The ornate interior of the Church of the Virgin of Guadalupe. // © 2014 George Mucalov
Every Sunday morning, Morelia is a riot of noise and color. The wide street fronting the magnificent Morelia Cathedral is closed to traffic, so families can ride bikes, stroll, pull children in wagons and Rollerblade. Vendors hawk colorful balloons and cotton candy. Strolling musicians sing with enthusiasm. And church and Cathedral bells peal loudly several times each hour.
Come to think of it, Morelia is cheerfully noisy and colorful throughout the entire weekend. Every Saturday night, crowds pack the street in front of the city’s illuminated cathedral to watch a spectacular fireworks show set to music.
Founded in 1541, Michoacan’s state capital is a vibrant non-touristy city, alive with the sights and sounds of people going about their daily lives. In the historic heart, this takes place throughout more than 20 city blocks with more than 200 colonial buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Shops, museums, banks, churches and hotels — built from the region’s characteristic pink quarrystone — exhibit a mix of beautiful Renaissance, baroque and neoclassical styles, and the historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, ensuring its preservation.
Mercado de Dulces
Morelia is known as a candy mecca in Mexico. We indulged our sweet tooth at the Mercado de Dulces (candy market). Housed in a former Jesuit college, the market is a long alley stuffed with stalls, displaying an extraordinary variety of sweet treats. Forget packaged chocolate or candies, however. The market offers balls of sugary tamarind, guava paste, haystack-shaped toasted coconut (made from condensed milk) and crystallized fruits. Rompope (bottled eggnog liqueur) is another popular item for sale here.
Walk east from the Cathedral to reach the Aqueduct. Built between 1785 and 1788 to supply water for the colonial town’s fountains and convents, the Aqueduct’s 253 arches stretch for more than a mile. We walked along a tree-lined pedestrian promenade running along one side of the Aqueduct, stopped for tea at a tea shop playing classical music, admired a statue of War of Independence leader Jose Morelos on horseback and peeked into the stunning Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guadalupe, covered inside with gold leaf.
Morelia is the ideal base for an excursion into the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO Word Heritage Site, high in the nearby Sierra Madre mountains. Each winter, the Monarchs migrate from the Eastern U.S. and Canada to protected forest sanctuaries in the reserve. On a full-day private tour with Arizona-based S&S Tours, we drove to the Chincua Sanctuary, where we rode a caballito (small horse) to see thousands upon thousands of orange-and-black butterflies fluttering about and huddling in huge beehive-like clumps on tree branches to stay warm when it clouded over.