Contiki Culture Hubs: Mexican Culture Edition
Welcome to Contiki’s Culture Hub for all the hot and spicy details on Mexican culture. This is the place you’ll find answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask!
From bathing in magical sinkholes, to discovering warming local drinks, to participating in all the festivities, Mexico is a country that will give you everything you want and so much more. Do you travel for good food? Check! You want to take in some history? Check! All about the people and having a good time? Double check!
We all know Cancun and Tijuana and Tulum, but what about the smaller towns and the hole-in-the-wall bars and the specialty markets? That’s where the secrets to uncovering all of Mexico lie! Our expert Trip Managers and travellers have come together to compile a perfect blend of quirky, interesting, and educational Mexican culture facts!
Mexico, home of…
- Spanish and 50 other languages: It’s no surprise to find out that Mexico’s national language is Spanish. But, did you know that Mexico holds the world’s largest population of Spanish speakers? Two and a half times more than Spain or Colombia! Most interesting though, Mexico is home to over 50 indigenous languages including Maya, Huastec, and Tzeltal.
- All the Peninsulas: Flanked on either side of the country, Mexico is made up of two major peninsulas which offer the beachiest spots and the bluest water. To the northwest there is Baja California which, you guessed it, borders on the Golden State itself. In the southeast you’ll find the Yucatán, home to magical cenotes and the ever-pleasant Caribbean sea.
- Mestizos, Native Americans, and Europeans: As with many countries in the Americas, Mexico’s population is varied and can’t be tied down to one ancestral root. More than three fifths of the population are mestizos, which are people with mixed Spanish or indigenous descent. One fifth of the population is made up of Native Americans, and the rest are made up of European ancestry.
A large and amazing part of Mexican culture is how happy the people are! That’s right, Mexico has time and time again been reported as being one of the happiest populations on earth, but what’s the secret? It’s all about chilling with your BFFs. This recipe to happiness includes a very generous pinch of social contact, whether it be with your friends or family, or even colleagues.
Joking, laughing, smiling, hugging, it’s all conducive to attaining that happiness we all long for! Mexican families tend to be quite close-knit and spend their weekend meals together. Co-workers make time to eat lunch together, and people often have a specially designated day of the week to see their friends! And anything can be used as an excuse to get together.
Genuinely such a wholesome facet of Mexican culture, we’re sure these guys would LOVE social travel. We, also, operate on the belief of the more the merrier!
Of course, Mexico is famous for its delicious and mouth-watering food. Tacos, burritos, churros, you name it and we’ll come running! And don’t even get us started on Mexican street food… you could (and should) street taco yourself into oblivion!
Many ingredients used in global cuisine actually come from Mexico. Things like corn, avocados, red tomatoes, chilli peppers, vanilla, and chocolate were originally grown and domesticated in Mexico and were spread to the rest of the world through trade. No surprise then that Mexican food is officially a piece of World Cultural Heritage.
Bonus points for Mexican food being easily tailored to most diets! Eat everything? Juicy meat and salsa dishes are all yours! Pescatarian? The Mexican coasts bring some banging fishy plates to the table. Vegan or Gluten Free? So much of Mexican food is just a bright assortment of veggies and spices, and most tortillas are made from masa – corn flour! And what a relief because this food is heaven and too good to miss.
- Use sunscreen: it’s hot hot hot in Mexico and unless you want to walk around sporting dry or very red skin, we recommend slathering that baby on!
- Learn some basic Spanish: first of all, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world so it’s always handy having a few phrases in your back pocket. But learning a country’s language before visiting is a great sign of respect and a sure way to get the locals to like you!
- Arrive Early: popular as it is, all your favourite tourist destinations will get packed, and quick! So the sooner you get there, the sooner you can enjoy, and the more you can see!
- Forget to tip: some of our travellers may not be accustomed to tipping, but in Mexico it’s standard practice and you don’t want to be that one person… The usual amount is 10-20%.
- Pet stray dogs: as much as we love furry creatures here, stray dogs anywhere can carry diseases and other unknown grievances. It’s best to just love them from afar.
- Drink tap water: tap water in Mexico is NOT safe for human consumption so please don’t go filling up your cute reusable bottle in any kitchen sinks… Our Trip Managers will provide safe drinking water everywhere you go.
