Country Overview

Mexico is a country of rich traditions and contrasting landscapes. A land of snow-capped peaks, expansive deserts, cool cloud forests, and the beauty of two coastlines, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Explore indigenous villages that still retain their native languages, and then stroll through colonial cities with their welcoming plazas and inviting architecture. Every Mexican town has its own unique traditions. Discover the ancient past of the pre-Hispanic cultures, such as the Maya and the Aztec, still alive today in traditional festivals and in many aspects of contemporary Mexican life. Of course, one cannot consider Mexico without mentioning traditional cooking. Besides national favorites such as enchiladas and molé, every region of Mexico has its own unique culinary flare. Mexico is a perfect destination to study Spanish and explore a unique Latin American country. The friendly people of Mexico possess an unmatched openness. They value other cultures and welcome visitors with open arms. Here you will not only learn a rich language, but also learn about a country complete with rich customs and beauty.

Fast Facts

Population: 110 million

Population of Oaxaca: 275,000

Area: 1.9 million sq. km

GDP per person: US $7800

Adult literacy: 91%

Number of languages spoken: 50

Time Zone: Mexico uses 3 times zones, Central Standard Time (CST) Mountain Standard Time (MST), and Pacific Standard Time (PST). The majority of the country and Oaxaca uses (CST). The states of Chihuahua, Nayarit, Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja California Sur use Mountain Standard Time and Baja California Norte uses Pacific Standard Time. Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 AM local time on the 1st Sunday in April. On the last Sunday in October areas on DST fall back to Standard Time at 2:00 AM. The names in each time zone change along with DST. Central Standard Time becomes Central Daylight Time (CDT), and so forth. The state of Sonora does not observe Daylight Saving Time.

Geographic Location:
Middle America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, between Belize and the US and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Guatemala and the US. Much of the Oaxaca is covered by mountainous terrain - including the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca and the Sierra Madre del Sur ranges, and is characterized by moderate temperatures and a mild climate. The mountains drop down to tropical and arid lowlands on the Isthmus, and hot and humid lowlands on the northern side of the state, bordering Veracruz. The eastern part of the state encloses about half of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a narrow neck of land that connects central Mexico with the Yucatán Peninsula and Central America.

Highest Point: Volcán Pico de Orizaba 5,700 meters (18,411 feet).

People: Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country. 60% of the population is of mixed Amerindian-European ethnicity known as mestizos. 30% are Amerindian and 9% is of European descent (Spanish, Russian, German, Polish, Italian and French). Others include Turkish, Lebanese, Japanese and Chinese (1%). Oaxaca State has one of the highest indigenous populations in Mexico. There are 16 different indigenous groups and languages spoken in the state of Oaxaca.

Spanish in Mexico:
The Spanish in Mexico is extremely useful as it is the Spanish we are most used to hearing in the United States and in Canada. Mexican Spanish can be described as colorful and often have a sing-song tone to it. Being such a large country, however, there are different variants amongst the regions of Mexico. Oaxaca is located in the zone called the Central Southern Variant.  In this variant, vowels tend to lose strength and consonants are fully pronounced. The musicality comes from influences of the indigenous languages in the region, with a flicker of the Nahuatl language. The common lisping associated with Castilian Spanish is almost nonexistent in Mexico, and many Indian words have been adopted. In Oaxaca, visitors should always use “usted” (the formal form of the pronoun “you”) instead of tú (the casual form) unless he already knows the person being addressed or unless that person begins to use the tú form with him. Usted is also common for conversations between persons of different social or professional hierarchies (ex. managers and secretaries and their employers) to convey distance but also show respect. One typically uses usted to address the older relatives of friends or associates, although these people will usually use the tú form to respond. In general, Oaxacans tend to speak more quietly than their North American neighbors, the U.S. and Canada, especially in public places such as restaurants and stores.

