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

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

A Visit to Morelia (Michoacán)

I guess it was my fault. When planning my trip to Mexico I had mentioned to my mom that we should visit Morelia. She had told me that she hadn’t heard great things about the city. “But mom, the historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site”. It had to be impressive, right?

Morelia left us “feeling blah” but it’s not because of a lack of sights. There are plenty of sights, a few very impressive. First a few photos…then I’ll go into what we just didn’t like about Morelia.

Below: The Morelia Cathedral, right in the center of the city.

Morelia Cathedral

Below: Looking at Plaza de Armas (the main square) and Morelia Cathedral right behind it.

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

Below: the Sanctuario de Guadalupe. With an INCREDIBLE church interior, this church was my highlight in Morelia.

Sanctuario de Guadalupe, Morelia. Morelia (Michoacán) and why even UNESCO listed world heritage sites can leave you feeling blah

Sanctuario de Guadalupe, Morelia, Mexico. Morelia (Michoacán) and why even UNESCO listed world heritage sites can leave you feeling blah

Below: The Morelia Aquaduct, built in the late 1700s, 1600 meters in length with 253 arches.

Morelia Aquaduct, Morelia, Mexico. Morelia (Michoacán) and why even UNESCO listed world heritage sites can leave you feeling blah

 Below: Morelia Cathedral

Morelia Cathedral

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

Morelia Cathedral interior

Below: Del Carmen convent.

Del Carmen convent, Morelia

 Below: Casa de la Cultura

Casa de la Cultura, Morelia, Mexico. Morelia (Michoacán) and why even UNESCO listed world heritage sites can leave you feeling blah

Below: The ex-convent of San Augustin.

ex-convent of San Augustin, Morelia, Mexico. Morelia (Michoacán) and why even UNESCO listed world heritage sites can leave you feeling blah

 Below: The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima

The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima, Morelia, Mexico

The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima, Morelia

 

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Accommodation in Morelia

  1. Hotel Casino Morelia (right on the main square, very charming & comfortable, great value)
  2.  Hotel Meson de los Remedios (in the center not far from Cathedral, stylish, good value)
  3.  M Hoteles Concepto (in the center, large modern rooms, good value).

 

 

 

What we didn’t like about Morelia

The problem with Morelia is that it just isn’t a very pretty place despite the historical sights. Much of that has to do with the lack of greenery. The Historical Center features street after street of cement and stone, most in a monotone of grays and beige. Streets are busy with cars and minivans and crossing every block is a negotiation (very few traffic lights in Morelia, so lots of honking and aggressive drivers). But as I say, most of the unattractiveness has to do with the lack of greenery. You’ll see block after block of this:

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

 Below: stone and cement in grays and beige.

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

 

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I love the UNESCO sites of Puebla, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. All are colorful, full of parks, and very walkable. Morelia isn’t.

Is there a tourist information office in Morelia? If there is we never found it. There was a small booth on Plaza de Armas manned by an uninterested teenager. When I asked for a map of the city and sights he gave me a map showing shops and businesses. “Do you have one showing the tourist highlights?” I asked. No he didn’t. But he proceeded to start marking the map with X’s and scribbles to indicate places in town where he thought we should go. Not very impressive. Walking around, you would sometimes see tourist maps but all would look like this:

tourist map in Morelia, Mexico

 

There’s one other thing I have to mention about Morelia. I’ve never been anywhere in Mexico where you get such horrible service in restaurants. Not even close. Morelia seems to have a lot of restaurants and cafes with an incredible number of staff. In one place I counted 15 waiters. But the more staff a restaurant has the more useless service seems to be. The 3rd photo from the top (facing the square) is Trico restaurant. They proved that yes, you can wait 20 minutes for a coffee and still have it served cold. El Campanario Restaurant overlooking the Cathedral? Another place with self-important staff that somehow managed to serve up the worst margaritas in Mexico. When everything else goes wrong, you can at least usually count on good food and drink in Mexico. Not in Morelia. Why? It’s a mystery.

 Below: Views from El Campanario, home to the worst margarita in Mexico.

Views, Morelia, Mexico

 So we ended up doing the unthinkable:

burger king, morelia

Yes, we picked up some burgers at Burger King, a place I haven’t gone to in over 20 years. Was excellent.

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So, should you go to Morelia?  Morelia has some impressive highlights and I think it’s worth a one day visit. Make sure to see the highlights above. As far as general impressions go, I’m not a big fan of Morelia. I think there are come much more impressive places in Mexico.

 

Related: A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities

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Have you been to  Morelia? What did you think of it?

