Rich in legends of the country’s revolutionary past, Mexico’s north has a modern history dominated by its relationship with the United States, just across the Río Bravo. Indeed, though much of the region is harsh, barren and sparsely inhabited, far less visited than the country’s tourist-saturated southern states, cross-border trade – as much about the daily movement of people as goods – means it’s one of the richest and most dynamic parts of Mexico. It’s not all business, though. Rugged and untamed, the north is home to deserts, mountains, seedy frontier towns and modern cities, as well as a proud and hospitable people deeply rooted in ranching culture, perhaps best symbolized by folk hero Pancho Villa.

Archeological remains are also scattered throughout the north, including ancient petroglyphs and ruined Chichimec cities, all of which are thoroughly distinct from the Mesoamerican metropolises of the south. Most notable is the site of Paquimé, where a maze of adobe walls once housed an extensive and highly developed desert civilization.

The north promises urban appeal too. Durango offers a taste of colonial grandeur comparable to Mexico’s heartland, while similarly attractive Chihuahua boasts a wealth of nineteenth-century architecture and stylish contemporary museums. The real draw, however, is Monterrey. Young, energetic and cosmopolitan, this modern city offers a host of cultural and artistic diversions.

Travelling overland from the south of Mexico to the US, there are a couple of obvious routes, with the central corridor via Durango and Chihuahua ending at Ciudad Juárez – a sprawling border town notorious for its squalor and violent drug wars. Further east, a string of smaller, calmer crossings provide rapid (and safer) access to Texas. The very shortest route north follows the Gulf coast. Hot, steamy and uncomfortable, this route is not especially recommended, but it is the fastest from the fine beaches and archeological ruins of Veracruz, and travelling by bus, avoids Mexico City.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Mexico features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The colours of Mexico captured in 14 pictures

The colours of Mexico captured in 14 pictures

Travel photographer Tim Draper has shot images for more than 20 Rough Guides guidebooks, visiting far-flung corners around the world. Here he shares some of h…

21 Jun 2016 • Tim Draper insert_drive_file Article
Marvellous Mexico: 8 insider tips from our authors

Marvellous Mexico: 8 insider tips from our authors

Surviving 42ºC (107ºF) desert heat, tramping hurricane-battered Pacific beaches and scaling lofty volcanoes, our hard-travelling authors have visited every co…

06 Jun 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
Cozumel: an insider's guide to Mexico's Caribbean jewel

Cozumel: an insider's guide to Mexico's Caribbean jewel

Most people visit Mexico's Isla Cozumel for one of two reasons: to scuba dive, or to kill time with food and drink before their cruise ship takes off again. Eve…

03 Jun 2016 • Mandy Gardner insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month