Facts about Mexico can be interesting to read whether you are planning a trip to Mexico, or you simply have a fascination with Mexican history and culture. For a lot of people, the sheer mention of Mexico conjures up images of narcos and dramatized Netflix documentaries about the cartel.
An unfair media portrayal has given Mexico a less-than-stellar reputation and on the whole, the country is grossly underrated. Mexico is a wonderfully diverse, beautiful country that is rich in culture, gastronomy, and history.
The facts about Mexico contained here will hopefully help broaden your knowledge of Mexico and inspire you to both learn more and visit yourself.
36 Interesting Facts About Mexico
Mexico is the 13th largest country in the world
Many people do not realize the sheer size of Mexico. This is the 13th largest country in the world and Mexico covers a surface area that is approximately three times the size of the US state of Texas.
There are 32 different states in Mexico
Each of Mexico’s 32 states is governed differently, much like the various states in the USA. You will also note vast cultural differences and climates between one state and another.
The cuisine differs from one part of the country to another
When you mention Mexican food, most people think of burritos, fajitas, and tacos. However, Mexican cuisine goes way beyond that.
You could spend a month in Mexico and barely scratch beneath the surface of what the country has to offer food-wise. In fact, Mexican cuisine, with its complexity of flavors and cooking techniques, is actually UNESCO-protected.
UNESCO recognized Mexican food as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2010. Popular dishes and the food available at restaurants here vary significantly from state to state.
For example, Yucatan cuisine is quite unlike anything served anywhere else in Mexico. A lot of dishes here follow the same traditional cooking methods that were used by the Ancient Maya!
For example, cochinita pibil is a beloved Yucatecan dish. To create it, marinated pork is cooked slowly underground in a pib.
A pib is essentially just a hole in the ground with stones and wood at the bottom. The meat is cooked for many hours and when it is ready, it is so tender and juicy that it just falls apart perfectly in your mouth.
This is a lamb or beef soup whereby the meat is bathed in a sauce of chili peppers and spices and cooked wrapped in maguey leaves. Birria is essentially the regional dish of Jalisco.
Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican independence day
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican independence day. In fact, it is not a widely celebrated holiday in Mexico at all.
Mexican independence day falls on September 16th. It celebrates Mexico’s independence from the Spanish in 1810.
Mexicans don’t really celebrate Cinco de Mayo
The 5th of May marks the anniversary of the Mexican army’s May 5, 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. This is only really celebrated in Puebla.
It can be quite shocking to learn that Mexicans do not really celebrate Cinco de Mayo because this date is so famous on an international scale. In the United States, it has evolved into a day that celebrates Mexican cuisine and culture.
Bars and restaurants across the USA will often host events to celebrate Cinco de Mayo each year. In a way, it is nice that this appreciation of another culture is expressed, even if this is not a big holiday in Mexico itself.
There are 35 UNESCO sites in Mexico
There are 35 UNESCO-protected sites in Mexico. This means that Mexico is the country with the most UNESCO sites in all the Americas, as well as the country with the 7th most in the world!
There are 27 cultural UNESCO sites here, 6 natural sites, and 2 mixed sites. The first site to be indoctrinated was the Historic Center Of Mexico City And Xochimilco in 1987.
The latest was the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: Originary Habitat Of Mesoamerica in 2018. Perhaps one of the most notable UNESCO sites in Mexico is the Mayan city of Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world.
There are more than 200 Mayan ruins in Mexico
Chichen Itza may be the most famous Mayan ruin, however, it is far from the only one. There are several other ancient Mayan cities across Mexico that have been built in a similar style.
It is estimated that there are more than a whopping 4,000 Mayan ruins spread out all over Central America. 200 of these are in Mexico alone.
Many of these are far off the beaten path and receive very few visitors. However, they are no less deserving of your time than Chichen Itza.
Despite that, few people venture to Edzna. Visit the site on a weekday and you may find that you have it entirely to yourself.