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

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39 Comments

  1. Been to Morelia many times since the late 70’s. I have lived for years in Guanajuato capital and have been to all 31 states and the federal district and Morelia is, without a doubt, more beautiful than the 100’s of towns and cities I have visited including my hometown of guanajuato. I certainly don’t mean to be disagreeable but I was nearly bowled over by the scant and disappointing review here of this stunning city. You would be hard pressed to name a more elegant, beautiful city in the republic which has not been overrun by tourists. Morelia is simply gorgeous in so many ways!

  2. As a resident of Morelia I understand the things that made you feel “blah”, but trees and good restaurants do exist, even downtown. Unfortunately the tourist marketing is minimal and you have to walk around to find them. Unlike many other Mexican cities, downtown Morelia is more than just a few blocks. So contrary to your suggestion of making it a 1-day stop, I would suggest the opposite, allowing time to explore. Just open your telephone maps app and look for the green areas. It’s not for people who don’t like walking. But you can explore Morelia and be rewarded for it daily, because it’s safe, full of unique culture, the climate is not too cold & not too hot, and the people are both cosmopolitan and friendly. As a place to live for an American ex-pat, Morelia is superior to many other places. I do enjoy living here and enjoyed your pictures. Since I only have a cell-phone camera I hope you don’t mind that I’m copying them to my computer as personal momentos of my time in Morelia.

    1. Thanks for the comment and your thoughts Beth.
      I understand what you say. And we did do a lot of walking. But I don’t understand as a UNESCO site how it is that it is not better maintained or better advertised. You’d think it would be a real source of pride for the city. My mother lives in San Miguel and I come back every year and usually end up exploring cities in the area. Love Mexico. But I came away thinking that while Morelia has some very impressive sites that it could really be managed a whole lot better…
      No problem at all copying them for personal uses, happy to know you get pleasure from them 🙂
      Thanks again.

  3. It’s really disappointing to see such a critical article casting such unflattering light on a city I live in and absolutely adore. I travel all over Mexico, and though one of my favourite cities to visit is Guanajuato, the reason I love living in Morelia is because I am among the locals and it isn’t a major, busy tourist zone. This is about as authentic as it gets, for a Mexican city. The Sanctuary of Guadalupe is stunning. The restaurants bordering the main Zocalo are ever-improving, including a fabulous bakery and hot-chocolate shop that have opened in recent years. I am assuming you missed San Miguelita restaurant and Restaurant Lu – cause they have the best margarita’s, food and great service – as does Tata Mezcalaria, which you also didn’t mention. The alley of romance has a great restaurant, and Los Mirasoles is housed in a spectacular colonial home with an impressive international wine list. The Sound of Music is an every day experience in the city of Morelia, starting first with the ringing bells of the garbage man who walks down the streets to let everyone know the garbage truck is coming. Later on, the street cleaner comes by with his radio. At nightfall, the “security guards” hum on their flutes to let the locals know they’re doing their job. There’s also the vehicle that circles around the city daily, with a loud speaker-phone announcing various items they’ve picked up that are now for sale. This service is like a live version of Craigslist! But if that kind of sound isn’t your thing, you can always head down to Amati Cafe on a Friday night for an evening of Blues or Jazz, hang out at the oldest Music Conservatory of the west to hear music students, (sometimes there are concerts), check with the info centre (yes there is one and yes they do provide maps with an entire walking tour in both English and Spanish) for various concerts in historical buildings around the city, hang out around any restaurant at night for a diverse selection of music, from beginners to professionals. There are Pulke bars, the cultural centre, Casa Clavijero for interesting art shows, countless museums, including the sweet little candy museum, and the many fabulous events that take place around the Calzada, near the aqueduct. If you are in Mexico during Semana Santa, Morelia is where you want to be on Good Friday. The Cofradia launch an other-worldly silent procession from the Sanctuary of Our Lady Guadalupe to the main Cathedral at the Zocalo – a feat many endure barefoot, carrying heavy floats. Another fantastic time to visit Morelia is during the Film Festival, with Dia de los Muertos hot on the festivals heels. Our Day of Lady Guadalupe coincides with the amazing Sugar Cane Festival – where tourists get to see how the locals both worship and party. The list goes on.

    There are not a lot of parks in most stone cities built in the 1500’s, unless buildings are torn down to create them. One of my favourite sites is an orange tree at the Convent of San Francisco – which houses an extensive collection of Michoacan Indigenous arts. A healthy tree in the middle of a stone jungle truly does stand out – and anyone who loves the arts of Oaxaca will be excited to know Michoacan is her art-rival, with far more art mediums for collectors to explore. Just start at the Convent of San Francisco for some insight into the arts of the state. (Or visit the Domingo de Ramos celebrations in Uruapan). Morelia’s gardens are mostly enclosed, but still open to visitors. Morelia has recently closed off two streets in the centro to create parks with art sculptures and benches. These areas are used for street concerts. There are other aspects of visiting Morelia that make it authentic – such as visiting the electronic market, the Independencia Mercado, the Dulce Mercado, devouring gaspacho sold by street vendors and small mom-pop shops, eating in the street with the locals at St Augustine Cathedral for $2 a meal, enjoying a lovely dinner at the elegant award winning Hotel Soledad, or photographing the city when the sun illuminates the rosey hue across a city that was constructed from pink cantera stone. To say Morelia isn’t pretty is to be blind to her pomp & circumstance of masculine opulence. It also underlines a sad truth that fewer visitors means a smaller city budget for improvements. My hope is to encourage more people to visit Morelia, to support her local economy, and to invest in her future as a place that can keep improving for the locals.

