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In Patzcuaro, Mexico, you can see a unique combination of Spanish and Purepecha Indian cultures. The picturesque town of 52,000 is located 45 minutes southwest of Morelia, in Michoacan State, and a four-hour drive west of Mexico City.

Purepecha Indian woman makes straw hats in Plaza Vasco de Quiroga.
Purepecha Indian woman makes straw hats
in Plaza Vasco de Quiroga.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Craftspeople combine Spanish techniques and Indian designs to produce beautiful textiles, ceramics and silver jewellery. At Plaza Vasco de Quiroga, also called Plaza Grande, we admired hand-woven straw hats, made by a Purepecha Indian woman.

There are more than 60 Purepecha villages surrounding Patzcuaro. Each specializes in different handicrafts.

Mexican folk art

Stores and stands around the shady plaza sell Purepecha arts and crafts: mandolins, carved from armadillo shells, vivid-blue, mustard-yellow and neon-green tablecloths, shiny copperware and hand-painted ceramics. In one shop, Enedina Castilla showed us her wooden statues of Saint Anthony.

The Purepechas (whom the Spaniards called Tarascans) developed western Mexico's most advanced pre-Hispanic civilization. Patzcuaro was founded in 1534, before the Spanish conquest. The town's red-and-white adobe architecture, with red doors and tiled roofs, reflects its Indian heritage as much as the indigenous handicrafts and festivals.

Enedina Castilla with wooden statue of Saint Anthony
Enedina Castilla with wooden statue of Saint Anthony
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Visitors from around the world come to Patzcuaro on November 2 to witness Dia de los Muertes (Day of the Dead) festivities. Held on Isla Janitzio, an island in Lake Patzcuaro, the celebration features candlelight vigils at marigold-covered altars in cemeteries, folk dances and a parade of decorated canoes.

Patzcuaro hotel

Patzcuaro Lake is famous for pescado blanco (white fish), which fishermen traditionally caught in butterfly-shaped nets. We enjoyed the white fish at El Tarasco Restaurant in Posada de Don Vasco, a Best Western hotel in Patzcuaro.

Tarascan Soup, made from white beans and chipotle chiles, topped with fried tortilla strips and cheese, was equally delicious. To finish our meal, we tried another local specialty named after the Paricutin Volcano.

Located about 90 minutes west of Patzcuaro, Paricutin Volcano erupted from a flat cornfield in 1943. Within one year, it grew five stories high, hissing steam and hot ash.

Costumed musicians play guitar and fiddle in House of 11 Courtyards.
Costumed musicians play guitar and fiddle in House of 11 Courtyards.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Lava slowly flowed over its sides for eight more years, creating a lava field 25 square kilometers (nearly 10 square miles) in size, surrounding a cinder cone 424 meters (1,391 feet) high. Today, Paricutin Volcano is a dormant black cone. The Paricutin dessert, a mound of black and red raspberries, topped with sweetened condensed milk, resembles the volcano, complete with flowing lava.

We wore off the calories by strolling along cobbled streets, viewing Patzcuaro's attractions, including the 16th-century adobe La Compania Church, also called the Templo de la Compania de Jesus (Temple of the Company of Jesus).

Mexican folk dance

Lively music lured us into the Casa de los Once Patios (House of Eleven Courtyards), located between Jose Maria Cos and Ensenanza. The guitarist and fiddlers accompanied two dancers, dressed as old men with white hair, pink face masks, ribboned sombreros and beautifully embroidered white clothing.

Dance of Los Viejitos (Old Men) with musicians
Dance of Los Viejitos (Old Men) with musicians
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

As the musicians played faster, the men danced more rapidly, stomping their shoes and canes on the flat stone tiles. The Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men) satirizes old Spanish men who sat and smoked, while active Indian men fished, collected wood and danced.

Patzcuaro's former Dominican Convent also houses numerous artisan shops. In the Casa de las Artesanias de Michoacan, we watched Beatrice Ortega carefully highlight a flower on a lacquered plate with glue. She then applied gold leaf to the painted area, pressing it down with cotton. After hours of painstaking labour, gilding flower after flower, her lacquered plate was a dazzling work of art.

Next door, a craftsman used a massive wooden loom to weave a blanket in bright yellow, green, blue and red. Although the technique was Spanish, the colors were Purepecha Indian.

Weaving blanket on a loom
Weaving blanket on a loom
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Near the Basilica of Nuestra Senora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health Basilica), the Museo de Artes e Industrias Populares (Museum of Popular Arts and Industries) showcases arts and crafts. Vendors in the Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra market sell Purepecha handicrafts for reasonable prices.

Patzcuaro weather

Because Patzcuaro is 2,175 meters (7,130 feet) above sea level, days are warm, but evenings and nights are cold. Rainfall is most likely between June and September.

You can get to Patzcuaro by car and bus. Drive to Patzcuaro from Mexico City on the mostly-toll Autopista Siglo XXI. Driving time from Mexico City to Patzcuaro is about eight hours. You can also drive from Morelia and Uruapan, which have airports closer to Patzcuaro.

Buses run daily from Morelia, Uruapan and Mexico City to Patzcuaro.


Mexico Tourism Board: www.visitmexico.com

More things to see & do in Mexico's colonial cities:

San Miguelito Restaurant Morelia

Queretaro Mexico Vacation

Guanajuato Holiday

San Miguel de Allende Mexico Trip

Mexican Candy Shops, Markets and Dulcerias