Interesting Facts About Mexico
Think you know all about Mexico? Did you know its capital city has an economy the size of Peru? What about the fact Mexico invented chocolate? Or that the Aztecs used cacao as currency? This is a fascinating country, and here are just a few amazing Mexico facts, the country with over 100 million people right under the United States.
Mexico History Facts
You’ve Got the Name Wrong
What’s the country directly to the south of the USA called? If you answered “Mexico”, then you’re not quite right, mi amigo. Mexico’s official name is the Estados Unidos Mexicanos, which is typically rendered in English as the “United Mexican States”.
Though rarely used in practice nowadays, this has been the official name of Mexico since 1824, when the first constitution was adopted after the collapse of the First Mexican Empire. Speaking of which …
Mexico Is Old
One of the most important facts about Mexico is that its been around for a very, very long time. While the modern Mexican nation is only a few centuries old, its indigenous history goes back much further. The oldest stone tools found in Mexico have been dated to over 23,000 years ago.
The Olmecs Did it First
Mexico’s first known civilization was the Olmec. Best known for their art, the Olmecs thrived in southern Mexico from around 1200BC. Their culture is believed to have highly influenced successive civilizations.
Some things the Olmecs are believed to have independently invented include the legendary Mesoamerican ballgame, the practice of bloodletting and the concept of zero.
The Toltecs Did it Best
Long after the Olmecs, the Toltecs emerged in the 10th Century. While Europe was locked in the chaos of the Viking Age, the Toltecs were busy building an empire that supposedly exerted influence over most of central and southern Mexico.
The Toltecs were revered by future civilizations as a golden age of Mesoamerican culture.
One of the more interesting facts of Mexico and its prehistory is that the later Aztecs viewed the Toltecs as not only an inspiration, but also as legendary figures that straddle the line between history and myth.
Because most of what we know about the Toltecs came from fawning Aztec sources, it’s hard for historians to separate fact from myth. There’s some speculation many of the supposed exploits of the Toltecs were more products of the Aztec imagination than anything else.
Either way, the concept of the Toltec Empire played an important role in defining the last few centuries of pre-Hispanic Mexican history.
The Name “Mexico” Comes From the Aztecs
Mexico’s most famous pre-Hispanic civilization, the Aztec Empire, was an alliance of three city states that emerged in the 14th Century. A military powerhouse, the empire spent two hundred years subjugating neighboring peoples. Rather than directly control conquered peoples, the Aztecs preferred to install puppet rulers.
The Aztecs kept these puppet rulers in line by controlling their access to luxury goods, not to mention flaunting their overwhelming military power whenever necessary.
While the Aztec Empire was comprised of many peoples, the dominant ethnic group was the Tenochca. Also known as the Mexica, these people claimed to be partly the descendants of the legendary Toltecs.
The Aztec Empire Was a Carefully Managed Economy
The Aztecs didn’t just control regional elites, they also created a complex, rigid planned economy. Trade routes were centralized, and the prices of common goods ranging from corn to seashells were fixed to specific quantities of cacao beans.
Mexican Independence Facts
Mexico Was Previously Called New Spain
When Spain conquered what is today Mexico in 1521, they established a sprawling colonial territory. At its height, this political entity, the Viceroyalty of New Spain, encompassed everything from California to Central America.
The Cry of Dolores is typically considered the start of the Mexican War of Independence
On September 16, 1810, the dissident priest Miguel Hidalgo rang the bells of a church and called on the congregation to rebel against Spanish rule. His speech became known as “El Grito de Dolores”, or “The Cry of Dolores”. Today, the Cry is typically recognized as the start of the 11-year-long war for independence.
The Independence War Came at a Very, Very Bad Time for Spain
Mexico’s independence movement was heavily inspired by the liberal, enlightenment ideals of the French Revolution. By the time of the Cry of Dolores though, Napoleon had become emperor of France, and was busy carving his way through Europe.
One country that fared particularly badly during the Napoleonic Wars was Spain, which was devastated by invading French forces.
While the Spanish were fighting for their lives to push Napoleon back, their largest colony in the Americas declared independence.
