Blog # 13 Tourism in Michoacan

Blog 13: Tourism in Michoacán                                                        7 January 2011

Our Kingston colleague Vicky Venturini is here for a week, and Dan Carpenter and Jean Maxon-Carpenter are arriving in a couple of days, providing us with a golden opportunity to revisit some old haunts and engage in some serious tourism. Fortunately, Michoacán has more fascinating places to visit in a relatively small area than almost any other place in Mexico, with the exception of … [well, it’s a long list, actually. If you’d like a copy of our favorite exceptions, let us know].

Anyway, if you ever find yourself in these parts for a week or two, here are some treats to while away the time.

Tzintzuntzan – Ancient capital of the Tarascan Empire, with some spectacular yácatas overlooking Lake Pátzcuaro. Yácatas are the huge temple bases on which the Tarascans erected their worship places. You’ve all seen, or seen pictures of, Mexican pyramids. Well these yácatas are nothing like them. Totally different aesthetic. Five 80x20 meter rectangles, tapering toward the top, each with a circular add-on facing the lake. The platform on which they are built is a half-kilometer long and some 20 meters high. There’s a nice little museum on the site, too, with ancient bells and teapots and o

bsidian knives.... The Tarascans were good metal workers and ceramicists and sculptors. Still are.

When you get tired of the hot sun beating down on the ruins, you can visit the atrio (i.e., the large park in front) of the Franciscan convent, the earliest in Michoacán. The friars planted smuggled olive tree starts, and the survivors are the old

est olive trees in the Americas. The friars had to smuggle them (say 10 Pater nosters), because Peninsular Spain jealously guarded its monopoly on olive oil, and taxed it to the last golden drop when they shipped it to the New World. I’m surprised that the colonists didn’t stage a Veracruz Olive Oil Party, tossing the casks into the sea to protest the taxes.

When you tire of the shade, there’s always the handicraft market, chock full of local pottery and the

straw doodads that are Tzintzuntzan’s main manufacture.

Cupatitzio National Park – in Uruapán, of recent infamy when the hooligans of drug cartel A went to a restaurant where the chiefs of drug cartel B were dining and rolled the severed heads of several other members of drug cartel B through the door as if they were

bowling balls. As I recall, no one stayed for desert. Still, narco-nonsense has nothing to do with the park, a tropical botanical extravaganza that lines both sides of a deep ravine on the city’s outskirts. It’s a favorite with joggers, strollers, young lovers, and older lovers like ourselves. At the high end a massive spring bubbles out of the earth to feed the river that makes the avocado orchards south of Uruapan some of the richest in the world. The park has been intensively crafted into a kind of romantic jungle fantasy, with trickling (rushing, cascading and leaping) water everywhere, sluicing through rustic stone channels that must have been designed by an aquitect who apprenticed at the Alhambra in Granada. Towering trees. Gigantic leaves.

Tangled roots adhering to walls. Exotic flowers, vines, and ferns. Strangler figs. Not to mention strategically placed nosh stands selling fresh tropical fruit, quesadillas, soft drinks, and grilled trout plucked to order from Cupatitzio’s trout farm.

Angahuan and Paricutín – Alas, poor Parangaricútiro, the town that had the misfortune on February 20, 1943, to be sitting next to a cornfield  that began to smoke and spit and shake and … Kaboom! In the geologic wink of an eye (9 years, 11 days, and 10 hours) the towns of Paricutín and Parangaricútiro were buried in dense black lava


The town of Paricutín gave its name and all of its buildings to the new volcano, whose ash blanketed much of central Mexico and for a time made agriculture impossible anywhere near the new volcano. On the other hand, Paricutín became an attraction for journalists and scientists of both the social and physical persuasion. It also spawned a tourist industry for avid consumers of such things like Vicky and m


We rented horses in nearby Angahuan, and with our hostler leading the way, threaded down through pitch pine forests and out onto the lava field. There a hard, hot scramble lead us to the surviving relic of Parangaricútiro, the top half of its stone church. The bottom half, presumably still intact, is encased in lava.

If you make this trip, and you still have land legs when you dismount, you can visit the town of Angahuan, one of t

he most traditional Purhépecha speaking Tarascan communities in western Michoacán. The villagers still live in traditional houses and the women and children still dress in traditional styles.

Bonus: Angahuan’s 16th-century church façade features Mexico’s only image of Santiago as pilgrim. 

Second bonus: if you arrive on market day, you will not only hear Purhépecha, but you can bargain with the male vendors in English, since they’ve all done service as apple pickers in Washington or chicken pluckers in Arkansas.


Pátzcuaro – ah, but that is for another day.

 David & Linda & Vicky