Why does Mexico not have large coastal cities?

When I think about the US, the majority (not all of course) of our biggest cities are coastal or are big ports:
New York
Chicago (on great lakes)
Los Angeles
San Francisco
San Diego
Washington DC (Chesapeake bay)

For Mexico (of which I am not an expert), it looks like their biggest coastal city is Tijuana, which is roughly the population of Virginia Beach. I am not even sure what the next one is, Veracruz? This is for a country with 128M people! All their bigger cities are internal.

I am sure there is history here. Lack of immigration from the old world? But it seems like first settlements in the New World should have created more big cities on the coasts?

Lack of navigable rivers. Most (not all) of the American coastal cities are at or near the mouths of rivers which provide access to a substantial region of hinterlands. (New Orleans provides access to an enormous hinterlands.) Mexico doesn’t have that; it’s mostly mountainous and you can’t access the interior by water.

After the Spanish conquest, the Spanish did of course need a means of access to Mexico, and Veracruz became a fairly large and important port city. It still is. But it never became enormous, simply because the Mexican economy, either before or after independence, never generated the volume of international travel and trade to make it so. During the Nineteenth Century, Mexican international trade ran about $10-20 million per year in contemporary US, which would be about one-tenth that much in Nineteenth Century US$, versus $100 million growing to 300 million [in Nineteenth Century ] for the United States.

Also, when the Spanish arrived the most heavily populated part of the country was the central plateau around Mexico City, and this is largely still the case today. As Freddy_the_Pig’s post implies, this area was not accessible by water.

It’s not something I’ve ever researched, but one possible explanation that pops into my head is that North American cities are newer and were built in the age of modern commerce and transportation. We don’t think of 16th and 17th Century ships as modern, but they were quite modern in their day. They established trade routes and North American settlers needed ways to trade easily between the New and Old Worlds (and elsewhere). Mexican settlements were already well-established and weren’t conceived with intercontinental commerce in mind.

However, there are plenty of large coastal/port cities elsewhere in Latin America, like Panama City, Guayaquil, Lima, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and in Brazil Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Fortaleza, which were also founded before most North American cities. The age of establishment isn’t a general explanation.

Right, I guess what I was saying is more with regard to North America, not so much South America. I think North American cities were founded with commerce in mind, which is not to say that there weren’t coastal cities in Meso or South America. Nor does that explanation of North American cities explain why there were cities in the interior of Mexico and not so many along the coasts.

As in Mexico, in most of Central America, and also in Andean South America, the main population centers have always been in the highlands rather than along the coast, exceptions being Panama City, Lima, and Guayaquil.

The “lack of navigable rivers” argument doesn’t make sense to me. With the exception of modern “planned cities”, every city in the world was a small town that became a major town and then kept growing. How does that happen without some sort of profitable trade routes?

Look at maps of Europe, Asia, Africa. It seems to me that the vast majority of big cities are on the water. Were the draft animals in old Mexico more efficient than boats?

I would imagine that Mexico’s big cities should have gone up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, and they would have done business with each other. Why would they go inland where travel is so difficult?

To what degree did the Spanish simply take over local population centers?

As I mentioned, that’s where the population is (and was before the Spanish arrived). The climate is cooler. The Atlantic lowlands are hot and humid, and were subject to malaria.

First and foremost, people in a growing capital need food. Mexico is largely desert. It has coasts and many low internal mountains. Mountains attract rain, needed to grow crops like maize. Coasts supply seafood.

Mexico City grew from the Aztec capital of Teotihuacan, now about 40km from the capital. This city was founded around 400 BC. A city on the coast might be more susceptible to both severe tropical storms and attack from others.

Unlike what became the US and other parts of the Western Hemisphere, Mexico already had cities when Europeans arrived. Mexican cities were founded by a culture that had very primitive maritime technology and trade, so there was no real advantage to them being built on the coast.

I understand there were no draft animals in the New World comparable to those in the Old World when the Spanish arrived. In South America there is the llama and alpaca, but those animals, while used for wool and some transport, could not carry heavy loads as oxen and horses could. AIUI most transport was done by people carrying things, and there were plenty of resources available. I imagine when Cortez unloaded his horses onto the beach near Veracruz the locals were probably pretty surprised.

I do not think the Aztecs were known as great boat builders or navigators in their day, which may imply water was not used much for transportation outside a localized area. In modern times there is a rail link as an alternative to the Panama Canal across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which, if successful, and if the Panama Canal never happened, may have established a pair of large(er) coastal cities supporting shipping along the railway.

That’s the true answer, I think. Plus the Spanish were more concerned with trading with Spain, than with other cities in Mexico for a very long time, so with the exception of possibly Veracruz, there just wasn’t that much seaborne trade going on along the Mexican coast.

No, Mexico City grew from Tenochtitlan, which is in the center of the city.

My mistake. But both influential cities resulted in the Federal District having adequate agriculture to support a growing populace. The best farmland in Mexico is largely inland as well.

There was a certain amount of trade between Mexico and the Philippines during the colonial era that went out of Acapulco. Perhaps also some trade with South American ports. So Acapulco became the second largest Mexican port after Veracruz.