Mexico builds upon its rich history and diverse present

Strategically located between the Americas, Europe and Asia, Mexico is one of Latin America’s largest economies, second only to Brazil. Aided by its proximity to the US market, the county has established itself as an important manufacturing and export powerhouse, due in part to extensive oil, gas and mineral reserves; public and private universities; a young population; and a booming tourism industry. Geographically and culturally diverse, the country boasts more than 9330 km of coastline and various terrains ranging from desert to mountains to rainforests, as well as a rich cultural heritage that includes numerous well-preserved ancient indigenous cities.

Demographics

The population stood at nearly 126m at the outset of 2019, according to US government statistics. Mexico has a relatively young population with a median age of 28.6 years, and those under the age of 24 make up around 44% of the country’s inhabitants. At 62%, the largest ethnic group are mestizo (mixed European and indigenous heritage), followed by Amerindian at 28%, with the remaining 10% made up of other ethnicities. While Spanish is the official language, 68 indigenous languages are spoken, with 6.6% of the population aged five years and older speaking an indigenous language in 2015, according to the latest figures from the National Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística, INEGI). Oaxaca is home to the most speakers of indigenous languages, at around 1.16m; followed by Chiapas, with 1.14m; and Veracruz, with 645,000.

The capital Mexico City is home to 21.6m people, making it the fifth-largest urban area in the world. This is followed by Guadalajara, with 5m inhabitants; Monterrey (4.7m); Puebla (3.1m); Toluca de Lerdo (2.4m); and Tijuana (2.1m). The urbanisation rate stands at 80.4%. Mexico is also a country of migrants, with labour-motivated migration both to other states within the country and cross-border. According to INEGI’s latest internal migration figures, which date from 2014, 8% of the population of the south-eastern state of Quintana Roo were residents of another state five years prior, while this figure in Baja California was 8.2%. Of those Mexicans that migrate abroad, 89.4% move to the US, according to INEGI.

Geography

Mexico covers a land area of almost 2m sq km, making it almost four-times the size of Spain and the third-largest nation in Latin America after Brazil and Argentina. Most of the northern border follows the course of the Río Bravo – referred to as the Río Grande in the US – while to the south, it shares land borders with Guatemala (956 km) and Belize (193 km), as well as maritime borders with Cuba and Honduras. At 5700 metres above sea level, its highest point is the volcano Pico de Orizaba, located in the Eje Volcánico Transversal mountains, which straddles the states of Veracruz and Puebla. Meanwhile at 10 metres below sea level, its lowest point is the Laguna Salada, a vast salt lagoon located in the Sonoran Desert in Baja California.

Mexico experiences approximately 90 tremors per year, with certain areas more prone to high seismic activity caused by movement of the Cocos and Pacific tectonic plates. In September 2017 a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the state of Puebla, killing several hundred people and toppling more than 40 buildings in and around Mexico City.

Climate

Mexico City is located at 2240 metres above sea level, which lends the city a comfortable, temperate climate, with the hottest months in early spring before the onset of the rains in early summer, which run to October. July is the rainiest month, with average precipitation of 170mm. The coldest months are November to February, when night-time temperatures can fall below freezing in the northern rural areas, and hover above freezing in some high altitude cities, such as the capital. Summer in the northern states brings very high temperatures, while the coastal areas and the Yucatán Peninsula are known for hot weather year-round. The June-November hurricane season in the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans often brings destructive weather to popular tourist destinations, including Cancún and Los Cabos.

Religion

Mexico is predominantly Christian, with around 88% of the population identifying as Roman Catholic and 5% Protestant. The constitution provides for freedom of belief and religion. There is no official state religion, and religion is not taught in public schools, and the only official religious holidays are Easter and Christmas. The largest religious festival is held on December 12 to commemorate the apparition of the country’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, although this is not considered an official public holiday. While Catholicism is a legacy of the 16th century Spanish conquistadors, syncretic vestiges of pre-Hispanic religions and beliefs have influenced local practices and culture, especially within indigenous and rural communities. The Jewish community is particularly well represented in Mexico City, and there are some small clusters of Muslims, for example, in the city of Torreón.

Culture & Heritage

Given its vast size and varied history, Mexico is rich in religious heritage and architecture, making it highly popular with tourists. Major pre-Hispanic civilisations flourished in Mexico and numerous ruins of ancient cities, temples and ceremonial centres are scattered across the country, from Paquimé in Chihuahua, to Chichén Itzá in Yucatán and Tulum on the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo. Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology and History houses an impressive collection of vestiges taken from its various regions.

There is also a long and rich history of artistic creation, dating back to pre-Hispanic times. The most famous contemporary artists include painters, such as muralist Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo and José Clemente Orozco, as well as authors, including 1990 Nobel Prize laureate Octavio Paz, and countless musicians. More recently, Mexico has gained fame for excellence in film, with actors like Gael García Bernal and acclaimed directors Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón.

Cuisine

Mexico’s cuisine offers an immense variety of tastes, colours and textures, and is a fusion of styles, combining indigenous recipes with dishes brought by the various cultures that have settled there, from Spanish, Basque and French, to the more recent waves of Lebanese, Chinese and Japanese. In 2010 it was first ethnic cuisine to be acknowledged by UNESCO on its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity listing. The staple food is corn, from which the tortilla is made, although wheat is more widely used to make tortillas in the country’s north. Both staples are employed in a wide variety of dishes and snacks, including tacos and tamales. Rice is also grown and consumed in large quantities. Thanks to the country’s varied climates, there is a constant supply of fresh fruit and vegetables year-round, while seafood is eaten in abundance along coastal cities.

As well being a major producer and consumer of cerveza (beer), Mexico also has a burgeoning wine industry concentrated in the states of Querétaro, Coahuila and Baja California, with vineyards producing wines from a variety of grapes. The most popular spirits are tequila and mezcal, both of which are distilled from the agave plant, although regulations surrounding the former are more strict.

Economy 

In 2018 Mexico’s economy ranked second in Latin America and 15th in the world in terms of GDP, which totalled $1.22trn, according to the World Bank. The country’s largest revenue source is remittances sent from Mexicans working abroad, mostly in the US. In the first half of 2019, remittances totalled $16.8bn, representing a year-on-year increase of 3.7%. During that period, remittances accounted for 32% more than oil export revenues.

Mexico has the world’s 14th-largest crude oil reserves, with production reaching 1.7m barrels per day as of June 2019, though this has been in decline since 2014. Private investment in the oil, gas and electric power sectors has increased significantly since 2014 energy reforms allowed for more private participation. Since then, a series of auctions have seen production contracts awarded to various foreign and local firms, which is expected to contribute to reversing the production decline. Mexico is also a major producer of minerals, and 2018 marked its the ninth consecutive year as the world’s largest silver producer. UK-based Fresnillo is the largest gold-producing company operating in the country and the world’s largest silver producer.

The country remains a wildly popular travel destination. According to the Ministry of Tourism, arrivals from January to May 2019 totalled 18.2m, generating revenues of $11.6bn, a 14% increase on the same period the previous year. By the end of 2019, some 43.6m international arrivals are expected to visit Mexico, representing an increase of 5.2% on 2018.

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Cover of The Report: Mexico 2019

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This article is from the Country Profile chapter of The Report: Mexico 2019. Explore other chapters from this report.