The ‘Pueblo Magico’ town of Patzcuaro, Michoacán (Mexico)

The Pueblo Magico town of Patzcuaro, Michoacán (Mexico)

One of the prettiest little towns I was going to see on my recent trip to Mexico was the town of Patzcuaro. Located in the state of Michoacán, it is one of 83 “Pueblo Magicos” (Magical Towns) designated by Mexico’s Tourism department. The designation is meant to promote towns around the country that offer visitors a “magical” experience – by reason of their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance. Click here to see a listing of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos.
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beautiful Michoacán

Above: beautiful views of Michoacán state on the road from Mexico City (a 5 hr bus ride).

What makes Patzcuaro special? Well, the first thing that you’ll notice is how homogeneous buildings are: 1 or 2 stories high, with red tile roofs, painted in white with red trim along the bottom of the walls. Each building has stylized lettering, in red and black, describing the nature of the businesses inside. Even street signs are drawn on the walls in red and black. You won’t see ugly signs or placards in Patzcuaro.  You’ll also see lots of churches, porticos, arches and courtyards dating back to the Spanish.
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You can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped back in time in Patzcuaro.

Below: architecture and paint schemes in Patzcuaro.

views from Plaza de Quiroga, Patzcuaro, mexico

red and white street, Patzcuaro, Mexico

streets in Patzcuaro, Mexico

hotel on Plaza de Quiroga, Patzcuaro, mexico

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Patzcuaro is not a big place and everything revolves around the main square, named Plaza Vasco de Quiroga (also called Plaza Grande). Many of the town’s restaurants and cafés are located under the portico-ed buildings around the square and it’s a great spot to sit down with a drink and watch local life. We spent 3 days in Patzcuaro and every evening my mom and I (for those who don’t know – this was my yearly trip visiting her in Mexico) would finish the day with a margarita on the square. A few photos below:

views on Plaza de Quiroga, Patzcuaro, mexico

girl on pony, plaza grande, patzcuaro

musicians, patzcuaro, mexico

margarita in Patzcuaro, Mexico

Above:  Yes, I know. I don’t feel very manly with that glass. 

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Sights in Patzcuaro

Patzcuaro is the kind of place where you wander around, sit on squares and go to markets. There’s no one sight that will leave you breathless, all together however they add up to a lot of things to see in such a small place and will leave you appreciating the history and how it’s been preserved. More importantly, Patzcuaro feels like “the real Mexico”. It – and the surrounding area – is famous for its indigenous culture and arts and crafts. People come here from all over Mexico to buy its textiles, copper works, pottery, baskets. and wood work. The countryside around Patzcuaro is also very pretty and has lots of historical and cultural highlights (to be covered further below).

For now here are a few sights in the town of Patzcuaro itself.

Below: The Iglesia del Sagrari, built starting in 1693. 

Iglesia del Sagrario exterior, Patzcuaro, Mexico (1)

Iglesia del Sagrario, Patzcuaro, Mexico (2)

Iglesia del Sagrario interior, Patzcuaro, Mexico (1)

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Below: Very close to the above Iglesia del Sagrari, the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Salud is the most important church in town and holds the remains of Vasco de Quiroga, the first Bishop of Michoacán (you’ll see a large statue of him in the main square, also named after him). The Basilica’s interior is very impressive.

Church of Our Virgin of Health (Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud), Patzcuaro, Mexico

Church of Our Virgin of Health (Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud) interior, Patzcuaro, Mexico

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Below: Patzcuaro’s most popular tourist site is the Casa de los Once Patios (House of Eleven Courtyards). It is a complex of courtyards and shops that today make and sell local crafts – but in the 1700′s it was a convent for Dominican nuns that grew to include 11 courtyards (there are 5 existing today). It is a great spot to do some shopping.

