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America's neighbor to the south: 25 facts about Mexican history and culture

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Leonardo Emiliozzi Ph // Shutterstock

America's neighbor to the south: 25 facts about Mexican history and culture

We all know Mexico—our sunny neighbor to the south heralded for its beautiful beaches, world-renowned cuisine, colorful art, and potent tequilas. We know Mexico’s five-star resorts and vibrant cultural capitals like Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende. We know the sunsets in Los Cabos, and the beautiful ruins at Chichen Itza. But how well do we really know Mexico?

Did you know that Mexico is a country with more than 10,000 years of history? It also is one of the most topographically diverse nations in the world, home to, yes, those beautiful beaches, but also a vast mountain range, forests, lakes, jungle, canyons, rivers, and more. It also has thousands of miles of coastline and an indigenous population that collectively speaks over 100 languages. There is so much international influence in Mexico—more than you might imagine. Combine that with thousands of years of indigenous heritage and you’ve got a recipe for something truly unique.

To put it simply, Mexico is fascinating. Mexico is diverse. Mexico is one of the closest countries U.S. citizens can visit to experience some of the most diverse people and environments in the world.

So how much do you really know about Mexico? Stacker compiled a list of 25 facts about Mexican history and culture, each pulled from reports, studies, government documents, and news. These facts cover everything from interesting events in history, to demographic changes, to cultural traditions. Get ready to learn about some of your favorite foods, inventions we use every day, natural phenomena, and historical tidbits.

So if you thought Mexico was just about tacos, tequila, and soaking up the rays, get ready to think again. Read on to discover 25 surprising facts about Mexico.

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nantarpats // Shutterstock

Without Mexico, there would be no Caesar salad

You can find it on nearly every hotel room service menu around the world, and it’s one of the most popular menu items in the United States. But believe it or not, the Caesar salad was actually invented in Mexico. Just across the border in Tijuana lives Caesar’s Restaurante-Bar, an institution that has been around since 1927. It was here that founder Caesar Cardini created the world’s most famous salad.

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PARDO/AFP // Getty Images

Mexico is a hotbed of seismic activity

The Earth's “Ring of Fire” is a zone of fault lines that circles the Pacific tectonic plate, known for being the most active area on the planet for seismic activity. Mexico sits on the Ring of Fire and its central and west coast are known to experience frequent volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

[Pictured: A Civil Protection worker works at an earthquake monitoring centre in Acapulco, Guerrero State, Mexico.]

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Playa del Carmen // Shutterstock

You can feed a village from one tamale

Mexico's Huasteca region, which includes the states of San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo, and Veracruz, makes the largest tamales in Mexico. These Zacahuil, or giant smoked tamales, can max out at 10 feet long, and some can weigh 100 pounds.

[Pictured: Authentic standard size Mexican tamal in banana and corn leaf.]

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ProtoplasmaKid // Wikimedia Commons

Mexico invented the color TV

Mexico is heralded for its vibrant art and colorful culture, and it turns out a Mexican is actually credited with bringing color to TV. Guillermo Gonzalez Camarena from Guadalajara invented the chromoscopic adapter for television equipment back in the 1940s, which allowed moving pictures to be adapted from black and white to color.

[Pictured: GonCam Camera for Chromoscopicadapter for television equipment as seen at Radio and TV Museum, Palacio de la Cultura y la Comunicación, Zapopan, Jalisco.]

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Pe3k // Shutterstock

The world's largest geyser is in Mexico...

At 43 feet tall, the Cuexcomate geyser in Puebla is the world's largest. Mistakenly called the world's smallest volcano, it is actually an extinct geyser. However, it lives at the foot of Popocatepetl, which is very much an active volcano in Mexico.

[Pictured: Cuexcomate, an inactive geyser in Puebla city, mistakenly called "The Smallest Volcano of the World" in Puebla, Mexico.]

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robert cicchetti // Shutterstock

...as is North America’s tallest volcano

Blessed with more than gigantic geysers, Mexico is also home to the tallest volcano in North America. Pico de Orizaba is now dormant but remains one of the most challenging peaks for climbers. It's the third-largest peak overall in North America, after Denali in Alaska and Mount Logan in the Yukon.

[Pictured: Pico de Orizaba volcano, or Citlaltepetl, is the highest mountain in Mexico.]

