Mexico is popular with travelers from all over the world. They go there for reasons almost too numerous to mention: sunshine, blue seas teeming with fish and coral, crystal-white beaches, lofty mountains and volcanoes, jungles full of exotic wildlife, world-famous museums and painters, collectible folk art, postcard-perfect Spanish colonial cities and the breathtaking remains of ancient cultures. The megalopolis of Mexico City is Mexico's capital and lies roughly in the middle of the country. Approximately 10 million people live in the city limits, but at least twice that number call metropolitan Mexico City home. By most estimates, this is the fifth- or sixth-largest city in the world.
Popular Destinations in Mexico: Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula in the east, and Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo on the Baja Peninsula in the west. Between those two peninsulas lie such cities as Guadalajara, Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Oaxaca. Many visitors also take the train ride through Copper Canyon.
Canada's wild northern frontier, which has etched itself into the national psyche, and its distinct patchwork of peoples have created a country different from the USA. The edginess between Canada's indigenous, French and British traditions gives the nation its complex three-dimensional character. Add to this a constant infusion of US culture and traditions brought by migrants to form a thriving multicultural society. With its history, people, landscape and natural beauty, Canada offers well-known cities, attractions, parks and regions making for wonderful educational, inspiring or just plain fun destinations. Don't pass up a chance to explore the less-traveled areas, too—at the fringes of the inhabited world, great challenges, eye-opening experiences and hospitable people await.
California is not the promised land, but it sure has fooled a lot of people into thinking that it is. Gold-rush prospectors, dust-bowl refugees, Midwesterners brainwashed by surf songs, aspiring actors trying to make it big in Hollywood—they've all looked on the state as a paradise where their dreams would come true. Most of them didn't find the Garden of Eden when they crossed the state line, but California certainly does look the part. Fertile valleys are nestled beneath rugged mountains, grapevines cover the hillsides and the tallest trees in the world stand high above a rocky ocean shore. A land of geographic superlatives, the Golden State is blessed with more physical variety than any other state in the U.S.—from desert to snow-capped peaks—while its cities are each as distinct as a thumbprint. Travelers may be the ones who come closest to finding a utopia in the state. There are so many wonderful things to see and do that it's hard to pick what not to see and do. At the end of every trip to the region, travelers lay out plans for the next time around.
Oregon's countless opportunities for outdoor recreation top the list of reasons to visit, but you don't have to leave with sore muscles. Its cities and towns are rich with history, art, culture and shopping. Sightseeing is as near as the closest highway. And more than anything else, it's the feel of the place that makes Oregon special. It's a combination of West Coast laid-back and small-town polite. All that, and it's just plain beautiful.
Desert, snowcapped mountains, lush farmland, an immense river gorge, rugged ocean shoreline, towering temperate rain forest—you could spend several weeks taking in all that scenery on a tour of the western U.S., or you could experience it all on a single drive in Washington.
Mexico is a large country with diverse landscapes. Much of the northern part of the country is on a high plateau and is made up of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts. Two mountain chains—the Sierra Madre Occidental, to the west, and the Sierra Madre Oriental, to the east—extend for a good length of the country. Between these and some smaller mountain ranges are several plains and valleys that hold many of the country's major cities. Mexico also features arid coastal plains, the famous Baja Peninsula and the thick tropical jungles of the Yucatan and Chiapas. The country has long and alluring coastlines washed by the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California and the Caribbean Sea.
California is a huge state: 770 mi/1,240 km north to south, and 250 mi/403 km wide. Ocean, mountain and desert are California's defining features. There are several different mountain ranges. The Coastal Range, immediately inland of the Pacific shore, extends north from Santa Barbara and into Oregon. In the far northeast, the Cascades extend into neighboring Oregon, and the rugged Sierra Nevada's jagged peaks tower over the eastern third of the state. The Peninsular Ranges extend from Los Angeles south into Mexico's Baja peninsula, while the east-west Transverse Ranges separate much of Southern California from the rest of the state. Cusped among all these mountains are several fertile valleys, including the vast Central Valley—an extremely flat area that's an agricultural powerhouse for one-third of the nation’s produce. The southeastern quarter of the state is one vast semiarid desert fringed by valleys and mountains. Much of the Mojave Desert is enshrined within a national park. In the mid-20th century, modern water projects transformed much of this land into rich farmland and then into lush urban and suburban settings, such as the resort town of Palm Springs, where verdant golf courses spring up in the middle of the dusty landscape. In the far east, Death Valley boasts the lowest elevation in the U.S.—and often the highest summer temperatures—and an astonishing array of fascinating geological formations, from salt pans to sand dunes.
Oregon is one of the most geographically diverse spots in the U.S. The state's western border is formed by the Pacific Ocean, and the seacoast is separated from the rest of the state by the rugged mountains of the coastal range. East of the coastal mountains is the fertile Willamette Valley, stretching from southern Oregon to the Columbia River and bordered on the east by the Cascade Mountains. North and east of the Cascades is the Columbia Plateau, a dramatic, high-desert environment punctuated with mountains and secluded lakes. South and east of the Cascades is the northern end of the Great Basin desert.
