What is Mexico famous for? Mexico is a country that is rich in history, culture, natural beauty, and unparalleled gastronomy.
What is Mexico Famous For?
The first things that many people think of when someone mentions Mexico are mariachi bands and wide-brimmed sombrero hats. But what is mariachi music and where did it originate?
Chances are, wherever in the world you are from, you have encountered mariachi music at some point in your life – be it in person or on a TV show. A mariachi band is a group of musicians that perform using stringed instruments.
At a minimum, there are four players in a band. However, there are often more than 10!
The musicians play an array of different stringed instruments – including acoustic guitars, violins, and vihuelas – a small five-string guitar with a rounded back. The ensemble usually wears a black, formal-looking mariachi uniform known as traje de charro.
This outfit is based on the clothing worn by cowboys in Jalisco (charros). It consists of tailored, ornamented trousers, boots, wide bow ties, sombreros, and short jackets.
Nobody is certain of the precise origins of mariachi music but it is believed to have originated in west-central Mexico around the 1700s. More specifically, Guadalajara and Jalisco are usually credited for being the birthplace of mariachi.
The city of Tlaquepaque some 10km south of Guadalajara is recognized for helping mariachi become known across the world. Every day, mariachi bands perform to an audience of international travelers and Jaliscans at its central El Parian square.
The square was constructed in 1878 and mariachi bands have performed on the bandstand at its center since 1927. At that time, mariachi was not widely accepted and that was a controversial move by the organizers.
The mariachi at El Parian drew crowds from far and wide. Their popularity helped the music spread across Mexico and indeed, the world.
Gorgeous haciendas are scattered throughout Mexico, particularly in the Yucatan peninsula. These grand rural houses are comparable to ranches.
Many were built during the henequen boom in the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, there was demand across the world for the natural fibers produced by the sisal plant.
Many haciendas grew sisal and exported these natural fibers and it was this trade that led the Yucatan capital of Merida to become one of the richest cities in the world at that time. Members of an affluent family would love inside the main building of the hacienda while workers would inhabit outhouses.
In addition to henequen, haciendas existed to raise cattle and other animals and to farm vegetables. Unfortunately, the discovery of synthetic fibers led to the demand for henequen dropping.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, many haciendas fell into abandonment. Fortunately today, many have been converted into beautiful luxury hotels, restaurants, or event spaces.
A stay in a luxury hacienda usually starts from around $100 a night. But it’s a unique experience that is a highlight of any trip to the Yucatan.
Tequila is no doubt the most iconic Mexican alcoholic drink. It is a distilled beverage that is made from the Weber blue agave plant.
Tequila is a product of designated origin. Like champagne, which can only be produced in the Champagne region of France in order to be marketed and sold as champagne, tequila must be made in Tequila, Jalisco to pass as authentic Mexican tequila.
It is possible to take day trips to Tequila from Guadalajara. You can do so by taking the infamous Jose Cuevo tequila train, by taking the bus, or by participating in a small organized tour.
If you visit tequila, you will see the picturesque agave fields, learn about the distillation process, and have the opportunity to sample various types of Mexican tequila. Although brands like Jose Cuervo are the best-known tequila producers, there are a lot of smaller-scale distilleries too.
Many of these are preferred by locals who are keeping the products for themselves! Lesser known tequilas such as El Tequileño, or Siete Leguas D’Antaño extra añejo make great souvenirs from Mexico or gifts for your friends and loved ones.
Dia de Los Muertos
One of the most famous Mexican traditions is no doubt Dia de Los Muertos. The infamous ¨Day of the dead¨ and the image of people walking through Mexican streets and cemeteries with their faces painted like skeletons (catrinas) has become iconic image of Mexican culture.
Mexicans have a slightly different relationship with death than people from other cultures. Although losing a loved one is always upsetting, their lives and memories are celebrated every year after their passing.
Every November, people create special altars in memory of their loved ones. They light candles and leave offerings of flowers and food.
Then, they go to the cemetery and clean and decorate their loved ones’ graves, while remembering them and telling stories about when they were alive. In this way, they are kept alive and Dia de Los Muertos is seen as a positive occasion, rather than a time to be sad.
The official Dia de Los Muertos dates fall on the 1st and 2nd of November. However, the celebrations for the occasion often go on for one or two weeks.
Each Mexican city and state has different festivities and celebrations. In Mexico City, a huge parade (Desfile) with giant, larger-than-life floats is paraded through the city streets.
In the Yucatan capital of Merida, you can find the Paseo de las Animas. This is a candlelit procession where locals walk from the cemetery to the Zocalo in the center of town, representing the journey of the deceased into the world of the living.
