Excite Travel
Travel Home
north america
Beaten Track
Facts at a GlanceEnvironmentEconomic Profile
Facts for the TravelerMoney & CostsWhen to Go

Facts at a Glance
 Full country name: Estados Unidos Méxicanos

Population: 100,350,000 (growth rate 1.53%)

Area: 1,958,200 sq km (758,866 sq mi)

Capital city: Mexico City (22 million people)

People: Approximately 60% mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian descent) and 30% Amerindian (indígena - including Nahua, Maya, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Totonacs, and Tarascos or Purépecha)

Language: Spanish and 59 indigenous languages

Religion: 90% Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant

Government: Federal republic

Head of state: Vincente Fox Quesada


Covering almost two million sq km (800,000 sq mi), Mexico follows a northwest to southeast curve, narrowing to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec then continuing to the Yucatán Peninsula. On the west and south the country is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, with the Gulf of California lying between the Baja California peninsula and the mainland. Mexico's east coast is washed by the Gulf of Mexico, while the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula meets the Caribbean Sea. Mexico shares borders with the USA (to the north), and Guatemala and Belize (to the southeast).

Mexico is a mountainous country with two north-south ranges framing a group of broad central plateaus known as the Altiplano Central. In the south, the Sierra Madre del Sur stretches across the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. From the isthmus, a narrow stretch of lowlands runs along the Pacific coast south to Guatemala. These lowlands are backed by the Chiapas highlands, which merge into a steamy tropical rainforest area stretching into northern Guatemala. The flat, low Yucatán Peninsula is tropical savanna to its tip, where there's an arid, desert-like region.

Bridging temperate and tropical regions, and lying in the latitudes that contain most of the world's deserts, Mexico has an enormous range of natural environments and vegetation zones. Its rugged, mountainous topography adds to the variety by creating countless microclimates. Despite the potential for great ecological diversity, human impact has been enormous. Before the Spanish conquest, about two-thirds of the country was forested. Today, only one-fifth of the country remains verdant, mainly in the south and east. Domesticated grazing animals have pushed the larger animals, such as puma, deer and coyote, into isolated pockets. However, armadillos, rabbits and snakes are common, and the tropical forests of the south and east still harbor (in places) howler and spider monkeys, jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, anteaters, peccaries (a type of wild pig), deer, macaws, toucans, parrots and some tropical reptiles, such as the boa constrictor, though these habitats too are being eroded.

Mexico's climate varies according to its topography. It's hot and humid along the coastal plains on both sides of the country, but inland, at higher elevations such as Guadalajara or Mexico City, the climate is much drier and more temperate. The hot, wet season is May to October, with the hottest and wettest months falling between June and September over most of the country. The low-lying coastal areas receive more rainfall than elevated inland regions. December to February are generally the coolest months, when north winds can make inland northern Mexico decidedly chilly, with temperatures sometimes approaching freezing.

Mexico has suffered more than its fair share of climatic and environmental disasters, though it escaped Hurricane Mitch, which devastated several Central American countries in late 1998. Hurricane Pauline caused 300 deaths and great damage in the Pacific coastal states of Guerrero and Oaxaca in October 1997. Lower than usual rainfall in the 1997-98 winter (blamed on that year's strong El Niño current across the Pacific Ocean) brought a drought and thousands of forest fires around Mexico in the first half of 1998. Tropical storms and torrential rain along most of the Pacific coast and parts of central Mexico in September 1998 had their worst effects in Chiapas, where many people perished and the road system was badly damaged. This was Mexico's worst natural disaster since the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$915 billion

GDP per head: US$9100

Annual growth: 7%

Inflation: 9%

Major industries: Food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum, mining, textiles, clothing, motor vehicles, consumer durables, tourism

Major trading partners: USA, Canada, Japan, Germany

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Citizens of many countries - including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Chile and virtually all Western European countries - do not require visas to enter Mexico as tourists. However, if they are staying longer than 72 hours, or are traveling beyond the Border Zone or certain exempted areas, they must obtain a 180-day Mexican government tourist card (tarjeta de turista), available from embassies or at border crossings (US$18).

Health risks: Malaria, Chagas' disease, cholera, dengue fever, filariasis, hepatitis, rabies, tetanus, typhoid. Air pollution in Mexico City is extremely high between November and February. Water must be purified or boiled.

Time: Most of Mexico is on Central Standard Time (six hours behind UTC). Baja California Sur and several other states in the northwest are on Mountain Standard Time (seven hours ahead of UTC) and Baja California Norte is on Pacific Standard Time (eight hours ahead of UTC).

Electricity: 110V, 60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$2-8
  • Mid-range: US$8-20
  • Top-end: US$20 and upwards

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$10-20
  • Mid-range: US$20-70
  • Top-end: US$70 and upwards
  • Baja California, Monterrey and the Yucatán Peninsula's Caribbean coast are pricey, but elsewhere you can expect to get away with spending around US$20-35 a day, particularly in rural areas. Throw in a few luxuries like traveling in reasonable comfort, staying at better mid-range places and eating at more expensive restaurants, and you'll need more like US$60. Stay at luxurious hotels and hire a car occasionally, and the sky's the limit.

    It's best to bring US-dollar denomination traveler's checks and some US dollars in cash. You can exchange money in banks or in

    Mexico has a 15% value-added tax (IVA) which by law must be included in quoted prices. Sometimes - usually in top-end hotels - prices are quoted without this tax. Tipping in restaurants in resort areas is equivalent to US levels - somewhere between 15% and 20%. Outside these areas, a tip of 10% is sufficient at mid-range restaurants; in general, staff at smaller, cheaper places do not expect a tip. Expect to bargain at markets and with drivers of unmetered taxis. Treat haggling as a form of social discourse rather than a matter of life and death.

    When to Go

    Mexico is enjoyable year-round, but October to May is generally the most pleasant time to visit. The May-September period can be hot and humid, particularly in the south, and inland temperatures can approach freezing during December-February. Facilities are often heavily booked during Semana Santa (the week before Easter) and Christmas/New Year, the peak domestic travel periods.

    Mexico's climate has something for everyone: it's hot and humid along the coastal plains, and drier and more temperate at higher elevations inland (Guadalajara or Mexico City, for example). Try to avoid Mexico's southern coast between July and September - the resorts are decidedly soggy and jam-packed, as July-August is also the peak holiday months for foreign visitors.

     Back to topOn to Off the Beaten Track
    Powered by Lonely Planet

     • Activities & Events
     • Attractions
     • Destination Mexico
     • Getting There, Getting Around
     • History & Culture
     • Information Station
     • Off the Beaten Track
     • Recommended Reading

    © 2003 Lonely Planet Publications Pty. Ltd. All rights reserved Although we've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by any person resulting from information published on this site. We encourage you to verify any critical information with the relevant authorities before you travel. This includes information on visa requirements, health and safety, customs, and transportation.