The ‘Pueblo Magico’ town of Patzcuaro
Located in the state of Michoacán, Patzcuaro is one of 132 “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.
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.
You can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped back in time in Patzcuaro.
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 (this was my yearly trip visiting her in Mexico) would finish the day with a margarita on the square. A few photos below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
A few more images taken while walking around Patzcuaro.
Note: I recently did a poll asking people to vote for their favorite Pueblo Magico in Mexico. Patzcuaro won. All about that here.
Touring the Patzcuaro Region
There’s lots to see around Patzcuaro starting with the lake, Lake Patzcuaro. The most popular activity is visiting the island of 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 Vasco de Quiroga, the man who Patzcuaro’s main square is named after).
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 its own task. Even today, you’ll have towns that specialize in mask making, copper work, basket weaving etc (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.
His email: [email protected], cellphone: 434 107-7150
Where to stay in 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).
I didn’t take enough photos, but if you’re looking for a place to stay look at their website. To enquire about rooms you can write Victoria here: [email protected]
Note: Let Victoria know you came from this website and she’ll give you 10% off on your stay.
Read the interview we did with Victoria: The life of a hotel owner in Patzcuaro (Mexico)
Summary: Patzcuaro really is a very pretty, genuine town with a lot of history and attractions. It’s a romantic kind of place for a couple’s getaway. The countryside is beautiful. Could I stay here a long time? Probably not, it’s small. But for a few days it is ideal: picture-perfect with lots of colonial history and indigenous culture. We also met some friendly people along the way. Very nice town.
Related: A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities (by bus)
Related: Visiting the (overrated?) Pueblo Magico town of Valle de Bravo
Related: Is Taxco the most beautiful Pueblo Magico in Mexico?
Ps. If you find our blog helpful, please consider using our links to book your flights, hotels, tours, and car rentals. Have a look at our Travel Resources page.
If you haven’t subscribed yet and want to get our posts and newsletters sent to your email, just insert your email address below
Thanks so much for this! We are considering our first non-coastal visit to Mexico, and this looks like the perfect spot. We are definitely inspired – tiny margs and all!
All the places I’ve been in Mexico are non-coastal 🙂 So many beautiful places and if you have a chance would recommend you also visit Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.
Mexico is gorgeous.
it looks like a genuinely special place Frank!
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!!
I always love Mexico, one of my favorite countries!
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 !
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.
Sand In My Suitcase
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.
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.
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!
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…
Pure coincidence. Can’t think why.
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!
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.
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 !
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…
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!!!! 😉
Yes, I felt like a bit of a princess, a fairy princess…
Yeah I suppose. Chiang Mai has heaps of expats but far more males.
Yes, I wonder why 🙂
Adventurous. A lot of women of her era wouldnt do it.
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.
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.
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).
Does your mum live alone in these countries?
Yes, she does 🙂
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 😉
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.
Good spot to film movies.
I could totally see a Clint Eastwood movie there! (when he was younger)