Here are some fun facts about Mexico. Mexico is a colorful country known for its incredible food, lively culture and fascinating festivals, beautiful natural wonders, stunning beaches, as well as diverse and complex history. These 25 facts about Mexico offer a brief introduction to the country, whether you’re planning a visit or just looking to learn more about this slice of the Americas.
General Facts About Mexico
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1. Mexico is actually the United States of Mexico
The full name of the country is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, meaning the United States of Mexico. There are 31 states in total, which each have their own laws and police, plus the Federal District.
The origin of the word “Mexico” is actually uncertain. Theories as to where it came from include the name of the territory of the Mexica Aztec Empire, the Nahutl (Aztec language) word that translates to mean “navel of the moon,” a derivation of the name of the Aztec war god Mexitli, or simply a referral to the mexixin grass crop that grew abundantly in the region.
2. There are more people emigrating from the US to Mexico than from Mexico to the US
Contrary to anti-immigrant rhetoric, data indicates that more people moved from the United States to Mexico than the other way around – a million going US to Mexico versus 870,000 from Mexico to the US (between 2009 to 2014). This includes Mexican emigrants returning to Mexico with their American-born children.
Picture of Mexico’s Flag – Facts About Mexico
3. Mexico’s flag is green, white and red
The Mexican flag consists of three bands of green, white and red, with an emblem on the central white band showing an eagle standing on a cactus with a snake in its beak.
The colors represent independence, unity and religion, while the eagle is a symbol important to Mexican history. When Aztecs settled at Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), they chose the place because they saw an eagle there, sitting on a cactus, eating a snake, and considered it a good omen.
Mexican Food Facts
4. Hot chocolate was invented by the Mayans
The Mayans were making drinking chocolate as early as 500 BC, with ingredients such as ground cacao seeds, water, cornmeal, and chili peppers. They would mix the drink by pouring it back and forth into cups and pots until there was a thick foam. Of course, the taste was very different from modern-day hot chocolate and the beverage is usually drunk cold.
It was the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés who brought chocolate drinking to Europe in the early 1500s, where it was adopted by the royal court of Spain. The Spanish found the taste a little bitter, so served the drink hot, sweetened and without chili peppers.
5. Many of the most popular “Mexican” dishes are in fact Tex-Mex
Although Mexican cuisine is perhaps one of the most beloved cuisines all around the world, many of the ingredients, dishes and flavors of “Mexican” food is actually derived from Tex-Mex. For example, you won’t find sour cream on tacos in Mexico, queso (the melted cheese appetizer), fajitas, taco salads, burritos, or chimichangas.
6. Tacos al Pastor is a fusion food
The quintessential tacos al pastor popped up in the 1930s, when Lebanese immigrants moved to Mexico and brought shawarma (spit-roast lamb served in pita bread) with them. Hence the name “tacos al pastor” (shepherd’s tacos), when the dish actually contains spit-roasted shavings of marinated pork, and often chunks of pineapple.
7. Caesar Salad is a Mexican dish
Confusingly, though many of your Mexican favorites may not be truly Mexican, the caesar salad was 100% invented in Mexico. Italian-American restaurateur Caesar Cardini started serving the salad in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico, which is located just over the border from California.
Many Americans hopped over to Tijuana during Prohibition and tried the salad, which was a humble dish the chef learned from his mother, who would use what she had to make lettuce tastier.
Mexican Culture Facts About Mexico
8. Mexico is the country with the most Spanish speakers in the world
That means more people speak Spanish in Mexico (121.9 million) than in Spain (42.92 million). In fact, Spain only has the fourth largest number of Spanish speakers, as Colombia has 49.44 million and Argentina has 44.08.
9. There are 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Mexico
These are divided into 27 cultural sites, six natural sites and two mixed sites, making Mexico home to the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Americas.
Some of the most famous include pre-Hispanic cities such as Chichen-Itza (of the new Seven Wonders of the World), Teotihuacan and Uxmal; the agave fields of Tequila; and the historical centers of Mexico City, Guanajuato and Puebla – to name but a few examples.
10. In Mayan sports, the winner was sacrificed to the gods
Pok–Ta–Pok is a Mayan ball game with a history spanning thousands of years. The game was played with a rubber ball and the goal was to get the ball into a stone hoop that extended from a wall. The winner of the game was sacrificed, which was a high honor.
You can still see ancient Pok-Ta-Pok ball courts at Mayan archaeological sites such as Chichen-Itza and Uxmal. In addition, you can watch a modern version of the game reenacted in Merida every Friday night in front of the cathedral. There’s no sacrifice, but the players do like to set the ball on fire.
11. Mexico City has the highest number of museums in the world after London
There are more than 150 museums to visit in Mexico City. Some of the most popular to visit include the Museo del Palacio de Belles Artes (an art museum located in a striking building), the Frida Kahlo Museum (also known as the Blue House) and the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
More niche museums to try are the Museum del Pulque, dedicated to the pre-Hispanic fermented drink of pulque, and the Museo del Calzado, which houses an impressive collection of footwear, including slippers owned by Queen Elizabeth II, Magic Johnson’s size 14½ basketball shoes and Neil Armstrong’s lunar boots.
