Attractions in Michoacan, Mexico: What to do and where to go
Michoacan is a marvelous state that preserves its colonial and indigenous heritage, which stems from its rich, long-lasting past and is clearly visible in the numerous colonial cities, churches, temples, arts, and crafts.
Apart from the wonders created by human intervention, Michoacan also boasts an incredible natural environment that attracts travelers from around the world. Its diverse, complex geography and excellent climate make for a backdrop of lush, evergreen foliage, and every single village features different and very beautiful attractions. Of course, one of the most popular attractions is the astonishing arrival of the Monarch butterflies, which visit Michoacan every year after an incredibly long journey of over 3 thousand miles.
Handicrafts, history, natural beauty, thousand-year-old traditions, quaint villages full of lively customs, music, dance, and arts, are just some of the reasons why Michoacan is deservedly known as "The Soul of Mexico".
The natural attractions of Michoacan vary depending on the different regions of the state. They comprise of cultural and natural attractions, relaxing escapes, adventure tourism, agri-tourism, artistic hideaways, architecture, and a whole host of fantastic gastronomic options. Discover Michoacan, a state of unlimited beauty!
Our Lady of Health Basilica
Dedicated to Our Lady of Health, patron saint of the Patzcuaro region, the basilica is a vestige of the Great Cathedral project by Don Vasco de Quiroga, the first bishop of Michoacan. Located in downtown Patzcuaro, its construction began by the middle of the 16th century, but it was finally finished in the 19th century. It is one of the most important and beautiful temples in this magical town and is covered in history and sacred art. Even though its facade is rather simply decorated, the interior features amazing decor, which you should definitely see.
Barranca del Cupatitzio National Park
This natural park has among its attractions the source of the Cupatitzio River, which means "The Singing River," in the Purepecha language. Full of lush vegetation, bridges, paths, and passages as well as natural and artificial cascades, this national park is a worthwhile visit while in Uruapan. It is ideal to visit with the entire family to rediscover the beauty of nature and feel the peace of mind derived from being in contact with it. In the park, there are also great opportunities for shopping. You can find beautiful handicrafts, paintings, and souvenirs as well as a coffee shop and traditional candy stores.
The park features a spacious, pleasant playground as well as a pond containing trout. You can feed them or go fishing and catch some for dinner. The beautiful climate and frequent rain keep the park in excellent condition, always with lush vegetation, creating an attraction you should not miss when visiting Uruapan.
Vasco de Quiroga Square
Considered one of the most beautiful main squares in the entire continent, this Plaza is one of the most perfectly designed, symmetrical squares in Mexico. Unlike most main squares, instead of religious edifices, civil buildings surround this plaza. For locals and tourists, this monumental plaza is a popular venue and an informal meeting point. It is common to walk through the plaza's passages or rest on its benches while admiring a typical dance. Whatever you decide to do will be a gratifying cultural experience. This square is the second largest plaza in Mexico and is named after Don Vasco de Quiroga, the first bishop of the state, and whose statue you can find in the center of the square.
The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
When you visit Michoacan, you should not miss the chance of visiting the Oyamel Forest and witness one of the most spectacular natural events there is: the arrival of the Monarch butterfly, which occurs each year at the end of October. The Monarch butterfly spends all winter in these forests in colonies of up to 20 million, after a journey of more than 3,000 miles from the frontier of Canada and the United States, when the high temperatures allow them to grow and reproduce. In October, the fast drop of the temperature forces them to fly to warmer climates.
During their long trip, these butterflies look for ascendant currents of air to take advantage of and just glide. They only flap their wings when they loose the current or when they need to change courses. With this flight technique, the Monarch butterfly travels an approximate distance of 75 miles per day until it gets to Michoacan. In mid-February, the Monarch butterfly starts to mate, and finally in the first days of March, large groups of butterflies lift off simultaneously, flapping their wings with a breathtaking sound, to find an up current of air and begin the journey back home.
Antique San Pedro Factory
Dating from the 19th century, the Antique San Pedro Factory is a textile complex that holds several attractions for those who visit the city of Uruapan. The factory's construction began in 1886 and later it became one of the most important manufacturers of textiles in the state of Michoacan. Nowadays, this magnificent factory is part of the architectonic heritage of the city, with some buildings still performing it's original function, but also providing services for carrying out social and business events in 8,000 square feet of garden area.
One of the buildings is now home to a famous video bar, which is decorated with pieces of the original engine room, thus featuring an amazing, "mechanical," atmosphere that makes it one of the most exciting, popular bars in town.
