1. Not every pyramid is the same
The mind-baffling pyramids, scattered all over Mexico among jungle and ancient settlements, are among Mexico’s top attractions. However, do not assume that once you’ve seen one Mexican pyramid you’ve seen them all! Each pyramid site in Mexico is not only unique in its size, design and structure - but also in its history and origins. The Central American country of Mexico has an ancient Mesoamerican history that pre-dates even the Aztecs; however the majority of pyramids in Mexico are of Aztec and Mayan origin. For example, the famous site of Teotihuacan, which lies some 30 miles outside of Mexico City, was built by the Aztecs and has been in existence since before the 1st Century A.D. The Yucatan Peninsula on the other hand is simply littered with Mayan ruins; these include the city of Chichen Itza, and the hidden jungle temples of Palenque in Chiapas and Calakmul in Campeche, among numerous others. The heavy density of Mayan pyramids, temples and other ruins, in addition to the pristine beaches and protected marine life, make holidays to the Yucatan Peninsula a favourite among international tourists. Nevertheless, there are lots of other regions in Mexico where pyramid ruins from the Aztec, Mayans and other civilisations such as the the Zapotecs and Totonacs can be found. Two of the most popular of these include the fascinating ruins of Monte Alban, a huge Zapotec site outside Oaxaca City and the pyramids shrouded in spiritual mystery at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, El Tajin near Veracruz.
2. There is more to Mexican music than mariachis
Mariachi music is synonymous with all things Mexican, and rightly so as it is considered the national music of Mexico. However, it is important to realise that there are lots of other forms of important traditional Mexican music that form part of the colourful history and culture of this musical country. One form of Mexican music you are likely to come across when you travel around Mexico is ranchera music. The word "ranchera" is derived from the Spanish word for farm (rancho) as it was among rural farmers where these folk songs originated. Rancheras are derived from the Mexican folkloric songs known as sones, and their lyrical content deals with issues of socio-political injustice, nationalism, love and nature. A big part of ranchera songs is El Grito Mexicano (the Mexican scream): an energetic yelp that is exclaimed by both the musicians and audience at various interludes throughout the music. In the North of Mexico, rancheras were blended with Bohemian European folk music brought to the country by immigrants in the 19th century, to create what is now referred to as norteños. These songs typically feature the European button-accordion and the Mexican twelve-string guitar (bajo sexto). In the 1940’s/50’s, people in Northern Mexica began to be fuse norteños with North American rock and country music, to create tejano music – one of the many forms of Mexican and North American fusion music that falls under the genre "Tex-Mex".
3. The Roman Catholic religion is important
Catholicism is the dominant religion in Mexico. This is more than just an interesting fact - it is a must-know for anyone planning to travel to Mexico. Over the centuries, there have been a number of oppositional forces who have attempted to rid the country of Catholic rule in an attempt to enforce a purely secular state. For example, in 1855 the US-backed president, Benito Juárez put sanctions in place to separate the Church and State, nationalising church property and denying civil and political rights to members of religious institutions. The ties between the Catholic Church and Mexican government were strengthened again under President Porfirio Díaz who formulated an agreement with the Church in 1905, aiding in the education of priests and the building of Catholic schools. However, there were further conflicts between church and state in the early 20th Century which saw the assassination and exiling of over 3, 000 priests, reducing the number of priests from 4, 500 to 334 by 1934. This meant that by 1935, 17 Mexican states were without priests. The people of Mexico continued to fight for the survival of the Catholic Church in the following years and eventually Church rule dominated once more. According to the 2010 census, more than 80% of the population of Mexico are of Catholic denomination. For this reason, it is important to show respect for Catholic tradition both inside and outside of churches while travelling in Mexico.
4. Festivals are a year-round occurrence
I don’t think it’s a sweeping statement to say that Mexican’s love a good celebration! At least this is what their impressive calendar of ancient traditional, spiritual and religious festivals would suggest. There are numerous festival celebrations all year round in Mexico both at a local and national level. These include celebrations which worship the patron saint of one’s neighbourhood; regional food, craft, music and folklore festivals; as well as country-wide events such as the Day of the Dead. The latter is perhaps one of the most exciting festivals in Mexico, with thousands of people visiting Mexico each year to celebrate this colourful, ancient tradition. Day of the Dead, for those who don’t already know, is a 2 day celebration that falls on the first two days in November and celebrates loved-one’s who have passed away. This remembering of the deceased is enacted through visits to the cemetery with guitar, tequila and traditional food in hand. It also involves constructing elaborate alters in one’s house, adorned with bright marigolds, colourful bunting, photos of those gone before and offerings of food and drink. While the Day of the Dead has its roots in ancient Aztec rituals, which are evident in the symbolic use of skulls, it also involves certain traditions from Catholicism demonstrated in the festival corresponding with All Saints Day. Another huge religious celebration in Mexico is Easter Week or Semana Santa, which is celebrated nationwide through processions, masses, food and craft markets, as well as festive neighbourhood parties.
5. The natural environment is highly repected
As the fourth country in the world for biodiversity, Mexico is an attractive place for natural scientists, geographers, marine biologists, nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. With a variety of diverse ecosystems differing from one end of the country to the next, there are all manner of landscapes to explore in Mexico. These highly protected geographical regions range from landscapes comprising volcanoes; rainforests and mountains; to deserts, reefs and sacred limestone wells. Mexico’s 758,000 square miles is home to 58 national parks and 121 protected natural reserves, this fervent protecting of the natural landscape sees a lot of people volunteering in Mexico on conservation programmes. There is a wealth of exotic flora and fauna to see in Mexico with 30, 000 plant species, 1, 000 orchid species, over 1, 000 bird species, and more than 1, 500 species of wildlife. The surrounding waters of the Sea of Cortes, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean serve as an ideal home for hundreds of species of marine life including turtles, dolphins, whales and corals.
Jessica Kitt is a music journalist and travel writer who writes about all things Latin American on her blog, the World Music Travel Blog.