Mexico Was the Only Spanish Colonial Nation to Have its Own Monarch
Here’s some intriguing Mexico information: Mexico always has to be a little bit different from everyone else, which might be why it made a rather unusual choice when it came to deciding what form of government to adopt after declaring independence from the Spanish Empire.
The Emperor of Mexico Designed the Mexican Flag
Rather than become a republic like other post-colonial states in the Western Hemisphere, Mexico’s first independent government was actually a monarchy. From May 1822 to March 1823, Mexico was ruled by Emperor Agustin I.
Though his reign was short-lived, the emperor left his mark on modern day Mexico, and is credited with designing the first version of the country’s modern flag.
Which Came First – the Mexican or Italian Flag?
One of the first things about Mexico you’ll notice is its flag – and how it’s basically identical to that of Italy. So who copied who? Turns out, Mexico first raised its green-white-red tricolor in 1822 – while the modern, unified nation of Italy didn’t do so until nearly 40 years later.
It’s worth bearing in mind though, that some smaller Italian states (like the short-lived Transpadane and Cisalpine republics) did so earlier.
Also, it’s generally agreed the flags were developed independently.
Mexico economy facts
Mexico City accounts for a huge amount of economic activity.Around 15 percent of Mexico’s GDP is produced in Mexico City, making the capital one of the world’s most productive urban areas.
Mexicans Work Waaay More Than You Do
If you think Mexicans are lazy, then here’s a reality check: the country has the world’s longest work hours, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The OECD data suggests the average Mexican clocks a whopping 2,255 hours on the job a year.
That’s the equivalent of working a 43 hour workweek all year round. Comparatively, Americans work around 1,783 hours a year, while Germans work 1,363 hours.
Mexicans Study, Too.
The National Autonomous University of Mexico is the oldest university in North America, and receives students from around the world who travel here to pursue extended education.
Mexico Geography Facts
Mexico is Bigger Than You Think
One of many cool facts about Mexico that often goes unnoticed is how big it is. Mexico is the world’s 14th largest country by landmass, and is divided into 31 states (plus the Federal District).
Mexico is High
Most Mexicans live on what’s called the “Altiplano” – a vast, largely semi-arid plateau that encompasses many of the central and northern states. While the altiplano has an average height of 1,825 meters above sea level, some regions are much higher.
Orizaba Will Take Your Breath Away – Literally
Mexico’s highest point is Orizaba, a dormant volcano on the border of Veracruz and Puebla. Also known as Citlaltepetl, this peak is 5,636 meters (18,491 ft) high, making it the third highest summit in North America. I actually climbed it in 2016 and did a world record! - Read about my Orizaba climbing adventure
Yucatan Means What?
So here’s one of the more fun facts about Mexico: Yucatan – the southern peninsula that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico, has a rather odd meaning behind its name. One of the most interesting facts of Mexico is that the world “Yucatan” supposedly means “I don’t understand what you’re saying”.
According to legend, this was the response Spanish conquistadores kept receiving when they asked indigenous people what the region was called.
Fun facts about Mexico City
What’s in a Name?
The capital of Mexico in Spanish is called “ Ciudad de Mexico”, or “CDMX” for short. However, it’s common to also hear people refer to the city as DF, short for “Distrito Federal”.
Mexico City Was Originally Tenochtitlan
Modern Mexico City grew atop the ruins of the former Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Even today, one of many cool facts about Mexico City is that you can visit the ruins of Tenochtitlan, and is definitely one of those places of interest in Mexico.
Is it a Lake or a City?
Tenochtitlan was built on an island in Lake Texcoco. Over generations, the Aztecs expanded their island with floating gardens called chinampas, thus reducing the lake’s surface area. Today, almost all of Lake Texcoco is gone, buried under the sprawl of Mexico City.
How Big is Mexico City?
Officially, Mexico City’s population is just over 8 million. However, the official city limits represent just part of what is often refereed to as Greater Mexico City. This much larger area of satellite cities, outlying suburbs and an enormous ring of slums is one of the world’s largest contiguous metropolitan areas.
Greater Mexico City has a population of 21.3 million. It is easily the largest North American city, way bigger than New York.
