Central Mexico is the country's historic core. It is an area rich in Pre-Colombian tradition with pyramids and ruins of great cities like Teotihuacan and Tenochtitlan. It is an area rich in artistic works, from the great collections of Mexico City's myriad museums, to the murals of Mexico's 20th century modern art movement that adorn public buildings. It is an area of natural wonders with several of Mexico's highest mountains and a band of volcanoes stretching across the entire region.
- Mexico State — the state that surrounds the Federal District and Mexico City on three sides is the most populous in the country
- Veracruz — although the beaches are mostly overlooked by tourists, this state is a favorite of many Mexican travelers
- Tlaxcala — the smallest state in the country offers lesser-known archeological sites and colonial towns
- Puebla — full of historic buildings, pottery workshops, and churches
- Morelos — visit the Xochicalco archaeological site, and the 16th-century monasteries on the slopes of Popocatepetl
- Hidalgo — a great place to explore archaeological sites, practice extreme sports, and enjoy nature
- 1 — a comfortable year-round climate, beautiful parks and gardens, and many Spanish-language schools for foreigners
- 2 Mexico City — one of the three largest cities in the world, and a sophisticated urban hub with a 700-year history
- 3 Puebla — a UNESCO World Heritage surrounded by volcanoes and snow-capped mountains
- 4 Tlaxcala — compact and lively, the state capital is filled with colonial-era building painted in beautiful colors
- 5 Toluca — known for its botanical gardens and many museums
- 6 Veracruz — a rowdy city in the south famous for its nightlife, with a strong Cuban influence
- 1 El Tajin — this UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the ruins of one of the largest and most important cities of the Classic era of Mesoamerica.
- 2 Iztacchuatl-Popocateptl National Park — large national park encompassing parts of Mexico state, Puebla, and Morelos. Twin volcanoes, hiking trails, an old hacienda, and historic monasteries (UNESCO World Heritage sites).
- 3 Pico de Orizaba National Park — Home to a dormant volcano that is Mexico's highest peak.
- 4 Teotihuacan - largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas, dating from first century CE, site is dominated by two large pyramids: the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Ruta de los Conventos del Popocatépetl is a bicycle itinerary that visits the historic 16th century monasteries on the slopes of the Popocatépetl volcano. These monasteries collectively constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Central Mexico is seismically very active. Its an area that geologists refer to as the trans-Mexican volcanic belt (eje volcánico transversal). Earthquakes are always a possibility in all the states and cities of the region. The mountains of the Sierra Madre run through this area and many of those mountains are volcanos. Some are active, some dormant or inactive. Many of the national parks in Central Mexico surround one or more volcanos. The volcanos are popular tourist attractions with magnificent scenery, not to mention offering recreational opportunities to active outdoor enthusiasts who come to the region for mountaineering, canyoning, rappeling, mountain biking, and hiking.
Central Mexico has more flights to more destinations than any other region of Mexico. Airports with scheduled commercial flights include:
- Mexico City International (MEX IATA) - Mexico's busiest international airport with flights throughout the world; hub airport for Mexico's 3 largest airlines (as of 2022, many hub operations are moving to NLU airport) (officially named Benito Juarez International Airport)
- Santa Lucia Airport (NLU IATA) - international airport 40km north of Mexico City, evolving hub for Mexican domestic routes, international flights from Venezuela and Cuba, new in 2022 (officially named Aeropuerto Felipe Angeles)
- Toluca International Airport (TLC IATA) - underutilized airport west of Mexico City, mostly domestic flights
- Puebla International Airport (PBC IATA) - some flights from U.S., mostly domestic flights
- Veracruz International Airport (VER IATA) - some flights from U.S., mostly domestic flights
Mexico City is the country's trasportation hub and buses from every corner of the country arrive at one of the city's four main bus terminals. Even from the furthest corners of the realm, a bus is leaving for Mexico City in a little while. It might be a long ride, and it might stop in a lot of cities along the way, but the bus goes there. You can get off the bus in a lot of places in Central Mexico without having to go all the way into the city.
Central Mexico is best explored by bus, but a car might be useful. This is also a region where the Blablahcar rideshare service works well.
Central Mexico is extremely well connected by bus routes and buses can be used to travel to virtually all tourist destinations in Central Mexico.
If you can't find a direct bus between two destinations, you can probably find a connecting route through Mexico City. Mexico City has 4 major bus terminals plus buses departing directly from a terminal inside the MEX airport. Buses from the airport go to many of the major cities of the region, so a trip to the big bus terminals may not even be necessary. Major bus terminals elsewhere in Central Mexico are in Cuernavaca, Puebla, Toluca, Veracruz, and Coatzalcocos. Most small cities throughout the region have bus terminals with both first-class and second-class service.