House of Eleven Patios (Casa de los Once Patios), Patzcuaro 3

House of Eleven Patios (Casa de los Once Patios), Patzcuaro, Mexico (2)

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Below: The town’s 2nd major square is Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra, also called the Plaza Chica. You’ll see lots of locals sitting in the shady park (as well as dogs scratching themselves). On one side of the plaza you’ll see what used to be a church (the Ex Temple of San Augustin) which is now the Gertrudis Bocanegra library. Inside you’ll see a huge mural by Juan O’Gorman depicting the history of Michoacán.

park in La Plaza Chica, Patzcuaro, mexico

Biblioteca Gertrudis, Patzcuaro, Mexico

Biblioteca Gertrudis, library and mural, patzcuaro, mexico

Biblioteca Gertrudis mural by Juan O’Gorman, patzcuaro, Mexico

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Below: Just off Plaza Chica is Patzcuaro’s market. Just behind it is this church, the Parroquia del Santuario de Guadalupe (you can’t miss it, the dome sticks out above all the low level buildings surrounding it). There we witnessed something I had never seen – a man ringing the church’s bells from outside the church. 

parroquia del santuario de guadalupe, patzcuaro, Mexico

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Below: worth visiting on Fridays (only on Fridays) is the market on Plaza de San Francisco. Indians from the surrounding area come into Patzcuaro and sell their pottery and baskets. Really unique stuff and very inexpensive. That’s when you kind of wish you had your own place in Mexico to surround yourself with beautiful stuff :)

Friday market in Patzcuaro, Mexico (1)

Friday market in Patzcuaro, Mexico (2)

Friday market in Patzcuaro, Mexico (3)

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Below: A few more images taken while walking around Patzcuaro.

sight sin patzcuaro, mexico

beat up car in Patzcuaro, mexico 2

Below: interior of the El Patio restaurant.

restaurant el patio, patzcuaro

Below: This little tourist train will give you a tour of Patzcuaro.

tourist train patzcuaro

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A tour in the Patzcuaro Region.

There’s lots to see around Patzcuaro starting with the lake, Lake Patzcuaro. The most popular activity is visiting the (very touristy) island Janitzio, recognizable by a huge statue (40 meters) of José María Morelos, a Mexican catholic priest and rebel leader who organized the Mexican war of Independence against the Spanish. By most accounts however, seeing the island is not worth it (very, very touristy and you’ll feel overwhelmed by all the kiosks selling crap).

Instead, book a tour as we did. It was one of the most interesting tours I’ve taken. Jaime (our tour guide) took us to a viewpoint overlooking the lake (first photo below) and then brought us to some of the historic towns in the area. The town of Tzintzuntzan was a highlight, a town with old Mesoamerican pyramids, old churches and a fantastic Franciscan convent recently visited by the Queen of Denmark (There’s a Danish connection here: a former Danish prince, a heir to the throne, turned to the priesthood and served in this convent where he fought for the right of the indigenous – managing in the process to piss off the above mentioned Vasco de Quiroga. Isn’t history interesting?).

lake patzcuaro

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Below: The convent and church of San Francisco, Tzintzuntzan

tzintzuntzan, beautiful Michoacán

tzintzuntzan, Michoacán

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If colonial history isn’t your thing, Jaime can take you to the artisan towns that dot this area. One of the things Bishop Quiroga did, in the 1500′s, was to gather the scattered indigenous people into towns and assign each it’s own task. Even today, you’ll have towns that specialize in mask making, copper work, basket weaving etc (some of the towns and what they specialize in here, and an interesting post on the history of the colonial craft towns here).

Whatever your interests, Jaime will organize a tour for you and you’ll have an incredible time. I fully recommend him* .

*I’m getting no compensation, kickbacks etc from this recommendation. Promise.

His email: animechatours@yahoo.com, cellphone: 434 107-7150

Below: Jaime in the lobby of Hotel Casa Encantada.

jaime at La Casa Encantada, Patzcuaro

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Where to stay it Patzcuaro

I usually always stay in Airbnb apartments. But Patzcuaro is small and I wasn’t impressed by the apartment choices. Instead we stayed in the Hotel Casa Encantada which has a suite with 2-bedrooms. It was fantastic. Opened up by a very inspiring Australian/American woman, it is both a gorgeously restored colonial buildings as well as an art gallery in one (Victoria has actually painted or sculpted most of the work hanging in the rooms and the huge common space).