The ruins of Mayapan, Uxmal, and Dzibilchaltun near the Yucatan capital of Merida are what remains of equally important cities. They are very well preserved and just as worthy of a visit as Chichen Itza.
Mexican Spanish is different from Spanish spoken in Spain
The official language of Mexico is Spanish and indeed, if you try to learn Spanish as per what is spoken in Spain ready for your trip here, people will understand you. However, Mexican Spanish is different from Spanish spoken in Spain.
Pronunciations of a lot of words are very different. Similarly, Mexican Spanish includes a lot of colloquialisms and slang words that simply do not exist in Spain, and vice versa.
Even words that are used on a day-to-day basis sometimes differ in Mexico and in Spain. Let’s look at a few examples.
In Spain, corn (as in corn on the cob) is known as maíz. In Mexico, this is an elote.
Green beans in Spain are judías verdes. In Mexico, they are known as ejotes.
Lime is known as a lima in Spain, whereas in Mexico, it is a limón.
The list goes on and it is vast. No, it is not just restricted to Mexican fruits and vegetables either!
Some parts of Mexico experience cooler climates
Travel to Mexico comes with the image of lounging by a pool or sinking your toes into the sand on a beach somewhere like El Cuyo, Tulum, or Cancun. But there is far more to Mexico than just tropical coastal areas and beach towns.
Some parts of the country do actually get very cold, particularly during the winter months. Nearly two-thirds of Mexico is made up of highlands and plateaux with climates that are comfortably temperate most of the year.
Mexico City sits at an elevation of 2,300 meters, Guadalajara sits at an elevation of 1,589 meters and San Miguel de Allende sits at 1,900 meters. If you happen to be in Mexico during the hot, humid summer months, traveling to these areas provides some welcome respite from the intense heat.
Mexican cuisine is vastly different from Mexican food anywhere else
If you have tried Mexican food in the United States, in Europe, or in Asia, you have not tried Mexican food. Mexican food that is prepared and sold outside of Mexico is drastically different from the real thing.
Ok, some taco trucks and restaurants in California and the Southern US states that are operated by Mexican immigrants and Mexican – Americans do serve very good food. But generally, a taco con asado served in the US nowhere near resembles one served in the Yucatan.
Everything has been modified to suit a western palate. You may travel to Mexico thinking that you love Mexican food, and you may fall in love with what you find when you arrive. But it will not be the Mexican food that you thought you knew.
Many rare and endangered animal species live in Mexico
A lot of majestic, rare, and endangered animals live in Mexico. Jaguars, pumas, and ocelots all live in the jungles of Mexico near ruins like Chacchoben and Calakmul.
Another unusual and lesser-known wild cat that you can find here is the margay. It is a small and cute cat that resembles a domestic cat.
In fact, there have been instances where a margay has been mistaken for a domestic cat! They are actually friendly in demeanor.
Mexico is a great place for birdwatching
Mexico is among the world’s most biodiverse nations. Nearly 1,000 species of birds call this beautiful country their home.
Even if you are not someone that considers yourself to have a particular interest in birdwatching, having chance encounters with migratory birds in Mexico is spectacular. You will often be strolling by the coast and see pelicans flying overhead or hanging out on fishing boats.
Approximately 30,000 flamingos call the Ría Celestún biosphere their home from November to April. Then, they move east towards Rio Lagartos. Both locations offer boat tours through the mangroves so that you can view flamingos, crocodiles, and other animals.
You cannot drink the water in Mexico
You cannot drink water in Mexico. Period.
It is not just that you as a foreign person cannot drink it because your stomach isn’t used to it. The locals don’t drink it either.
The water in Mexico is purified at the source. However, the water can sometimes become contaminated on its journey to your tap.
Mexicans will generally order huge multi-liter bottles of water which they will have delivered to their homes by truck. 20-liter (5.3 US gallon) bottles delivered to houses are known in Mexico as ‘garrafones’. You’ll find bottles of 500 ml, 1 liter, or 2 liters in Mexican stores.