Mexican food is known around the world for its flavor, spice, and variety. When you mention Mexican cuisine to most people, things like tacos, burritos, fajitas, and nachos are perhaps the first things that come to mind.
But Mexican food is so much more than that. There are so many hundreds of different dishes and delicacies that you will never be left wondering what to eat in Mexico.
The dishes here vary significantly from region to region too. For instance, Yucatecan food is very different from the food you will find in say, Jalisco or Sinaloa, Northern Mexico.
Many Yucatecan recipes were invented by the Ancient Maya centuries ago and are prepared in the same way today! In particular, look out for cochinita pibil when you are dining in restaurants in Merida and elsewhere in the Yucatan.
This is essentially the Ancient Mayan version of pulled pork. Pork is cooked in an underground oven known as a pib until it is soft, tender, and falls apart in your mouth.
It is flavored with achiote and orange rind, giving it a sumptuous unique taste. In Puerto Vallarta and the wider state of Jalisco, you can try a torta ahogada.
A torta ahogada is a Jaliscan ¨drowned sandwich¨. This is a crusty bread roll stuffed with pork carnitas and onions and slathered in a slightly spicy tomato sauce.
It was invented by accident after a street vendor was preparing a sandwich for someone and dropped the entire thing in a container of sauce. Today, it is one of the most popular delicacies in the region.
With so many incredible foods to choose from, it may come as no surprise that Mexican food is UNESCO protected. It was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
Swimming in cenotes is a highlight of any Yucatan itinerary and they are only found in the southern part of Mexico. Cenotes are sinkholes that are filled with fresh water and are often used as swimming holes by the locals.
It is estimated that there are more than 7,000 cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula. Some were used for spiritual and sacrificial rituals by the Ancient Maya, and some still have Mayan handprints painted on their walls!
Cenotes were created when the Chicxulub meteor smashed into the earth (in the Yucatan beach town of Chicxulub) some 65 million years ago. This event wiped out the dinosaurs and caused weaknesses in the earth’s surface.
Many cenotes are located inside caves, with dramatic formations of stalagmites and stalactites. Others are only partially closed (better if you are claustrophobic!)
In the Yucatan town of Homun, you can find an anillo de los cenotes (ring of cenotes). Here there are more than 20 cenotes concentrated in a small area, each more beautiful than the last.
As you travel around Mexico, you will note that many charming towns and villages have been labeled as ¨pueblo magicos¨ aka magic towns. Mexican pueblo magicos are settlements that boast particularly special history, culture, gastronomy, or natural scenery.
There are currently 132 pueblo magicos in Mexico, with new towns and villages constantly being added or submitted for review. This is part of an initiative by the Mexican Secretary of Tourism and it has been ongoing since 2001.
Huasca de Ocampo in Hidalgo, Tepoztlan in Morelos and Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosi were three of the first pueblos magicos. If you find yourself in the popular tourist areas of the Yucatan and Quintana Roo, you will have the opportunity to pass by several pueblo magicos.
Tulum is a pueblo magico. So too, is the southern Yucatan lake town of Bacalar.
Gorgeous beaches and coastlines
The raison d’etre that many people travel to Mexico in the first place is for a beach getaway in sunnier, tropical climes. The Costa Maya, along the Quintana Roo coastline, is a popular choice for this.
So too, are the beaches around Puerto Vallarta, the little Nayarit beach town of Sayulita, and Los Cabos. Mexican beaches are usually characterized by translucent azure waters that run parallel to the soft, powdery white sand.
Mexico is an insanely popular tourist destination (more than 20 million international tourists visit annually). However, it is not difficult to escape the crowds and find your own secluded stretch of coastline that exudes desert island getaway vibes.
Popular destinations like Los Cabos, Cancun, Tulum, and Isla Mujeres boast both public beaches and exclusive private beach clubs. If you want to head a little off the beaten track, from Cancun or Tulum, you can head down the coast to the beach towns of Akumal or Mahahual.
Yucatan state beaches may not be quite the same as those on the Caribbean coast. But many are beautiful and do not see a fraction of the tourists. San Bruno, San Crisanto, Uaymitun, and El Cuyo should all be on your radar.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and lesser-known facts about Mexico is that chocolate was invented here.
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. One is the Choco-Story museum in Uxmal, just opposite the entrance to the UNESCO-protected ruin.
Did you know that Mexico is home to 68 different indigenous groups? Each of these groups has its own language, customs, culture, and traditional dress.
Not only are there 68 different languages spoken across Mexico, but there are also 350 different linguistic variants. If you visit the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, you will find a huge exhibition hall dedicated to the various indigenous groups that can be found in Mexico.
