The 17 Most Popular Mexican Tattoos: Symbolism, Culture, and History

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Tattoos have a long history in Mexico, dating back to ancient civilizations. If you love Mexico or are simply a big fan of Mexican tattoo designs, this post is for you.

I’ll cover some of the most popular styles and motifs, from Aztec sun gods to iconic renderings of Frida Kahlo, Mexican ancient and actual symbolism, and how it’s still so iconic in pop culture.

We’ll also talk about the to Mexican Tattoo Artists at the moment and how they turned art into body painting.

Hi! I am Isabella, I am the founder of this blog. I have lived in Mexico for the past 12 years and have no intention to leave so far. I love this country its culture and its traditions and I love the way Mexicans are so connected to their heritage. And Mexican tattoo art is a way to honor it.

I love tattoos and I have quite a few myself and I decided that my next one will be related to Mexican symbolism.

So this post is the result of my investigations of the history behind the most popular Mexican tattoos so that I can choose my next one. I hope it will entertain you and help you as well pick your next tattoos.

So without further ado, let’s dive into my list of the most popular Mexican tattoo and get inspired!

The 17 Most Popular Mexican Tattoos: Themes and Symbolism

1. Aztec Tattoos

Some of the most fascinating Mexican tattoo ideas are drawn from Aztec and Mayan cultures. This is appropriate, considering that many of the Aztecs were tattooed themselves!

According to one source, Aztecs used tattoos to represent their status, immortalize their exploits in battle, and honor their gods. They always used either black or gray ink.

There are many Aztec and Mayan tattoo designs to choose from, ranging from the Aztec calendar to a sun, eagle, or feathered snake.

Skeletons or the figures of Aztec men and women wearing headdresses can also be a great idea for a Mexico-inspired tattoo.

2. Maya Tattoos

The pre-Hispanic culture that lived in the south of Mexico in the actual Yucatan peninsula, Guatemala, and Belize, and further south is the heritage of the authentic Mexican culture.

The cultural clashes with the imposed culture and religion from the Spanish conquerors created an interesting set of symbols and icons that are still quite vivid in the present pop culture as a way to honor the past.

Mayans civilization built incredible temples and palaces, they had advanced knowledge of astronomy, agriculture, and engineering and had unique views on life and the afterlife.

Mayan iconography is full of meaning and can be truly unique and beautiful symbols of power, freedom, and enlightenment.

Mayan tattoo designs can include anything from small hieroglyphs to an entire Mayan calendar or pieces representing a daily life scene.

Aztec-Mexican Jaguar Tattoos

Few tattoos capture the imagination and culture of Mexico compared to the jaguar tattoos. This powerful animal is the largest cat in the Americas.

The symbolism surrounding this feline is rich and varied and stretches back to the Olmec civilization in 1200-500 C.E.

Aztec and Mayan leaders used jaguars to represent their status and power. Warriors used the jaguar to represent their strength, stealth, and deadly skills. For shamans, jaguars represented magic. They were their spirit-helpers.

3. Virgin Mary Tattoos

Another of the most common Mexican tattoo designs is the Virgin Mary. She is an important religious and cultural symbol.

She is associated with justice, motherhood, and feminism.

For many, the Virgin, known as “Our Lady of Guadalupe” is a down-to-earth, loving, and humble saint.

She is accessible and relatable, someone they can talk with, sing to, and dance with daily.

4. Family Member Tattoos

Getting a family member tattoo is one way many people in Mexico honor the departed. We’ll talk a lot in this post about the relationship between Mexico and their deceased loved ones.

You can have an idea of the relationship with death when you see how Mexican celebrates the day of the dead, “Dia de los Muertos”, which is more of a feast than something to mourn.

The day of the dead celebrations in Oaxaca is the most interesting as much as the one in Patzcuaro, Morelia, and Mexico City.

Among the events and traditional activities during these days, people would adorn the tombs at the cemetery with colorful flowers and food of all sorts as an offering to their departed who would come back on that day and celebrate together reunited.

