It is said that Mexico is a country no one ever leaves. Every year, millions of tourists arrive, and Mexicans joke that a part of them will remain behind forever. Most visitors are vacationers who wind up on the famed beaches of Cancun, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta. The beaches are fabulous, but those who venture inland experience the true soul of Mexico.

And it is a big soul. The federal republic is vast, comprising nearly two million square kilometres of coastline, desert, rain forest, mountains, and plains. It is the 14th largest independent nation in the world, and with an estimated population of 109 million (2007), it is the 11th most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.

The two main mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental, dominate the country on the west and east, finally merging into the volcanically active central highlands where the capital, Mexico City stands - the most populous city in the world.  Arable land in Mexico covers only 12% of the total land area.

The United Mexican States is a federal constitutional republic in North America,  comprising thirty-one states and the federal district, Mexico City.  Mexico is considered an industrialized country and is the 12th largest economy in the world. Its economy is strongly linked to those of its North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners, especially the U.S.A.  Despite being considered an upper middle-income country and an emerging world power, the uneven distribution of income and the increase in insecurity are issues of concern. The per capita average income is about $14,000 U.S. per year placing it 50th in the world.

Mexican trade is dominated by free trade agreements with over 40 countries. Almost 90% of Mexican exports go to the United States and Canada and close to 65% of its imports come from these two countries. Other major trade agreements have been signed with the European Union, Japan, Israel and many countries in Central and South America. Measured in the dollar value of exports, Mexico is the 15th largest exporter in the world. According to the Forbes Global 2000 list of the world's largest companies in 2008, Mexico had 16 companies in the list. The industrial growth rate in 2007 was 1.4% annually


The exact length of time humans have existed in current-day Mexico is the source of ongoing debate.  It is agreed that it has been tens of thousands of years. The evolution from hunter-gatherers to agricultural societies apparently occurred around 9,000 years ago, and provided the base for the formation of a series of advanced civilizations.

At least three great civilizations—the Mayas, the Olmecs, and later the Toltecs—preceded the wealthy Aztec empire. These civilizations built cities with enduring architecture, advanced education, and sophisicated military forces. For almost three thousand years these civilizations prospered.

The first of the Spanish invasions occurred in 1519, and ended the growth of the native civilizations.  Mexico became the first and largest provider of resources for the Spanish Empire and the most populous of all Spanish colonies.

Dissatisfaction with Spanish rule finally led to a declaration of independence by a priest, Miguel Hidalgo, on September 15, 1810, in the small town of Dolores, Guanajuato. This led to a long war that ended in 1821 with the creation of the First Mexican Empire. The Empire's territory was vast and included the area of the current Mexico as well as the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, parts of Colorado and Wyoming, and all of Central America except for Panama and Belize. Agustín de Iturbide was the first and only emperor. Two years later, he was deposed by republican forces. The Central American states separated. In 1824, a republican constitution was drafted creating the United Mexican States with Guadalupe Victoria as its first President.

The first four decades after the creation of the country were marked by constant civil war, and three new governments declared independence: the Republic of Texas, the Republic of the Rio Grande, and the Republic of Yucatán. Only Texas was able to sustain its independence and was later annexed by the United States. The subsequent border dispute resulted in the Mexican–American War and the defeat of Mexico.  As a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), Mexico lost one third of its surface area.

A map showing the extent of Mexico prior to the War with the U.S.A. in 1845-48.

In 1855, the aboriginal patriot Benito Juárez, began a series of reforms known as La Reforma, including the disestablishment of the Catholic Church, which owned vast property. A new constitution re-established federalism and introduced freedom of religion. The subsequent civil war was interrupted by a French invasion in 1861.  Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria,  support by the Catholic clergy and conservatives, was placed on the Mexican throne as Emperor Maximilian I.   This Second Mexican Empire lasted only a few years. Benito Juárez restored the republic in 1867.

Porfirio Díaz, a republican general during the French era, ruled Mexico from 1876–1880 and again from 1880–1911. This period was characterized by important economic achievements, growth in the arts and sciences, but also of glaring inequality and political repression.  A blatant electoral fraud during Diaz’ fifth reelection ignited the Mexican Revolution of 1910.  Díaz resigned in 1911 and Francisco Madero, the leader of the revolution, was elected president. Madero’s ouster and murder in 1913 re-ignited the civil war, with participants such as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. A third force, the constitutional army led by Venustiano Carranza, managed to bring an end to the war, and amended the 1857 Constitution. Carranza was killed in 1920 and succeeded by another revolutionary hero, Álvaro Obregón.  In 1929 his successor, Plutarco Calles, founded the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) the most influential party during the next 70 years.


Benito Juárez Venustiano Carranza Álvaro Obregón

Between 1940 and 1980, Mexico experienced substantial economic growth that some historians call "El Milagro Mexicano", the Mexican Miracle.  The government took control of mineral rights and subsequently nationalized the oil industry creating PEMEX. This was a popular move, but sparked a diplomatic crisis with those countries whose citizens had lost businesses expropriated by the Cárdenas government.