    I am grateful that Morelia’s centro is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Center. With over 100 buildings in a few short blocks offering exquisite examples of Baroque and Romantic Architecture, I’m not sure how anyone could ever want this city dropped from the list. I hope your readers keep in mind – every city has it’s downfall, as does every tourist have bad hair days in the finest of salons.

    1. Thank you very much Jennifer for the detailed write up of Morelia. I’m sure it’ll help other readers going there in the future as you’ve got a lot of valuable tips and suggestions.

    2. Jennifer Bjarnason, well said, your article truly shows what Morelia is all about, thank you, I have been in this city many times and
      What I love about it the shades of pinks on its sandstone buildings it must take a lot for someone to see grays and beige and concrete. AGGGRRRR

  4. I would have also expected a place whose historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site to be more overall beautiful. The cathedral and the church are indeed impressive, but I understand that if the rest of the city is all grey cement it loses its charm. And terrible service doesn’t help either, finding nice and friendly people can make a place more interesting.

    1. Thank you very much Andy. Yes, photos don’t always give the full picture. I don’t want to make it sound horrible – I just don’t want to set the city up as that perfect UNESCO city that many others are (see Guanajuato or San Miguel de Allende).

  5. We’ve also experienced some incredible UNESCO WHS as well as those that have left us feeling, “THAT was it?” so I can definitely relate to your ho-hum. It’s amazing how much parks, open spaces, restaurants and friendly people can contribute to your overall impression of a place, too. In fact, a lot of times when we rave about a place, those are the things that stick with us. That said, wow! I can definitely see why the Sanctuario de Guadalupe was a highpoint for you and I enjoyed my virtual visit of the other incredible buildings as well. Onward to the next place and here’s hoping that the next UNESCO WHS will live up to its promise!

    1. You are so completely right. Same for us – I guess when you travel full-time it’s the “livability” factors that you look for.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment Anita.

  6. I think it’s ok that not everywhere turns out to be amazing. It makes you appreciate the places that are. Shame that your grievances are all the little things that could so easily be put right and would make such a big difference to the experience (and perhaps bring in more tourism, not that they sound like they want to encourage that!). Beautiful church though, reminds me of the domes inside St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Amen for Burger King. One of our guilty secrets is stopping at a McDonalds in Cusco many years ago (you get sick of guinea pig and llama after a few weeks). But don’t tell anyone 😉

    1. You are exactly right Heather, it’s the little things. They have everything needed to make Morelia a really nice place.
      I’m thinking of where we are right now, Skopje (Macedonia) where they’ve been on a building frenzy the last few years. In many ways a construction site. But give this place 3-5 years it’s going to be a very attractive city.
      In Morelia they just have to grow some trees, get rid of the graffiti, maybe block a few streets from traffic in the old city to make it pedestrian friendly. You just get a feeling that they don’t care which is weird…see what tourism has done for some other towns and cities in Mexico.
      Ha, guinea pig and llama. I can imagine 🙂

  7. Chicken is very popular there. Foreign brands are very popular in Thailand whether its food or clothes. You can buy better tasting chicken on the street but they line up for KFC due to some fascination with brands. The big name icecream brands are popular as well as coffee chains. Not cheap either. Coffee is expensive for locals there.

      1. Yes I am back on the list now…you can’t get rid of me that easily hahahaha. I like visiting the Unesco sites and some are definitely better than others, but I value the fact that these sites are protected for future generations. I am not a great fan of the fast food chains, but Brian likes them and do accompany him occasionally.

        1. Oh, I’m not a fan at all either Gilda. I never go.
          I’m not quite sure what the UNESCO rules are and why some are so much better maintained than others. Heather above is so right – Morelia could be much better and it’s only because of lack of attention and neglect that it’s not better then it is. But I like the principle as well.

    1. Actually they do have a KFC…that’s something else I haven’t had in a really long time.
      On that note, KFC is incredibly popular in Thailand and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large concentration on KFC restaurants anywhere else. Did you notice that Tom? That’s why all those Thai kids suddenly getting fat…

    1. Yes, in Montreal we have a lot of good food and we have plenty of non-chain alternatives. That’s really why I didn’t go to Burger King. But now travelling I have to admit we sometimes get the craving for a burger and Burger King has always been my favorite of the chains 🙂

  8. That church looks beautiful. But I hear your frustrations. UNESCO is usually a good starting point for exploring a country, but every now and then I have been dissapointed with some of my visits to UNESCO sites.

