Mexico        Rêve Mexicain en français
Geography in Mexico
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Federation of 32 STATES among them a Federal District : the capital : Mexico City

view of the capital of Mexico It is a vast country of 1 967 180 km2 (780 000 square mi), between two oceans : the Pacific at the West and the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico at the East. It is located between the 14th and 32nd parallel of North latitude, meaning it is under the climatic influences of the two big belts of the hemisphere boreal : the desert Northern one, and the tropical Southern one. The tropic of cancer cuts across Mexico in its middle. Mexico is part of the North American continent.

Left picture : view of the capital of Mexico

It is the fifth largest country of the American continent for area and the second largest for the length of coasts (9300 km).

Mexico has 4301 km (1947 miles) of border with the USA, Guatemala and Belize : The border with the U.S is 3152 km long from the Monumento 258 in the North-east of Tijuana up to the mouth of the Rio Bravo in the Gulf of Mexico.

The states that border the North of the country are : Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas. The border with Guatemala is 956 km long and 193 km long with the Belize. (It doesn’t include the 85 266 km of maritime limit in the Bay of Chetumal).

The Southern and Southeastern Border States of the country are : Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche and Quintana Roo. The distance between the northeastern city, Tijuana and Cancun (Quintana Roo) is 3500 km.

Its area is about one fourth the size of the United States.

Mexico is not only a border between two countries but also a link between the developing South America and the opulent North America.

It is a country of highlands with irregular relief, with half of them located at more than 1500m of elevation.

It is the most diversified country of North America, with a lot of transitions and contrasts. It is in Mexico that you can find the most arid region of the continent : the desert de Altar, in the State of Sonora, which receives less than 100 mm of precipitations a year, and the most rainy region : the basin of Grijalva at Usumacinte (North of the equator) which receives more than 5m of precipitations a year.

It is a country in the heart of a complex puzzle generated by the collision between the tectonic North American plaque and the plaque of the Cocos, which makes the country exposed to seismic movements (the one in September 1985 in Mexico City is a good tragic example for the number of dead and destroyed houses).

Aspect of the country

Mexico is often compared to a cornucopia looking towards the USA. It is divided in 6 regions :

Baja California, mountains and deserts : it is a giant appendage on the Pacific Ocean.
It consists of mountains, deserts, Saharan vegetation and some forests of pines. It is not very populated; the Indian tribes are located mainly in the Southern part (Yaquis, Mayos, Séris, and Tarahumaras). The climate changes from desert-like in altitude to sub-tropical by the sea. You can find a lot of wild coves. The Indians are the Huichols and Coras. There are three big cities: Mexicali, Hermosillo, and Culiacán.

volcano of las virgenes The Altiplano : It is half desert with arid swamps.
The northern region, above 1800 m is a plateau parted between pasturelands and desert areas. It lies between the cities of Chihuahua, Durango and Zacatecas. It is not very populated. It is rich in ores.

Left picture : "volcano of las virgenes"

Eastern side and coastal plains of the Gulf of Mexico
It is a region with big contrast because of the proximity of the Sierra Madre Oriental that culminates between 3000 and 3500 m and brings water to the fertile lands lying up to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the coast of Mexican Gulf with the more rain, where agriculture and stock farming are prosperous and it is very populated. Spanish and indigenous mingled during the centuries of conquests and colonization. In the region of Huasteca in Tabasco, the tropical plains supply the cities in bananas, oranges, guanabana, pineapples, coffee, cacao, vanilla or cinnamon and many other tropical products; Stock farming is intensive : cows, zebus, pigs, horses and poultry.

Popocatépetl with good weather (exceptional) Anahuac plateau and Volcanic Sierra
It is the geographic border between North and Central America, born from a geological phenomenon.
It goes from the North of Guadalajara to the foothills of the Sierra of Oaxaca. It is a populated plateau with many lakes and water bearing resources. Many rivers cross it widthwise (Balsas, Lerma, Tula). The main cities and industrial centers of Mexico, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Morelia, León, Toluca and Puebla are located on this plateau, at an average altitude of 2000 m.
In the South, a big fence of volcanoes closes the plateau (Popocatépetl « mountain that smokes » 5452 m, Iztaccihuatl « the white woman » 5286 m, Malinche 4460 m , Pico de Orizaba « Star-mountain » in náhuatl 5611 m, Nevado de Toluca « sacred bat », 4680 m).

     Right picture : Popocatépetl with good weather (exceptional)


Mount Pico of Orizaba
Ascension of "Pico de Orizaba"

The Malinche

Southern Depression – Pacific coast
It is the Mixtec knot : The two Sierras Madre (Oriental and Occidental) merge in the South and disappear to form the Tehuantepec Isthmus, 160 km across at its narrowest point (30m elevation). This mountainous cordillera continues towards Guatemala with the high lands of Chiapas. It is a poor region with a very undulating relief and tropical forests. They grow coffee. There is an important Indian population.

Left picture : The Malinche (source : conanp)

The plateform of Yucatán

It is a limestone, homogenous plateau with low elevation and the particularity of having a lot of « cenotes », natural deep wells that retain fresh water and connect between them with a network of underground rivers. Yucatán, Maya land, was probably wooden before the Spanish arrived. Today, there are only few trees. In the Southeast, grows the chicle tree. Yucatán is more arid but more exposed to the hurricanes of the Caribbean area. The flourishing industry of sisal is also developed in Yucatán but the competition with the artificial fibers leads this area towards tourism (Cancun).
This diversity in the relief allows the practice of extreme sports like climbing and alpinism.

agua azul in Chiapas Hydrography

There are few rivers compared to the surface of the country. After Rio Bravo (called Rio Grande on USA side), the two main rivers are the Balsas (840 km) and the Usumacinta. The first one goes down the volcanic Cordillera towards the Pacific and the second one has its spring in the highlands of Guatemala, crosses the Tehuantepec Isthmus and flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The uneven course of these 2 rivers doesn’t allow inland navigation. The biggest lake is Chapala lake close to Guadalajara.

