Mexico (population 130 million) borders the U.S., Gulf of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Pacific Ocean. The capital is Mexico City, where they speak Spanish and dozens of Indian languages. The country was under Spanish rule for over 300 years, is the third most visited tourist destination in the world, and has 35 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The oldest Mexican culture was that of the Olmecs (2500 BC) who made colossal statues. From 220 to 900 A.D., most of the pyramids in Mexico and Central America were built by the Teotihuacán civilization. Mayan culture existed for thousands of years in Central America and had highly developed architecture, sculpture, murals, astronomy and mathematics. Other peoples included zapotecs, toltecs, mixtecs and mexicas.
After the conquest of Tenochtitlán, Spanish rule was established in Central America in 1527. Isolated Native American communities persisted. Mexico has been independent since 1821. From 1846 to 1848, the U.S. conquered much of its territory. In the 19th century there were rich silver mines and from 1850 foreign capital financed 20,000 km of railways and, after 1910, the petroleum industry and hydro-energy. From 1950 to 1970 the Mexican economy developed enormously and is closely linked to the US, where 38 million Mexicans live.
Mexico has several mountain ranges from northwest to southeast, along with volcanoes and a range of microclimates. Native animals include bald dogs, chihuahua, turkey, and quetzal; plants and trees include the dahlia, agave, giant cactus, mahogany, and poinsettia. Edible fruits and plants include avocado, cocoa, corn, peppers and sapotilla. Mexican cuisine is spicy and varied, based on corn tortillas, turkey, beans and guacamole.
Tourists (mainly Americans and Canadians) visit the Indian and colonial heritage and the beaches. In the historic centre of Mexico City (over 21 million inhabitants) lies the Templo Mayor. The Museo Nacional de Antropología (anthropology museum) is very informative. The Frida Kahlo museum (Blue House) is worth a visit, with self-portraits of the artist and folklore objects. The main government buildings are found on the Zócalo, a huge square. Palacio de Bellas Artes is a theatre building with murals by Diego Rivera.
Puebla is a traditional colonial town.
Puerto Vallarta has beautiful beaches and resorts on Bahía de Bandera (Pacific Ocean). Vallarta Botanical Gardens is located at 1,300 m and is a tropical dry forest reserve.
Acapulco, seaside resort and movie location on the Pacific Ocean, is where Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra took their holidays. It consists of Acapulco Tradicional (1930-1960), 12 km Avenida Costera which offers a series of beaches and hotels, Acapulco Dorado (1950-1970), famous for its nightlife, and Acapulco Diamante, a luxury resort 18 km south.
Mérida is the capital of the Yucatán peninsula. La Ciudad Blanca (the white city) is the old town. The cathedral is built with stones from demolished Mayan structures. Attractions worth seeing include Casa de Montejo, from 1549, and Gran Museo del Mundo Maya. The sites of Uxmal and Chichen Itzá are in the vicinity.
Cancun and the island of Cozumel are resorts on the Mayan Riviera.
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