San Juan Nuevo
Near Uruapan, San Juan Nuevo (which means "St. John the New"), is a picturesque town you can visit when staying in Uruapan. San Juan Nuevo was founded in 1944 by the former inhabitants of the village that was engulfed by lava from the sudden eruption of the Paricutin volcano. The residents of the first settlement brought an image of Jesus with them, which is still highly regarded in the current church of San Juan Nuevo, which is called the Lord of Miracles Temple. In the town's main plaza, you will find handicrafts, traditional candy, and of course the world famous avocado produced in the region. You can also visit San Juan Nuevo's small zoo, located on a hill in the area.
Famous worldwide for its quality guitar, violin, cello, and mandolin making, Paracho is a village situated not far from Uruapan. In Paracho, you can purchase some of the world's best instruments, and also visit interesting sites, such as the Guitar Museum or the market, as well as a series of monuments, temples and colonial buildings.
Museum of Popular Arts
With its quiet and pleasant atmosphere, this is one of the most interesting museums in Patzcuaro. It exhibits paintings and sculptures from the 18th century, different pieces of sacred art, and a variety of handicrafts, produced in the state of Michoacan since ancient times. Each hall in the museum has art from a specific region of the state, including textiles, carved wood, clay pieces, jewelry, and items made using age-old techniques that are dying out. One of the halls holds temporary exhibitions by local artists that you can purchase at reasonable prices.
This museum keeps a collection of over 100 traditional masks made by artisans from the different regions of Michoacan, a colorful exhibition of local folklore and the way the indiginous people understand the universe. The original construction was built over an important pre-Hispanic structure and at the rear of the museum you can see the vestiges of a Purepechan temple.
The Unfinished Cathedral
The Guadalupe Sanctuary of Zamora (also known as The Unfinished Cathedral) boasts a stunning Neo-Gothic style. The construction of this imposing temple began in the late 19th century, but it was not finished because of a skirmish between the government and the Church and the construction of the cathedral was not resumed until about 60 years later. Nowadays, the temple has a beautiful facade and the interior decor features outstanding stained glass windows.
Although the Cathedral still lies unfinished, it is proposed that one day it will be one of the 10 largest cathedrals in the world. If, after visiting the temple, you want to aid in its construction, you can do so by donating one of the pink quarry stone blocks needed, which are available for sale inside the church. So every time you return to the city of Zamora you can discover that the Cathedral is less "unfinished."
The Zirahuen Lake is about 30 minutes from Patzcuaro. According to an ancient legend, the Purepechan princess, Zirahuen "cried so much that a lake was formed." This beautiful lake is much smaller than Lake Patzcuaro, so it isn't as crowded and it's quieter. The peaceful atmosphere is perfect for relaxation, allowing visitors to be in closer, more personal contact with nature. It is surrounded by lush vegetation, and one can cross it in a kayak or in a boat that can be rented there. Zirahuen is a lake of legends, traditions, and dreams and it also has some nearby eating facilities, located mostly on the hills that surround the lake. Besides having a good traditional meal, enjoy the magical, awe-inspiring view from the restaurants.
The Church of "San Pancho"
Located in a region of Michoacan known as "The Country of the Monarch," and where the Monarch butterfly hibernates each year, the Church of "San Pancho" (diminuative for Saint Francis,) is one of the oldest in the state and only minutes from downtown Zitacuaro. It is a popular tourist attraction with national and international visitors. The church is rather small, decorated in a simple yet elegant way, with fantastic attention to detail, and features paintings by many famous artists. An also very attractive feature is how the light that cascades through the stained glass window illuminates the church's beautiful altar.
The Night of the Dead
Michoacan boasts a deep cultural richness, a result of the colonial period and the deep-rooted traditions of the indigenous people. One of the best known customs in the state is the Night of the Dead, a tradition observed in all Michoacan, but especially famous in the neighboring area of the Lake of Patzcuaro, as in Janitzio, where the fishermen sail out with their butterfly-shaped nets and light up their boats with candles. This colorful tradition is the ultimate expression of Michoacan's cultural richness and a breathtaking and inspiring display of how the living remember and honor the dead.
According to tradition, during the festival, the souls of the dead visit the living to spend a day with them. Relatives of the dead people prepare offerings and serve food and beverages that the deceased liked when they were alive. Many people also spend the entire night beside the graves of their dead relatives in the local cemeteries.
The Night of the Dead has become a must-see tradition for the thousands of travelers who visit Michoacan year after year. They come during the first week of November to behold this spectacular display of tradition, culture, charm, legends, flavors and smells that touch one's soul and enrich one's spirit. It's a vacation option that goes beyond the mere search for comfort and strives to discover an experience that cultivates the soul of those who look for it.
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