Patzcuaro – Mexico
Mexico’s colonial towns have a magnetic charm. Every year in the spring I visit several of them and always leave Mexico feeling rejuvenated and invigorated.
Patzcuaro is as authentic as it gets. It’s no wonder that the United Nations has named it a “Pueblo Magico,” as one of 100 historic treasures. It has beautiful basilicas, plazas, unique indigenous architecture, which blends with Spanish colonial style architecture, and an abundance of local craft.
Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health) is the most revered basilica in Patzcuaro. It’s simple, unadorned, exterior belies its importance. Pilgrims from all over Mexico flock to the basilica that sits on a hill to pray for good health and healing.
On the weekends Plaza Basilica is lined with vendors who travel from surrounding villages to sell their woven and knitted craft, copper, serapes (woolen blankets), wooden toys, and freshly made honey.
A short distance from the Basilica lies the 16th Century Templo Del Sagrario. I love its weathered stones, its ancient walls, its baroque altar, and the incredible peace that pervades this welcoming, iconic, cathedral.
Santuario de Guadalupe was built in the early 19th Century. The tallest of all the churches, it towers above the town, its soft hues of pink and peach glowing in the early morning and at sunset.
The heart and soul of Patzcuaro are its plazas. Plaza Grande – the main square – is bordered by shady trees and colonnaded Spanish Colonial buildings with beautiful, weathered, red-tile roofs, wrought iron balconies, and stone framed windows. At its center stands a circular fountain which holds the statue of the beloved social reformer Vasco de Quiroga. Cafés, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and a collection of interesting stores, surround the square.
Hardly a week goes by when there isn’t a pageant or a fiesta in and around the square.
The town bubbles with life and energy. Fiestas are celebrated with parades, music, food, and fireworks. Patzcuaro is said to have the best Day of the Dead celebration in all of Mexico, when pageantry, revelry, and honoring deceased family and friends, are taken to a whole new level.
Plaza Chica (Little Plaza) is filled with trees and flowers. Benches along the walkways that crisscross the garden plaza are always occupied by gentlemen wearing sombreros who soak up the sunshine, chat, and socialize with their amigos.
The local produce market (one of the best in any of the colonial towns) lies on the edge of the plaza.
The treasure of Plaza Chica is to be found inside the old San Augustin Church, which is now a public library. A magnificent mural which covers the entire width and height of the nave was painted by the artist Juan O’Gorman. It tells the story of the indigenous Purépecha people of Patzcuaro, their oppression by the Spanish conquistadores, and the beloved Vasco de Quiroga, the first bishop of Michoacán.
On Friday mornings, Plaza de San Francisco comes alive with people from the surrounding villages that come to sell their pottery, flowers, plants, and herbs. The smell of irresistible, traditional Mexican cooking floats across the plaza.
Catch a local mini-bus from Plaza Chica to Lake Patzcuaro and then a boat to Isla Janitzio. Though the island is very touristy, it’s a pleasant outing, with a nice hike up to the Statue of José Maria Morelos and good views of the lake followed by lunch at one of the many restaurants on the lake.
Patzcuaro has charming boutique hotels which are chock-full of atmosphere and fabulous Mexican décor. My favorite is the exquisite, upscale, Casa de la Real Adouana. This 16th Century grand home set in lush gardens has been lovingly renovated by the couple who own it. Each suite is decorated with art and antique furniture. The warmth, attention and unobtrusive service make it a haven of tranquility and beauty.
The closest airport to Patzcuaro is located in Morelia, the capital city of the State of Michoacán. By taxi, it’s a very pleasant 50 minute drive through the countryside to Patzcuaro.
Disclosure: I did not take the photos of Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud.