The Olmec people, Mexico’s first society, emerged in the country around 1200 B.C. They were later followed by the Mayan, the Toltec, and the Aztecs. Mexico’s ancient societies built great cities, created remarkable works of art, and even studied the stars and planets to determine when to plant crops and hold ceremonies.
Mexico has been shaped by the cultures of many. It is a country with great potential and equally as great issues. It is rich in natural resources, like oil, silver, copper, and agricultural products but political and economic issues have kept a great portion of the population in poverty. Mexico has the second largest economy is Latin America and it a major oil exporter along with exporting coffee, fruits and vegetables and cotton. Today, tourism is a major contributor to the Mexican economy. People flock to Mexico from all over the world to sample the country’s cultural diversity, bask in the lush tropical settings and take advantage of relatively low prices. U.S. tourists and expats constitute the majority of visitors to the country flocking to the beaches of world famous resorts in Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, and Cancun.
Meandering in Mexico
When living in and exploring a whole country, it helps to have an idea of where some of the more popular sites are located. Here are a few to get you started on your adventure!
One of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” or “magical towns”, is Todos Santos which lies on the coast just north of Cabo San Lucas. A cultural and artisanal village, it offers many art and craft shops to explore. Off the coast of La Paz lies Isla Espíritu Santo. Boat trips allow you to visit it’s protected animal lover’s paradise which is home to an abundance of sea creatures like whale sharks, sea lions and stingrays, it also hosts one the world’s most beautiful beaches, Ensenada Grande.
Find a cozy ranch to stay at and immerse yourself at Copper Canyon Barrancas del Cobre, in Chihuahau. Longer and deeper than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, it is made up of six copper-hued canyons formed by six rivers. if you are in this area, it is recommended you stay off the roads at night and do not trek without a guide! Lover her or hate her, Mexico City needs to be experienced. LaZona Rosa, La Condesa, and Roma are the city’s hipster areas, perfect for restaurants, bars and boutique shopping. Do not miss the ruins of pre-Columbian Teotihuacan 30 miles northeast of the city. Mount the fully intact “Pyramid of the Sun” for a stunning bird’s eye view over all that remains of the once bustling city.
Once a silver mining town and clinging to a mountainside, Guanajuato City is another place that should be on your visit list while you are on your expat adventure or just visiting. This city is filled with eye pleasing colonial houses painted in vibrant colors.
Oaxaca City is the culinary center of Mexico. Try “chapulines” (fried grasshoppers), if you are game and wash it down with an Oaxacan hot chocolate. If you prefer something stronger, Mezcal. Food is central to everything that happens here, so cafés, restaurants and street stalls sit between the colonial house lined streets. Visit the nearby historic site Monte Albán and the villages along the way offering demonstrations in crafts like basket and fabric weaving and woodworking. On the way there, do not miss the calcified waterfall of Hierve el Agua. While in Oaxaca, be sure to visit the beachy village of Mazunte. Home to the National Mexican Turtle Center, it is a great place to observe turtle breeding and see whales, dolphins, and manta rays.
One of Mexico’s greatest historic sites is Palenque, a must for history fanatics. Located deep in the Mexican jungle you can explore it for a day, or three if you dare to go deeper into the jungle. An adjacent museum showcases many artefacts from the site. Palenque town is a short drive away and has many accommodation options or if you prefer a more rustic experience built directly in the jungle, El Panchan is only minutes to the ruins.
The Yucatán peninsula is probably best known for its coral reefs and ruins. If you are a diver, you need to be here. While in the Yucatan, see the Chichén Itzá, world famous complex of Mayan ruins featuring a massive pyramid known as El Castillo that dominates the ancient city. You will find graphic stone carvings and structures like the ball court, Temple of the Warriors, and the Wall of the Skulls. There are nightly sound and light shows to illuminate the buildings. Cozumel is also another spot to learn about Mayan culture and see ruins. The island’s San Gervasio and El Cedral ruins are just a couple of the sites not to miss. One of Mexico’s largest cities, Guadalajara, has all of the draws of an urban getaway with diverse dining, an abundance of museums, cultural sites and a hip nightlife. Given that mariachi and tequila were born in Guadalajara, you will experience modern local charms with twists of tradition.
Mexican Family Values
Mexicans put a high value on family matters. Especially outside of cities, families are typically large and Mexicans are very conscious of their responsibilities to immediate family members and extended family such as cousins and even close friends. Hosting parties at their homes for family, neighbors and even visitors, plays a large part of Mexican life and a custom in many parts of the country. Parents are treated with a high level of respect and the personal needs of an individual are often put aside for the needs of the entire family. Most Mexican families are extremely traditional, with the father as the head, the authority figure and the decision maker. Today, many households consist of an average of five or six people and in many homes, several generations of the same family still live together. They also take religion very seriously and closely abide by traditions.
We all know and love Mexican food! Every expat has had something Mexican! It is everywhere in the U.S. and is widespread in other countries as well. Mexican cuisine is known for its intense flavors, colorful decoration, and spices. Many Mexicans love spicy foods full of flavor. Most of today’s Mexican food is based on pre-Columbian traditions, including Aztec and Maya, combined with culinary trends introduced by the Spanish. Mexican food includes such staples such as corn or wheat tortillas, along with beans, rice, tomatoes, chili peppers and chorizo.
Mexican food varies by region. The north of Mexico is known for its beef, goat andostrich production and meat dishes, in particular the well-known Arrachera. Central Mexico’s cuisine is largely made up of influences from the rest of the country, but also has its authentics such as barbacoa, pozole, menudo, tamales and carnitas.Southeastern Mexico on the other hand, is known for its spicy vegetable and chicken based dishes. The cuisine of the Southeast also has quite a bit of Caribbean influence, given its geographical location. Veal is very common in the Yucatan and seafood is commonly prepared in the states that border the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, the latterhaving a famous reputation for its fish dishes.
A favorite of many no matter where you are from, chocolate, originated in Mexico. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were a gift from the God of Wisdom, Quetzalcoatl. The seeds were so valued that they were used as a form of currency. Originally it was prepared as a drink, served as a bitter, frothy liquid mixed with spices, wine or corn puree. It was believed to have aphrodisiac powers and thought to give the drinker strength. Chocolate remains an important ingredient in Mexican cooking still today.
You might not know…
The three colors of Mexico’s flag hold deep significance for its citizens. The green represents hope and victory, white stands for the purity of Mexican ideals and the red symbolizes the blood shed by the nation’s heroes in the fight for their independence.
Mexico has the world’s second highest number of Catholics after Brazil.
Mexico is located in an area known as the Pacific “Ring of Fire.” This region, one of Earth’s most dynamic tectonic areas, is characterized by active volcanoes and frequent seismic activity.
Mexico is the world’s leading producer of silver.
Tequila, the liquor for which Mexico is famous, is made from the native blue agave plant. Named after the city where it originated, Tequila is primarily manufactured near Jalisco.
Who does not know Cinco de Mayo? Many people outside Mexico mistakenly believe that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican independence, which was actually declared more than 50 years before the origination of Cinco de Mayo, or as it is also called, the Battle of Puebla. At the Battle of Puebla, the Mexicans battled the French to prevent them from advancing on Mexico City. The true Mexican Independence day is commemorated on September 16th. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is typically celebrated regionally more so than nationally. Traditional festivities of Cinco de Mayo could include military parades and recreations of the Battle of Puebla. However, for many Mexicans, May 5th is a day like any other and is not considered a federal holiday. Cinco de Mayo is more widely celebrated in the US than it is in Mexico.