- Teotihuacan - the largest and grandest of the Pre-Colombian city-states
- Spanish missions - many dating from the 16th century, the missions are often stunningly beautiful
- Museums - Mexico City boasts well over 100 museums for visitors to explore
- Pueblos Mágicos - dozens of charming small towns capture history and cultural tradition, tailor-made for romantic weekend getaways
- climb mountains - Pico de Orizaba is Mexico's highest peak and is a challenging peak for experienced climbers, Izta-Popo is a bit easier, and Nevada de Toluca is an easier mountain for the less experienced
- ride bikes - through the parks and mountainous areas of Puebla, Morelos, and the State of Mexico. Explore the Route of the 16th century monasteries of Popocateptl
- rejuvenate - mineral baths and spas in Cuernavaca offer a relaxing escape from the bustle of city life
Central Mexico is paradise for the knowledgable gourmand. Mexican cuisine is famous throughout the world. Many of the most iconic Mexican dishes come from the regional cuisines of Central Mexico.
Central Mexican food is far from homogeneous. Although we can taste dishes in different states or cities that taste somewhat similar to those of another area, there are often signature ingredients or techniques that clearly identify a dish as belonging to one (often quite narrow) region. Within Central Mexico, the two most common regional cuisines are from Puebla and from Veracruz. You will see these identified as poblano and veracruzano, respectively. When you see a dish on the menu like huachinango veracruzano or mole poblano, you should expect a dish that's cooked the way it would be in Veracruz or Puebla.
Chiles are an integral part of Mexican cuisine and two famous types of chile originate in Central Mexico: the jalapeno originates from Xalapa and the poblano pepper originates from Puebla.
Some of the most well-known regional dishes from Central Mexico include:
- huachinango veracruzano - grilled red snapper topped with a salsa of diced ripe tomatoes, capers, and olives (snapper is expensive these days and other types of fish are often prepared in a similar manner)
- mole poblano - a blend of spices, chiles, cocoa and other ingredients, ground together and made into a paste, then prepared as a sauce for chicken or other poultry
- mole de Xitla - prepared like mole poblano, but sweeter, with a different spice mix
- chiles en nogada - poblano peoppers stuffed with picadillo (ground meat filling) with walnuts
- barbacoa - is well-known throughout Mexico, but its taken to heart in Hidalgo where ancient methods are sometimes used (pit roasting) or different meats are used (lamb, venison, rabbit) or different seasonings are used (perhaps a pulque marinade), depending on the chef
No description of eating in Central Mexico would be complete without talking tacos. Mexico City is the king of tacos with taquerias on virtually every block and street food vendors in between to ensure you're never far from a hefty helping of grease and gladness wrapped in a fresh corn tortilla. If you're really epicurious about tacos, you might want to watch the Netflix series, Taco Chronicles, otherwise, ask a local or check out some of the destination guides here for recommendations in cities and towns around the region. Most travelers should start off with basic tacos that are unlikely to offend foreign palates: tacos al pastor are usually a winner and seldom too spicy. Barbacoa is a good, safe choice, particularly for breakfast. Carnitas might be good too. As you get more adventurous try the suadero, a specialty of Mexico City. Most foreigners should avoid things like tripa, chapulines, or cabeza de vaca al vapor. These things are all served somewhere in Mexico City, but you probably don't want to know where.
Pulque and the Aztecs
Pulque has been around for more than 1,000 years, and there is no shortage of myths and superstitions around it. Aztec lore holds that the fermentable juice of the maguey (called aguamiel) is the blood of the goddess Mayahuel. Legend also has it that the pulque producers must abstain from sex throughout the 7 to 14 day fermentation period. This might account for pulque's general unpopularity among pulquero wives.
Pulque is a uniquely Mexican fermented beverage that is commonly associated with Central Mexico. Pulque is the fermented juice of agave (maguey). If you were to distill the pulque, you'd have mezcal. If the pulque were made from blue agave and you distilled it, you'd have tequila. Well, more or less...
Pulque was popular in Mexico long before the Spanish conquest. It's an ancient drink that's fundamentally simple and pure, just like wine is. Unlike wine though, pulque has often been viewed with disdain. That view is changing as today's younger Mexicans see pulque as a complex drink that's a legitimate part of their gastronomic heritage.
Pulque can be produced anywhere without restriction, but most producers (and most customers) are in Central Mexico, especially in Mexico City and the nearby states of Hidalgo and Tlaxcala. A bar that specializes in serving pulque is called a pulqueria and you can find dozens of them in Mexico City (including tourist friendly areas like Centro) and Coyoacán).
Pulque is usually sold in its natural state, though many producers make pulques that are flavored with fruits or natural spices. A natural pulque has a milky white color, the aroma is yeasty with a smell similar to rising bread dough, the flavor is typically sour. Flavored pulques are becoming more common than natural pulque and they appeal to younger drinkers in particular because they lose some of their sharp acidic sourness and the fruit or spice aromas reduce the bready/yeasty smell that offends some novice pulque drinkers. Some of the flavors you'll find in Central Mexico include cucumber, tomato, jitomate, apple, and banana. The possibilities are endless though, limited only by the imagination of the producer.