Mexico is no stranger to boat-borne visitors. Spanish explorers were the first to heed the siren song of this New World, arriving in 1519 in search of mythical treasure and eternal fame. They found a bit of both, along with landmarks laid by several astounding civilizations: the Olmecs, Mexico’s first cohesive society; the Mayans, known for their ingenious temples along the Yucatan Peninsula; and the Aztecs, fierce warriors who once ruled 5 million people between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf coast.
A combination of conquistadors and colonials brought significant changes to Mexico between the 16th and 18th centuries. Indigenous people were soon crowded out by those seeking a claim on “Nueva España,” including a wave of Catholic missionaries seeking widespread religious conversion. For more than 200 years, the Mexican-born descendants of colonists wrestled Spanish nobility for control of the region.
War was inevitable. Mexico fought for its independence from Spain for 11 long years, finally winning its freedom in the fall of 1821. Just 25 years later, Mexico took up arms once again -- this time, to fight the United States over a promising territory known as the Republic of Texas. Smaller skirmishes and political unrest quickly followed, leading to the Mexican Revolution that killed nearly 1 million people between 1910 and 1921.
Mexico has come a long way in the last century. Its residents were once very protective of their treasures -- very sensible of them, considering the seize-and-conquer attitude of the region’s first visitors -- but cruise ship passengers are now free to enjoy the sun-soaked beaches, historic town squares and mouthwatering cuisine that mark the major tourist centers.