Mexico is a land of geological contrasts, with high mountains and deep canyons, vast deserts and fertile plains. However, the arrangement of the country’s topography together with its hot, dry climate do not leave much scope for large bodies of water. So, where does that leave the search for Mexico’s longest rivers?
There are approximately 400,000 miles of rivers and streams in Mexico, their basins covering around 65% of the country. What’s more, some of the longest rivers in the Americas pass through the country. So, what are the longest Mexican rivers? Let’s find out, starting with the largest river in Mexico.
Río Bravo del Norte: The Biggest River in Mexico
Length: 1,896 – 1,931 miles
Rising in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the US, the Rio Bravo or Rio Grande, travels through New Mexico before becoming a fluvial border between Texas and Mexico. In all, the Rio Bravo travels some 1,900 miles before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the longest rivers on the continent of North America. As for the proportion of this that enters into or borders Mexico, estimates vary from 889 to 1,248 miles.
Even at the lower end of this scale, the Rio Bravo is Mexico’s longest river and vital both to it and the US. The vast majority of its water is used for agricultural activity, but it’s also a source of freshwater for many communities. The river is popular for recreation, and home to many species of wildlife and over 120 species of fish, almost 70 of which are endemic to the Rio Bravo.
Length: 1,452 miles
While the Colorado River is one of the North American continent’s longest rivers, the vast majority of its journey takes place within the US. However, it’s often listed as one of Mexico’s longest rivers and spends its final 75 miles or so there, before reaching its mouth at the Gulf of California.
Length: 600-700 miles
One of the longest rivers in Mexico is the Usumacinta River. Beginning in northern Guatemala, it flows there for some 226 miles, then spends a similar distance forming the Mexico-Guatemala border. Travelling north, it enters Mexico in Tabasco for its final 240-mile stretch before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.
Along its journey, the Usumacinta River flows through the rainforests of Mexico and Guatemala, providing a home for a diverse array of plants and animals. The river is also an important source of freshwater for the people who live in the region and a popular destination for adventure seekers, who come to raft and kayak its waters.
Some sources link the Usumacinta River with the next entry, the Grijalva River, citing it as the Grijalva–Usumacinta river system. This would measure in excess of 1,000 miles in length.
Length: 400 miles
The Grijalva River is one of the longest rivers in Mexico. It has several sources, some of which rise in Sierra de Soconusco and Guatemala’s Sierra Madre. It travels through the state of Chiapas, then forming the border between it and Tabasco. Grijalva then joins the Usumacinta and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The Grijalva River is an important waterway for Mexico, providing irrigation for crops, drinking water for cities, and hydroelectric power for industry.
Length: 478 miles
At approximately 478 miles in length from Puebla to the Pacific, the Balsas River is one of the longest rivers in Mexico and a powerful source of hydroelectricity.
Mexico's Longest Rivers
As we’ve seen, Mexico shares many of its longest rivers with its neighbours. And, with the country’s climate tending towards the tropical or arid, the longest Mexican rivers provide its citizens with a vital natural resource.