its geographic centre. The crater was caused by the impact of an asteroid 65 million years ago and potentially caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The Sierra Madre de Oaxaca borders the valleys of Oaxaca (pronounced wu-ha-ka), and runs into the Sierra Madre del Sur, which dominates the landscape of the south until comes to a stop at the almost-flat isthmus of Tehuantepec. The isthmus connects the highlands of Chiapas and the low Yucatan peninsula to Mexico. Oaxaca’s capital, Oaxaca City, is famous for its art and architecture. The state is bordered by Guerrero to the west, Puebla to the northwest, Veracruz to the north and to the south the Pacific Ocean. Sixteen officially recognized indigenous cultures exist here all with their own languages, customs and traditions. The three largest indigenous populations are the Zapotecs, the Mixtecs and the Mazatecos. It is thought that the rugged and isolating terrain of the area is the reason that the indigenous populations are so numerous and populous.
In addition to numerous breathtaking mountain ranges, a cruise to Mexico will reveal its nearly 150 rivers that empty onto both coasts. Visitors may want to focus on the romantic Mexican Riviera on the west coast, which includes such famous cities as Ensenada, Acapulco, and Mazatlan.
Weather in Mexico
Mexico covers a vast area, and so it’s weather is as variable as its landscape. The Tropic of Cancer bisects the country at the latitude of Mazatlan, which effectively divides its climate. Mexico can be broadly divided into the rainy and dry seasons and into the temperate and dry north and the tropical south of the country with sub-tropical conditions in the center.
Rainy season in Mexico is from May to September and around mid October to April is dry season. During rainy season there are downpours for a few hours in the afternoons and evenings particularly in coastal areas. This boosts and refreshes the country’s lush green expanses and many travelers find this an exhilarating part of their Mexico vacation. April and May are the warmest months of the year and the coldest are December and January. Hurricane season runs from June to November and affects mainly coastal areas.
The northern beaches of Mexico experience mild temperatures in the winter, although winter storms can bring very cold nights. Summer days are hot and always sunny.
In the region of Baja California the weather is dry and temperate. The mountain range in the centre of the state divides the weather patterns. To the east and south of the mountain range is desert and to the north west a drier, more Mediterranean climate exists. In the Sierra de Baja California summers are cool and in the winter the alpine climate can result in freezing temperatures and snow. In general the Pacific Coast of Baja California is warm during the day with cooler evenings in summer and cooler still with rain in the winter. Over on the east coast temperatures are higher in summer with humid nights and the winter is cooler with strong winds. Baja Sur is a sub-tropical climate with hot, humid summers and winters are cool rather than cold.
The Mexican Riviera from Mazatlan to Manzanillo has famously beautiful beach weather, for travelers seeking a winter beach vacation. Highs are in the 80s even in winter months, and lows rarely dip below mid-60s. Summer is actually the rainy season along this part of the Pacific coast. The best hot beach weather is found along the southern coast, which is also where the best surf beaches are found.
The regions of Oaxaca, Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz and the other regions lying below the tropic of cancer are tropical climates. Regions on the Yucatan Peninsula and Yucatan itself are closer to a Caribbean climate. The flat terrain of Yucatan and proximity to sea level creates a year round warm climate with inland temperatures surpassing those on the coast. The lowest temperatures of the year in Cancun are usually in the high sixties Fahrenheit and can hit ninety in summer.
The east coast is wetter than its western counterpart; in typical Caribbean fashion, the humidity is constant and the temperatures are hot. A cruise to Mexico may visit some of the most famous beaches, like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, in this steamy environment.
Increased altitudes will result in cooler temperatures and more rainfall. For example in the Copper Canyon the valleys harbor sub-tropical forests while thousands of feet above in the highland alpine climate the weather is much cooler. Elevated areas like Mexico City can be chilly at night.
