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Despite corrupt politicians, a burdensome bureaucracy, the drug war's bloody undercurrents, and the low wages and swift inflation that the average citizen endures on a daily basis, Mexicans maintain a robust zeal for life with all its idiosyncrasies. A wild sense of humor, an appetite for good food, and the priority placed on friends, family, and fiesta are all essential to life in Mexico today.

Small wonder that magic realism is a popular theme in contemporary Mexican literature. The ghost of Juan Preciado's father floats through his journey like a graveyard breeze in Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo; the star-crossed lovers in Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate burn down their house with searing love-making. The more time you spend in Mexico, the more such fiction seems based in fact.

When André Bretón arrived here in 1938, his guides included a feisty communist with a unibrow, as famous for her pre-Hispanic wardrobe as for her explicit paintings, and her husband, a frog-faced muralist with a list of sexual conquests as long as his paintbrush. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera introduced the French artist to a country of spontaneous 6-hour parades and the newly discovered and mystifying colossal helmeted-head sculptures of the ancient Olmec culture.

If Bretón were to visit today, he would likely find this country no less incredible. Though it is marginally more sedate today, Mexico is still a land where one man can turn the world's attention to the poverty in the steaming southern jungles, never once removing his woolen ski mask; a culture where women dance with flaming candles balanced on their heads; a collection of peoples who affectionately call death "Katrina" and welcome her with flowers, food, and prayer; and a nation where a notorious drug dealer is honored with hit radio songs for escaping prison in a laundry cart. This is the magic that animates the mad and complex Mexican life.

Even everyday activities can be surreal. Naked protesters regularly interrupt traffic on one of the world's busiest avenues, Maya temples serve as the backdrop for train stations, and grown men fly through the air, tethered to a pole, in front of the National Anthropology Museum.

Sundays bring a degree of sanctity, thanks largely to the vast majority of the population that considers itself Catholic. Normally traffic-choked streets and congested plazas are eerily empty on the seventh day, making it virtually impossible to get any work done but wonderful for an aimless stroll.

Lately, news about Mexico tends to be fraught with brazen drug violence and political strife. But Mexicans live by the proverb, "No hay mal que por bien no venga" ("There is no bad that comes without good"); even these trying times are sure to reveal their own hidden meaning, eventually.

Mexico moves forward despite the saddening current events. In 2011, a year after celebrating the centennial of the Mexican revolution and the bicentennial of the independence movement, Mexico hosted both the Pan American Games and the FIFA U-17 World Cup, spurring renovation and new construction from Monterrey to Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara to the capital while looking ahead to electing a new government in 2012.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.