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Mexico

Main attractions

Palenque, Mexico
Palenque / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Few countries of the world can offer such array of unique and astounding attractions as Mexico. Below are listed some of most amazing ones.

Natural landmarks

Diverse nature of Mexico has created surprising natural phenomenons - such as the longest known underwater caves, sinkhole which has sealed itself, one of the largest trees in the world, many endemic species of plants and animals and many more.

Caves and sinkholes

Mexico contains some of the most unique and surprising natural caves in the world. Caves with cultural significance are listed further below, among man made landmarks.

  • Gruta de las Canicas - Tabasco. The floor of cave is covered with some 200,000,000 beautiful cave pearls - sparkling white or with a marble texture.
  • Cave of the Crystals - Chihuahua. Cave with giant selenite crystals up to 11 metres long.
  • Sótano de las Golondrinas (Cave of Swallows) - San Luis Potosí. The largest cave shaft in the world - enormous 49 x 62 metres wide hole, 372 metres deep. Famous due to a group of green parrots who have to fly ascending in circles around the cave until they get out of it.
  • Systema Ox Bel Ha - Quintana Roo. One of the world's largest known underwater cave systems, total explored length - 243 km.
  • Systema Sac Actun - Quintana Roo. World's largest known underwater cave system next to Systema Ox Bel Ha, total explored length - 310.7 km.
  • Sistema Zacatón - Tamaulipas. Unique karst field created by thermal acidic waters heated by volcanic heat. Contains world's deepest water-filled sinkhole, the 339 metres deep El Zacatón sinkhole with 319 metres deep lake and floating islands. Poza Seca is one of the unique travertine capped sinkholes of Sistema Zacatón - here the formerly open sinkhole has sealed itself with a limestone lid. Most likely it hides unknown life forms, not investigated.
Agua Azul Falls, Mexico
Agua Azul Falls / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Waterfalls

  • Agua Azul Falls – Chiapas. Chain of powerful beautiful waterfalls located in rainforest. Water of the falls has bright blue color and is rich with lime. Lime is sedimented along the way of the falls, creating unusual natural sculptures and encasings for trees and other objects.
  • Basaseachic Falls – Chihuahua. Second highest waterfall in Mexico, 246 m tall free falling plunge located in gorgeous natural setting.
  • Piedra Volada – Chihuahua. Considered to be the highest waterfall in Mexico. Height of fall – 453 m, seasonal, single fall in dramatic landscape.
Alchichica Lake with stromatolites, Mexico
Alchichica Lake with stromatolites / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Unusual ecosystems and other natural landmarks

  • Lake Alchichica - Puebla. Unique maar lake with high level of endemism, especially noted due to rare stromatolites met only in few locations around the world. Endemic salamander and fish. Renovned location of unusual experiences such as UFO sightings, lights in the lake.
  • Árbol del Tule - Oaxaca. Besides the incredible girth this Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum Ten., 1853) has volume 750 m³. Girth 36.2 m, diameter 11.62 m, height 35.4 m. Age estimated to be 1,400 - 1,600 years. Sacred Zapotec tree.
  • Cuatro Ciénegas Valley - Coahuila. Unusual part of Chihuahua desert with thousands of geothermal spring pools. Extremely high biodiversity including more than 70 endemic species not found outside this valley. Most unique are stromatolites in spring lakes, endemic plants in gypsum dunes, fishes in lakes.
  • Hierve el Agua - Oaxaca. One of the highest single travertine terraces formed by thermal springs - it is a bright white stone "waterfall" that is 12 - 30 metres high.
  • Monarch butterfly wintering trees - Michoacán and State of México. 12 wintering habitats of the monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus Linnaeus, 1758). Some trees are covered with a thick layer of millions of butterflies.
  • Sumidero Canyon, Chiapas
    Sumidero Canyon, Chiapas / Laurent Espitallier, / CC BY 2.0
    Pico de Orizaba – Veracruz and Puebla. Most prominent mountain between Colombia and Yukon, 5,636 m high stratovolcano. The 7th topographically most prominent mountain in the world. Contains permanent snow.
  • Parícutin – Michoacán. Newly born volcano which appeared in cornfield in 1943 and grew 336 m tall in one year time, finally achieving height if 424 m in 1952.
  • Sumidero Canyon – Chiapas. Very impressive canyon with giant abrupt cliffs rising above the Grijalva River, unusual geological formations.

