Guide to Patzcuaro

Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico

About Patzcuaro

Patzcuaro (“Pahtz-Kuah-Ro”) is a charming town with a mixed colonial and indigenous feel, located just 45 minutes from Morelia, the State Capital of Michoacan.

Michoacan’s people are some of the friendliest and most welcoming in Mexico. Patzcuaro is an extremely popular domestic tourist destination during Day of the Dead, Christmas and Holy Week.

During the last decade, an increasing number of foreign visitors have discovered the town’s charm and ambiance and are returning here not only during the holidays, but also for extended stays—even retirement in Mexico.

Morelia is an aristocratic colonial city, whereas Patzcuaro is a colonial town which still remains true to its indigenous (Purepecha and Tarasco) heritage. The town has successfully blended its indigenous and colonial roots and provides an excellent hub from which to explore the other towns and villages in the area. See Around Patzcuaro, below.

The central area of Patzcuaro and its immediate surroundings are the most attractive with colonial buildings, mansions and courtyards built around the fine and elegant Plaza de Quiroga.

Bishop Vasco de Quiroga was a respected judge sent by the Catholic Church to Patzcuaro in 1536 to try Nuño de Guzman for his acts of uncompromising cruelty that devastated the indigenous communities here. Quiroga promoted education and self sufficiency in the area, helping the indigenous people to grow crops and develop their natural skills as talented craftsmen. He is the most revered historical figure in the state of Michoacan and his statue is the centerpiece of Patzcuaro’s main square.

About two miles southeast of the town’s center are the shores of Lago de Patzcuaro (Lake Patzcuaro). Lake Patzcuaro also hosts the charming island of Janitzio.

Patzcuaro can be visited as a day trip from Morelia, but it’s much better to stay for a couple of nights to get the true feel of this wonderful town and the surrounding villages.

Please note: Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter), Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead, November 1st and 2nd), Dia de Nuestra Señora de Salud (the Festival to celebrate the town’s Patron Saint on December 8), and Navidad (Christmas) are very busy here: advance accommodation bookings are essential during these times (see Local Events, below).

See Blog: Plan Ahead for Day of the Dead in Mexico

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Key Attractions

Colonial Center

The main square is called La Plaza de Quiroga or La Plaza Grande and is a fine place to just sit and relax. Buy a nieve (ice-cream), gordita de nata (half-inch thick pancakes made with heavy cream and sweetened with sugar), or some ate (locally produced sweets made from fruit paste) and watch the world go by.

Most days, the central area around the plaza fills up with markets, people and street performers. A block north of the main square is La Plaza Chica or La Plaza de Gertrudis Bocanegra, named for a local heroine who was executed by firing squad for supporting Mexico’s Independence movement.

The town’s local market sets up shop at the northwest corner of La Plaza Chica every day from about 9 am to 5 pm when you can find fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meats, as well as real herbal medicines and local art and crafts. There are also plenty of places to eat tacos, licuados (smoothies), tortas (sandwiches) and corundas (pyramid-shaped tamales).

The town’s library (Biblioteca Gertrudis) is located in the northeastern corner of La Plaza Chica and features an impressive mural by Juan O’Gorman on the back wall. If you are staying in Patzcuaro a week or more, you may want some English reading material—check out the library’s extensive English book selection that is available on loan or purchase during their occasional book sales. Next-door to the library is an ordinary artisan market that is open on weekends and some evenings.

Up the hill, east of the town center, is the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la SaludPatzcuaro’s Patron Saint. It’s here that Quiroga himself is buried, and the Virgin, Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Our Lady of Good Health), is said to perform miracles.

Many people pay homage to the Basilica with offerings to the Virgin. In front of the Basilica is a very reasonably priced open-air daily market with more locally-crafted souvenirs.

The Museo de Artes Populares (Popular Arts Museum) is just south of the Basilica, one block east of the main square. Some say it is the site of the first university in the Americas (1540), founded by Quiroga.

The Colegio de San Nicolas next door is a 16th century building that houses art exhibits and performances.

Possibly the most popular tourist site is the Casa de los Once Patios (House of eleven courtyards) just a couple of blocks southeast of the main square. It was originally a convent, although today it’s host to a range of quality art and craft outlets, many of which have workshops where you can witness the art being created. If you are short on time or energy, it’s worth the slightly higher prices to buy here, direct from local artists.

Lake Patzcuaro / Island of Janitzio

About two miles north of the town’s center are the shores of Lago de Patzcuaro (Lake Patzcuaro). Lake Patzcuaro also hosts Isla Janitzio. Frequent boats will take you from the docks of Patzcuaro (Muelle General) to the island.