  9. Yes, we have been to Morelia twice. I think we enjoyed it the first time because we had locals that showed us around one night and then the next day we wandered around on our own. The second time was just this past spring and again it was ok but not spectacular. There are some pretty little places but we do agree that there isn’t enough greenery around and it definitely isn’t a favourite city of ours. The one thing we definitely didn’t like was the amount of graffiti around. In the historical center it is kept under control because it is a UNESCO site but as soon as you step out of that zone, there is unsightly tagging EVERYWHERE!

    You didn’t try the Gaspachos?! Morelia is famous for this and it is delicious.

    Not all UNESCO sites live up to their reputation. We went to one in South Korea and tried really hard to get our money back, such a disappointment!

    1. Thanks Kevin and Ruth.
      You’re right about graffiti. Overall it just doesn’t seem kept and cared for. Again, surprising for a UNESCO site.
      About the Gaspachos – yes, they love serving them mixed with fruits. Saw them but didn’t try (although in hindsight should have)

  10. I was going to call you a hardass for not liking this beautiful place. Until l got to the bad margarita!!!! Unforgivable..absolutely unforgivable 😉 . I will not be visiting 🙂

    1. HA! You know what, I actually didn’t finish it. It was all crushed ice, like a damn slushie. I can take many things but a bad margarita is like warm beer – ugg.
      As for the restaurant, my mom got up twice to give the waiters shit. Have never seen her do that, so that was pretty bad…

      Sometimes photos don’t give a place justice, for either good or bad. And it’s easy to put up a couple nice photos and say how great a place is. But neither of us were very impressed, not at all…

      I’ve got a whole bunch of posts coming up and they’re all positives, no more Mr. Hardass. At least for a while 🙂

      1. Im thinking….. Have you ever tought of trying “anything else” than a margarita to drink? I mean, in Mexico there’s far more than that stupid stereotypical cocktail. You shuold have gone and drink a classic “café de olla” in a small cafe, front of cathedral but a few bloks down. Also, the renowed “atole” (no matter the flavor, you have try it) it’s a great option. And if you’re more into alcoholic beverages, don’t waste your time with “margerita”, go for a Mezcal instead (make sure they serve it to you with grain salt, plus lemon and orange slices, it’s a truly mazing experience, a will likely make you forget the damn margaritas).
        You know, the main square or Plaza de Armas and Plaza Juarez are set with bunch of wothless or overpriced restaurants to trap tourists like you, if want something really special, don’t search for it ina place where tourists go, be bold and venture outside the main square…. believe me, it’s worth walking even 10 blocks just to encounter amazing coffee and food.
        By the way, you’re right about the lack of greenery, I’m from Mexico City (but live in Morelia though) and I feel the same towards the city, they need far more trees and small squares filled with green. But if I’m not mistaken, they’re working on that, a friend of mine is on the Planning Institute of the city and he said to me they’re trying to really make the city “go green”, but of course, it’s not an easy task.
        About the food, it’s the same I’ve said to you before. There are a bunch of places scattered in the city (most of them not precisely in the main square) that really REALLY are worth the visit. In my personal opinion, among the best restaurants in Mexico so far, at least in the top 20 (only rivalized by a few in Chiapas, Yucatán, La Paz, Oaxaca, and of course, the capital city, wich is like a conglomerate of the whole country).
        I really encourage you to pay another visit to Morelia, but going out of the “tourist basics” and venturing far and wide the city, you won’t regret it.
        Greetings, and keep traveling.

        1. Well thanks for the tips. You’re charming.
          I drink tequila, mezcal, all the Mexican beer I can get my hands on. I’ve been to Mexico many times. But I’ve always been hooked on Margaritas and until Morelia I’ve never found any place in Mexico that doesn’t make a decent one…
          Maybe I do have to go back. But why when there are so many other beautiful places?

    1. Well, you don’t know if a place will be boring before visiting it. Have seen many more interesting places than boring places but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. But check out my post on Puebla or the next one I’ll have on Guanajuato, just beautiful places that I also took the chance on visiting. Sometimes you just never know…

  11. Love that first photo and the cathedral is gorgeous! Too bad about the terrible service. Things like that really can ruin your impression of a place. We went into a cafe in Hallstatt (Austria) and waited forever to be given a menu. We noticed they were sitting beside our table, so just helped ourselves. When the waiter finally came by, he ripped the menu right out of Mike’s hand and refused to let us order anything other than a drink!

    1. Oh, that’s pretty bad! I would have told the guy off and walked out. That’s typical of some of the tourist spots in Europe, these waiters get inflated heads and start acting like they’re the ones paying your salary.

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