Officially United Mexican States, republic (1995 est. pop. 93,986,000), 753,665 sq mi (1,952,500 sq km), S North America. It borders on the United States in the north, on the Gulf of Mexico (including its arm, the Bay of Campeche) and the Caribbean Sea in the east, on Belize and Guatemala in the southeast, and on the Pacific Ocean in the south and west. Mexico is divided into 31 states and the Federal District, which includes most of the country's capital and largest city, Mexico City.
Most of Mexico is highland or mountainous and less than 15% of the land is arable; about 25% of the country is forested. Most of the Yucatán peninsula and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southeast is lowland, and there are low-lying strips of land along the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of California.
In the south the deserts yield to the broad, shallow lakes of a region, comprising the Valley of Mexico, known as the Anáhuac and famous for its rich cultural heritage. South of the Anáhuac, which includes Mexico City, is a chain of extinct volcanoes, including Citlaltépetl, or Orizaba (18,700 ft/5,700 m, the highest point in Mexico), Popocatépet, and Iztaccihuatl. To the south are jumbled masses of mountains and the Sierra Madre del Sur.
The great majority of the population are of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent and speak Spanish, the official language, as their first language. Various Mayan dialects are also spoken. Since 1920 the population of Mexico has had a very high rate of growth, almost entirely the result of natural increase; from 1940 to 1990 the population grew from 19.6 million to 81.1 million.
*Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Copyright (c) 2003.