CAPITAL Mexico City
Mexico is a country in North America, lying between the United States of America to the north, and Guatemala and Belize to the southeast. Its extensive coastlines include the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Spanish, various Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional indigenous languages
nominally Roman Catholic 89%, Protestant 6%, other 5%
Varies from tropical to desert.
High, rugged mountains; low coastal plains; high plateaus; desert; tropical rainforests in the south and Yucatán Peninsula.
Travelling in Mexico is most practical by bus, car, or air. Passenger transport by train is almost nonexistent.
Due to a government scheme in the early 90's to create infrastructure, the best roads are toll roads. Toll roads can be relatively costly, 400-800 pesos is not uncommon on longer trips, but are much faster and better maintained. Buses generally travel by toll roads (and the toll is obviously included in the ticket price).
When travelling on Mexican roads, especially near the borders with the United States and Guatemala, one will probably encounter several checkpoints operated by the Mexican Army searching for illegal weapons and drugs. If you are coming from the United States, you may not be used to this, and it can be intimidating. However, these are rarely a problem for honest people. Simply do what the soldiers tell you to do, and treat them with respect. They should treat you with respect as well, and they usually do.
If travelling by bus, be sure to take the express buses, if available (they are called directo). Other buses often stop at many smaller stations along the way, making the trip a lot longer. If you have experience with Greyhound buses in the US, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Book direct travel within Mexico on ejecutivo buses departing in the evening. You'll be able to sleep on luxury buses with as few as 18 seats. Some even have complimentary beer. With the advent of NAFTA, some bus companies are now offering service from US cities.
Hitchhiking possibilities vary according to region. Mexican culture is often accepting of hitchhiking and it's a common practice among Mexican youngsters going to the beach in Easter vacations, though in some cases a money contribution is expected for gas because of its relatively high prices. You should make it clear that you have no money to offer before accepting the ride, if this is the case. Hitchhiking is considered fairly safe and easy in the Yucatan Peninsula. The region near Mexico City should be more difficult to obtain a free hitchhike, as private cars don't stop to help hitchhickers for security reasons and buses that do stop expect a fee for the ride.
Over Tenosique, La Palma, by boat on the river Rio San Pedro to Naranja (Guatemala). This route is not used by many and still has a touch of adventure. Stay firm when negotiating over the price. Absolutely important! Make sure you get your passport stamped before you leave Naranja or you might catch one of the rare buses back and take a walk through the jungle as the emigrations office is part up the river between the Mexican border and the village.
Spanish is the main language. You can get by with English in most major cities or tourist destinations, but much of the country is monolingual.
Mexican Spanish is slightly different from both the Castilian Spanish spoken in most of Spain and the Spanish spoken in South American countries. All three are mutually intelligible -- it's about the same as the differences in English spoken in various countries -- but you can expect some funny looks if you speak only Castilian. (In particular, unlike Castilian, the z and the soft c should be pronounced like an s.) Mexican Spanish is the variant most often taught in the United States of America, so if you learned Spanish there, you should be OK.
In some regions, native languages such as Mayan or Nahuatl are still widely spoken.
There are Spanish languages schools throughout Mexico. The city with the most schools is Cuernavaca, with more than 50 schools. Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato also offer a number schools to choose from. Prices vary, however, most schools are very reasonably priced. Many schools can arrange homestays with local Mexican families.
The currency of Mexico is the peso (MXN). The symbol for pesos is the same as for US dollars, which can be slightly confusing. Prices in dollars (in tourist areas) are labeled "US$".
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