MORELIA, Michoacan Dozens of locales in Mexico’s interior region
are steeped in historical Mexico flavor, but Morelia and its
surrounding areas, in the state of Michoacan, are inimitable
destinations of history and culture. Morelia best evokes the
opulence of Spanish colonial Mexico, while a wealth of cultural
attractions and its proximity to some of the finest
crafts-producing indigenous villages make it a standout for clients
interested in immersing themselves in Mexico’s rich heritage.
Whether as a stand-alone destination or in combination with a
trip to one of Mexico’s Pacific Coast beach resorts, Morelia is
easily accessible by plane or car; the city is a short flight from
Mexico City, and a new high-speed freeway between Morelia and the
resort area of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo has cut driving time down to
three hours between the two destinations.
Capital of the state of Michoacan, Morelia was founded in 1541
as Valladolid, but the city’s name was changed in 1828 in honor of
its native son, Father Jose Maria Morelos, one of the leaders of
the Mexican Revolution.
Morelia is an architectural showplace that displays the
magnificence of Spanish colonial Mexico with such panache it is
often referred to as the “Aristocrat of Mexico’s Colonial Cities.”
With more than 12,000 centuries-old buildings and a 219-block
historic center boasting 1,213 monuments, Morelia was declared a
UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.
Graced by wide boulevards and narrow cobblestone streets lined
with stately historic buildings, the city is ideal for walking
tours. Majestic churches seem to dot every street, but the
showpiece of the city is its 17th-century baroque-style cathedral,
an elaborate pink stone structure looming over the tree-lined
walkways of the city’s main plaza. Steeples 200-feet high top the
cathedral. A prominent feature of the church’s rich interior is a
4,600-pipe German organ from 1905. In May, the instrument is in
full swing during Morelia’s annual International Organ Festival,
which spotlights world-renowned organists at the cathedral.
Among Morelia’s additional sights are numerous palaces, mansions
and civic buildings. They include the Governor’s Palace, built in
1732 and adorned with sweeping murals by local artist Alfredo Zalce
that trace the history of Michoacan; and the Garden of the Roses,
surrounded by colonial structures such as the Church of Santa Rosa
and the Conservatory of Music, which is lined with columns and
arches that circle a peaceful, flower-filled central courtyard. The
conservatory, founded in the 18th century, is one of the oldest
music schools in the Americas. Today, it is renowned for the
Children’s Choir of Morelia, which practices at the conservatory
and stages performances in the city twice a year.
As the cultural center of the state, Morelia’s atmosphere is
further enriched by an abundance of museums and a wealth of native
folk art from the surrounding region.
Main draws include Museum of Michoacan State, an archaeology and
history museum housing comprehensive exhibits, including a
collection of masks, costumes and other artifacts of the state’s
indigenous Purepecha culture; Museum of Colonial Art, situated in a
historic mansion and displaying a wide variety of 16th- to
18th-century religious art; and the Regional Museum of Michoacan,
spotlighting art exhibits tracing the history of Mexico and the
state in an 18th-century palace.
Casa de Artesanias is a high point. Located in the former
convent of the 17th-century Church of San Francisco, the facility
is a combination museum and market, where the intricate arts and
crafts of Michoacan are exhibited throughout several rooms
surrounding a courtyard. A vast selection of reasonably priced
artwork from around the state is offered at the facility’s
Clients might also want to browse for distinctive items at La
Casa del Portal near the main square. Part gallery, part bazaar,
part restaurant, the rooms of this old mansion are brimming with
arts and crafts of Mexico, including many works by the owners, a
family of artists from Michoacan who produce hand-carved and
brightly painted furniture. For dining, the menu features hearty
regional Mexican cuisine, including a delicious local rainbow trout
cooked in macadamia nuts.
With its setting amidst a mountainous region of pine forests,
waterfalls, lakes and countless small villages, Morelia is an ideal
launching pad for excursions that take in the natural beauty and
cultural allure of the surrounding area.
A popular side trip spotlighting one of the country’s ecological
wonders is El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, roughly 100
miles east of Morelia. Every year in October, millions of Monarchs
migrate from the United States and Canada to the mountaintop pine
forests of Mexico. From November to early spring, when they head
north again, visitors can view the unique natural spectacle of
countless Monarchs turning green pine trees a glowing orange.
Located next to a highland lake in the mountainous region east
of Morelia, the village of Patzcuaro and the surrounding area exude
a rich combination of Spanish colonial and native heritage.
Inhabited by the Purepecha Indians for centuries before the
arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, Patzcuaro was once the
capital of the Purepecha kingdom and later the capital of Michoacan
State in 1540. After the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, Don
Vasco de Quiroga, the state’s first bishop, taught the Purepechas
new artistic techniques to combine with their centuries-old craft
methods. The Purepechas have preserved their arts-and-crafts
traditions over the centuries and now, the towns in the Patzcuaro
region are meccas for shoppers and culture buffs.