Climate: Climate in Mexico - Temperate; clear, hot summers in interior, more moderate and cloudy along coast; cloudy, cold winters in interior, partly cloudy and cool along coast  Climate in Oaxaca - The City of Oaxaca rests in a valley at 5,000 ft. This elevation provides Oaxaca City with Spring-like temperatures year-round. Midwinter days are mild usually averaging 70 – 75 F. There are cool but frost-free winter nights between 45 – 60 F. Oaxaca City summers are perfect, with afternoons in the mid to upper 80s and pleasant evenings in the mid-70s although the heat can get very intense at midday.  May is usually the warmest month, with June, July and August highs being moderated by the occasional afternoon shower. The “rainy” season is from July to October, which means that some afternoons it may rain very heavily for an hour. This is very pleasant, as the city cools down after an afternoon rain! The climate in Oaxaca State is actually hugely varied. While the climate is pretty mild in Oaxaca City, it can be very cold in the Sierra Norte (the mountains just north of town); very humid at times on the coastal region, and very dry and arid in parts like the Mixteca (another mountainous area just northwest of town). One of the amazing things about Oaxaca is this huge variation and the fact that you only need to travel for an hour for a totally different experience!

Holidays:

Jan1st      

Año Nuevo (New Year's Day)

Jan 6th

Día de los Tres Reyes (12th night, the day when Mexicans exchange Christmas presents in accordance to the three wise men bearing gifts to Jesus.

Jan 17th

Feast of San Antonio de Abad. Religious holiday when the Catholic Church allows animals to enter the church for blessing.

Feb 2nd Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) Religious holiday that is celebrated with processions, dancing, bullfights in certain cities, and the blessing of the seeds and candles. The festivities are best seen in: San Juan de los Lagos, Jalapa; Talpa de Allende, Jalisco; and Santa Maria del Tuxla, Oaxaca.
Feb Carnival (Dates change slightly each year). Official Mexican holiday that kicks off a five-day celebration of the libido before the Catholic lent. Beginning the weekend before Lent, Carnival is celebrated exuberantly with parades, floats and dancing in the streets.
Feb 5th Día de la Constitución Official holiday commemorating México's Constitution.
Feb 24th Día de la Bandera (Flag Day)
Mar 19th
St. Joseph's Day (Father's Day)
Mar 21st Cumpleaños de Benito Júarez (Birthday of Benito Júarez) Famous Mexican president and national hero from Oaxaca, this is an official Mexican holiday.
Apr Semana Santa y Pascúa (Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Spring Break) Semana Santa is the holy week that ends the 40-day Lent period. This week includes Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is Mexican custom to break confetti-filled eggs over the heads of friends and family.
May 1st
Día del Trabajo (Labor Day) Primero de Mayo is the Mexican national holiday that is equivalent to the US Labor Day.
May 3rd
Día de la Santa Cruz (Holy Cross Day) When construction workers decorate and mount crosses on unfinished buildings, followed by fireworks and picnics at the construction site.
May 5th Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) Mexican national holiday that honors the Mexican victory over the French army at Puebla in 1862.
May 10th Día de la Madre (Mother's Day) Due to the importance of the mother in Mexican culture, Mother's Day is an especially significant holiday.
Jun 1st Día de la Marina (Navy Day) Official Mexican holiday.
Jun 24th Día de San Juan (St. John's Day) Saint John the Baptist Day is celebrated with religious festivities, fairs & popular jokes connected to getting dunked in water.
Jun 29th hila, OFiesta de San Pedro y San Pablo (St. Peter & St. Paul) Notable celebrations in Mexcaltitán, Nayarit and Zaacaxaca.
Jul Guelaguetza This may be Oaxaca's most famous festival with visitors attending from around the world. Also known as Lunes del Cerro, regional dancers from throughout the state express their culture on the last two Mondays of the month
Sep 16th Día de la Raza (Mexican Independence Day) celebrates the day that Miguel Hidalgo delivered El Grito de Dolores, and announced the Mexican revolt against Spanish rule.
Oct 12th Día de la Raza (Columbus Day) This day celebrates Columbus' arrival to the Americas, and the historical origins of the Mexican race.
Oct 31st Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Important Mexican holiday that merges Pre-Columbian beliefs and modern Catholicism. Europe's All Saints' Day and the Aztec worship of the dead contribute to these two days that honor Mexico's dead.
Dec 12th Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe) Celebrated with a feast honoring Mexico's patron saint.
Dec 16th Las Posadas Celebrates Joseph and Mary's search for shelter in Bethlehem with candlelight processions that end at various nativity scenes. Las Posadas continues through January 6.
Dec 23rd La Noche Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) Featuring radish figurines and fried radish cakes covered in molasses. The cakes are served in a clay dish that must be broken after the cakes are finished. This unique tradition is found only in Oaxaca.
Dec 24th Navidad (Christmas day) Mexicans celebrate with a dinner in the evening.
Dec 25th Navidad (Christmas Day) Mexico celebrates the Christmas holiday.