Mexico's 3,100 km border with the United States is the world´s longest between an industrialized and a developing country. To the west is the Pacific Ocean, to the east the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and to the south, Guatemala and Belize.
Mexico possesses five distinct types of habitat: deserts, wetlands, mountains, tropical forests, and coasts. The Pacific coastline is rugged, while the Atlantic one is sandy, and along it the world´s second-longest coral reef is to be found (Caistor, p. 19). 80% of the land is arid or semi-arid (Caistor, p. 18), and over 60% is mountainous ("Mexico", p. 1). The highest peak is the Pico de Orizaba, an extinct volcano almost 6,000 m high, on the Gulf Coast in Veracruz. Mexico is blessed with an immense variety of plants and animals: it has more than 30,000 plant species, and 1,500 different types of mammals and birds, many of them autochthonous (Caistor, p. 18).
Mexico has world-renowned sites of cultural interest, including Mayan ruins, ancient Aztec pyramids, and numerous beach resorts from Cabo San Lucas on the Baja California Peninsula, to the island of Cancún off Yucatán on the Caribbean Sea.
In 2003, the Mexican population was almost 105 million people. Life expectancy for both men and women is about 73 years, and the literacy rate for both sexes is approximately 91% ("Mexico", p. 4).
Ethnically, 60% of Mexicans are mestizo (of Spanish and indigenous descent), 30% are indigenous (mostly Maya and Aztec), and 9% are of European ancestry ("Mexico", p. 2). Most of the population is Roman Catholic, but pre-Columbian influences can be traced in many people´s religious practice. The patron saint of Mexico is the Virgin of Guadalupe. The indigenous man to whom the Virgin appeared in December 1531, Juan Diego, was canonized in July 2002 by Pope John Paul II. Juan Diego´s cloak, imprinted with the Virgin´s image, is venerated at her shrine in Mexico City. The official language of Mexico is Spanish, but up to a hundred indigenous languages are spoken in the rural areas, mostly Mayan, Náhuatl, Mixtec, and Zapotec.
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CultureGrams: Mexico. Lindon, UT: Axiom, 2002. Inman, Nick, ed., et al. Eyewitness Travel Guides: Mexico. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2003. Six Billion and Beyond. 1999. PBS. 4 May 2004 http://www.pbs.org/sixbillion/mexico/mexico.html