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LunaseeStudios // Shutterstock

Pacifico beer has German roots

Pacifico beer, the famous libation known throughout Mexico, was created in Mazatlan at the beginning of the 20th century when three German brewers opened up a brewery. It is now one of Mexico’s most iconic beers and is enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

[Pictured: Pacifico is a Mexican pilsner-style beer brewed in in the pacific ocean port city of Mazatlan.]

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EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP // Getty Images

Mexico’s indigenous tribes include more than just Mayans and Aztecs

There are dozens of indigenous tribes native to Mexico, though most visitors are only familiar with the Mayan and Aztec communities. Many of these populations are still active in Mexico today, with roots that stretch all the way back to pre-Colombian times. Other indigenous tribes beside the Maya and Aztecs include Toltecs, Zapotecs, Huichol, Olmecs, and more.

[Pictured: An indigenous woman from Mexico speaks with Amadeo Martinez, president of the Indigenous Council of Central America, about a new map showing locations of indigenous peoples at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in 2016.]

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HECTOR GUERRERO/AFP // Getty Images

Southern Mexico has the largest number of indigenous people

Most of Mexico's indigenous population lives in the southern part of the country, predominantly Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Veracruz. Eighty percent of indigenous language-speakers live in eight of Mexico's states. The others are Puebla, Yucatan, Guerrero, Hidalgo, and the state of Mexico.

[Pictured: Maria de Jesus Patricio, an indigenous healer from the Nahuatl ethnic group talks about the medicines she is preparing during an interview at her clinic in Tuxpan, Jalisco State.]

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Susana Gonzalez // Newsmakers

Cinco de Mayo is not a big deal in Mexico

While May 5 signals a time when Americans celebrate Mexican culture, food, and drinks (thanks to a push by beer companies in the 1980s and '90s to commodify the latter), Cinco de Mayo in Mexico comes and goes with little or no notice. The holiday commemorates Mexico's 1862 victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla—not Mexican Independence, which is observed Sept. 16. Cinco de Mayo is primarily celebrated in the towns affected by the conflict: Puebla and Veracruz.

[Pictured: A Cinco de Mayo with a reenactment of the 1862 battle between the French and the Zacapuaxtlas Indians in Puebla, Mexico as photographed on May 5, 2001.]

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PATRICIA CASTELLANOS/AFP // Getty Images

A town in Oaxaca celebrates radishes

Mexico is a country that loves to celebrate. In Oaxaca, Christmastime gets an additional dose of red with the Noche de Rabanos, or the Night of the Radishes. This annual Oaxaca festival takes place every Dec. 23 and features a contest to carve radishes into beautiful figures.

[Pictured: Carved radishes are displayed during the celebration of the "Night of the Radishes" at the Ocototlan de Morelos community in Oaxaca State, Mexico.]

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Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP // Getty Images

A tower of hundreds of skulls sits beneath Mexico City

In 2015, archaeologists uncovered a tower made of hundreds of skulls beneath Mexico City. The skulls belonged to men, women, and children who met their fate or were sacrificed in the Aztec temple Templo Mayor where Mexico City sits today. The skulls are believed to be arranged in offering to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of the sun and war.

[Pictured: A boy observes a mural of skull sculptures inside the "Templo Mayor" Museum in Mexico City, located next to the archaeological zone of Tenochtitlan where the Skull Tower was excavated.]

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Carlos Tischler // Shutterstock

Mexico makes wonderful wine

A few years ago, word spread of Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe, a wine-growing region in the Baja peninsula. But Mexico has two other wine regions on the mainland, as well. In fact, Mexico is one of the world's fastest emerging wine producers.

[Pictured: Grapes on a vineyard in Queretaro, Mexico.]

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ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP // Getty Images

It’s legal to use peyote in Mexico

Peyote use is legal with one caveat: You can only use it if you’re a member of the Huichol tribe. The Huichol are indigenous people who live in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco Zacatecas, and Durango. According to their own history, they originated from the state of San Luis Potosi, several states away. Each year, members of the tribe make a pilgrimage back to San Luis to perform peyote ceremonies—under the protection of the government.

[Pictured: A person displays heads of peyote in the desert.]