Another tradition is to prepare altars in homes or balconies also beautifully adorned with all sorts of colorful items, flowers, their departed favorite food and drinks, and their portrait.

Sugar skulls are some of the Mexican sweets that you can find in this. time of the year to represent death.

This sort of tattoo is a way to honor your ancestors and keep a reminder of them close to you.

5. Mexican Skull Tattoos & Sugar Skull Tattoos

If you’ve spent any time in Mexico, you’ll notice that there are skulls EVERYWHERE. These skulls can be dark and realistic or bright, colorful, and stylized.

Although to some, a skull tattoo or sugar skull tattoo may seem morbid, there’s much more to the story.

As I mentioned before, skulls are related to the Day of the dead in Mexico.

It’s true, these skulls do remind us of death and our mortality. But that’s a great thing to remember, because it encourages us to live “all-out”, to be passionate, courageous, and bold with our lives.

It also reminds us to leave a legacy of love and good relationships behind. Plus, they are pretty cool looking, don’t you think?

6. Hummingbird Tattoos

Hummingbirds are an important part of Mexican culture. One of the traditional beliefs behind hummingbirds is that they are messengers from the spirits of the deceased in heaven to the people still alive in the world.

If a hummingbird comes and hovers near you, it could mean that someone from the afterlife is trying to send you joy, comfort, and positivity.

Hummingbird god

Hummingbirds are also feisty, beautiful, flashy, and incredibly fast birds. Perhaps, for this reason, one of the most important gods in the Aztec religious pantheon was Huitzilopochtli.

He was part man, part hummingbird, and was considered the god of the sun, rulers, and warriors.

Legend has it that his mother Coatlicue, the goddess of earth, conceived him after grabbing a bundle of hummingbird feathers that fell from the sky.

She kept the feathers against her chest and because of this, Huitzilopochtli had the soul of a warrior.

Hummingbird God and the Mexican Flag

Says the legend that “Huitzilopochtli is presented as the deity who guided the long migration the Aztecs undertook from Aztlan, their traditional home, to the Valley of Mexico.

That same image of the eagle and serpent became the emblem in the center of the Mexican flag.

In fact, during the journey, his image, in the form of a hummingbird, was carried upon the shoulders of priests, and at night his voice was heard giving orders. Thus, according to Huitzilopochtli’s command, Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, was founded in 1325 CE on a small, rocky island in the lake of the Valley of Mexico.

The god’s first shrine was built on the spot where priests found an eagle poised upon a rock and devouring a snake, an image so important to Mexican culture that it is portrayed on the national flag of Mexico.” (Britannica).

7. Embroidery Tattoos

Decorative stitching dates back to pre-Hispanic Mexico, but the Spanish brought additional needlework skills with them after the conquest.

Over time, Mexican women learned a wide variety of stitches that originated not only in their own country but also in Persia, Egypt, China, and the Philippines.

Mexican girls of all ages and walks of life we’re taught to embroider. It is still a source of pride. These bold and colorful works of art are also possible to do in ink.

If you’re looking for a tattoo that embodies the beauty and imagery of Mexico, you’ll love these embroidery tattoo designs. I love how they look like they’re stitched right into the skin.

8. Mexico Food Tattoos

Not all Mexican tattoos need to be full of deep meanings. Some tattoo designs can be nothing more than a way to celebrate something you love about Mexico and its culture.

Mexican food is amazing, so there’s no reason why a Mexican food tattoo couldn’t be amazing as well.

Some ideas for food tattoos include tacos, chili peppers, avocados, dancing avocados wearing sombreros, fish, pineapples, and bottles of hot sauce.

This is one way to get a festival going on your arm (or maybe just to make yourself hungry all the time).

9. Frida Kahlo Tattoos

Frida Kahlo was one of the most important Mexican artists, a political activist, an iconic figure, and a symbol of women’s power and resilience.