Man made landmarks

Cultural heritage of Mexico offers even more surprises than natural: Mexico has been cradle for several highly developed indigenous civilizations and several regions in the country are dotted with remnants of ancient cities with temples, palaces and pyramids.

Researchers here have countless riddles to be solved - and many new ones arising with further research.

With the arrival of Europeans the process of creation did not stop in Mexico - there are numerous beautiful colonial towns, ornate churches. Mexican architects and artists have been at the forefront of world's artistic scene also in the 20th century, creating original, influential trends.

Sites of Olmec culture

The first Mesoamerican civilization - Olmec culture - flourished in 1500 - 400 BC. These ancient people created distinct and beautiful monuments of art.

Head of warrior, La Venta
Head of warrior, La Venta / Ruben Charles, / CC BY 2.0
  • Juxtlahuaca and Oxtotitlán - Guerrero. Two caves with unique ancient Olmec paintings made 900 - 500 BC.
  • San Lorenzo – Veracruz. Largest city in Mesoamerica in 1200 – 900 BC, major centre of Olmec culture. Important ceremonial centre with extensive rised central part with sophisticated drainage system.
  • La Venta – Tabasco. Impressive achievement of ancient urban planning, art and architecture, one of the important centres of the ancient Olmec culture. Occupied since 1200 BC and becoming important centre 900 – 400 BC. Complex of clay buildings extending for some 20 km, includes 33 m tall pyramid. Renowned monuments of ancient art – four colossal sculptures of heads.
  • Tres Zapotes – Veracruz. Important centre of the ancient Olmec culture, founded around 1000 BC and flourished in 900 – 800 BC. Here have been found such unique monuments of Olmec art as two collosal heads, monuments of some of the earliest writing system and earliest calendar in Western Hemisphere.

Sites of Maya culture

El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza
El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Maya culture belongs to the most distinct ancient civilizations of the world with exceptional achievements in art and technologies. It flourished in 250 - 900 AD, although several Maya cities in northern Yucatán continued to flourish until 1450 AD, with last cities in the area of Guatemala subdued in 1697. Major part of the monuments of Maya culture are located in southern states of Mexico.

  • Balankanche Caves – Yucatán. Network of sacred Mayan caves, contains large selection of ancient pottery and idols in their original locations.
  • Bonampak – Chiapas. Remnants of ancient Maya city, built sometimes around 580 – 800 AD. Contains numerous valuable murals of high artistic value.
  • Calakmul – Campeche. One of the largest cities of ancient Maya with remnants of nearly 7000 structures still existing. Largest building – 55 m high pyramid. 117 stelae and numerous other important monuments of history and art.
  • Chichen Itza – Yucatán. Major urban centre of lowland Maya culture with numerous monuments of world importance and fame. Chichen Itza became important centre around 600 AD and remained such centre until its fall around 1000 AD. Some of the best known monuments are El Castillo pyramid, the Great Ball Court, Temple de los Guerreros, El Caracol observatory, Ossario pyramid. The unique Sacred Cenote is natural sinkhole - human sacrifice site. In deposits of cenote have been discovered huge amounts of gold and jade artefacts as well as human remains.
  • Kabah - Yucatán. Remnants of ancient Mayan city, flourished in the 7th – 11th century AD. Contains the unusual Palace of the Masks – facade of this building is adorned with hundreds of masks of rain god Chaac.
  • Labna – Yucatán. Important ceremonial centre of ancient Mayan civilization. Comparatively small city, flourishing around the 9th century AD. Renovned due to elaborate Puuc style architecture represented in such structures as Gateway Arch at the ancient road to Uxmal and the 120 m long palace (El Palacio).
  • Loltun Cave - Yucatán. Cave with some of the best Mayan cave paintings as well more ancient carvings and remnants of prehistoric animals hunted by Paleoindians.
  • Mayapan – Yucatán. Ancient centre of lowland Maya culture, cultural and political capital of region in the 1220s – 1440s. Remnants of more than 4000 structures, most inside 9 km long defensive wall. Most impressive structure – El Castillo pyramid (Kukulcan temple).
  • Palenque – Chiapas. Ruins of Mayan city which flourished in the 7th century AD. City is important nowadays due to several reasons. One is magnificent, romantic location in the middle of jungle, on the hill overlooking the coastal plains. Another is the fact that Palenque contains some of the finest known Mayan architecture and artwork. Most interesting structures are Palace of Palenque and Temple of the Inscriptions with important records of the history of the city and sarcophagus of Pakal – ruler of the city.
  • Uxmal – Yucatán. Important centre of ancient Maya culture with exceptionally well preserved structures. Could be founded as early as in 500 AD and inhabited until the 1550s, flourishing in 700 – 1100 AD. Architecture of Uxmal is considered to be of very high quality visually and structurally and belongs to the best achievements of Puuc style. Impressive buildings are The Governor’s Palace with the longest façade in ancient Mesoamerica, the Adivino – surprising pyramid with ovate sides and Nunnery Quadrangle – governor’s residence with interesting façades.
  • Tahtzibichen Labyrinth – Yucatán. Natural cave labyrinth, Mayan site. Contains stone temples, small pyramids, sculptures, ceramics, human remains. Part of caves is inundated.
  • Possible Maya bridge at Yaxchilan – Chiapas and Peten, Guatemala. Structures at the banks of Usumacinta River and in the middle of it hint at existance of the longest bridge of the ancient world. Bridge was approximately 200 m long and had two pylons in the river.

