One of the first things that strikes any student or observer of Mexico is the unique-
ness of its geography. This uniqueness is evident not only in its physical and environ-
mental topography, but also in its human and geostrategic dimensions.
A quick view of any map reveals that Mexico is a comparatively large country in
terms of land mass. In fact, it ranks among one of the largest countries of the world in
terms of total land mass. According to 2014 World Bank data, among the more than
200 countries of the world, Mexico is the 14th largest country in terms of size with a
land mass of 1,944,000 square kilometers. What a simple map of Mexico also reveals is
that Mexico is a country with two large coasts along the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of
Mexico/Caribbean Sea. And, of course, Mexico shares a long, winding northern border
with the United States. To the south, Mexico also shares a border with Guatemala and
Belize. As one might well imagine, just these simple geographical attributes have pro-
found implications for Mexico’s economy as well as for its politics and international
Beyond these obvious elements of Mexico’s physical geography and its national ter-
ritorial borders, a closer investigation reveals that Mexico’s topography is also quite
varied and complex. There are the famous Sierra Madre mountain ranges that run
north to south and divide the country into distinct western, central, and eastern re-
gions, each with their own characteristics. There is an arid desert region that character-
izes the northern third of the country, while there is a more tropical, relatively flat, and
lush, forested region that defines the southern third of the country in the Yucatán Pen-
insula. The central part of the country, where Mexico’s eastern and western mountain
ranges converge, is also home to Mexico’s many volcanoes, including its most famous
volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl.
Another distinguishing feature of Mexico’s topography is that, in spite of its large
land mass, the country does not have any major lakes, river systems, or cross-country
waterways to speak of. And this reality also has significant impacts on the country’s
economic and social life. The Baja Peninsula, which extends southward from the Cali-
fornia-Mexico border, is another curious feature of Mexico’s physical geography in that
it is a distinct territory almost completely separated from the Mexican mainland by the
Gulf of California. Its mountain range topography, coupled with the lack of any unify-
ing waterway system, has reinforced regional and local cultural divisions in such a way
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