The island offers visitors an opportunity to browse markets and buy from local artisans and traders. There are a number of food stalls selling charales: small fish caught in the lake and deep fried in batter; not the healthiest snack, but a unique taste for the more adventurous.

At the top of Janitzio there is a statue in honor of one of Mexico’s most revered revolutionary heroes: Jose Maria Morelos . You can climb the stairs inside the statue to see the panoramic views from the top. If you don’t like heights, you may want to give this a miss: the stairway is bi-directional, narrow in places, with only a low metal banister between you and a 150 ft drop at the top!

Please note: Isla Janitzio is often overwhelmed with tourists during weekends and especially during the Dia de Muertos holiday period. The best time to visit the island is during a week-day. If your time in Patzcuaro is limited, you will get better value by visiting some of the lakeside and artisan villages around Patzcuaro instead of the island of Janitzio (see below).

Santa Clara del Cobre

About 12 miles south of Patzcuaro is Santa Clara del Cobre (cobre means copper), which used to be a copper mining town. The mines are now closed, but copper crafting continues.

Santa Clara del Cobre is one of the “must see” villages around Patzcuaro. If you only have time to see one of the small towns around Patzcuaro on your stay in the area, consider Santa Clara.

Many of the stores in the town have workshops at the back where you can see families – three or four generations – working on the items you see for sale by hand; a true apprenticeship!

Santa Clara Gallery: See the extensive photo gallery of Santa Clara del Cobre and the workshops here on Mexperience.

Small Towns and Villages Around Patzcuaro

Patzcuaro is the perfect base to explore this wonderful region of Mexico, which is why you should consider at least a couple of night’s stay here instead of just experiencing Patzcuaro on a day visit from Morelia.

Below is a summary of some of the villages around the lake (counterclockwise around the lake from Patzcuaro) with an asterisk (*) next to our favorites.

Tzurumutaro – Tzurumutaro is famous for its handcrafted iron patio furniture, sold outside of workshops right along the highway.

Ihuatzio – A tiny town on the banks of Lake Patzcuaro and about 10 minutes from Patzcuaro, Ihuatzio has partially restored ruins as well as beautiful nature. Its cemetery is popular but not overwhelmingly so during Dia de Muertos.

Cucuchucho – Just 5 minutes past Ihuatzio, this extremely small town’s cemetery is gorgeous and calm during Dia de Muertos.

Tzintzuntzan – Meaning “place of the humming birds,” Tzintzuntzan is only about 25 minutes from Patzcuaro and makes a great day trip. Along the main road through town, there are numerous stores selling straw goods, wood furniture and ceramics. The olive-tree lined courtyard of the Ex-Convento de San Francisco is a beautiful picnic spot and provides tranquil access to see the other Templos and the Capilla within the walls. Manuel Morales runs an exquisite ceramics workshop just past the open chapel towards the back right-hand corner of the courtyard; and across the street and past the cemetery is the entrance to the Purepecha ruins (Las Yacatas). Tzintzuntzan is very crowded during the night of Dia de Muertos so we recommend going during the day of the 1st to see locals decorating if you are in the area at this time of year.

Quiroga – The town bearing the name of Vasco de Quiroga is about 10 minutes past Tzintzuntzan. Its Sunday markets are legendary and everyday is excellent for buying arts and crafts, even if it’s not the most picturesque.

Santa Fe de La Laguna – This colonial town about 5 minutes from Quiroga has a real indigenous feel as well as a lovely plaza and church off to the right-hand side of the highway. Famous for its clay (barro) workshops, local artisans such as Nicolas Fabian are working with the government to make their town and their art more accessible to tourists.

PuacuaroPuacuaro is about 45 minutes from Patzcuaro in either direction around the lake. Enrique and Eva Ascensio are a dynamic husband and wife team that have revitalized tule and chuspata (reeds from Lake Patzcuaro, round and flat respectively) weaving in the area. Having learned the trade from artisans in Tzintzuntzan, they have invented many new stitches and designs and are happy to give you a demonstration (and sell you their products directly). They have trained over half of the women in Puacuaro to weave reeds and support their families.

Erongaricuaro – One of the oldest settlements in the area, and about 30 minutes from Patzcuaro (clockwise aroud the lake), its claims to fame include being home to the French artist Andre Breton in the 1950’s with visits by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo also. Here you can wander the peaceful town and enjoy the Spanish style architecture.

