OFFICIAL NAME: United Mexican States
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Republic of federated states
CAPITAL: Mexico City
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: Spanish
AREA: 758,449 square miles (1,964,375 square kilometers)
MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGES: Sierra Madre
MAJOR RIVERS: Rio Grande, Yaqui
Map of Mexico
Mexico is a land of extremes, with high mountains and deep canyons in the center of the country, sweeping deserts in the north, and dense rain forests in the south and east.
Mountains cover much of Mexico. Between the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range in the east and the Sierra Madre Occidental in the west lie small mountain ranges on the Central Plateau. These regions are rich with valuable metals like silver and copper.
The stretch of land called the Yucatán Peninsula juts into the Gulf of Mexico from Mexico's southeastern tip. It was once the home of the Maya civilization, an ancient culture whose amazing buildings can still be seen today.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Mexico is the product of a rich Indian heritage, three centuries of Spanish rule, and a shared border with the world's richest country, the United States. Today, most Mexicans are mestizos, which means they have a mix of Indian and Spanish blood.
Throughout its history, Mexico has been home to great artists. The Maya and other Indians made impressive murals, sculptures, and jewelry. Modern Mexican artists include great painters, photographers, sculptors, and muralists.
Mexicans take sports seriously. In ancient times, losers of a ritual ball game were once put to death. In some dangerous sports, like bullfighting and rodeo (which was invented in Mexico), competitors still put their lives on the line.
Few nations on Earth support as many plant and animal species as Mexico does. Located partway between the Equator and the Arctic Circle, it is a refuge for animals fleeing extreme cold in the north and intense heat in the south.
In northern Mexico, deserts are full of plant and animal species that have found ways to survive the harsh environment. On Mexico's west coast, gray whales swim thousands of miles each year from Alaska to breed in the waters off Baja California.
The rain forests and coastal wetlands of eastern Mexico are home to thousands of tropical plant species and elusive animals like jaguars and quetzal birds.
Photograph by Glyn Thomas, Alamy
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
Mexico is a country with great problems and great potential. It is rich in natural resources, like oil, silver, copper, and agricultural products. But political and economic failings have kept much of the population in poverty.
The Mexico-United States border is the largest economic divide on Earth. For many Mexicans, the best chance for a better life lies in the much more prosperous United States. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans come to the U.S., legally and illegally, each year in search of work.
The Olmec people, Mexico's first complex society, emerged in the southeastern part of the country around 1200 B.C. They were later followed by the Maya, the Toltec, and the Aztec peoples.
Mexico's ancient societies built great cities and huge pyramids, created remarkable works of art, and even studied the stars and planets to determine when to plant crops and hold ceremonies.
In the early 1500s, the Spanish arrived in Mexico. The Aztec people got sick from smallpox and other diseases that the Spanish brought with them. The Spaniards also seized and destroyed the Aztec capital, called Tenochtilán. The Spanish ruled Mexico until 1821.