Below, clockwise: bedroom #1 in the 2 bedroom suite, mom in the courtyard, Victoria the very friendly owner, typical Patzcuaro art work depicting death.

hotel casa encantada, patzcuaro

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I didn’t take enough photos, but if you’re looking for a place to stay look at this gallery of the hotel*.  To enquire about rooms you can write Victoria here: encantadamex@yahoo.com.

*Again, I’m not getting compensation for this recommendation. 

If I can ever get Lissette to Mexico I would bring her here.

 

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Summary: Patzcuaro really is a very pretty, genuine town with a lot of history and attractions. The countryside is beautiful. Could I stay here a long time? Probably not, it’s small. But as a place to visit it is ideal: picture-perfect with lots of colonial history and indigenous culture. As you see,  we also met some friendly people along the way. Very nice town.

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Next: Morelia (Michoacán) and why even UNESCO listed world heritage sites can leave you feeling blah.

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Comments

  1. Good spot to film movies.

  2. Dang Frank, you’re gonna have to drink a lot with the size of that glass to even quench your thirst, lol. Looks like a nice place to relax for a couple days. Fun shot of the guy ringing the bell ;)
    Paula recently posted…Conquering My FearsMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you Paula. Yes, that’s like a Sweet 16 glass…felt like a princess drinking from that. You’d like Patzcuaro Paula, nice little place.

  3. Does your mum live alone in these countries?

  4. Yes it looks like a very nice town and as always great pictures. Never been to central Mexico, would like to go and visit towns like this and also Sam Miguel Allende.

    Take care.

    Carlos

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I love the area Carlos. I’ve got a couple of posts coming up on San Miguel and Guanajuato (which is just about the prettiest place anywhere).

  5. Adventurous. A lot of women of her era wouldnt do it.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      True. But you’d be surprised by all the single ladies in their 60′s and 70′s in San Miguel. Place attracts a lot of retirees.

  6. Yeah I suppose. Chiang Mai has heaps of expats but far more males.

  7. Looks like a place that time forgot. Perfect.. That drink of yours though.. :-) ;-) . Since it’s a margarita, l will forgive you. That l will drink from anything!!!! ;-)
    Kemkem recently posted…Postcard from Stockholm, SwedenMy Profile

  8. Beautiful coulourful pix Frank – I find so many of the ‘centros historicos’ of Mexican (but also a lot of other Latino countries’ ) towns and cities to be the attraction and essence of the culture. The Spanish colonial towns and cities – all planned and built on the ‘grid’ street system with their central plazas (almost always ‘de Armas’ …) with church/cathedral , government/municipal buildings etc – and usually a market close by – is what makes them ! The central plaza being the magnet for all social, community and political activities , festivals and celebrations. The overall homogeneity of style, design, building height etc adds to the overall attractiveness and beauty of the whole, despite the underlying ‘sameness’ – while arches, arcades, colours and decoration provide for some individuality and specific beauty (as is apparent with Patzcuaro , or in my experiences with cities like San Cristobal de las Casas, (Chiapas), Izamal (aka ciudad amarilla) (Yucatan) etc

    The urban design (inherited largely from the Romans) was used by the Spanish throughout Latin America with great success – and it still holds up beautifully today. We have the odd city in the western hemisphere that reflects the ideal behind and concept of Spanish urban planning – like Savannah (Ga) – but nowhere was it more widespread and successful than in Hispanic America. Applied to smaller towns or larger cities (eg:- Lima, Arequipa have incredibly beautiful centro-historicos…) its what makes the places so attractive, pleasant and inviting. (Unfortunately, the modern ‘cinturons de miseria’ that surround so many of the ‘centro-historicos’ are something else entirely … urbanisation at its very worst !