Most expats in Mexico are American
In 2020, there were approximately 1.1 million expats living in Mexico. Of those, 700,000 were from the United States.
That’s a significant chunk! There are actually more Americans moving to Mexico than Mexicans moving to the United States…
Expats from a diverse range of countries make up the remaining 400,000 expats. Some parts of the country have become expat hotspots.
In some cases, this has caused excessive gentrification and a rise in the cost of living. Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, Mérida, Tulúm, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun are all expat hotspots.
The world’s largest pyramid is in Mexico
The world’s largest pyramid is not one of the pyramids of Giza. Instead, it sits in Mexico.
The Quetzalcóatl Pyramid of Cholula de Rivadavia is both the largest pyramid in the world and the largest monument ever constructed. It is 54 m (177 ft) tall, and its base covers an area of nearly 45 acres.
Chichen Itza is the name of a town, not the pyramid
Chichen Itza is one of the most famous sites in Mexico and wider Latin America. It is also one of the new seven wonders of the world selected in 200.
However, Chichen Itza actually refers to the name of the settlement that existed here. The famous temple that is widely photographed is called the Temple of Kukulcán.
The temple actually sits on the site of another much older temple. Chichen Itza was an extremely powerful Mayan city around 600 AD. It fell around 1000 AD and the king moved to Mayapan.
People still speak Mayan
The Maya language still exists and is still spoken today. In certain parts of Mexico, including the Yucatan, you will often visit museums and archaeological sites and find that the signs are in English, Spanish, and Mayan.
There are 32 variations of Mayan that descend from Yucatec Mayan. Approximately 700,000 speak Yucatec Maya in the Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
Around 5 million people across Mexico, Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala speak variations of it. Tzotzil Maya and Tzeltal Maya are dialects spoken in Chiapas. K’iche’ Maya is spoken in Guatemala. Many people of Mayan descent still wear their traditional Mexican dress.
Mexico City is sinking every year
Due to a geological phenomenon called subsidence, Mexico City is sinking by 20 inches a year.
Scientists first noticed Mexico City was sinking in the early 1900s.
At that time, it was sinking at a rate of roughly 8cm a year. By 1958, that had jumped to 29cm a year.
But why is this happening? The city was built on a lake bed and centuries of water drainage from underground aquifers have caused the ground to start to crack, compress, and sink the city.
Scientists have stated that this damage is irreversible and that there is nothing that they can do to stop it.
Women don’t change their names when they marry in Mexico
When you get married in a western country, it is usually the tradition for the woman to change her surname to take the name of her husband. Of course, there are also those who prefer to break tradition and do things the other way around – by having the man take the woman’s surname.
In Mexico, nobody changes their name after marriage. The woman retains her original surname and the man retains his.
If the couple chooses to have children, the kids will have a double-barrelled name. They will take both the surname of the mother and the surname of the father.
When you fill in official forms and documents in Mexico, you may be asked for your maternal and paternal names. This is why.
Chocolate was invented in Mexico
Did you know that chocolate was invented in Mexico? The first cacao plants were found here and the Olmec, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, was the first to turn the plants into a hot cocoa beverage.
Today there are several chocolate museums scattered throughout the country where you can learn all about the history of chocolate and its importance in Mexican culture. Mexican chocolate and hot chocolate are unlike anything you will have tried elsewhere and are well worth sampling or purchasing as a souvenir from your trip.
There are 68 native languages spoken in Mexico
Few people realize how many different indigenous peoples live in Mexico. However, the country is home to 68 different indigenous groups, each of which has its own cultures, traditions, customs, and languages.
68 different indigenous languages are spoken across the country. Furthermore, they are divided into 350 different linguistic variants.
This means that indigenous Mexicans belonging to a certain indigenous group in one part of the country may not be able to fully understand and communicate with people from the same indigenous group in another part. Nahuatl, Maya, Otomí, Mixteco, Zapoteco, Totonaco, Chol, and Mazateco are among the best-known indigenous languages.
