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Interested in the best experiences of Mexican culture? Here’s BCD’s bird’s-eye-view of highlights of Mexican culture, and a collection of stories and interviews about vibrant traditions of three states: Chiapas, Oaxaca and Quintana Roo.

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Mexico is a federation of 31 states in a territory that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea in the east to the Pacific Ocean to the west—so Mexican culture is hugely diverse and multi-facted. One of the world’s seven “cradles of civilization,” Mexico’s was home to many advanced Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmec, Toltec, Zapotec, Mayan and Aztec; the country’s Pre-Colombian history dates to 8,000 B.C. Visits to historical sites are not the only way to appreciate the cultures of the indigenous people of Mexico; many communities have preserved their ancient traditions and way of life.

The indigenous people of Mexico were conquered by the Spanish in the early 16th century; their colonial reign lasted for 300 years, until the Mexican War of Independence in the early 19th century. A legacy of “New Spain” is the rich Spanish Colonial architecture; Mexico has 29 sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

The Yucatan Peninsula in southeastern Mexico is home to three Mexican states: Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatan. The isthmus separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea and is made almost entirely of limestone, a geological landscape that has created more than 6,000 cenotes. These mysterious azure pools had spiritual significance for the ancient Maya, and get their name from Yucatec Maya word ts’onot, which refers to any location with accessible groundwater.

The compact Mayan ruin of Tulum can be found in Quintana Roo; its cliff-side location overlooking the Caribbean is picturesque but strategic as the city was a major trading hub for the Maya. Chichen Itza, one of the largest Mayan cities, is located about two hour northwest of Tulum, in the interior of the state of Yucatan. The site was populated for about a thousand years, from approximately 415 to 1440 A.D., and its architecture spans numerous styles of both the Mayan and Toltec, who took the city in the 10th century.

Chiapas is another of Mexico’s 31 states, located in the country’s southwest, bordering Guatemala, and also home to Mayan ruins, as well as one of the largest populations of indigenous people of Mexico. Cristóbal de las Casas, a city in its Central Highlands region, was the capital of the state until 1892, and is still considered the cultural capital of Chiapas.

Chiapa de Corzo is a small city situated in the Grijalva River valley of the Chiapas highlands, some 15 kilometers to the east of the state capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez. The community’s Fiesta Grande takes place from January 4 to 23 every year and its dance of the Parachicos is a highlight of the festival.

The colorful, vibrant state of Oaxaca is known for the cuisine and handicrafts of its indigenous people, of which the Zapotecs are the largest group. Located in Mexico’s southwest, Oaxaca is also the home to two important archaeological ruins, the extensive site of Monte Alban and the smaller but impressive Mitla. The capital city, which also bears the name of Oaxaca, has a lovely historic centro with a tree-lined zolcala and several magnificent colonial churches that earned the site recognition from UNESCO as being of “outstanding universal value.” About 45 miles east of Oaxaca in the Sierra Madres is Hierve el Agua (Spanish for “the water boils”), where clifftop springs laden with calcium carbonate have created petrified waterfalls.

Read more about this diverse country & the best experiences of Mexican culture with stories from locals below.

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