The atmospheric village of Patzcuaro is a photographic ensemble
of vibrant native markets and 16th-century colonial architecture.
Leisurely walks along the narrow cobblestone streets turn up pretty
whitewashed buildings with red tile roofs and spacious plazas with
fine churches and artisan markets peddling the folk art of the
region. Hand-loomed textiles, lacquerware, copperware, pottery and
masks are among the finds here.
Another good place to pick up arts and crafts is the House of
the 11 Patios, an 18th-century mansion that was originally built as
a house for nuns but now serves as a historic venue for small shops
and local vendors.
Janitzio, the largest island on Lake Patzcuaro, is noted for its
dugout canoes, a fishing village, religious festivals and Day of
the Dead ceremonies. Other nearby villages are worth visiting for
their trademark crafts and quaint ambience accented by Spanish
In Santa Clara del Cobre, clients can see demonstrations of the
town’s trademark copperware, all of which is pounded by hand, at a
few of the many shops that line the streets. Cuanajo is a peaceful
village of woodworkers who create pine furniture adorned with
intricate and colorful designs. Paracho is famous for its handmade
The Patzcuaro region can be a day trip from Morelia, or clients
can add a couple of nights in Patzcuaro and use it as a base for
exploring the area.
Where to Stay
With several unique boutique properties situated in Morelia and
Patzcuaro, one of the most memorable experiences of a visit to the
region is the hotel stay, and best of all, rates are significantly
less here than what clients would pay in other worldwide
destinations for the same caliber product. Following is a short
list of recommendations.
Villa Montana. Having gained a reputation as
one of Mexico’s best small luxury properties, Villa Montana is a
historic haven set on a hillside above Morelia. The property
encompasses a series of historic former vacation retreats, all
sparing no detail in design and decor. Cobblestone pathways meander
around the lush grounds of the property to buildings adorned with
arches, wrought-iron gates, colonial art and regional Mexican art.
The property consists of 22 suites and 13 guest rooms, each
uniquely appointed. Nightly room rates start at $187. Call
877-278-8018. Web sites: www.villamontana.com.mx or
Hotel Los Juaninos. This is Spanish colonial
luxury at its finest a historic gem situated in a restored, former
bishop’s palace from the 17th century. One of downtown Morelia’s
true finds, this property sits across the street from the city’s
majestic cathedral, and each of the 33 distinctively designed guest
rooms and suites exudes the grandeur and charm of old Mexico while
not skimping on modern-day amenities. Nightly room rates start at
$144. Call 877-278-8018. Web sites: www.hoteljuaninos.com.mx or
Hotel de la Soledad. Tucked into an
18th-century building a half block from Morelia’s main square, this
cozy, reasonably priced property was built in 1719 as the city’s
first stagecoach inn. Its original owners were Spanish counts
devoted to the Virgin of Solitude. The property features 58 rooms
and nine suites, all with period furnishings and artwork. A
tranquil central courtyard has a stone fountain and antique
colonial stagecoaches. Nightly room rates start at approximately
$80. Call 011-52-443-313-0627. Web site: www.hsoledad.com.
Hotel Virrey de Mendoza. Situated next to the
city’s main square overlooking the cathedral, this hotel features
55 guest rooms and suites set in a Spanish colonial mansion.
Antique furniture and original period details characterize the
ambience of some of the units. The lobby is noted for its elaborate
stained glass skylight. Nightly room rates start at approximately
$95. Call 011-443-312-0633. Web site:
Hotel Mansion Iturbe. A grand 17th-century
residence is the setting for this 14-room bed and breakfast in the
heart of Patzcuaro. Opened as a hotel in 1970, the property seems
suspended in time, with restorations taking care to preserve the
original features of the building. Some of the units are small, and
all are uniquely decorated with antiques and Purepechuan artwork.
Nightly rates start at approximately $75.Call 011-52-434-342-0368.
Web site: www.mexonline.com/iturbe.htm.
La Casa de Los Suenos. Built in the early 17th
century, this property was purchased by an American woman who spent
nearly two years restoring the building to its original splendor
and adding elegant details such as expansive murals. The hotel is
devoted to highly personalized service in a luxury setting that
reflects the history and culture of the region. Rates start at
$190. Web site: www.prismas. com.mx.
Hotel Hacienda Mariposas. Set amidst pine trees
and verdant gardens near Patzcuaro, this 12-suite inn opened in
1997 as a historic retreat that aims to expose guests to the area’s
wealth of natural beauty. The rural atmosphere lends itself to
soft-adventure activities and eco tours, which are offered through
the property. The hotel is set in a historic hacienda, with suites
preserving the original details of the architecture. Nightly room
rates start at approximately $100. Call 800- 573-2386. Web site: