Welcome to the first phase of the Around-the-World driving expedition of the World of Wonders Project. Read about the experiences that our explorers had while driving 5,070 miles (8,177 km) through Mexico in their specially equipped, satellite-linked expedition vehicle and explored the natural environment for eight weeks beginning on October 6, 2004.
Learn about the culture and visit with the people of this diverse country. View the animal and bird life and explore the gold and silver boom towns built in the bottom of the canyons by the early miners. Wander the ruins of the past civilizations of the Meso-American Native people.
Follow the links below to start the expedition.
Click on either map to see it in detail
The Republic of
Mexico’s 31 states and one federal district covers almost 780,000
square mi (2 million square km) making it the world’s eight largest
nation. The country curves from northwest to southeast, narrowing to
The northern border with
The northernmost portion
Northern and central
Mexico have also have coastal plains on the east and west and two
north/south mountain ranges framing a group of broad central plateaus known
as the Altiplano Central. The Altiplano Central is divided into
northern and central parts, themselves split by minor ranges and varies in
altitude from about 3,300 ft (1,000 mt) in the north to more than 6,500 ft
(2,000 mt) in the center of the country. The central plateau is mostly
rolling hills and broad valleys and includes some of the best farm and ranch
land in the country. The altiplano is bound on the east by the
South of the Altiplano Central and the two Sierra Madres, the Cordillera (mountain range) Neovolcanica runs east-west acress the country. This range includes the active volcanoes Popocatepetl (17, 800 ft; 5,452 mt) and Volcan de Fuego de Colima (13,000 ft; 3,960 mt), as well as Mexico’s other highest peaks, Pico de Orizaba (18,000 ft; 5,611 mt), Iztaccihuatl (17,300 ft; 5,286 mt) and Paricutin (9,200 ft; 2,800 mt).
The Pacific lowlands
cover a narrow strip west of
The Tropic of Cancer
In the east, rainfall is
high on the eastern slopes of the
Try converting the temperature in your town from Fahrenheit to Celsius.
What time is it in different cities in Mexico as compared to the time in your home town? Check this!
The first traces of
human habitation in
By 300 BC village life
based on agriculture and hunting was established throughout the southern
half of Mexico. Monte Alban
was the center for the Zapotec people and had perhaps 10,000 inhabitants.
It is suggested that this is where writing and the calendar were invented
The Izapan culture near Chiapas and the Pacific coast flourished from about 200 BC to 200 AD. The Izapas are considered to be the link between the Olmecs and the Maya.
Between 100 BC and 700
AD a great civilization arose near present day Mexico City. Researchers are not certain who built it, but
that had great influence, but is not widely understood is the Toltec.
Around the 10th century the Toltecs moved into central
The Mayan site of
Around 1427, the
Aztecs rose to prominence in the central valley by forming an alliance
with two other cultures. This triple alliance conquered small
cultures that had developed to the east and west until their influence
spanned from the
In 1519 the Spaniard
Hernan Cortes and his troops landed at
Cortes rebuilt the
city and named the new colony Nueva Espana (
In 1523 missionaries
Over time, discontent began to grow between the top-rung Spanish-born colonists (called peninsulares) and second-rung people born of Spanish parents in Nueva Espana (called criollos). Many criollos had grown rich and wanted equal political power.
By the late 1700’s, the Spanish crown was so worried about how powerful the Catholic Church had become in Nueva Espana, that King Carlos III expelled the Jesuits from the colony and transferred many church assets to the royal coffers. This put financial pressure on the peninsulares and criollos and created more tensions. Additionally in 1808 Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Spain and effectively ended direct Spanish control over Nueva Espana. Thus opened the door for rebellion.
Iturbide by deposed in
1823 however by Antonio Lopes de Santa Anna and a new constitution drawn
up, establishing a federal Mexican republic of 19 states and four
territories. Political instability followed as the presidency
changed hands 36 times, 11 times to Santa Anna. In 1836, settlers in
what was known as Texas
declared independence. Santa Anna went north and wiped out a
settlement called the
After a brief
Violent suppression of the people led to the Mexican revolution in 1910 but ten years of civil war cost an estimated 2 million lives and shattered the economy. Numerous presidents over the years attempted to re-distribute the land and rebuild the country, but infighting, politics and assassinations hampered efforts.
In 1934, Lazaro
Cardenas was elected president and stepped up the redistribution of land
through the ejido system. Ejidos are tracts of land owned and
generally farmed cooperatively. World War II helped expand
Since World War II,
timber, mining, oil, natural gas, fishing, tourism and manufacturing are Mexico’s primary revenue earners.
have expanded competition in seaports, railroads, telecommunications,
electricity generation, natural gas distribution, and airports. Per capita
income is one-fourth that of the
Trade with the US
The government is
cognizant of the need to upgrade infrastructure, modernize the tax system
and labor laws, and provide incentives to invest in the energy sector, but
progress is slow.