If Mexico City Was a Country …
Sometimes Mexico City feels like a country within a country. This endless city has a culture all of its own, and you would need a lifetime to explore it. It’s so big, that if Mexico City was its own country, it would be the fifth largest economy in Latin America. In fact, its economy would be roughly the same size as that of Peru.
Mexican food facts
Mexican Food is Officially a World treasure
Of all the facts about Mexico culture, its the cultural significance of food that really matters. In 2010, UNESCO officially placed Mexican food on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
This list recognizes cultural practices and expression of critical significance to humanity’s heritage. The only other culinary tradition to be featured on the list is that of France. After all, what is Mexico known for more than its food?
Chocolate is Mexican
Here’s one of the more delicious Mexico facts for kids, and kids at heart: chocolate is totally Mexican. The earliest known cultivation of the cacao plant took place around 1750 BC in southern Mexico.
Originally, the cacao bean was probably used in the production of an alcoholic beverage, though over time it became valued in-and-of-itself as a luxury commodity.
The Aztecs absolutely loved cacao, and used it to create the earliest version of the hot chocolate. This frothy, bitter drink was likely referred to by Aztecs as “chocolatl”.
The Diverse World of Corn
Corn has been cultivated in Mexico longer than anywhere else in the world, and this humble crop has been responsible for feeding nations from the Olmecs to modern Mexico. Nowadays, 59 varieties of corn are endemic to Mexico.
Mexican independence day facts
Mexican Independence Day isn’t 5 de Mayo
Here’s one of the more interesting facts about Mexican culture that people often get wrong. 5 de Mayo is might be the day most Americans most associate with Mexico, but it’s not Independence Day.
5 de Mayo marks the day Mexican defenders defeated an invading French army at Puebla in 1862.
While important, this event is less significant to most Mexicans than Independence Day, which falls on September 16. Independence Day commemorates the afore-mentioned Cry of Dolores, which took place on September 16, 1810.
Technically, Independence Day Is a Two Day Event
Although the Cry of Dolores took place on September 16, 1810, it’s become tradition for the president of Mexico to recite the famous speech on the eve of September 15th.
This evening event serves as a moment of reflection and patriotism for Mexicans, while the following day is usually more of a celebration.
The Mexican War of Independence Wasn’t Supposed to Start on September 16
Remember how I said the Cry of Dolores is typically regarded as the start of the Mexican War of Independence? While that’s true, there’s a little more to the story than that. Hidalgo had originally planned to kick off his rebellion in October, 1810.
If things had gone according to plan, Mexico would today celebrate its independence on October 2.
Unfortunately for Hidalgo, his planned rebellion got off to a bad start. Throughout late 1810, Spanish authorities cracked down on Mexicans suspected of conspiring to overthrow colonial rule. As his fellow conspirators were being arrested all around him, Hidalgo had no choice but to speed up his timetable and start the rebellion earlier than planned.
While the decision may have saved the independence movement, it also meant Hidalgo’s forces entered the war on the back foot.
Hidalgo Never Saw an Independent Mexico
Hidalgo is today remembered as the father of an independent Mexico, though he himself never saw the fruition of his life’s work. Barely a year into the Mexican War of Independence, Hidalgo was captured by royalist forces after a series of crushing defeats.
On the 30th of July, 1811, Hidalgo was shot by a firing squad, and according to legend his body was later decapitated. His last words to his executioners were, "Though I may die, I shall be remembered forever; you all will soon be forgotten."
He's one of those important people in Mexico who no longer live.
Fun Facts about Mexico for Kids
The Mexican border shared with the US is the 2nd largest border in the world after the Canadian / US border.
Mexico is also prone to earthquakes and sits in one of the most dangerous earthquake zones named “The Ring of Fire”.
One of the smallest dogs in the world the “Chihuahua” is named after a Mexican State.
The color TV system was invented by a Mexican named Guillermo Gonzalez Camarena in 1942.
Have you heard about the Raramuri or Tarahumara indigenous people? They are considered to be the best long distance runners in the world (as a group) and can run for over 300 km across mountains and rugged terrains. I actually ran with the Tarahmaras using huaraches, the sandals they use!
So there you go! A fantastic list of Mexico's interesting facts that will make you want to travel to Mexico with kids even more!