Other archaeological monuments

Besides the Olmec and Maya culture in ancient Mexico existed numerous other influential cultures - Zapotec, Aztec, Toltec etc. Often it is hard to identify a culture which has created some magnificent ancient cities of Mexico - not always people and their deeds can be easily categorized.

Monuments below are listed according to their age:

  • Hueyatlaco – Puebla. Mysterious find – sophisticated man-made tools in 250,000 years old strata. This does not fit with the theory of the habitation of New World which envisages that people here came much later.
  • Rock Paintings of Sierra de San Francisco – Cueva del Batequi, Cueva de la Natividad, Cerro de Santa Marta, Cueva de la Soledad, Cueva de las Flechas, Gruta del Brinco and many others - Baja California Sur. One of the most significant collections of prehistoric art in the world. Diverse prehistoric rock paintings of high artistic quality and well preserved in the dry climate of Baja California. Created in 1100 BC – 1300 AD.
  • Mitla, mosaic fretwork of the wall, Latvia
    Mitla, mosaic fretwork of the wall / SanGatiche, / CC BY 2.0
    Mitla – Oaxaca. Most important religious centre for the ancient Zapotec culture, developed in 900 BC - 1521 AD. Renowned due to elaborate mosaic fretwork adorning the facades of the buildings, panels, tombs. History of city continued until desctruction by Spanish in middle of the 16th century.
  • Monte Albán – Oaxaca. One of the earliest urban centres in Mesoamerica, centre of Zapotec culture for nearly 1000 years. Founded sometimes around 500 BC and inhabited until 750 AD. Contains remnants of many impressive structures such as Main Plaza, Ballgame Court, numerous stone carvings.
  • Los Guachimontones – Jalisco. Remnants of ancient city of Teuchitlan culture, 300 BC - 900 AD. Characteristic monument – 10 unusual stepped circular pyramids up to 18 m high.
  • Great Pyramid of Cholula – Puebla. World’s largest structure, built in the 3rd century BC – 9th century AD. Base of pyramid is 450 x 450 m, height – 66 m. Volume of construction material exceeds the volume of Great Pyramid of Giza nearly two times.
  • Teotihuacan – México. One of the largest ancient cities in the world containing numerous monuments of architecture and art. Established sometimes around 200 BC and was abandoned in the 7th - 8th centuries AD. Hugely impressive monument of urban planning is Avenue of the Dead. Exceptional structure is Pyramid of the Sun – third largest ancient pyramid in the world. Height – 71,2 m. Pyramid of the Moon is an older pyramid from 200 – 450 AD, 42 m high. Site contains numerous valuable murals.
  • La Quemada – Zacatecas. Remnants of ancient city from 300 - 1200 AD, it is unclear which culture built it. Architecture of structures resembles the style of great Mesoamerican cultures but the city is located far north from other Mesoamerican cities. Impressive building is Votive Pyramid.
  • Cantona – Puebla. Remnants of heavily fortified ancient Mesoamerican city from 600 – 1000 AD. Unusual due to high concentration of ballcourts – 24 found so far. All structures here have been build without any mortar.
  • El Tajin, Pyramid of the Niches
    El Tajin, Pyramid of the Niches / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
    El Tajín – Veracruz. One of the most important ancient cities of Mesoamerica. Flourished in 600 – 1200 AD, inhabited by people of diverse nationality. Impressive monuments are Pyramid of the Niches, Building 5 (also a pyramid) and other pyramid shaped temples.
  • Xochicalco – Morelos. Remnants of fortified prehistoric city, developed as important urban centre in 700 – 900 AD. Contains large structures entirely covered with sculptural work of exceptional quality as well as observatory in painted and frescoed cave.
  • Tula, Tollan – Hidalgo. Largest ancient city in central Mexico in the 9th – 10th centuries AD. Capital of Toltecs at 980 AD, destroyed sometimes in 1168 – 1179. Nowadays preserved complexes of ceremonial buildings in two sites including pyramids, famous columns in form of Toltec warriors.
  • Las de Paquimé – Chihuahua. The most impressive ruins of the so called Casas Grandes monuments. Remnants of ancient settlement from 1130 – 1300 AD. Gradually evolved into multi-storied single structure which housed up to 2500 people.
  • Texcotzingo – México. One of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Imperial summer gardens for Aztec emperors of nearby Texcoco. Developed in the 15th century as collection of plants and animals. Includes very impressive and unusual waterworks and other structures to sustain the diverse life forms.

