Mexico is known not only for its significant number of UNESCO World Heritage sites but for its food and drink culture; tacos, tortillas, burritos, tequila and for being the origin of chocolate. Mexico is popular with travelers from all over the world for reasons almost too numerous to mention: sunshine, blue seas teeming with fish and coral, crystal-white beaches, lofty mountains and volcanoes, jungles full of exotic wildlife, collectible folk art, and the breathtaking remains of ancient cultures. Mexico is ranked as the sixth-most visited country in the world for tourist arrivals.
Mexico has one of the most fascinating histories in the Americas. The first residents reached the area more than 20,000 years ago. The descendants of these first immigrants produced monumental architecture, incredibly precise calendars and advanced agricultural accomplishments (they gave the world corn, chocolate and tomatoes). Beginning around 1200 BC, a series of great civilizations developed in the central and southern portions of Mexico, including the Olmecs and the Maya. The Toltecs and a number of other groups came later.
The Aztecs began their rise to power around AD 1300, establishing their capital at Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City) and eventually conquering all other groups in central and southern Mexico. Hernan Cortes first stepped ashore on the island of Cozumel in 1519, then established the town of Veracruz on the Gulf Coast. With just 500 followers, the conquistador engineered the downfall of an Aztec empire by forming alliances with the Aztec’s enemies, which swelled his army to more than 5,000. Diseases such as smallpox that the Spanish brought with them also overwhelmed the Aztecs.
Mexico is a large country with diverse landscapes from high mountains and deep canyons in the center of the country, to sweeping deserts in the north, and dense rain forests in the south and east. Two mountain chains—the Sierra Madre Occidental, to the west, and the Sierra Madre Oriental, to the east—extend for a good length of the country. Mexico features arid coastal plains and the Yucatan’s thick tropical jungle. The country has long and alluring coastlines, washed by the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California and the Caribbean Sea.
Mexico is characterized by a great variety of climates, including areas with hot humid, temperate humid, and arid climates. The best time to visit Mexico is mid September-mid May, though some parts still have a fair amount of rain in October and November. Mexico City is chilly in the early morning and at night during the winter. Temperatures in coastal areas are higher as well as the inland archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula. Summer temperatures there can hover around 100 F/38 C with near-100% humidity. The average coastal day temperatures year-round are in the 70s-80s F/23-32 C, with nights in the 60s-70s F/15-27 C. Take a sweater and an umbrella any time of year.