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The difference a few miles makes: why you need to visit Mexico even if you've been to California

Mexico is one of the most exciting and interesting Latin American countries for tourists, and is one of the most popular destinations of holiday companies. However, California has a rich vein of Mexican culture and heritage - after all, it was Mexican territory just 164 years ago - and visitors to the most populous American state may feel they have "been there and done that" when it comes to Mexico.

After all, Mexico is famous for great beaches, great weather and great food, which California has in spades. Pfeifer Beach in Big Sur, California boasts secluded coves ringed with sea arches and glistening purple sand; locals eat authentic Mexican tamales in the farmers markets of downtown Los Angeles; and San Diego's average temperature year round is a balmy 21 degrees.

However, the Mexican culture, beaches, weather and food are all kicked up a notch south of the border - if you think the tacos in San Diego are good, they pale next to the warm and fresh street food you pick up from a truck in Cabo san Lucas or Mexico City. The weather is warmer, the beaches more secluded, and the rich and unique Mexican culture varies hugely from area to area.

Whether you are partying all night in Cancun, exploring ancient Mayan and Aztec ruins hidden in the jungle, or surfing with dolphins on the famous remote beaches of the Baja California peninsula, Mexico offers a much richer cultural experience than visiting California, Texas, or other border states.

The Aztec empire dominated Mexico in the 14th to 16th centuries, preceded by the ancient Maya who lived in Mesoamerica as long as 4,000 years ago. Both civilisations left fascinating historical sites which look like Indiana Jones film sets in the jungle.

Travellers to Cancun should take the opportunity to visit the Mayan holy city of Teotihuacan, 50 km north-east of Mexico City. Teotihuacan was one of the largest ancient urban centres of the world, and is home to the majestic pyramids of the Sun and Moon. The Mayan influence can also been seen in the Yucat√°n Peninsula, where stepped pyramids overlook tropical beaches.

The traveller interested in authentic Mexican cuisine should seek out dishes such as mole (a rich sauce of spices), chiles rellenos (stuffed and fried mild chiles), horchata (cinnamon rice milk), chilaquiles (a classic hangover cure featuring tomatoes and fried strips of tortilla cooked in green chile sauce) and tamales (cornmeal dumplings) washed down with mezcal, tequila or michelada (beer mixed with lime juice and chiles). Mexican cuisine has a host of vegetarian dishes and fresh street food with bright flavours such as mango and pineapple slices on a stick with chile powder and lime juice, which can't be experienced anywhere else in the world but Mexico.

Travellers should be armed with extra bags when visiting Mexico as the nation's iconic art and craft skills have been passed down through the generations, including Talavera pottery, hand blown glass and silver jewellery.

There is no better place to learn Spanish than Mexico as it is the country with the largest population of Spanish speakers and has a large number of language schools too. For a true experience of Mexican language and culture, a visit to Mexico feels a world away from the beaches and markets of southern California.