Every time I write about her I always have the feeling I can never be accurate enough. She was just larger than life, maybe that’s the best description I could find.

Known for her tragic accident and her turbulent love relationship with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo made a name of her own for her bluntness and her unique art.

Art history experts call her “one of Mexico’s most important twentieth-century figures.” She represents many aspects of Mexican culture and she is both a revolutionary heroine and a tragic figure with a difficult personal history.

A Frida Kahlo tattoo is very popular and rich with symbolism. Through her art, she asked hard questions about cultural identity, sexuality, power, politics, and the subjugation of women.

10. Catrina Tattoos

La Catrina, or La Catrina Calavera, is an emblematic Mexican figure. This tall, elegant skeleton woman wears a French hat adorned with flowers. She is considered Mexico’s “Grand Dame of Death.”

Her history is a fascinating one and reaches back to the Aztecs and Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of death.

La Catrina also had an important role to play during the Mexican Revolution, and now has become one of the most emblematic symbols of the Day of the Dead.

Artists and the Mexican Revolution

Artist José Guadalupe Posada drew this figure to help ignite the revolutionary furor that toppled Dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1911. In part, he was condemning the upper class and their obsession with everything European, thus the French hat on La Catrina.

Later, famed artist Diego Rivera made a full-body version of La Catrina the central subject in his mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.” If you’re ever in the historic center of Mexico City, go see it!

La Catrina is a bold symbol that captures an essential part of Mexican life: using humor as a form of protest, embracing and familiarizing death, and empowering people to combat their oppressors through irreverence. This will certainly be a meaningful Mexican tattoo!

11. Agave Plant Tattoos

If you love the landscapes of Mexico, an agave tattoo could be perfect for you. UNESCO considers this visually captivating plant to be part of the Mexican cultural landscape. Agave has been an important part of Mexican culture for over 3,500 years.

Not only is it used to make the country’s famous tequila, and Mezcal, but parts of the plant were also used as sources of fiber, building and roofing material, arrowheads, soap, medicine, rope, and clothing, needles, and musical instruments.

12. Cactus Tattoos

Cactuses are also a key element of the Mexican landscape. Not only is it part of the Mexican flag, but it also refers to the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan the “place of the cactus rock.”

The cactus was also an important religious feature for the Aztecs.

Cactuses were used both as boundary markers and as points of conjunction between the heavens, the earth, and the underworld.

As Art Historian Renee McGarry explains it, “at times they limited the scope of the universe and/or empire, and at other times they expanded it.”

13. Lucha Libre tattoos

The Mexican Lucha Libre (wrestling) is part of the Mexican identity and it’s more much more than common wrestling that you find in other countries, although similar.

Mexican Lucha Libre has its own rules with a specific way of dressing and most of the time colorful masks are used. One of the rules is if the fighter loses his mask during the fight he cannot wear it anymore.

Lucha Libre is a real show a mix of a theatrical representation and a real fight and it’s characterized by its styles of fast submissions and high acrobatics, as well as its dangerous jumps out of the ring.

Mexican wrestling has been declared an Intangible cultural heritage in Mexico City.

Just like any other Mexican Icons, the Lucha Libre masks are very popular tattoo themes to celebrate Mexican Identity.

14. La Loteria Tattoos

La Loteria is a common game that was initiated in Italy and brought to New Spain (aka Mexico) in 1769.

It is similar to BINGO but with icons instead of numbers.

While it was originally a hobby reserved for the upper class, it quickly become part of the pop culture in Mexico and a tradition at fairs, and the icons slowly changed in new versions on the Loteria.

In 1878 the game was even distributed to the Mexican soldier together with their supplies and the images used in the cards have become iconic in the Mexican culture such as the Soldier ( El Soldado) el Nopal (cactus leaf) el Alacran (scorpion), the siren, and so forth.

The game is still played during family gatherings. If you want to give it a try and see the full set of imagery you can get it easily on Amazon for just 6 USD.

Here below are some examples of Mexican Tattoos representing some of La Loteria icons.