The exhibits give background information on each indigenous group. They show the different handicrafts produced by them, what clothing they wear in their day-to-day lives and for weddings, etc.
Unfortunately, the indigenous people of Mexico and their cultures have not always been respected, protected, and upheld as they should have been. The indigenous population in Mexico has faced relegation, discrimination, and displacement in many forms for centuries.
This is due to the complex history of colonization and cultural exchange in the country. There are a few indigenous communities that you may encounter during your travels in Mexico.
In the Yucatan, you will encounter a lot of people of Mayan descent that speak Mayan, as opposed to Spanish. In the hippie beach town of Sayulita and wider Nayarit, you will find the Huichol people.
The Ancient Mayans were one of the most dominant and sophisticated civilizations in Mesoamerica. They were centered in what is now Guatemala, but much of Southern Mexico was also their territory.
There are more than 200 Mayan ruins scattered across Mexico alone, with more than 4,400 across wider Latin America. Many have still not been discovered or fully excavated and archeologists are constantly uncovering new ancient cities!
The Mayan civilization peaked around the sixth century A.D. The people excelled at agriculture, pottery, writing, calendars, and mathematics.
Most Mayan cities were abandoned around 900 AD. The Spanish colonization of Mexico no doubt played a role in the Mayas’ downfall but some towns and cities were abandoned before that for reasons unknown.
There are many fascinating Mayan ruins that you can visit in Mexico – whether you have a keen interest in history or you just want to feel like Indiana Jones for the day! Chichen Itza, one of the seven wonders of the world, is, of course, a ¨must visit¨.
If you find yourself in southern Quintana Roo, you can visit Chacchoben – a dramatic Mayan city that has been massively overgrown by jungle and looks like a movie set. In the Yucatan peninsula, add the lesser-known sites of Edzna, Mayapan, Ruta Puuc, and Ek Balam to your radar.
Beautiful colonial cities
The Spanish colonization of Mexico was a violent, bloody, and upsetting time. It wasn’t until 1821 that Mexicans would gain their independence from the Spanish.
However, in their wake, the Spanish built several beautiful colonial cities, some of which are the most picturesque settlements in Mexico today. Ornate, opulent mansions were built along cobbled streets, using the money that was made from the henequen boom and from silver mining.
Some colonial cities in Mexico are so well preserved that they feel seemingly frozen in time. The city of Campeche, in the namesake Campeche state, is widely regarded as being the most beautiful colonial city in the country.
It was a thriving trade port during the 17th century – mainly dealing with the export of dyewood and salt. It became the capital of the Yucatan peninsula several times throughout the 19th century, before being appointed the capital of the new state of Campeche in 1863.
Campeche’s old town is UNESCO protected. It is still framed by defensive walls and sunbleached fortresses designed to protect the residents from pirate attacks.
Exploring the pastel-colored streets here is a Photographer’s dream. Better still?
Campeche is the least visited state in the Yucatan peninsula. Large-scale tourism hasn’t really reached this part of the country yet, meaning prices are much cheaper, the atmosphere is more authentic, and you don’t have to contend with crowds.
Mezcal and other Mexican alcohol
Tequila may be the best-known Mexican alcohol but it certainly isn’t the only one. Mezcal is another Mexican drink that has started to gain international recognition and become more popular in recent years.
Mezcal is any spirit that is distilled from an agave plant. Tequila then is technically a type of mezcal.
However, tequila must be made from the blue agave plant whereas mezcal can be made from any. The drink is produced in various Mexican states, although you will find most of the best mezcal producers in Oaxaca.
The proper way to serve and enjoy mezcal is to serve it neat in little glasses called veladoras. It is to be sipped and savored.
The taste of mezcal varies depending on the brand. It is much stronger than tequila (often with an alcoholic proof of over 45%!) and usually has quite a smoky taste.
Mexican superstitions and folklore
Most countries have their own superstitions and folklore stories and Mexico is no different. There are many weird and wonderful Mexican superstitions that you have probably never heard of.
For instance, did you know that in some indigenous Mexican communities, it is believed that burping expels evil from the body? If people are sick, they drink fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola and force out burps to expel the evil that has made them unwell!
La Llorona is arguably one of the best-known and most terrifying superstitions. It is the story of a woman who supposedly drowned her children after discovering that her husband had cheated on her.
People will say that you shouldn’t go around lakes and large bodies of water at night in case you see La Llorona there crying. She is always on the hunt for children to replace the ones she lost, you see.
There have been various horror movies and scary tv series in Mexico, the United States, and across the world that retell the story of La Llorona.