104,959,594 (July 2004
largest ethnic group in
The largest indigenous group is the Nahua, descendants of the Aztecs. There are at least 1.7 million Nahuatl speakers. There are approximately 1 million Maya speakers, 500,000 Zapotecs, 500,000 Mixtecs, 260,000 Totonacs and 130,000 Purepechas.
Spanish, various Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional indigenous languages
Religion plays a central role in Mexican culture and the overwhelming majority of the population is Roman Catholic. The Mexican Catholic Church’s most important symbol is Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, a dark-skinned manifestation of the Virgin Mary who appeared to a Mexican Indian in 1531 on a hill near Mexico City . Today she is the country’s patron and her name is invoked in religious ceremonies, political speeches and literature.
Indian Christianity is fused with ancient beliefs. The early missionaries won over the indigenous people by identifying Catholic saints with Indian gods and allowing old festivals to be celebrated. Acceptance of the new religion was greatly helped by the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531. Old traditions still survive however. In the traditional Indian world almost everything has a spiritual dimension – animals, trees, rivers, wind, rain, sun and hills have their own gods or spirits. And these may be invoked in ancient ceremonies for their own purposes. Witchcraft and magic also still survive.
A very small
percentage of other religions are also practiced in
Roman Catholic 89%, Protestant 6%, other 5%
The CIA World Fact Book considers the following to be the biggest threats to Mexico’s environment:
A number of groups
have stepped forward over the last 30 years to help. The Movimiento
Ecologico Mexicano unites some 60 groups with a total of 10,000 members.
The Grupo de Cien is a group of 100 intellectuals who keep ecological
issues in the public mind through their high profile and media access and
since the 1980’s the federal government has recognized the need for
economic development to be environmentally sustainable.
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Mexico’s plant life is very diverse, but generally speaking, because there is less rain in the north and more in the south, Mexico’s trees and plants can pretty much be divided up along it’s topographical and geographical lines: desert plants in the north, forests and grasslands in the mountains and altiplano of the center and jungle-type plants and trees in the south.
Two deserts cover most
of northern Mexico, the Chihuahuan desert, the largest of the North American deserts and the
Sonoran desert. Plants such as the prickly pear cactus, whitethorn
acacia, lechugilla, mesquite and creosote cover the Chihuahuan desert. The Sonoran desert has cactus such as the saguaro, cardon and organ pipe and
plants such as the paloverde, ironwood and ocotillo. In all
there are 6,000 species of desert plants, 90% of them endemic (found only
here) to the deserts of
Tropical rainforests are
located in the states of Chiapas,
In addition, wetland
habitats exist wherever the terrain meets rivers, seacoasts, lakes or
springs. These are complex areas with diverse flora and have become an
important focus of
Mangroves are particularly important. Mangroves are trees adapted to grow in and beyond the edge of salt water. Their roots form impenetrable barriers that hold silt and provide habitat for fish, birds and crocodiles.
Mexico is a country of biological diversity. In total number of species, it ranks fifth in the world. It ranks first in the total number of reptile species (640) and is home to more than 1,000 bird species, 450 mammals (142 found nowhere else on earth and the second-greatest diversity of any nation) and 330 amphibians. Insect species number in the hundreds of thousands.
This diversity can be
explained by understanding that Mexico
lies within the intersection of North and
The majority of
The tropics are home to animals such as bats, spider and howler monkeys, the silky anteater, coatimundis and the Baird’s tapir, a nocturnal plant-eating animal that spends a lot of its time in water.
Almost 30 types of cetaceans live in the seas, ranging from the blue whale, the largest mammal on earth to the 110lb (50kg) vaquita, the smallest porpoise. Manatees frequent the warm coastal waters and can be found in lagoons and estuaries.
Birds in Mexico
are a very diverse lot as they are a mix of North American species such as
geese and cranes and South American species such as quetzals and toucans.
Out of 9,000 species in the world, 769 of them breed in
Reptiles and amphibians
More than 1000 reptiles
Seven of the eight species of sea turtle can be found in Mexico and all are threatened or endangered. They are the Kemp’s ridley, the leatherback, the green, the black, the hawksbill, the loggerhead and the olive ridley.
There are 384 types of
freshwater fish in
There are between 2,200 and 2,500 varieties of butterflies and over 2,000 species of bees all playing an important role of pollinating plants.
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Thank you, now it's time to explore!
Mexico published by Lonely Planet and Mexico Handbook published by Moon Publications, CIA World Fact Book, Mexico Adventures in Nature by Ron Mader, Backpacking in byTim Burford Mexico
Kim and Don Greene, Authors; publication date October 6, 2004