Mexico: Natural Landscape

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Mexico: Natural Landscape

Sat, 09/10/2022 - 20:20
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Mexico is located in the southern portion of North America and is the third largest country in Latin America. A biodiverse country, it encompasses arid deserts and scrublands, tropical rainforests, temperate forests and grasslands, mangrove swamps, alpine ecosystems, and coral reefs.

The Natural Landscape of Mexico

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is located in southern North America. The United States borders it in the north and Guatemala and Belize in the southeast.

To the west, it is bounded by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. In addition, there are numerous islands and archipelagoes off its coasts.

Mexico covers an area of approximately 1,972,550 sq km (761,610 sq mi), making it the world's 13th largest country by area and the third largest country in Latin America, after Brazil and Argentina.

Mexico is home to a range of volcanoes, some of which are active. In addition, the country sits atop three of the Earth's largest tectonic plates: the North American Plate, the Cocos Plate, and the Pacific Plate.


Mexico is among the world's top five countries in terms of biodiversity. With 1,105 bird species, 411 amphibian species, 2,629 fish species, 533 mammal species, 988 reptile species, and 23,385 plant species, Mexico is one of 17 megadiverse countries.


The Tropic of Cancer cuts across Mexico, dividing it into two different climatic zones: a temperate zone to the north and a tropical zone to the south.

However, Mexico is characterized by a great variety of climates, including areas with hot, humid, temperate humid, and arid environments. In addition, the country has very pronounced wet and dry seasons.

Map of Mexico

Location map of Mexico

Natural Geography of Mexico

Geographic Regions

Mexico can be divided into nine major physiographic regions.

Baja California

Baja California is an arid peninsula in northwestern Mexico. It is bounded to the west by the Pacific Ocean, and in the east, it is separated from the mainland by the Gulf of California. The Peninsular Ranges form the backbone of the peninsula.

Most of Baja California is deserts and xeric shrublands, although pine-oak forests are found in the mountains at the northern and southern ends of the peninsula.

Pacific Coastal Lowlands (Coastal Plain)

The Pacific Coastal Lowlands, or Coastal Plain, begins at the Colorado River delta in the north and stretches approximately 1,450 km (900 mi) to the south, facing the Gulf of California in the west while being bounded on the east by the Sierra Madre Occidental.

The lowlands are a series of coastal terraces, mesas, and small basins interspersed with river deltas. The Sonoran Desert is located in the north. Parts of the region, however, have been irrigated and utilized for farmland.

Mexican Plateau

The Mexican Plateau, also known as the Mexican Altiplano, is a largely arid and semiarid plateau that occupies much of northern and central Mexico. The Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental flank it.

The plateau comprises the vast Mesa del Norte (Northern Plateau) and the smaller but heavily populated Mesa Central. It is the largest and most densely populated region.

Sierra Madre Oriental

The Sierra Madre Oriental is a range of folded mountains on the eastern side of the Mexican Plateau, spanning 1,000 km (620 mi).

The mountain range runs from the Rio Grande (on the border between Coahuila and Texas) south through Nuevo León, southwest Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, and Hidalgo, to northern Puebla, where it joins with the east-west Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt of central Mexico. The mountains have significant deposits of copper, lead, and zinc.

Topographic map of Mexico

Topographic map of Mexico

Sierra Madre Occidental

The Sierra Madre Occidental is a primary mountain range system of the North American Cordillera that runs approximately 1,250 km (780 mi) on a northwest-southeast course, parallel to the Pacific coast of Mexico; through northwestern and western Mexico and along the Gulf of California.

Deep river valleys cut the high plateau formed by the range, or barrancas, the most spectacular of which is the complex known as Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre) in southwestern Chihuahua state.

Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt

The Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, also known as the Cordillera Neo-Volcánica and known locally as the Sierra Nevada is situated in south-central Mexico and extends east-west across the country from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico for approximately 1,000 km (620 mi). The active volcanic arc encompasses an area of roughly 160,000 sq km (62,000 sq mi).

The hot, dry Balsas Depression, which takes its name from the major river draining the region, is immediately south of the volcanic belt. The depression is formed of small, irregular basins interrupted by hilly outcrops, which give the area a distinctive physical landscape.

Gulf Coastal Plain

The Gulf Coastal Plain extends approximately 1,450 km (900 mi) along the Gulf of Mexico from the Texas border to the Yucatán Peninsula. It includes the Tabasco Plain in the southeast.

Characterized by lagoons and swamps, the triangular northern portion is approximately 160 km (100 mi) wide but tapers toward the south, interrupted by the Sierra Madre Oriental. South of that point, the plain is narrow and irregular before widening as it reaches the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Southern Highlands

The Southern Highlands include the Sierra Madre del Sur, Mesa del Sur, and the Sierra Madre de Chiapas along the Pacific coast in southern Mexico. The relatively low ranges of the Sierra Madre del Sur often reach the coast, creating a rugged coastal margin, part of which is known as the Mexican Riviera.

Fartherest northeast is the Mesa del Sur, with numerous stream-eroded ridges and small isolated valleys, including the picturesque Oaxaca Valley. Bisecting the Southern Highlands is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

The Sierra Madre de Chiapas is an extension of the mountain ranges of Central America and forms the main drainage divide between the Pacific and Atlantic river systems.

