The church bells ring again at the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud in the former capital of the Purepecha nation. This time it is the signal for a group of women wearing embroidered dresses and fastened with long colorful braids to begin dancing in the center of the church courtyard. It is one of the many celebrations going on days before Christmas. These begin on December 16th, and many know them as the Twelve Days before Christmas. Ritual ceremonies, like this one, reflect how the Spanish influenced native culture here in Mexico. They celebrate both Catholic Saints and ancestral gods of the indigenous people. It is a wonderful site to witness.
Tzintzuntzan is the former ancient capital city of the once powerful P’urhépecha people. Five semi-circular pyramids or yácatas sit above the quiet town center. The hill offers visitors panoramic views of Lago de Patzcuaro and park signs surrounding the site tell of a history of the area before the Spanish arrived. Many visitors experience a sense of spirituality after walking around the sleepy archeological valley above the lake.
The Mexican state of Michoacán stretches all the way from the Pacific Coast east through the colonial heartland of Mexico. Patzcuaro was once the capital of Michoacán and looks very much like it did after the Spanish rebuilt it over 500 years ago. The area, with its interesting history, diverse culture, landscape and geography, makes for a fascinating place to explore.
What brought me here?
The Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead Festival) is the largest and most popular draw to this small town. I later found out that Patzcuaro is well-known for many other celebrations centered around Christmas/New Years and Easter/Carnival. So, why not stay and see more.
Some say that the area reminds them of Hawaii. After the crowds have left and the orange marigolds begin to fade, Patzcuaro takes on a different look. The leaves fall, the rain stops, the skies clear, the days are warm and the nights are pleasantly cool. It gives photographers plenty of beautiful backdrops which helps to make great pictures of the town, its festivals, and the lovely scenery that surrounds the region.
What to expect:
Make sure you at least learn how to say Hello (Hola) Good Morning (Buenos Dias) Good Afternoon (Buenos Tardes) and Thank you (Muchas Gracias). This is one of those wonderful places where people are friendly and exchange greetings in public. Don’t hesitate to be the first to greet a passerby when you are out exploring the area.
Patzcuaro’s sits up in the mountains and is about 2,140 m (7,020 ft) above sea level, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself gasping for air and/or feeling a bit hung over. It’s easy to become dehydrated and altitude sickness is common. It’s important to stay hydrated and not push it.
It’s a quiet town, but they love firework’s here. There’s always special events going that call for celebrating, so expect to hear them at any hour amongst other noises from dogs to music.
The towns along the lake have a history of being home to many highly skilled artists. It’s a great place to pick up handmade hats, scarves, baskets, wood carvings, copper bowls, natural chocolate and more. It’s also a wise way to spend since money will more than likely go straight to the artist and their family.
Patzcuaro has much to offer those looking for a place to see one of the most scenic parts of central Mexico. There are many places to explore, natural beauty to discover and a great history to learn about. What struck me most about Patzcuaro was the fact that the city and the region is full of charm, beautiful and fun to explore.
In a very practical sense, Patzcuaro is very easy to get to. There are several daily direct flights from the US to the state capital of Morelia, and it’s just a 4-5 hour first-class bus connection from Mexico City. There are many apartments for rent in the area, so it’s wise to book one for a short or long stay instead of a hotel. Not only is it good for the budget, but a great way to get to know the town. There are plenty of wonderful options available on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO. There’s a small but extremely welcoming and vibrant expat community that is always looking for new members. They host weekly hikes, cocktail hours and offer great advise to those new to the area.