Urban planning monuments

Mexcaltitan from the air, Mexico
Mexcaltitan from the air / Juan Manuel Dominguez Arenas Bass, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Several cities in Mexico have inherited ancient, pre-European planning and to some extent - even lifestyle. Two of such amazing cities are:

  • Xochimilco – Ciudad de México. Unique monument of urban planning, inherited from Aztec times. Here has been preserved the network of ancient channels with chinampas – ancient island gardens. Channels are travelled by special boats – trajineras. Channels and islands contain endemic plants and animals including unique salamander – axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum (Shaw, 1789)).
  • Mexcaltitán – Nayarit. Unique monument of urban planning – man-made island city in shallow lagoon with central, radial planning, resembling a giant wheel in plan. At high water the streets in the town turn into channels.

As if to beat local civilisations, European invaders did their best to build beautiful cities. Planning and architecture of these cities though is inevitably influenced by local heritage. Some examples of such great colonial cities are:

  • Guanajuato – Guanajuato. Beautiful colonial city with numerous impressive buildings in Mexican Baroque style. Many streets for cars go underground here.
  • Historical centre of México – Ciudad de México. Unique urban monument uniting prehistoric Aztec architecture with lush Spanish colonial architecture. Zocalo in the centre of city is the second largest urban plaza in the world after Red Square in Moscow, Russia.
  • San Miguel de Allende – Guanajuato. Historic town with beautiful Mexican Baroque architecture, established to guard the route to Mexico.
  • Historical centre of Morelia – Michoacán. Historical colonial city in beautiful setting with numerous impressive Baroque style buildings.
  • Historical centre of Oaxaca – Oaxaca. Historical colonial city with numerous impressive Baroque style buildings. Many of historical buildings have been built of local green stone giving to the city a special charm.
  • Historical centre of Puebla – Puebla. Beautiful colonial city with extremely valuable Baroque quartal, including the impressive Cathedral of Puebla (1575 – 1768). Of high value are also several thousands of later buildings including beautiful blocks from the late 19th century – early 20th century.
  • Taxco, panorama, Mexico
    Taxco, panorama / Laurent Espitallier, / CC BY 2.0
    Historical Centre of Taxco – Guerrero. Impressive centre of colonial silver mining town located in mountainous area. Besides the beautiful historical quartals it contains also the incredibly ornamented Santa Prisca Church (1758) with huge gold coated altars.
  • Tlacotalpan – Veracruz. Beautiful, unique town available only from the river. Specific urban planning techniques have been developed to adapt to local conditions, resulting in unique cultural landscape with low, beautiful, long buildings covered with terracota tiles and wide streets with many large trees.
  • Historical Centre of Zacatecas – Zacatecas. Well preserved colonial mining city with quartals of Baroque buildings. Located in beautiful, mountainous setting in both sides of valley.