Although the economy continued to flourish, social inequality remained a problem. PRI rule had become increasingly authoritarian and at times oppressive.  In the 1970s there was extreme dissatisfaction with the administration of Luis Echeverría.  The first substantial changes to the electoral law were made, resulting in the democratization of a system that had become electorally authoritarian.  While the prices of oil were at historically high records and interest rates were low, Mexico made impressive investments in an effort to revitalize the economy.  However, overborrowing and mismanagement of oil revenues led to inflation and exacerbated the crisis of 1982. That year, oil prices plunged, interest rates soared, and the government defaulted on its debt. In an attempt to stabilize the economy, President de la Madrid resorted to currency devaluations which in turn sparked inflation.

Ongoing economic concerns include the commercial and financial dependence on the US, low real wages, underemployment for a large segment of the population, inequitable income distribution (the top 20% of income earners account for 55% of income), and few advancement opportunities for the largely Amerindian population in the impoverished southern states. Lack of structural reform is further exacerbated by an ever increasing outflow of the population into the United States, decreasing domestic pressure for reform. The remittances from Mexican citizens working in the United States account only for 2% of Mexico's economy but reaches US$20 billion dollars per year and is the third largest source of foreign income after oil and industrial exports.


According to the World Tourism Organization, Mexico has one of the largest tourism industries in the world. In 2005 it was the seventh most popular tourist destination worldwide, receiving over 20 million tourists per year; it is the only country in Latin America to be within the top 25. Tourism is also the third largest sector in the country's industrial GDP.

Cabo San Lucas
Playa Del Carmen


Pemex is in charge of the exploration, extraction, transportation and marketing of crude oil and natural gas, as well as the refining and distribution of petroleum products and petrochemicals. Pemex is the largest company in Latin America, and the ninth-largest company in the world. In terms of total output, in 2007 it was the sixth-largest producer in the world—in 2003 it was the third-largest— producing 3.1 million barrels of oil a day, well above the production of Kuwait or Venezuela.


The paved-roadway network in Mexico is the most extensive in Latin America at 116,802 km (2005), but comparisons with its northern neighbors are seldom positive.  10,474 km are multi-lane freeways or expressways, most of which are tollways (and relatively expensive to use). The extremely mountainous terrain and pressures on public funding have left the country without an adequate highway network.

Being one of the first Latin American countries to promote railway development, the Mexican railroads, though extensive at 30,952 km, are still insufficient to meet the economic demands. Most of the rail network is used for merchandise or industrial freight.

In 1999, Mexico had 1,806 airports, of which 233 had paved runways; of these, 35 carry 97% of the passenger traffic. The Mexico City International Airport remains the largest in Latin America and the 44th largest in the world transporting 21 million passengers a year. There are more than 30 domestic airline companies of which only two are known internationally: Aeroméxico and Mexicana.

Mass transit in Mexico is modest. Most of the domestic passenger transport needs are served by an extensive bus network with several dozen companies operating by regions. Train passenger transportation between cities is limited. Inner-city rail mass transit is available in Mexico City—with the operation of the metro, elevated and ground train, as well as a Suburban Train connecting the adjacent municipalities of Greater Mexico City—as well as in Guadalajara and Monterrey, the first served by a commuter rail and the second by an underground and elevated metro.

160-passenger buses are now being used in Mexico City and Leon to augment rail rapid transit

Mexico has several commuter airlines which  provide access to all the major centres in the country


The annual population growth in Mexico has declined sharply from a high of 3.5% in 1965 to 1% in 2008. The total fertility rate is 2.37 children per woman.  The median age in the country is 26 years with 30% of the population under 14 years, and only 6% over 65.  Life expectancy in 2008 was estimated to be at 75.8 years (73 male and 78.8 female). The most common reasons for death in 2001 were heart problems (14.6% for men 17.6% for women) and cancer (11% for men and 15.8% for women).

The Mexican population is increasingly urban, with close to 75% living in cities. The five largest urban areas  (Greater Mexico City, Greater Guadalajara, Greater Monterrey, Greater Puebla and Greater Toluca) are home to 30% of the country's population. While the annual population growth is still positive, the national net migration rate is negative (-3.8/1000), attributable to the emigration phenomenon of people from rural communities to the United States.

The labor force contained 44.7 million people in 2007, with an unemployment rate of 3.7%, but an underemployment rate of over 25%.  By occupation, the labor force was 18% in agriculture, 24% in industry and 58% in services.

13.8% of the population is considered to be below the poverty line using a food-based definition of poverty, but more than 40% using an asset-based definition.  The consumer price inflation rate in 2007 was 4%.

Unlike some other Latin American countries, Mexico has no official religion.  The Constitution of 1917 and the anti-clerical laws imposed limitations on the church and sometimes codified state intrusion into church matters. The government does not provide any financial contributions to the church, and the church does not participate in public education.

The last census reported, by self-ascription, that 95% of the population is Christian. Roman Catholics are 89% of the total population, 47% percent of whom attend church services weekly. In absolute terms, Mexico has the world's second largest number of Catholics after Brazil.

In 1992, Mexico lifted almost all restrictions on the Catholic Church and other religions, including granting all religious groups legal status, conceding them limited property rights, and lifting restrictions on the number of priests in the country. Until recently, priests did not have the right to vote, and even now they cannot be elected to public office.