Travelers will want to tailor their visits to the beautiful colonial cities of interior Mexico to miss the freezing winters; Oaxaca is a better choice in the winter, as it experiences mild temperatures year-around.
Mexico's Environmental Quandary
Mexico’s diverse environment is facing down challenges on all sides. The coasts along the Gulf of Mexico occasionally fight the pollution of unregulated oil exploration. Tropical rainforests in this region as well as the south have been denuded for cattle ranching and agriculture, practices that have contributed to significant soil erosion in the northern regions of Mexico as well. In response to these threats, Mexico has implemented a Biodiversity Action Plan to protect endangered species and habitats within its borders.
The most staggering environmental challenge facing Mexico comes in the form of Mexico City, de Jefe to the locals. Mexico City is one of the most populated cities on the planet, and experiences some of the worst pollution. It sits in a valley surrounded by mountains on three sides, which traps pollutants from the 15 million inhabitants and 3 million vehicles. Wastewater from undeveloped shantytowns and other untreated wastes are a threat to the water supply. The Mexican government has enacted several regulations to address the situation, with varying degrees of success. Most visitors to Mexico use the city only as an arrival point before traveling to other destinations
Colorful Culture of Mexico
Mexico has an incredibly rich culture, as diverse to each region as its tropical rainforests and as vibrant as the lively music of the mariachis. Just as the ancient Maya built their new temples on and around the remnants of old ones pre-Columbian language, cuisine, beliefs and culture still exist in Mexico. Different groups of indigenous people, all with their own traditions, customs and dialects, share connections back to ancient ancestors. History in Mexico is not dead and gone but ongoing and can be experienced. Past and present do not just overlap but have blended together; creating another layer of richness to the culture.
The Yucatan peninsula, along with the states of Quintana Roo and Chiapas, retains its pre-Colombian influence; a Mexican cruise to this region will reveal a distinctly Maya culture with its foundation on corn ad the Maya cosmovision. There are several areas that still speak their native Mayan language; it is estimated that there are approximately 1 million Maya speakers.
Visitors to Oaxaca will find a beautiful culture that is much more Aztec; Oaxaca has the largest indigenous population in the country, and over 1.5 million people speak the Aztec language Nhuatl. Oaxaca is distinctive for its crafts. Alebrijes are intricate and delicate wooden carvings of animals that are painted fantastically, from frogs to jaguars to mythical creatures. Barro negro, or the crafting of black clay, is an ancient tradition here. Oaxaquenans are also famous for their weavings, which use natural dyes and depict Aztec images. The people of Oaxaca are known for their friendliness and hospitality.
The city of Guanajuato, north of Mexico City, is a World Heritage Site. It is a maze of cobblestone streets and colonial buildings set into a hillside. It is a beautiful example of the colonial cities that dot the Mexican countryside.
Those who travel to Mexico can expect to step back through the mists of time at Chichen Itza, La Venta, Tenochtitlan and Palenque where artefacts and ruins serve as reminders of the powerful civilizations which rose and fell across Mexico in the pre-Hispanic eras. Although these ancient ruins are world famous the societies that built them have not disappeared.
Mexican culture is heavily influenced by the vaquero (cowboy) tradition. Cattle ranching was a huge industry in colonial times, and the vaquero image is a treasured piece of Mexican culture. The typical Mexican ranchera music originates from the vaquero. A cruise to Mexico may also present the opportunity to watch a performance of the salsa or merengue, or to dance yourself. It may also present the opportunity to attend a football game, which is the most popular sport in the country.
Many Amerindian peoples have integrated with the mestizo majority but some are culturally distinct and speak an indigenous language and dialect as opposed to Spanish. In some places Christian ceremonies practised in Mexico have Mayan and Aztec overtones. Art, religion and cultural traditions hark back to the pre-Hispanic as you move away from cities and towards villages.
