A big-bellied Mariachi in a wide-brimmed sombrero, enormous cacti, crispy nachos drowned in mouth-blazing salsa and washed down with one or two shots of golden tequila - such images can hardly be resisted when we think of Mexico. No wonder that a trip to Estados Unidos Mexicanos is a real eye-opener for many.
As you're trying to climb a gigantic Aztec pyramid at Teotihuacan or gazing in awe at the jungle-immersed Mayan temple of Palenque, you can't help but suspect that the myth of ancient civilizations possessing secret knowledge about cosmic energy really holds true. Yet you are in for a good deal of surprise again when you land in Acapulco, with its snow-white beaches and posh hotels, or take a dive off the coral-fringed Yucatan coast. Hard as it may be to believe it, Mexico proves a holidaymakers' paradise, with tourism being the most rapidly growing sector of its economy.
Sadly, the country is not free from vice. The agglomerations such as Mexico City, Guadalajara or Monterrey ceaselessly struggle with social inequality and dramatic increases in violence associated with organized crime, although the two latter are still far from matching the capital's notoriety. Therefore, instead of giving up the city tour at all (which would be a real shame), have an eye on your wallet and don't venture off the beaten track after dark.
Bridging the shores of the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea as well as the borders of the US and Guatemala, Mexico exhibit most diversity in terms of its people, and the complexity of its culture is a reflexion of many a times turbulent Indian-Hispanic relations. Nevertheless, these two ethnic influences gave rise to the Mexico of today- a country embracing deeply-rooted indigenismo and unflagging commitment to fostering family bonds.