Mexico is one of the world’s largest coffee producers
One of the lesser-known facts about Mexico is that the country is the world’s largest producer of organic coffee, as well as one of the largest producers of coffee on the whole. Much of Mexico’s coffee is produced in Chiapas, Veracruz, and Oaxaca.
If you travel to the southern state of Chiapas, it is possible to visit some plantations around Ocosingo and the Sierra Madre mountains in the south, close to Comitan. Mexican Chiapas coffee has a strong, distinct taste and you will note that a lot of cafes across the country choose to stock it.
Some people still believe in witch doctors and healers
In a lot of parts of Mexico, people believe in alternative methods to modern medicine. Catemaco in Veracruz, for instance, is a village known for witchcraft. People will travel across Mexico to obtain advice from a spiritual healer or to participate in a cleansing ritual.
In Chamula in Chiapas, a lot of people cannot afford modern medicine. Because many of them have not received a formal education, they also do not believe in it.
In the San Juan Chamula church, you will see dozens of people praying to request healing from their ailments. Many unique practices are observed here.
For instance, people will drink an abundance of coca cola or other fizzy drinks and force themselves to burp. They believe that burping expels evil and any sickness from within. Sometimes chickens are sacrificed as part of the praying ritual.
Mexican children don’t open their Christmas gifts on the 25th of December
Christmas is a big deal in Mexico, like in many other Catholic and Christian countries around the globe. However, the majority of Mexican children open their Christmas gifts on the 6th of January, rather than the 25th of December. This day is known as the Three Kings Day (El Dia de Los Reyes).
The day is named in honor of the Three Kings that visited Jesus in Bethlehem shortly after his birth, bringing with them gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Aside from it being on a different day, Three King´s day is celebrated in a similar way to Christmas Day in the west.
Houses are decorated with a nativity scene in advance of the festive season and families gather to eat dinner together and play games. A special dessert bread known as Rosca de Reyes is eaten on this day.
Frida Kahlo’s ashes are at Casa Azul
Frida Kahlo´s house Casa Azul is one of the most popular things to do in Coyoacan, Mexico City today. This was the house where she was born in 1907, then lived with her partner Diego Riviera, and eventually died in 1954.
Kahlo is one of the most famous Mexican artists of all time. Few people realize that her ashes are also located at Casa Azul. Frida rests inside a pre-Colombian urn that you can see inside the house when you tour her property.
The Pok a Tok ball court at Chichen Itza is the largest in Mesoamerica
Pok-a-Tok is a ballgame that used to be played by the Ancient Mayans. You will see the sunbleached remnants of Pok-a-Tok ballcourts at various Mayan ruins across Mexico and Guatemala.
The game was very challenging and players were required to hit a hard rubber ball through the stone hoops mounted high on the walls without using their hands. They would usually hit the balls with their hips.
To add to the pressure, sometimes the losing teams would be sacrificed! The Pok-a-Tok court at Chichen Ita is the largest in Mesoamerica
Some cenotes were used for sacrificial rituals
Many Mayan cenotes were used for spiritual purposes. Others were simply used for swimming and leisure.
For instance, the Homun cenotes were frequented by Ancient Mayan farmers who liked to cool down in their waters. On the other hand, some cenotes, like the sacred cenote at Chichen Itza, were used for human sacrifices.
People were thrown into the cenote in order to please the gods. The skeletal remains recovered here indicate that it was mostly adult men and young children who were sacrificed. The Mayans would also throw precious stones and jewelry into the cenote.
On certain days of the year, a serpent can be seen on the pyramid at Chichen Itza
One of the most interesting facts about Chichen Itza is that the shadow of a serpent can be seen slithering down the Temple of Kukulcán twice a year. This phenomenon is known as ¨The Equinox¨ and festivities take place at the site on this day.
The Ancient Mayans were very advanced for their time. How they managed to engineer some aspects of Chichen Itza still baffles a lot of archeologists to this day.
