World ? Caribbean & Central America ? Mexico

Mexico: Regions in Brief

Baja California -- A peninsula longer than Italy, Baja stretches 1,402km (869 miles) from its border with California at Mexico's northernmost city of Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas at its southern tip. On one side is the Pacific Ocean; on the other, the Sea of Cortez. Volcanic uplifting created the craggy desertscape you see today. Culturally and geographically, Baja sits apart from mainland Mexico, and it remained isolated for centuries. The southern tip of Baja has evolved into a vacation haven, offering golf, fishing, diving, and whale-watching in beautiful settings and at posh resorts. Mid-Baja is known more for its ecological excursions.

The Copper Canyon -- The Copper Canyon is the common name for a region of roughly 16,800 sq. km (6,487 sq. miles) in the northern state of Chihuahua, midway between the state's capital city and the Pacific coast. Here you'll find a network of canyons deeply etched into the volcanic rock of the Sierra Tarahumara. The dramatic canyon area is one of those rare places where one can sense the earth's creation. To get there, you ride the famous Chihuahua al Pacȷfico railroad. It starts at the seaport of Topolobampo, outside Los Mochis, and runs 624km (387 miles) to Chihuahua City, climbing to 2,425m (7,954 ft.) above sea level in the process. The train skirts the edge of more than 20 canyons. Tours can accommodate any kind of traveler, from primitive camper to modern hotel patron.

The Pacific Coast -- The Pacific coast has virtually every kind of beach and landscape imaginable. You can stay in modern resorts that offer inexhaustible arrays of amenities and activities, from sailing to scuba diving to golf, capped off by exuberant nightlife. Or you can stay in a sleepy coastal town where the scenery abounds with rustic charm, life is slower, and the beaches are quieter. By Mazatlȥn, the northern desert disappears, replaced by tropical vegetation and plantations of coconut and other fruit. At Puerto Vallarta, mountains covered in tropical forests meet the sea. For many, this is the most appealing place on the coast. From here, it's a 5-hour car ride inland to Guadalajara, the most Mexican of cities and a superb place to shop. Tropical forests interspersed with banana, mango, and coconut palm plantations cover the coast from Puerto Vallarta to Manzanillo. Well south of Manzanillo, in the state of Guerrero, are the beach towns Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. Tree-covered mountains remain around Acapulco, though hillside development has marred them. From Acapulco, a road leads inland to Taxco, a mountainside colonial city famed for its hundreds of silver shops. Farther south along the coast are the beach villages of Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel, and beyond them, the nine gorgeous bays of Huatulco.

The North-Central Region -- This funnel-shaped region stretches from the northern border with Texas and New Mexico to Mexico City and includes the beautiful colonial silver cities. The majority of this territory lies in the vast Chihuahua/Coahuila desert of the north between the two great Sierra Madre ranges, which meet in the south to form the central valley of Mexico. The colonial cities nestle in the mountains not far north and west of Mexico City.

The Gulf Coast -- Of all Mexico, this region is probably the least known, yet the whole coast, which includes the long, skinny state of Veracruz, holds marvelous pockets of scenery and culture. Highway 180 leads from Matamoros at the Texas border and offers a few glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico. Highlights of this region are the ruins of El Tajȷn, near the mountain village of Papantla; the mountain town of Xalapa, Veracruz's capital and home of the magnificent Museo de Antropologȷa; and the lively, colorful port of Veracruz. This is a good region to visit if you're longing for the Mexico of yesteryear.

Tarascan Country -- This region, in the state of Michoacȥn, presents two distinct visions of colonial architecture: Pȥtzcuaro, a town of tile roofs and adobe walls painted traditional white with dark-red borders; and Morelia, a stately city of stone mansions, broad plazas, and a monumental cathedral. The eastern part of the state consists of high mountains with large tracts of pine and fir forests. Every year, millions of monarch butterflies make the long journey to congregate in a small part of the forest here. The central part of the state, a land of lakes, is the homeland of the Purȳpecha or Tarascan Indians. The villages throughout this area specialize in crafts for which the region is well known. Farther west lie the hot lands and the coast. Tourists largely neglect Michoacȥn, except during the Days of the Dead.

Oaxaca & Chiapas -- This is the southern land of the Zapotec, Mixtec, and Maya cultures. Most people fly around this region, but a toll highway from near Puebla to Oaxaca City makes the area more accessible by car. The valley of Oaxaca is one of the grandest places in Mexico: fascinating Indian villages, beautiful ruins, and a wonderful colonial city. San CristɃbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, is harder to get to, but definitely worth the effort. Approaching San CristɃbal from any direction, you see small plots of corn tended by colorfully clad Maya. Oaxaca and Chiapas are rich in craftspeople, from woodcarvers to potters to weavers.

The Yucatan Peninsula -- Travelers to the peninsula have an opportunity to see pre-Hispanic ruins -- such as Chichȳn Itzȥ, Uxmal, and Tulum -- and the living descendants of the cultures that built them, as well as the ultimate in resort Mexico: Cancɐn. The peninsula borders the dull aquamarine Gulf of Mexico on the west and north, and the clear blue Caribbean on the east. It covers almost 217,560 sq. km (84,000 sq. miles), with nearly 1,600km (1,000 miles) of shoreline.

Lovely rock-walled Maya villages and crumbling henequȳn haciendas dot the interior of the peninsula. The placid interior contrasts with the hubbub of the Caribbean coast. From Cancɐn south to Chetumal, the jungle coastline is spotted with all kinds of development, from posh to budget. It also boasts an enormous array of wildlife, including hundreds of species of birds. National parks near Celestɐn and Rȷo Lagartos on the Gulf Coast are home to amazing flocks of flamingos.

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