Mexico has no official religion, but most of her inhabitants are Catholic, and Catholicism plays a huge role in Mexican culture. Parades and celebrations are frequent, and cathedrals and churches are scattered liberally across the country. Famous architectural gems like the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Oaxaca and the Mexico City Cathedral were built as part of the mission to establish Christianity in New Spain. Colonial influence is evident in many aspects of architecture such as town layouts, religious edifices, cobblestone streets and other buildings. Mexico City has numerous examples of this style and more UNESCO World Heritage listings than any other country in the Americas.
A long history of civil rebellions and revolution has produced artworks of an intensity which endures through the centuries and resonates around the world. For example the painter and muralist Diego Rivera saw representation of the revolution and its legacy as central to creating uniquely Mexican works. From the independently developed writing systems of Mesoamerica to the celebrated novelist Carlos Fuentes there is a strong identity to artistic Mexican tradition.
Tamales and Quesadillas
Mexico is famous for its cuisine, which of course varies by region. It is made up of the per-Colombian staples of corn, beans, squash, chili powder, tropical fruits, and avocado. Visitors to the Yucatan will find corn tortillas and beans as staples, as well as chicken-based dishes that characterize the Maya diet.
A main component of the Mexican diet today is the same as it was in the time of the Maya and Aztecs; corn. Hominy is used in dishes such as pozole (meat stew) and is also processed into dough or masa which is extremely prevalent in Mexican cuisine. This dough can be used to make many things, for example, tamales. These are masa dough parcels containing meats, beans, eggs, mushrooms or even fruits. Dishes like tamales are often wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves. One way to cook them is to put the wrapped parcels in the embers of a burnt out.
Masa is also used to make tortillas which are involved in a huge number of dishes and are guaranteed to be encountered on any Mexico vacation. Tacos, burritos, enfrijolades and enchiladas all involve tortillas. Tortillas are baked over a wood fired griddle or on a stove in a comal pan.
Chillies are ubiquitous in Mexican cooking and have been since the earliest civilizations. Different varieties and different cooking techniques create signature flavours which mark the authenticity of regional dishes. A dish like chile rellenos (stuffed chillies) is heavily influenced by the type of chillies used. In Oaxaca this dish will often be made with chile de agua whereas in the north of the country poblano chillies are more commonly used. Meals are usually served with sauces and salsas separate so they can be added to taste. The warmth of these earthy flavors, colorful combinations and intense aromas help make Mexico travel such a unique experience.
A vacation in Oaxaca provides quite possibly the best food in the country. Quesillo is a type of salty cheese that is now exported all over the world. Oaxaca is also famous for chapulines, which are barbequed grasshoppers.
A major ingredient in Mexican cooking are various pastes. These are preparations of herbs and spices. Yucatan is famous for the brick coloured Achiote paste which is sold all over Mexico. Achiote is made from achiote seeds, garlic, herbs and spices.
On the coast shrimp, marlin and clams are caught in view of the beach-side eateries where they are cooked and served. Fish are cooked over open fires, sometimes using grilling baskets which are flipped while sauce or butter is applied as the meat cooks. As in many types of Mexican cooking local wood is placed over the coals to infuse the food with distinctive flavours.
Mole (mo-lay) sauce is the name for a number of different preparations of sauces that are integral in Mexican cuisine. A common mole is poblano, a red brown sauce served with meat or chicken. Oaxaca is sometimes called “the land of seven moles” due to its range of distinctive moles of different colours. The most famous of these is their black mole which contains chocolate and hoja santa.
Other staple ingredients are pumpkin seeds, rice, beans, garlic, roasted tomatoes or tomatillos (green tomatoes), squash blossoms, lime juice and white onions. Exotic ingredients include armadillo, snake, spider monkey, insects such as Chapulines (grasshoppers common served fried in Oaxaca), Iguana and corn fungus.
A cruise to Mexico will likely feature such mouth-watering favorites as tamales and quesadillas, mole sauces, soups, carne asada and chorizo. Mexico is also famous for its chocolate, which has a cinnamon twist and is excellent hot.