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for that Tony, you are so very right.
      You wonder, if it wasn’t for historical old cities (whether Spanish colonial as in Latin America or anywhere in Europe) what kind of ‘modern’ architecture we would have. Especially in the developing word. I think the ‘cinturon de miseria’ would basically be everything/everywhere. How depressing that would be. Thank god for the architecture of past centuries because most in the world would just be a collection of modern slums…

  9. I’m glad you’re posting about Mexico. It’s always been one of those places I’ve never been fussed about visiting, in part thanks to tales (like yours) of disappointing visits to Teotihuacan and the like. But of course there’s so much more to the country, and this cute little spot reminds me so much of both Antigua (in Guatemala) and also Cusco in Peru, both places I loved. So maybe I will take a chance and head out there some day. If nothing else, I want some of those cool double bass strings on my instrument, maybe it’ll make me look cool, even if it doesn’t make me play better! Love the ‘pueblo magico’ label too, great marketing initiative!
    Heather Cole recently posted…Treehouse sleeping at Garden Village BledMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Teotihuacan was kind of the exception – I’ve discovered so many beautiful places in Mexico: San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Puebla, Oaxaca, even pockets of Mexico City. And there’s lots more, I’m still a Mexico newbie. But you get great value for money in Mexico and in some of these places you’ll think you’re somewhere in Spain (except the people friendlier).
      Mexico is great.

  10. Pure coincidence. Can’t think why.

  11. I love the photos in this post. They immediately took me back to the Camino in Spain. Every little village we walked into had an historic town square and I pretty much fell in love with each and every one of them. There is just something about a town square that captures the heart and soul of a city, or town, or little village. Where everyone comes out in the late afternoon or evening to have something to drink, eat and talk with friends while the kids run wild. It’s really quite special and it’s really quite special that you make a point of getting together with your mom every year. I thin I’ve told you that before. ;) I would return to Mexico. We’ve been to southern Baja, near El Cardonal, twice and I know some people don’t see Baja as Mexico, but… and I’ve been to Mazatlan, which I did not overly enjoy especially because I got stung by a jelly fish. It was one of the few times I traveled without Abi, and that may have had something to do with it. Personally, I think a margarita in any glass is just fine!
    Patti recently posted…New York State of Mind ~My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      You’re very right Patti, the squares in Mexico are so full of life and capture the soul of the city.
      Thanks very much for your comment about my mom. We’ve always had a special relationship and have met up in the strangest places (including once on Lake Toba in Sumatra in the middle of the night). We enjoy travelling together :)
      At least the margarita was excellent. A bit small though…

  12. We’ve heard of Patzcuaro — and when visiting some of the colonial Mexican towns on one Mexico trip, we were hoping to visit… It looks quite pretty. We understand it’s THE place in Mexico for Day of the Dead celebrations, and that this is a very special time to visit. — if you can find a place to stay.
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…Oodles of cultural attractions in Mexico City, and other surprisesMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      You are right, it IS the place for Day of the Dead celebrations and I should have mentioned that in the post.
      By the way, Patzcuaro is an easy and direct 3 hr bus trip from San Miguel de Allende, so if ever you’re in that area it’s easy to get to.

  13. This post ensures “Pueblo-Magico” is added to my list .. Thanks for this beautiful post Frank.. was’nt aware of this region until I read it here !
    Soumi Halder recently posted…Vienna – A Visual TreatMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Soumi. Most people think “beaches” when they think of Mexico – in actual fact I’ve visited 4 times and have yet to visit the coast. So many beautiful towns and the climate is cool because of the altitude (another thing many people don’t know. In fact many Americans come here in summer because temps quite coolish).
      Wait until you see my upcoming post on Guanajuato. You’ll be blown away by some of the beauty.

  14. I like the looks of this “magic town”! Need to spend some serious time and visit Mexico. Looks relaxing, some great street music and a couple of margaritas!!
    Gaz recently posted…The Strong Men Of IranMy Profile

  15. it looks like a genuinely special place Frank!
    Andrew recently posted…A Stop in CasablancaMy Profile

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