The Cascade Range runs north to south and includes Washington's highest peaks: Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Baker. The Cascades divide the state roughly in two. Areas to the west of the mountains, which include Puget Sound, Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula, are well watered and green—the verdant landscape most people associate with the state. East of the mountains, the state is much drier, made up of farmland, rolling hills and areas with desertlike conditions.
Mexico has one of the most fascinating histories in the Americas. The first residents reached the area more than 20,000 years ago. In time, the descendants of these first immigrants produced monumental architecture, incredibly precise calendars and advanced agricultural accomplishments (they gave the world corn, vanilla, chocolate and tomatoes). Beginning around 1200 BC, a series of great civilizations waxed and waned along the Gulf Coast and southern portions of Mexico, including the Olmecs and the Maya. The Toltecs and a number of other groups came later. The Aztecs began their rise to power around AD 1300, establishing their capital at Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City) and eventually conquering all other groups in central and southern Mexico. Like some of their predecessors, they were a warrior civilization. Rivals who were forced to pay tribute to the Aztecs were looking for an opportunity to throw off their rule, and that opportunity soon presented itself. Hernan Cortes first stepped ashore on Mexico in 1519 and established the town of Veracruz on the Gulf Coast. With just 500 followers, the conquistador engineered the downfall of an Aztec empire by forming alliances with the Aztec's enemies, which swelled his army to more than 5,000. Diseases that the Spanish brought with them, such as smallpox, also overwhelmed the Aztecs. It took Cortes two years to defeat the Aztecs, and with his victory, Mexico came under Spanish rule.
Spanish-Mexican Indian intermarriage yielded a new mixed race of people—mestizos. Their culture was influenced by the mother country in its language, architecture, traditions and religion. The Spanish colonial capital—Mexico City—was literally built from the rubble of Tenochtitlan, as Aztec temples were dismantled to build royal palaces and churches. For the next 300 years, the city served as the center of the vast colony of New Spain. Mexican patriots started fighting for freedom in 1810 and gained independence from the Spanish crown by 1821. The ensuing decades were turbulent for the new country: Mexico passed through years of dictatorship and instability. From the 1830s through the 1850s, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana ruled the country. During this period, Mexico lost half of its territory in wars against rebellious Texans (in 1836) and against the U.S. (in 1847). In the 1850s, the country was embroiled in a civil war that eventually resulted in Benito Juarez being elected president. One of Mexico's most progressive presidents, Juarez instituted a liberal government and the separation of church and state in a political movement called La Reforma. He also led the fight against French invaders, who ruled the country for several years and placed Emperor Maximilian on the throne before they were forced to withdraw, leaving Maximilian to the firing squad. The modern era began in 1910 with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution. The decade-long conflict produced some of Mexico's most enduring figures, including the rebel leaders Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) held power through the next seven decades, giving Mexico one of the longest-lasting governments in Latin America, some say with near-dictatorial status.
The 1990s were unstable for Mexico. After years of state control, the government began liberalizing the economy, joining the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. For a time, the economy seemed to be booming, until a massive devaluation of its currency dragged the country back into crisis in late 1994. Earlier that year, a small group of rebels in Chiapas State, calling themselves Zapatistas, staged a rebellion that drew international attention to the poverty endured by the country's Maya Indians. A series of high-profile political assassinations rocked already waning faith in the government. After several prominent victories by opposition candidates in local and regional elections, Vicente Fox was elected president in 2000, breaking the PRI's hold on power for the first time since the revolution. Fox's party, the PAN, a conservative centrist group, went on to win the next election in 2006 when Felipe Calderon was elected president. Winning by less than 1% of the vote, Calderon's victory was hotly contested by his opponent, Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist PRD party. Lopez Obrador tried unsuccessfully to set up a parallel government in the months following the election but failed. The Electoral Institute supported Calderon's win.
Then in 2012, Mexico did an about-face by electing PRI candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, president based mostly on his platform of reform. Although he has been praised internationally for standing up to big business monopolies and putting behind bars one of the country's most notorious drug lords, "El Chapo" Guzman, his popularity at home began to wane following an announcement in 2014 of turning the government-run energy sector over to private investors. In 2018, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected president.
Mexico's attractions include its historical sites, archaeological ruins, cuisine, fiestas, beaches, fishing, watersports, golf, bullfighting, shopping, handicrafts, music, dance, relaxation and moderate prices. If you're interested in a unique culture and enjoy sand, sun and surf, as well as history, dance, music and friendly, fun-loving people, you'll love Mexico. California's main attractions are its inspiring beauty, cultural offerings, rocky shorelines, skiing, urban nightlife, the Monterey Peninsula, San Francisco, the Napa and Sonoma wine country, redwood forests, Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, theme parks, national parks, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Spanish missions. Oregon is a perfect destination for those travelers who love the outdoors, beautiful craggy scenery, solitude, rural towns and an untouristy atmosphere. Among Washington's main attractions are spectacular mountains, fishing, Native American culture, Seattle, outdoor activities, the San Juan Islands, the Columbia River Gorge, fresh produce, more than 240 wineries, seafood, temperate rain forests, Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It is impossible to walk more than a block or so in the state's large cities, such as Seattle, and not find a coffeehouse.