San Francisco Uricho – This tiny unassuming town outside of Erongaricuaro makes beautiful off-white and brown traditional Michoacan pottery.

Arocutin – Perched on a hill up from Jaracuaro, Arocutin’s cemetery is a peaceful escape from the usual chaos of Dia de Muertos.

Jaracuaro – Given credit for the creation of the famous Michoacan Baile de los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men), Jaracuaro is also famous for its sombreros which are hand-made using palm leaves.

Tocuaro – Just 20 minutes outside of Patzcuaro (clockwise around the lake), is the famous mask-making town of Tocuaro. Although a good mask may cost several hundred dollars; it will be absolutely unique.

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Getting There & Around

By Air – The nearest airport to Patzcuaro is the Morelia Airport, which is about 1.5 hours away. You can fly to Morelia from the US as well as other points in Mexico including Mexico City, Guadalajara and Leon. If you fly into Morelia Airport, you will need to drive or take a cab from the airport to downtown Morelia or Patzcuaro, as there are no buses. The airport is about 45 minutes from Morelia and 1.5 hours from Patzcuaro. For detailed information about flights and flying, see the Mexperience guide to Air Travel in Mexico.

By Bus – There are regular local buses from Morelia to Patzcuaro (60 minutes); leaving every 10 minutes or so all day long. There are also regular buses from Uruapan (45 minutes in the opposite direction). Many first-class buses run to and from Morelia and Uruapan and there is also a first class bus direct from Mexico City’s western bus terminal to Patzcuaro and back. For detailed information about bus transportation read the Mexperience guide to Bus Travel in Mexico.

By Car – Driving to Patzcuaro from Morelia is easy and takes only 45 minutes on a new free highway. There is also a new toll-highway from Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa that takes about 3-4.5 hours. See additional information about Driving in Mexico and Mexico’s Toll Roads on Mexperience.

Car Rental – To explore Mexico’s colonial towns and cities, consider renting a car for your visit. Having your own car will give you more flexibility than using public transport options and, in some cases, offer you access to places which are otherwise difficult to visit without the use of a car. Read our guide to Car Rental in Mexico to learn what you need to know about car rental in Mexico and connect to the Mexperience Travel Center to reserve your Rental Car.

Local Buses – Local buses (called combis or colectivos) run throughout Patzcuaro and to the villages around the Lake and provide a cheap (if not always direct) way to get around the area. That said, most of Patzcuaro is accessible on foot provided that you’re not adverse to a good walk! To get to Lake Patzcuaro you can catch a cab or a local bus; the walk, though doable, is not recommended due to the traffic on the road leading to it.

Taxis – Taxis in most of Mexico’s colonial towns and cities are not metered, so agree your price before you get in. Taxi travel is very affordable in Mexico, in comparison to the USA, Canada and Europe, and so provides a viable means of public transportation in Mexico. Your hotel can arrange taxis for you; some post their rates on a board in the lobby; taxi hotel rates are usually higher than cabs you hail off the street. If you speak Spanish, you will have a distinct advantage and be able to negotiate a price with the driver. For detailed information, read the Mexperience guide to Taxi Travel in Mexico.

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Local Events Calendar

Festivities in Patzcuaro are very popular events, attended by locals, nationals and foreigners alike. Booking your accommodation early during festival periods is essential.

Easter Week (Semana Santa) is very busy here as Patzcuaro fills up with visitors who come to witness the festivities, candlelit processions and the burning of an effigy of Judas in the main square on Easter Sunday evening.

Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos, November 1-2) is the highest tourist season and many hotels are booked 6 months in advance. The Plaza Grande becomes a regional artisan market with artisans from all over the state coming for the entire week to show and sell their wares. In addition, there are cultural activities happening as early as October 28th and as late as November 3rd in Patzcuaro and the surrounding villages. During the day of November 1st, families decorate their ancestors’ graves with flowers and offerings and build beautiful altars in their homes. During the night of the 1st there is an amazing cultural performance and fair in Jaracuaro as families everywhere spend the night with the deceased in candle-lit cemeteries. See Also: Day of the Dead in Mexico

Nuestra Señora de La Salud – At the beginning of December each year, Patzcuaro celebrates its Patron Saint. The weekend is filled with processions, parties and competitions; a town fair sets up and the whole town vibrates with color, sound and atmosphere.

PosadasPosadas, meaning “Inns,” reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem and take place on the streets of Patzcuaro from about December 16th to the 24th. Residents block traffic along their street, set up a campfire, sing the rosary, and then engage in a call and response song as Mary, Joseph, possibly a burro and everyone else go from house to house asking for a place to stay and receiving snacks instead. Some posadas culminate in a piñata party while others have developed a roasting marshmallows tradition.