Left picture : agua azul in Chiapas


Mexico owns many geologic natural resources : oil, silver, iron, lead, copper, zinc, uranium, natural gas, diamond, amber, quartz, onyx, opal, jade, or, etc.

Seismic activity

Located at the crossing of 3 tectonic plates, Mexico is known to be one of the most active seismic zones on the world. You would remember the seism in Mexico City in 1985 (8.1 on the Richter magnitude scale) with more than 4000 victims. The volcanic activity is important too. Some volcanoes are still active. The youngest volcano in Mexico, the Paricutin (2800m), in Michoacán, appeared only in 1943 in a field. For more information in case of seism, log on to : www.ssn.unam.mx (servicio sismologico nacional).


It is threatened because of an out of control demographic and industrial growth. The urban pollution is the first cause of the asphyxia of Mexico City, because of the 3 millions of vehicles and the industrial centers. Its geographic location, in a basin confines its polluted air, which threatens the health of the inhabitants. Some measures, like the reduction of the circulation of the vehicles, are taken but it is not sufficient. Mexico City consumes two third of the national electricity. The uncontrolled growth in the urban zones also concerns some cities close to the USA border. Barely half the population has running water and sewers. The efforts of the government are noticeable but are insufficient in view of the extent of the ecological problem : wild urbanization, damage of the soils leading to desertification, unconcerned industrialization, wild rubbish dump, lack of water, emission of toxic gas are also worrying the citizens. Some projects of infrastructures in Yucatán threaten the already fragile ecosystems (constructions in « riviera maya »).

shantytown of Nezahualcoyotl There are around 3 millions of inhabitants in the shantytown of Nezahualcoyotl.

      Right picture : shantytown of Nezahualcoyotl

Climatic diversity

The 5000 km from North to South and the big differences of elevation vary the climate, rather mercifully all year long.
The year is marked by two seasons : the dry season from November to April and the humid season from May to October. But depending on the region, the rain gauge can vary.
Regarding the altitude and latitude, there are 3 natural climatic levels in Mexico : The humid tropical South and the coasts (warm all year long ; an average of 25-28°C with higher temperatures in Summer), the North (Baja California, Sonora desert and state of Coahuila) : hot and arid climate, canicular Summer and the volcanic center, rather moderate but with many thermal variations. Mexico City, even located at more than 2300 m of elevation has a nice climate with an average of 15° C; for your information, in May (hottest month) the temperatures vary from 12 to 26° C, and in January (Coldest month), the temperatures vary from 6 to 19° C.

In Mexico, the seasons are not as marked as in other countries in the world. In winter, the temperature is lower everywhere but it snows only in some mountainous Northwestern regions.
You could visit Mexico any time during the year, the climates being quite different from an area to another one.
But I would recommend the dry season (from November to April) : little rain and abundant sun. Don’t forget a sweater for the evenings since 50% of the Mexican territory has an elevation above 1500 m.

if you can’t choose the season you will travel, it is not a problem because even during the rain season (May to October) it rains only for a short time during the evenings.
You could consult the chapter : climate (clima) of the site : or before leaving or while traveling.
The Caribbean coast is exposed to hurricanes from August to October. You could follow the evolution of the forecast about cyclones and hurricanes logging on to: www.nhc.noaa.gov, www.stormpulse.com.


For 2012 estimation : Mexico counts about 114,975 000 millions inhabitants (estimation july 2012), which makes it the 11th most populated country on the planet. The Mexican population in the USA is estimated to be more than 12 million with 6 million being illegal.

Between 1990 and 2010, the population was multiplied by 7.9 while world population was multiplied only 3.7 for the same time period. The rate of growth of the population, which was about 4% a year in the eighties, is now about 1.086% (estimat. 2012). There are a little less than 20 million homes in Mexico, meaning an average of 5 persons per home. 10% of them count 8 persons or more and 30%, at least 6 persons. This population is young : 45% of the inhabitants are less than 20 year old and the ones under 30 represent 55,9% of the population.

The Mexican population is more and more urban : The 123 biggest cities of the country (with more than 50 000 inhabitants) comprise 68% of the total population. The Federal District (administrative entity of Mexico City) counts by itself 8.8 million inhabitants. The metropolitan zone as a whole (meaning the 16 delegations of the Federal District and the 27 adjacent municipalities belonging to the state of Mexico) count about 23 million inhabitants meaning more than 20% of the total population of Mexico. Mexico City is the second biggest city in the world behind Tokyo-Okohama. It increases by 1,000 people a day.

In the opposite, there are scarcely populated regions like South Baja California, with barely 450,000 inhabitants for a surface of 73 475 km2. So, if the average density of the population is about 50 inhabitants/km2, it is close to 6,000 inhabitants/km2 in Mexico City and barely 6 habitants/km2 in South Baja California.

Some key numbers

A street in Tlaquepaque, close to Guadalajara

Education rate : 93%
Expectation of life : Men 73,8 Women 79,6 years old (estimation 2012)
Birth rate : 18,1387 / 1000 (estimation 2012)
Mortality rate : 4,9 / 1000 - Infant mortality rate : 16,77 deaths / 1000 live births (estimation 2012).

     Right picture : A street in Tlaquepaque, close to Guadalajara

There has been a big drop in mortality, fecundity and growth rate in the past 30 years.


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