While you are in country, check out The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated on December 12th. This is a major Mexican holiday celebrating the appearance of the Virgin Mary in the first year of Spanish rule. She is actually the patron saint of the country. If you go to only one festive event, make sure it is The Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, celebrated on November 1st through the 2nd. It is a colorfully spectacular 2-day celebration set aside solely to remember and honor those who have died. Another popular event, Carnival, is a 5 day event celebrated in many communities throughout Mexico to mark the period before Lent. The biggest of the parties typically happen in the port cities. And last but not least, Mexico’s Independence Day, marking the country’s separation from Spain in 1810, is celebrated on September 16th observed with parades, song and dance, sky brightening fireworks and of course, plenty of food!
Art and Music
Mexican society enjoys a vast array of music genres, showing the diversity and history of Mexican culture. The country is most famously associated with the Mariachi style of folk music. Originated in the state of Jalisco it involves a group of musicians playing violins, guitars, basses, vihuelas (a five-string guitar) and trumpets while and wearing silver studded charro suits and elaborate hats. You may have heard “La Cucaracha” before, a well-known Mariachi staple at some point in your life. It is unforgettable and quite catchy! Mexicans are also keen on listening to contemporary music such as popand Mexican rock. The country has the largest media industry in Latin America, producing Mexican artists who are famous in not only the Americas, but parts of Europe as well.
There are a number of festivals to visit during your stay, all of which will give you a true authentic Mexican experience. Fiesta de Santa Cecilia is special gathering takes place in Mexico City‘s famed mariachi square to pay homage to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. The Cervantino Festival is one of the premier arts and cultural festivals in Mexico and features performing arts from around the world with a special emphasis placed on art creations in the Spanish language. Festival de México is huge with some 50 venues scattered throughout Mexico City showing national and international acts, including dance, music, theater and opera.
There is also a Mexico Fashion Week! In the cities, fashion in Mexico is influenced by international trends, so the typical urban Mexican dresses similar to people in Europe and the United States. In more rural areas, a typical woman’s wardrobe includes skirts, sleeveless tunics called huipils, capes known as quechquémitls and shawls called rebozos. One distinguishing article of traditional men’s clothing is a large blanket cape called a sarape. Boots are also a wardrobe staple. Some traditional clothing, now typically worn for celebrations and special occasions, include sombreros and the charro suits worn by Mariachi bands.
There are so many places to go in the country and so many wonderful things to see. So how do you get around? Your best options are bus or train for longer trips and taxis for in town excursions. You can rent a car and drive, but that could become stressful if you are not careful. Driving in Mexico requires a great deal of care and concentration, and as traffic regulations are not always enforced, they are sometimes viewed as a suggestion to some drivers, so things could get scary. Taxis are a good option if traveling locally but before you get in, it would be wise to set your price before you get in. If you go by train you can find scenic routes through passenger service out of Mexico City, Chihuahua, and Guadalajara. Then there is the bus. If you are traveling a father distance this could be a good option. The legendary craziness of Mexican bus drivers is largely a thing of the past and many bus companies have installed warning lights and buzzers along with other safety equipment, as well as regular mechanical checks, to ensure that those visiting feel safe and confident through their trips. I personally have taken public buses when vacationing in Central America and I lived to tell the tale!
No Hablas Espanol
As with anywhere you live, it adds to enjoying the experience of everything around you if you know the language. Although you may know the basics, here is a refresher to get you started:
Hello – Hola
How much is this? – ¿Cuánto cuesta este¿
Thank you – Gracias
Excuse me – Disculpe
Can you please help me? – ¿Podrias ayudarme¿
Where is the bathroom? – ¿Donde esta el bano¿
What time is it? – ¿Que hora es?
An Expat Across the Border
Life in many cities of Mexico have become quite similar to that of the U.S., however many Mexicans still follow the older way of life. As you enjoy expat life in Mexico, you will learn to slow down and not rush through the days as you once did. You will look forward to a friendly “buenas dias” or a “buenos tarde” from strangers as you go about your day. You will notice the love of family and the societal urge to celebrate everything and anything including the spontaneity of life. Make memories to last your lifetime. VIVA LA MEXICO!
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