Churches and monasteries

Successful spread of Christian faith was of utmost importance for subduing the indigenous people. Architecture and art was of great assistance in this mission. Many Mexican churches show even frantic desire to impress and persuade - their splendour exceeds the grandeur of most European churches.

  • Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral - Ciudad de México. Largest and oldest cathedral in Americas, built in lush Renaissance and Baroque style in 1573 - 1813.
  • Five Franciscan missions of Sierra GordaConcá (1754 – 1758), Jalpan (1751 – 1758), Landa (1760 – 1768), Tancoyol (1760 – 1766), Tilaco (1744 – 1762) have beautiful churches with highly decorative, unusual facades.
Palacio des Bellas Artes, Mexico
Palacio des Bellas Artes, Mexico City / Esparta Palma, / CC BY 2.0

Other monuments of architecture and art

  • Querétaro aqueduct – Querétaro. 1,280 m long aqueduct with 75 arches, average height – 23 m. Built in 1726 – 1738.
  • Casa de los Azulejos – Ciudad de México. Urban palace from 1793 with three walls covered with beautiful blue and white tiles, hosts restaurant with unique interior.
  • Chapultepec Castle – Ciudad de México. Often called the only real castle in North America, this castle is built in 1785 – 1863. It has served also as a residence of emperor – Maximilian I. Ornate interiors.
  • Palacio des Bellas Artes – Ciudad de México. Beautiful, giant cultural centre built in Art Noveau, Art Deco and Neo-Classicism styles in 1904 – 1934. Centre of artistic life in Mexico.
  • Luis Barragán House and Studio – Ciudad de México. One of the most influential works in contemporary architecture, three story concrete house built in 1948.
  • Torre Latinoamericana – Ciudad de México. 140 m (204 m with antenna) high skyscraper with 44 floors, built in 1948 – 1956. First skyscraper in the world built in highly seismically active land.
  • UNAM Biblioteca Central – Ciudad de México. Large university library. Outside of the building is covered with the largest murals in the world, created by Juan O’Gorman of tiles in 1956.
  • Las Pozas – San Luis Potosí. Unique park in surrealist style, created by Edward James in the early 1940s - 1980s. Park basically is very picturesque rainforest with numerous waterfalls and surrealist sculptures.

List of described attractions by regions

Mexico is divided into 31 states and 1 federal district.

Federal district

Ciudad de México

States

Aguascalientes
Baja California
Baja California Sur
Campeche
Chiapas
Chihuahua
Coahuila
Colima
Durango
Guanajuato
Guerrero
Hidalgo
Jalisco
ArrowCola de CaballoWaterfalls
México
Michoacán
Morelos
Nayarit
Nuevo León
Oaxaca
ArrowÁrbol del TuleTrees
Puebla
Querétaro
ArrowSótano del BarroSinkholes
Quintana Roo
San Luis Potosí
ArrowHoya de las GuaguasSinkholes
ArrowSótano de las GolondrinasSinkholes, Caves
Sinaloa
Sonora
Tabasco
Tamaulipas
ArrowAtascosa pool, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes
ArrowCavernas Las Quarteles, Sistema ZacatónCaves
ArrowCaverna Travertina, Sistema ZacatónSprings, Caves
ArrowCenote Alameda, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes
ArrowCenote Amarillo, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes
ArrowCenote Azufrosa and La Cristalina, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes, Springs
ArrowCueva La Iguana, Sistema ZacatónCaves
ArrowEl Nacimiento spring, Sistema ZacatónSprings, Caves
ArrowEl Zacatón sinkholeSinkholes, Biotopes
ArrowLaguna Colorada, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes
ArrowLa Pilita sinkhole, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes
ArrowPalmita, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes
ArrowPoza del Caracol, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes
ArrowPoza Garapata, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes, Biotopes
ArrowPoza Seca, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes, Biotopes
ArrowPoza Tule, Sistema ZacatónSinkholes
ArrowPoza Verde, Sistema ZacatónSprings
ArrowSistema ZacatónSinkholes, Biotopes, Springs, Caves
Tlaxcala
Veracruz
Yucatán
Zacatecas

Map of Mexico

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