Yucatán Peninsula

The Yucatán Peninsula is the exposed portion of the more extensive Yucatán Platform and lies between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

The low northern coast is sandy and semi-barren. The eastern coast consists of bluffs indented with bays and bordered by several islands; the largest and most developed are Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.

The peninsula is almost wholly composed of beds of coralline and porous limestone rocks, forming a low tableland that rises gradually toward the south. It is covered with a layer of thin, dry soil formed through a slow weathering of the coral rocks. Where the rocky surface is perforated, there are natural sinkholes and caverns.

Mexico physiographic map

Mexico physiographic map

Mountain Ranges

Mexico is one of the largest countries in the Americas and one of the most diverse in terms of geography, with a wide range of landscapes, including mountains, deserts, jungles, and coastal regions.

Mexico's varied and complex topography features numerous mountain ranges and highlands that span its landscape.

See more: Mountain Ranges of Mexico

Islands and Archipelagos

Mexico boasts diverse islands and archipelagos scattered across its coastal waters in the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. These picturesque landmasses vary in size, culture, and ecological significance.

From the Caribbean's white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters to the unique ecosystems of the Pacific, Mexico's islands and archipelagos present a captivating mosaic of natural beauty and cultural heritage.

See more: Islands and Archipelagos of Mexico

Bodies of Water

Mexico is a country rich in bodies of water, encompassing various aquatic environments, from vast oceans and seas to lakes, rivers, and lagoons. In addition to its coastal regions, Mexico is home to numerous inland bodies of water.

See more: Bodies of Water of Mexico

Administrative Divisions

Mexico is a federal republic composed of 31 states. Each state has its congress and constitution. Mexico City is an autonomous entity. States are further divided into municipalities.

See: Cultural Landscape of Mexico

Natural Regions

Mexico is a biodiverse country. It encompasses arid deserts and scrublands, tropical rainforests, temperate forests and grasslands, mangrove swamps, alpine ecosystems, and coral reefs.

This multitude of ecosystems supports wide-ranging biodiversity. For example, Mexico has over 200,000 species and is home to 10 - 12% of the world's biodiversity.

Principal Ecosystems

  • Tropical evergreen forest (rainforest)

  • Tropical deciduous and semideciduous forest

  • Xeric shrubland

  • Desert

  • Grassland

  • Coniferous forest

  • Cloud forest

  • Mangrove forests

  • Wetlands


Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate. Mexico spans both the Nearctic and Neotropical realms.

  • Deserts and xeric shrublands

  • Mangroves

  • Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub

  • Temperate coniferous forests

  • Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests

  • Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests

  • Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests

  • Tropical and subtropical coniferous forests

  • Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands

  • Flooded grasslands and savannas

  • Montane grasslands and shrublands

Map of the Terrestrial Ecoregions of Mexico

Map of the terrestrial ecoregions of Mexico

Ecological Regions

The following is a list of terrestrial ecoregions in Mexico, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Terrestrial Ecoregions (map location key)

  1. Central American Pine-Oak forests

  2. Chiapas Montane Forests

  3. Chimalapas Montane Forests

  4. Oaxacan Montane Forests

  5. Pantanos de Centla

  6. Petén-Veracruz Moist Forests

  7. Sierra de los Tuxtlas

  8. Sierra Madre de Chiapas Moist Forests

  9. Veracruz Moist Forests

  10. Veracruz Montane Forests

  11. Yucatán Moist Forests

  12. Sonoran-Sinaloan Transition Subtropical Dry Forest

  13. Bajío Dry Forests

  14. Balsas Dry Forests

  15. Central American Dry Forests

  16. Chiapas Depression Dry Forests

  17. Jalisco Dry Forests

  18. Islas Revillagigedo Dry Forests (not shown)

  19. Sierra de la Laguna Dry Forests

  20. Sinaloan Dry Forests

  21. Southern Pacific Dry Forests

  22. Veracruz Dry Forests

  23. Yucatán Dry Forests

  24. Sierra Madre Occidental Pine-Oak Forests

  25. Sierra Madre Oriental Pine-Oak Forests

  26. Central American Montane Forests

  27. Sierra de la Laguna Pine-Oak Forests

  28. Sierra Madre de Oaxaca Pine-Oak Forests

  29. Sierra Madre del Sur Pine-Oak Forests

  30. Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt Pine-Oak Forests

  31. Sierra Juárez and San Pedro Mártir Pine-Oak Forests

  32. Tamaulipan Pastizal (Western Gulf Coastal Grasslands)

  33. Central Mexican Wetlands (not shown, too small)

  34. Zacatonal (not shown, too small)

  35. California Coastal Sage and Chaparral

  36. Baja California Desert

  37. Central Mexican Matorral

  38. Chihuahuan Desert

  39. Gulf of California Xeric Scrub

  40. Meseta Central Matorral

  41. Sonoran Desert

  42. Tamaulipan Matorral

  43. Tamaulipan Mezquital

  44. San Lucan Xeric Scrub

  45. Tehuacán Valley Matorral

  46. Petenes Mangroves