History Facts About Mexico
12. Mexico is a mix of native and colonial influences
Mexico’s history spans a rich legacy of Native American heritage, 300 years of colonial Spanish rule (which ended in 1821), as well as a modern-day relationship with the United States. Many Mexicans alive today are mestizos, which means they have a mix of Native American and Spanish blood.
13. Mexico has been inhabited by humans since 1200 BC
It’s believed that Mexico’s first inhabitants were the Olmec people, who emerged in what is now southeastern Mexico around 1200 BC. The Olmec were later followed by the Maya, the Toltec and the Aztecs.
14. Yucatan is a mistranslation
The Yucatan Peninsula, located in the east of the country, was named so after a conversation of confusion between local Mayans and the Spanish conquistadors. When asked what the name of the land was, the Mayans replied with “Ma’anaatik ka t’ann,” which means, “I don’t understand you.”
15. The largest pyramid in the world is in Mexico
Think of pyramids and you’ll probably think of Egypt and the pyramids of Giza. However, the Great Pyramid of Cholula (also known as Tlachihualtepetl, which is Nahuatl for “made-by-hand mountain”) is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid in the New World, the largest pyramid by volume known to exist, as well as the largest monument ever constructed by humans.
The pyramid temple complex is located in Cholula, Puebla, in Central Mexico, and stands 55 meters tall, with a base of 450 by 450 meters, and a volume of 4.45 million cubic meters.
It’s believed that the pyramid was originally built in dedication to the god Quetzalcoatl – an Aztec feathered serpent deity associated with wind, air and learning. It’s estimated that the complex was built in four stages, between the 3rd century BC and 9th century AD.
16. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day
Contrary to popular belief, the May 5th is not Mexican Independence Day (which is actually September 16th), but a commemoration of the 1862 Battle of Puebla, which the Mexicans won against the French army. Cinco de Mayo is only celebrated in Puebla within Mexico, but has been adopted as a source of Mexican pride among Mexican immigrants in the United States.
Mexican Geography Facts About Mexico
17. Mexico is located on the “Ring of Fire”
The Ring of Fire is the most volcanic and earthquake-prone region in the world, also known as the circum-Pacific Belt. Approximately 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 81% of the world’s volcanic eruptions take place in Mexico. However, only 42 of the country’s thousands of volcanos are still active.
18. Mexico is also home to the world’s smallest volcano
Cuexcomate Volcano, located just outside the city of Puebla in Central Mexico, is just 13 meters tall, which is smaller than the Statue of Liberty. It was formed around 950 years ago during an eruption of Popocatepetl, but today is no more than an inactive geyser.
19. Mexico City is sinking
The capital city is built on the ruins of the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, which was itself built on a lake. The Aztecs created intricate dike and canal systems to control the water, but when the Spanish took over, they drained the lakebed.
As a result, it’s estimated that Mexico City sinks around 10 inches per year; a phenomenon that is caused by drawing water from the lake that supports the city. The sinking is so extensive that the city moved down the rankings of the highest capitals in the world, sinking (haha!) from 7th to 8th place.
20. The longest and largest underwater caves are found in Mexico
Mexico is famous for cenotes, which are freshwater sinkholes, some of which create miles of cave and cavern systems underground. In Mayan mythology, cenotes were sacred places that acted as passageways to the underworld, where the living went when they died.
The deepest cenote recorded is Zacatón, which is 282 meters deep; while the longest underwater cave system is Sac Actun, which stretches 216 miles long.
Fun Facts About Mexico for Kids
21. Mexico is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet
In particular, Mexico is home to the most reptile species in the world at 700! Other famous wildlife species native to Mexico include jaguars (the largest wildcats in North America), pumas, iguanas, colorful birds, as well as whales, manta rays and manatees off the coasts.
22. You shouldn’t throw toilet paper in the toilet
Something that tourists may take some getting used to is that toilet paper should not be flushed down the toilet in Mexico. This is because it clogs the drains and much of the country doesn’t have modern sewage systems to handle that amount of toilet paper. Instead, toilet paper should be thrown away in the garbage bin in the toilet stall.
23. There is an animal called the volcano rabbit and it only lives in Mexico
The volcano rabbit, also known as a teporingo or zacatuche in local languages, is one of the world’s smallest rabbit species (second only to the pygmy rabbit). Volcano rabbits are endemic to Mexico and only native to four volcanoes located south and east of Mexico City, making these adorable creatures a sadly endangered species due to human impact on their habitat.
24. Color TV was invented in Mexico
Guillermo González Camarena invented the chromoscopic adapter for television equipment, which was an early color TV transmission system. Incredibly, he was only 17 years old at the time and this invention was developed during World War II. His first official color transmission took place from Mexico City in 1946.
25. The meteorite that was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs landed in Mexico
The meteorite landed specifically near the town of Chicxulub, in the Yucatan Peninsula, some 66 million years ago. If you visit today, you can still see the massive crater, which is around 150 kilometers in diameter. It’s estimated that around 75% of all life on earth died out after this asteroid collision.