Voladores de Papantla (Flying men)
The Voladores de Papantla (Flying men) is a colorful dance that has been a symbol of Mexican culture since Aztec times. The dance is so special that it has gained recognition from UNESCO and is now known as an ¨intangible cultural treasure¨ of Mexico.
This dance sees five men known as ¨voladores¨ or ¨birdmen¨ dressed in colorful attire dance around a pole before slowly climbing it to the top. The pole is often as high as 90 or 100 feet tall!
Once at the top, the master birdman plays a song on his flute while the other four tie themselves to ropes and begin to spin slowly toward the ground. You may be lucky enough to see this dance firsthand during your time in Mexico as it is commonly performed in tourist areas such as the Puerto Vallarta Malecon, Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, and the waterfront of Lake Chapala.
Mexican coffee is among the best in the world. While Colombian and Ecuadorian coffee may be better known in this part of the world, the reality is that Mexico is the world’s largest producer of organic coffee.
Approximately 50% of coffee beans grown in Mexico are exported around the world, while the remainder is enjoyed domestically. There are four main coffee-growing regions in Mexico. Namely, they are Chiapas (44%), Veracruz (29%), Oaxaca (11%) and Puebla (11%).
There are significant differences in the flavor and acidity of the coffee produced in different regions. Even if you don’t really consider yourself as being much of a coffee connoisseur, you will be able to note the variations.
For instance, Chiapas coffee is known for being strong and slightly bitter to taste. Meanwhile Veracruz coffee is usually smooth with notes of chocolate.
Piñatas are one of the most iconic symbols of Mexican culture. These are giant, colorful papier-mache boxes that are usually fashioned in the shapes of animals, cartoon characters, or other objects.
Piñatas are filled with candy and then hung from the ceiling during parties. Then, everyone uses heavy sticks to hit the piñata and break it open to retrieve the candy that’s inside.
As far as most Mexicans are concerned, any gathering is an excuse to have a piñata! You will find them at birthdays, Mexican Christmas posadas, and other celebrations.
Interestingly though, piñatas don’t originate from Mexico. It is believed that the original piñatas were created in China and then the great explorer Marco Polo brought them to Italy in the 13th century.
From Italy, the piñatas were taken to Spain, and then finally to the “New World” of Mexico.
Mexico is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun, in particular, are some of the best-loved whale-watching destinations in the country.
The whale watching season along the Pacific coast runs from December until March, though January and February are the best months. Meanwhile, June to August is the best time to see whale sharks in Cancun and along the Caribbean coast.
Different species of whales live in the warm waters off the coast of Mexico. However, it is the California Gray whale that you will most commonly see in the Pacific (Baja California and southern Jalisco and Nayarit).
Every winter, more than 1,500 California grey whales migrate from Alaska to Mexico to breed. They then return to Alaska, with their calves, around March.
Many local companies offer whale-watching tours around Mexico. Although you are not 100% guaranteed to see a whale, you are usually not disappointed.
The guides know the best areas to go to where these whales hang out. They keep a respectful distance away from the animals which, although large, are docile and friendly. Some tour companies will offer you the chance to come back another day if you are not fortunate to see a whale that time around.
The charreria is the Mexican version of the rodeo. It is particularly popular around Guadalajara and the wider state of Jalisco.
However, you will find charreria events hosted all over the country. This is widely regarded as being the national sport of Mexico.
If you attend a show, you will be able to watch a number of games played with horses and cattle. Going to the charreria is as much about the atmosphere of the event, the street foods, and the costumes, as it is about the show itself.
Banda music is one of the most popular types of music in Mexico today and you will often hear it played on the radio across the country, as well as in restaurants and taquerias. It dates back to the mid-19th century and is particularly popular in Sinaloa and other parts of Northern Mexico.
Banda music has a specific sound that is immediately recognizable. An ensemble gathers to play songs using mostly wind, brass, and percussion instruments.
Masked festivals and cultural events
Various festivals and cultural events take place in Mexico throughout the year. One of the most famous is the Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca.
The event is a celebration of Oaxaca’s rich indigenous cultural heritage. Visitors can enjoy parades, art exhibits, costumed dancing, and regional foods during the celebration which takes place every July.
Final Thoughts on ¨What is Mexico Famous For?¨
Hopefully, you enjoyed this article on ¨What is Mexico famous for¨! Have you ever traveled to Mexico or are you planning a trip there? What did you think?
If you are going to be embarking on a Mexico itinerary for the first time, you may also enjoy this list of things to know before you go. Have a wonderful time!
Buen Viaje! xo