15. Chicano Tattoos

One way to champion Mexico and a Mexican-American identity is to get a Chicano tattoo. These bold black and gray tattoos with pops of white stemmed from the Chicano Movement of the 1960s.

Following the Mexican-American War, Mexicans living on territory ceded to the US were supposed to have full citizenship and the right to continue using and celebrating their language and heritage. Instead, they were discriminated against.

Fortunately, many Mexican-Americans rallied and demanded that things change. This peaceful revolution is called the Chicano Movement.

One of the most prominent symbols in Chicano-style tattooing is known as the payasam which translate to female clown in Spanish.

Besides the impressive beauty of these pajamas they evoke a precise meaning, which is mainly a representation of the struggles of gang life in Mexican-American culture but also the good and bad in life.

Art as a Movement

One of the ways activists got their eyes on the movement was through community-based art. This art showed the beauty and struggle of the Mexican-American experience. Chicano tattoos carry on the tradition.

Many Chicano tattoos feature gang members, roses, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, clown noses, and women with tear streaks or masks.

The Chicano Movement led to many reforms all across America. It’s a great Mexican-American tattoo style!

16. Star wars tattoos

Although Star Wars tattoos aren’t Mexican, they are a very common tattoo topic in Mexico. If you love Star Wars and Mexico, why not put a Mexican spin on one of your favorite motifs from the epic space opera? You can get a sugar-skull style storm trooper, Mexican stylized Jedi, or choose a flower-motif adorned bot, such as R2-D2.

Other Mexican tattoos that represent Mexican icons

17. Papel Picado

18. Corn

19. Xoloitzcuintli – Mexican hairless dog

20. Kukulkan – feathered serpent

Best Mexican Tattoo Artists to Follow

There are many wonderfully talented Mexican tattoo artists! Here is a list of my favorite tattooing savants, each with their singular style.

Ignis Ink

Ignis.Ink does gorgeous and realistic tattoos, especially of animals and skulls interwoven with leaves and flowers. He works in color with a neo-traditional style. Check out his tiger, skull, and snake tattoos. They look incredible!

Fernanda Alvarez

Fernanda Alvarez is one of the pioneers of embroidery tattoos. She does a masterful job layering the inks and colors to create the illusion of light and shadow. Her tattoos look extremely realistic. Her tattoos are the perfect combination of beauty and culture!

Roxi Satni

Roxi Satni is known for her Aztec tattoos and hand-poke designs. Ranging from intricate to stylized, her tattoos are bold, crisp, and eye-catching.

Daniel Rivero

Daniel Rivero, also known as Topo Cocom is another Mexican tattoo artist with an eclectic but distinct style. He often does Picasso-style tattoos using old-school American line work. His tattoos are definitely one of a kind!

Diana Félix

Diana Félix creates beautiful Mexican-inspired tattoos in black and white with touches of red. Artistic and abstract woman figures and animals seem to be her specialty.

Fabian Dominguez

Fabian is an amazing young self-made tattoo artist and a beautiful person as well. He basically tattooed my arms with spectacular flowery tattoos with such precision and attention to detail that blew my mind.

He specializes in nature-themed figures, but he also loves to tattoo star wars characters and fine lines and he loves his job with a passion.

You need to book your space a month in advance if you want him to do your tattoos. You should hurry up before he becomes too famous and has no time :).

He’s based in Merida and I couldn’t recommend him enough. You have seen his work multiple times in this post.

Best Mexican tattoos: final thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing and learning about all of these beautiful and unique Mexican tattoos! There are so many styles and subjects to choose from that you are sure to find something perfect for you.

Mexican tattoos speak about Mexican culture and history. I will leave you with this link if you want to learn more about it.

You will notice that many of the tattoos I share in this article are made in many other parts of the world, not necessarily in Mexico.

It’s so refreshing to see how much the Mexican culture and its icons are appreciated all over the world, from Japan to Germany or the neighboring US.

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