All of this will most likely be accompanied by good Mexican tequila or mezcal, which is produced in abundance from the agave plants that grow so well in the region. Mexico tours through villages will bring travellers into contact with more exotic specialities than are found in cities.
Mexico’s location between so many oceans means that it is a hotspot for marine life. The allure of Baja for a Mexico cruise is irresistible for those wanting to see whales such as the gray whale and the hump-back or beautiful sea-lions and their cubs. The widest variety of whales and dolphins anywhere in the world can be found in the Sea of Cortez. Sea otters can be found on the Pacific side. Fur seals, sharks, and an array of fish species complete the marine community off the coasts of Mexico. This narrow stretch of water has a unique and diverse eco-system including many migratory species.
Oaxaca is the most bio-diverse state in Mexico and provides an important breeding ground for endangered species of sea turtles such as the leatherback. A large proportion of all bird species in Mexico can be found in this state.
The rainforests of Chiapas boast a large amount of biodiversity including species which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Mexico is ideally suited to eco-tourism pursuits such as trekking, kayaking and observing and appreciating the beautiful natural state of the country.
On land, mammals include the exotic coati, mythical jaguars, monkeys, wolves and bears in mountainous regions, and prairie dogs and bobcats in the lowlands. White tail deer, otters and pumas can all be found in the Copper Canyon. The climatic difference between alpine peaks and sub-tropical valleys creates a large variation in the flora and fauna in this area.
A Mexican vacation may also reveal exotic birds such as flamingos and toucans, along with herons, kingbirds, and giant kites. Over forty per cent of Mexican flora is endemic to the country including most species of cactus and just under half of all species of orchid. The Euptilotis species of the brightly colored Quetzal bird is almost exclusively found in western Mexico.
Mexico is part of a migratory journey for hundreds of species every year and one of these journeys has become celebrated in Mexico. Every year monarch butterflies from as far north as southern Canada make the long journey to Mexico. Only one in five will survive the journey but up to a hundred million will get there. The butterflies congregate in the oyamel fir trees in the states of Mexico and Michoacan. Mystical significance is attached to the autumnal arrival of the monarch butterflies because they arrive during Mexico’s day of the dead festival which has given rise to the belief that dead loved ones return to earth on the wings of the butterflies. This migration may have been occurring for thousands of years; the Aztecs believed that the monarch butterflies were the spirits of fallen warriors.
Mexico is one of the world’s mega diverse countries. It has more species of reptiles than anywhere else in the world. The country ranks second in biodiversity listings for species of mammals and fourth for flora and amphibians. Great concerns exist about deforestation and the destruction of wildlife habitats which has led to the creation of many national parks, reserves and sanctuaries. Mexico tours, wherever they lead, will always provide plentiful sightings of the natural world.
Why visit Mexico?
Mexico tours have the potential to be both relaxing and adventurous. A dream Mexico vacation can become a reality with the right Mexico tour or adventure. Mexico travel will move anyone to the same passion for this country as the citizens who gather every September on Independence Day and shout in unison; Viva Mexico!
Mexico is the southernmost country of North America. The official language is Spanish and the largest Spanish speaking population of the world is found in Mexico. Many indigenous languages and dialects such as Nahuatl are used also; particularly away from urban areas. The word Mexico originates from Mexica, the name for a people better known as the Aztecs. The majority of the Mexican population is mestizo; a mixture of European and Amerindian ancestry.
Mexico is a country where different traditions and cultures blend together and the history is steeped in both conquest and revolution. Mexico attracts millions of visitors every year on account of the culture, history, archaeology, beautiful scenery, pleasant climate and exotic wildlife.
How to make Ceviche
Travel blogger Cailin O'Neil enjoys a cooking class with Chef Manuel in Mexico. Watch the brief video to learn the art of making your own exquisite ceviche!