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Practical Information

Telephone: Connect to the guide about Communications in Mexico on Mexperience for detailed information about keeping in touch and the latest table of national dialing codes.

Exchanging Currency: Banks with ATM machines can be found in the downtown (central) area of Patzcuaro. During business hours, they and the Casas de Cambio will buy traveler’s cheques and cash from you as well. For detailed information about exchanging and managing your money, read the Mexperience guide to Money in Mexico.

Travel Insurance: We recommend that you are adequately covered with travel medical insurance and/or travel assistance insurance when you are visiting Mexico. Read the Mexperience guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico for full details and links to specialist insurance suppliers.

Internet Access: Internet cafes can be easily found in towns and cities across Mexico and WiFi is increasingly commonplace–from cafes, shops, hotels, and some cities even offer free WiFi in some defined public spaces.

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Restaurants

There are a variety of restaurants around La Plaza Grande and La Plaza Chica that serve decent Mexican and international fare. That said, a small amount of effort and a bit of common sense can give you a much better dining experience.

Street food in Patzcuaro is terrific, although the average tourist is too scared to try it. There is a very popular Shrimp Cocktail stand at the corner of La Plaza Chica in front of the library. You’ll notice it because there’s a big crowd hanging around. In the evenings, along Iturbe street on La Plaza Chica there are a bunch of good and greasy Enchiladas Placeras that serve very large very tasty portions. For the less adventurous, in the mornings in front of the Basilica are a variety of vendors that sell corundas (pyramid-shaped tamales with cheese or meat filling) and atole (corn-based drink with a cinnamon or chocolate flavor).

Locals and ex-pats seem to agree that Mariscos La Guera (seafood, at the corner of Federico Tena and the road leading out to Santa Clara del Cobre), Casa China (authentic Chinese food, a block from the Muelle) are the best places to go for a reasonably priced, yummy bite to eat.

One of therestaurants popular with expats is Lupita’s, located on Buena Vista street.

Another popular spot, especially for brunch or coffee, is the restaurant in the Gran Hotel in La Plaza Chica.

Along Ibarra street you’ll find a series of good restaurants, including Restaurante Dona Paca inside the Hotel Mansion Iturbe in the main plaza (high-end Mexican fare); Priscilla’s in La Casa de Los Sueños (high end international fare); and La Puerta Roja (Spanish fare).

Along the main plaza on Ponce de Leon street are El Primer Piso (mid-range International food) that has a great and romantic view; and El Patio (mid-range Mexican fare) which sometimes has live music, and of course, always, a beautiful courtyard.

Comida Corrida is food that’s quick but not necessarily fast food in the U.S. sense of the word. Mama Lupe’s (Mendoza street) and El Camino Real (behind the Pemex on the road to Morelia) are two very good “fast food” joints in town.

For good coffee and people watching, La Surtidora on Mendoza street on the main plaza is recommended.

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When Night Falls

Patzcuaro has a good selection of cafes and restaurants (see Restaurants, above) although the town tends to be quiet and serene after 10 pm

El Viego Gaucho (on Iturbe street) has decent traditional live music Thursdays – Saturdays and sometimes earlier in the week.  There is the local disco, which is mostly frequented by young adults and teenagers; for a livelier night scene, you (and they) need to travel to nearby Morelia.

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What to Buy in Patzcuaro

You can buy good quality, locally made and hand-crafted Mexican craftwork throughout the state of Michoacan, and Patzcuaro is no exception.

Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the surrounding lakeside villages where a lot of the crafts are made by hand: it will give you a full appreciation of the how the materials are worked and the crafts created. See Around Patzcuaro (above) for details of the main villages and the crafts they are known for.

Also, don’t miss the opportunity to buy some traditional Mexican confectionery which is made in this state (Michoacan) – and sold all over the Mexico. Two sweets which you should definitely try are: Chongos (made from milk, honey and cinnamon) and Ates (made from fruit paste). You can buy the local confectionery from market stalls, shops and other trading outlets in Patzcuaro.

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Local Climate

The town is quite high up in the mountains (just under 2,200m/7,200ft) so it can get chilly in the mornings and evenings between October and April. Bring layers including warm clothing year round. The rainy season runs May through September, but most days have a warm spring-like climate.

Weather & Climates in Mexico

Learn more about the weather and climates through the seasons and regions by connecting to the Mexperience guide about Weather and Climates in Mexico

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