Mexico and the Moon
Did you know the name Mexico is a Náhuatl term which derives from the words metztli meaning moon, xictli meaning navel or centre, and co meaning place. Therefore, Mexico can be translated to mean ‘the place in the centre of the moon’. This name comes from the Aztecs who built Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City, in the middle of the Lake of the Moon.
Many of Mexico’s ancient civilizations like the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Incas, had strong religions built around the sun and the moon. These celestial bodies represented deities that the Aztecs worshipped as the ‘evening star’ and ‘morning star’. The planet Venus was also an important figure.
Remnants of this faith can be found at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Teotihuacán, where the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon still stand proud and tall. Amazingly, Teotihuacán existed almost 1000 years prior to the Aztecs, and is considered the first and most important civil settlement in the Americas. While we’re on the topic of pyramids, did you know that the largest pyramid in the world is Cholula in Mexico, not the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, contrary to popular belief.
Teotihuacán is still open to visitors today, and you can take a walk down the Avenue of the Dead to the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, a flying feathered snake deity that Aztecs and other civilisations worshipped.
Image source:Abimelec Castillo / unsplash
‘I Put a Spell on You’
On the southeast side of Mexico City you’ll find Mercado de Sonora, and if you creep into the corners, you’ll be able to purchase some very interesting things. Love potions, mystical herbs, voodoo dolls, and all things dedicated to brujeria and la Santa Muerte. The ‘entrance’ is marked by a skeleton adorned in pearls and a crown.
The infamous Witch Market is a must see, and though we advise caution when treading here, it’s a great experience. Whether you believe in witchcraft or not, respect for the traditions your are experiencing is key (and also to avoid getting hexed!). If you’re in need of a spooky story to tell or a fun souvenir, the Witch Market is the perfect place.
Swimming in your Personal Paradise
Let’s talk about cenotes baby! Ever wanted to swim in your very own personalised pool? Imagine crystalline waters, surrounded by trees and vines and the greenest greenery you’ve ever seen. It’s like a mini jungle, and it can be all yours if you come visit the magical cenotes with us on Mexico Grande!
Cenotes are natural freshwater pools that resemble very deep sinkholes, except for all the beauty around them! There are around 6000 cenotes in Mexico, the most in the world with many of them being concentrated in the Yucatán Peninsula.
They’re an absolute must see while travelling through Latin America and a staple of any Mexican culture trip!
Dia de los Muertos
Many countries have some kind of celebration at the end of October or early September to remember the dead. In the USA it’s Halloween, in France it’s La Tous Saint, and in Mexico it’s la Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.
This is an important festival which takes place on the 1st and 2nd of November every year, all over Latin America, but especially in Mexico, and celebrates the cycle of life and death. The origins of the Day of the Dead lie with the Aztecs who believed that when a person died, they made a journey to Chicunamictlan, their version of the underworld. Family members and close friends of the deceased would make offerings at ofrendas, altars, in order to help the dead make this journey. Offerings often include the deceased’s favourite foods, instruments, books, etc.
Today, la Dia de los Muertos is celebrated through colourful parades and participants often paint their faces to resemble beautiful floral skulls, also called calaveras. Many people set up candle-lit altars in their home, and place bright orange and yellow marigold flowers beside them. These flowers are believed to attract the souls of the dead with their scent and help guide family spirits home.
La Dia de los Muertos is perhaps the most well known part of Mexican culture, and for good reason. If you happen to be in Mexico during this time, especially in a big city, you’ll be in for an absolute treat as this celebration is both a party and a touching celebration of enduring love for people’s lost ones.
Itching to get to Mexico and add some spice and sun to your life? So are we! But not so fast, equip yourself with some handy dandy Spanish expressions first, provided by our local guides Abe and Ish.
- Hola: Hello
- Por favor: Please
- Gracias: Thank you
- ¿Hablas inglés?: Do you speak English? (in Spanish, punctuation like question marks and exclamation marks are written at the start and end of a sentence to note the tonal shift)
- Quiero un café, por favor: I’d like a coffee, please
- ¿Qué recomiendas?: What do you recommend?
- Me encanta la comida mexicana: I love Mexican food.
- Está muy picante: It’s so spicy.