Mexico’s topography is characterized by a diverse range of landscapes including coastal plains, temperate highlands, and extensive mountain ranges which climb to elevations of over 10,000 feet above sea level. This diversity creates a variety of different climate zones across the country.
How terrain influences the local climate
If you’re planning to visit Mexico, and especially if you plan to live here full- or part-time, it’s worth getting acquainted with the different geographical areas which make up the country’s terrain. The local climate influences a location’s characteristics and attractions, and so choosing the right climate zone is an important part of your decision making, especially if you’re planning to live, retire or buy a home here.
A location’s climate patterns depend upon the combination of its geographical latitude combined with its elevation above sea level. Mexico has three distinct ‘land types’, and these are denoted in Spanish as: Tierra Caliente, Tierra Templada and Tierra Fría.
—”hot land”— comprise 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 Yucatán Peninsula); and the Yucatán Peninsula proper.
—”temperate land”— comprise areas situated 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.
—”cold land”— comprise areas situated at elevations above 2,300 meters (7,545 feet) above sea level. In Mexico, these lands are characterized by notable mountain ranges and some volcanoes, most notably Pico de Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico and the second-highest peak in North America, and the famous volcanoes of Popocatépetl (active) and Iztaccihuátl (extinct).
Climate characteristics by terrain type in Mexico
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). Mexico’s beach destinations and areas along the coastal plains are classed as tierras calientes. 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. They the areas most likely to be affected by hurricanes. Some people choose to visit or live in these areas only between the autumn and early spring, when the temperature is more moderate, and humidity levels are 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. Most of Mexico’s colonial cities are situated at elevation in the country’s temperature climate zones. However, late autumn and winters at these elevations 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 becomes very noticeable between mid February and late May.
Mexico doesn’t have too many settled towns and villages in regions classed as Tierras Frías: 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. Examples are San Juan Chamula and Zinacatan in the southern state of Chiapas. However, most people who come to Mexico experience these places only on certain mountain hikes and expeditions into Mexico’s wilderness.
Learn more about elevation and climate in Mexico
For more information about visiting and living in places situated at high elevation in Mexico, read:
- Breathing Easy at High Elevation and
- Why 7,000 Feet Can’t Deliver a Free Lunch.
- You can also read more articles about Mexico’s weather and climates here on Mexperience.
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