Much of Chiapas is autonomous
Mexico has the only paranormal museum in Latin America
One of the more obscure things to do in Merida is to visit the city’s paranormal museum. The museum contains more than 500 objects sourced from across the world that are supposedly possessed. It is the only one of its kind in Latin America.
The meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs crashed into Mexico
The meteor that crashed into the earth 66 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs (and actually 80% of all animals) crashed into Chicxulub in the Yucatan. You cannot see the impact site as it is underwater.
However, today there is a Sendero Jurrasica in its place. This is an educational site that you can walk through to learn about the different species of dinosaurs that once existed.
Life-sized models of dinosaurs are scattered around the impact site. Chicxulub today is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the Yucatan.
There are more than 6,000 cenotes in Mexico
Cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) were created when the Chicxulub meteor crashed into the earth and weakened its surface. Today, there are more than 6,000 of them in Mexico, mostly concentrated around the Yucatan peninsula.
Some cenotes are little more than holes in the ground. If you travel to the states of Campeche, the Yucatan, or Quintana Roo, you don’t have to venture far to reach a cenote.
Veracruz has a village of witches
The city of Catemaco is best known for its witchcraft. Both white and black magic is performed by the brujas and brujos (witches and wizards) here and people who believe will often travel across Mexico for exorcisms, cleanses, and other treatments.
Every year, a witchcraft festival is hosted here and people from across the world travel to Veracruz to visit. It is known as Noche de Brujas and the next event is scheduled for March 2023.
Archeologists are still finding new Mayan ruins
New Mayan ruins are still being uncovered. Some of the existing Mayan cities have not been fully excavated.
As many Mayan cities were reclaimed by the jungle after they were abandoned, who knows what other secrets and treasures still await beneath the surface? In May 2022, construction workers near Merida accidentally stumbled upon the ruins of an ancient city that they believe to be known as Xiol.
Excavation work is still ongoing today. The site is scheduled to open to the public at the end of 2022. Even renowned ruins such as Ek Balam, that feature on most people’s Yucatan itineraries, were not discovered until the 1980s.
Mexico has 132 Pueblo Magicos
Pueblo Magicos are special towns and villages that have been recognized for their contribution to Mexican culture, their unique gastronomy, and their natural beauty. There are currently 132 Pueblo Magicos in Mexico and the list is ever-expanding so there are likely to be more towns added in the future.
Huasca de Ocampo in Hidalgo, Tepoztlan in Morelos and Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosi were three of the first pueblos magicos. Izamal and Valladolid are popular Yucatan pueblo magicos in Southern Mexico.
In Jalisco, Tlaqquepaque, the birthplace of Mariachi, is a popular Pueblo Magico to visit on a day trip from Guadalajara. In Sinaloa, you can visit the pueblo magico of El Fuerte, the fictional hometown of Zorro.
Virtually every Mexican state boasts several pueblo magicos.
You cannot drink alcohol in the days leading up to an election
You are not allowed to drink alcohol in the days leading up to a Mexican election and most stores ban the sale of it for a set amount of days before. This applies even if you are not Mexican nor able to participate in the elections
Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana
Did you know that Caesar salad was invented in Mexico? Italian chef Caesar Cardini operated a number of restaurants across Mexico in the first half of the 20th century.
He allegedly whipped up the first-ever caesar salad in history on the Fourth of July of 1924. Cardini was called up to his restaurant in Tijuana where people had crossed the border in huge numbers looking to avoid the restrictions of Prohibition for their Fourth of July celebration.
This caused the restaurant to run out of ingredients almost entirely. Never deterred, Cardini worked with what little he had. From there, the famous caesar salad was born!
Did you enjoy reading these facts about Mexico? Are you aware of any other interesting Mexican facts?
If you are traveling to the Yucatan peninsula, you may enjoy these facts about the Yucatan.
Safe travels and enjoy Mexico! Buen Viaje! xo