Mexico’s geographical territory is composed of a diverse topography including coastal plains, temperate highlands, and extensive mountain ranges which climb to heights of over 10,000 feet above sea level. This diversity gives rise to a range of different climate zones.
If you’re planning to visit Mexico, and especially if you plan to live here full time or part-time, it’s worth getting acquainted with the different geographical areas which make up the country’s terrain. The local climate will influence a location’s characteristics and attractions, and so choosing the right terrain is an important part of your decision-making, especially if you’re planning to live, retire or buy property here.
A location’s climate patterns depend upon the combination of its geographical latitude combined with its altitude above sea level. Mexico has three distinct ‘land types’, and these are denoted in Spanish as: Tierra Caliente, Tierra Templada and Tierra Fria.
Tierra Caliente – hot lands – comprise of those areas which range from sea level to around 750 meters (2,460 feet) above sea level. These lands are predominantly found at Mexico’s beach locations and along coastal plains which extend out from mountain ranges that descend into the Pacific Ocean or Gulf of Mexico: these lands are typically found in the country’s northern deserts; the lowlands on the Baja Peninsula; the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (between the state of Oaxaca and the Yucatan Peninsula); and the Yucatan Peninsula proper.
Tierra Templada – temperate lands – are those which lie at between 750 meters and 2,300 meters (7,545 feet) above sea level. These include most of Mexico’s attractive colonial cities, as well as the country’s three big cities: Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.
Tierra Fria – cold lands – are those places extending 2,300 meters above sea level. In Mexico, these lands are composed of mountain ranges and some volcanoes, most notably Pico de Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico and the second-highest peak in North America.
Here is a synopsis of the characteristics of each terrain type:
Tierras Calientes offer year-round warmth; but get very hot and, south of the Tropic of Cancer, humid during the rainy season (May to October). Choose these areas if you want to vacation (or live) in a year-round warm climate, but be aware that summers can get extremely hot and be accompanied by drenching humidity in places. Some people choose to visit or live in these areas only during the autumn and winter, when the temperature is more moderate, and humidity subdued.
Most of Mexico’s temperate climates are to be found inland—up in the mountains. Tierras Templadas offer, as the name suggests, a mild and moderated climate all year-round. However, late autumn and winter can get cool or cold, depending on the local topography; during these seasons the daytime high temperatures (which can reach mid-70sF/23C) can collapse sharply overnight to drop around freezing (32F/0C). The rainy season, May to October, tends to finish abruptly, and the dry season is very dry indeed.
Mexico doesn’t have too many settled towns and villages in regions classed as Tierras Frias: those at least 7,500 feet above sea level. There do exist some settlements – usually populated by long-standing indigenous residents – at these very high altitudes. However, most people who come to Mexico experience these places only on certain mountain hikes and expeditions into Mexico’s wilderness.