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Altrendo Images // Shutterstock

Mexico has its own grand canyon

Mexico has a spectacular natural canyon similar to the American Grand Canyon. Called Copper Canyon, it’s actually a series of six canyons, which are even wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon. One of the best ways to see the canyon is a trip on El Chepe, a train that runs the canyon’s length and offers opportunities to explore nearby towns and drink in the visual splendor of the canyons from a series of bridges that the train crosses.

[Pictured: A view of Urique River and canyon in Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico.]

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HECTOR GUERRERO/AFP // Getty Images

Not all tequila is actually tequila

Just because it says "tequila" on the label doesn't mean that's actually what it is. Much like Champagne, tequila can only be called tequila if it is produced in one of five Mexican states: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Any other agave-based spirit that derives from Mexico but is made outside of those regions is referred to as "mezcal."

[Pictured: A Patron Distillery employee reviews tequila barrels in Atotonilco, Jalisco.]

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GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP Getty Images

Mexico is home to many languages besides Spanish

Spanish may be the language most closely associated with Mexico, but there are 68 government-recognized languages in the country. In 2002, the government created the Law of Linguistic Rights to protect native Mexican languages. Today, about 7 million people are native speakers of indigenous languages in the country.

[Pictured: Citizens attend a mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Chiapas, Mexico, which he delivered in three indigenous languages of the region: Tzetal, Tzotzil, and Chol.]

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Noradoa // Shutterstock

You can see monarch butterflies migrate every year

Every year, millions of monarch butterflies migrate south from Canada and the United States to a forest that straddles the Mexican states of Michoacan and the State of Mexico. The entire journey takes from August until November. In 2008, the forest area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

[Pictured: The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan, Mexico.]

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erlucho // Shutterstock

Mexico City is sinking

Venice isn't the only city said to be sinking. It turns out that Mexico City is getting lower and lower each year, as well. Mexico City was built on a small island in the middle of a lake. Over centuries, the soil absorbed so much water that buildings are now sinking more and more each year.

[Pictured: A view of buildings in the historic center of Mexico City showing subsidence.]

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Lorena Huerta // Shutterstock

There are 35 UNESCO Heritage Sites

There is no shortage of heritage in Mexico. In fact, the country is home to 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which span everything from historic city centers and pre-Hispanic ruins to nature reserves and prehistoric caves.

[Pictured: An aerial view of Teotihuacan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.]

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hydra viridis // Shutterstock

Most of the world’s silver comes from Mexico

If silver jewelry is your style, you might plan a trip south of the border. Mexico has remained the world's largest producer of silver for many years. In fact, it leads the world in silver production.

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Marcos Castillo // Shutterstock

Hot chocolate is the nectar of the gods

It may be your favorite winter beverage, but for the indigenous Olmecs, hot chocolate was literally a heavenly drink. Rather than eating chocolate in solid form, the Olmecs mixed it with water to make "xocolatl." The Olmecs later passed this tradition on to the Maya, who passed it onto the Aztecs. It is said when the conquistador Hernan Cortez encountered the Aztecs, they offered him and his men cups their sacred drink.

[Pictured: A mug of hot chocolate from Oaxaca Mexico,]

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Chepe Nicoli // Shutterstock

Mexico is one of the hardest working countries

The average citizen of Mexico works about 2,200 hours per year. The country also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world at 3.3%.

[Pictured: People walk in La Mexicana Park in Santa Fe, a major business district in Mexico City.]

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tateyama // Shutterstock

Mexico City is the easiest place in the world to catch a cab

That's because it has the largest fleet of registered cabs in the world, at nearly 140,000 vehicles. That said, a December 2019 travel advisory from the U.S. State Department recommended calling cabs or Ubers directly rather than hailing rides in the street. So, it's always best to have your hotel call one for you.

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Bain News Service // Library of Congress

The 34th president had the shortest term in history

On Feb. 19, 1913, Pedro Lascurain took office... for less than an hour. Mexican General Victoriano Huerta overthrew the then-president, Francisco I. Madero in a coup. Lascurain was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Madero’s successor. He appointed Huerta as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs then resigned so Huerta could become president. This period is known as La Decena Tragica or the Ten Tragic Days.

[Pictured: Pedro José Domingo de la Calzada Manuel MaríaLascuráin Paredes (1856-1952) who served as Mexico's foreign minister and briefly as president.]

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