Things to Do in Pátzcuaro

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I had never heard of Pátzcuaro, Mexico until I traveled to the area to watch the monarch butterfly migration, which is a remarkable phenomenon. I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised by all that Pátzcuaro had to offer.

How to Get to Pátzcuaro, Mexico

Pátzcuaro, Mexico is a 1 hour 30 minute drive southwest of General Francisco Mujica International Airport which is located just outside of Morelia.  Our tour company, Mexico Specialists, sent Maria and Juan Carlos to pick us up.

They met us outside of immigration and after a stop in Morelia to see the cathedral and a few other places near the main square, we made the easy drive to the charming town of Pátzcuaro, situated at 7,000 feet on the southern edge of Lake Pátzcuaro.

Upon our arrival, the bustling community of 50,000+ was actively preparing for a Fat Tuesday celebration the following day.  A variety of hearts, remnants of Valentine’s Day from a few weeks past, dotted the Plaza Grande, at which our hotel, Hotel Casa del Naranjo, stood on the corner.

Where to Stay in Pátzcuaro

A handful of hotels line the main square in Pátzcuaro, and I can’t say which is best, but Hotel Casa del Naranjo suited us.  It is aptly named with an orange (Naranjo) tree in its courtyard.

The reception desk is located past the smattering of shops and the café in the center courtyard.  Stairs lead to the rooms on the second floor, each of which have an indigenous name.  The large, but plain rooms include a fireplace, but no windows.  That said, French doors with framed glass allow light from the courtyard to seep in when the hotel room door is open.

The room was very quiet and dark for sleeping which we thought might be difficult with the parade festivities gearing up!

hotel casa del Naranjo in Pátzcuaro

Where to Eat in Pátzcuaro

Having traveled most of the day from the USA, we only ventured a few doors down for dinner at Restaurante El Patio.  Brush up on your Spanish or have Google Translate ready, as the menu as well as most people in Pátzcuaro only speak Spanish. 

While Pátzcuaro caters to tourism and is well known for its Day of the Dead Celebration, it is not “Americanized”, so it was nice to actually enjoy the Mexican and indigenous culture while practicing the language.

Our food which ranged from fajitas, baked fished, soup, and chicken wrapped in bacon was tasty while the service was Mexico speed, friendly and slow!

dinner at el patio Pátzcuaro

Lupita Restaurant, around the corner and up the hill from Hotel Casa del Naranjo, is another nice restaurant, although it is cash (pesos) only.  In fact, I highly recommend exchanging for pesos at an ATM at the airport or in Morelia at Sanborns Department Store, because the fee at the bank ATM a few blocks from the square was 10%!

Anyway, a few tables dot the open air courtyard at Lupita Restaurant. Chips and excellent pico de gallo come out before your meal.  Mike, Paula, and I ordered chicken fajitas, while Tanya ventured out and ordered a caprese salad.

Street Food in Pátzcuaro

While we would have liked to venture out beyond Plaza Grande for breakfast or dinner to find a more local restaurant, we never made it, but we did try some street food.  The corn was OK, but the carne corunda was amazing!  A corunda is similar to a tamale except it is the shape of a triangle, wrapped in a banana leaf, and very big.

The lady asked if I wanted carne or queso.  I replied, “carne” (meat).  She reached in the pot with her tongs, unwrapped the large corunda, and placed it in to go container as she asked what toppings I wanted, “crema, cotija, o salsa”.  I took all three, and fortunately asked for just a little red sauce because it was HOT! 

The cream definitely kept my lips from burning as I cut into the sweet corn dough and what appeared to be a chicken corunda.  I was expecting beef, but I guess carne could be chicken meat though likely pork.  All I know is it may have been the best dinner I ate the entire week!  And in general, the food was pretty good, especially breakfast.

buying a corunda in Pátzcuaro

Breakfast in Pátzcuaro

The fruit with breakfast each day was spectacular. Once we ate breakfast at our hotel and the other time, we ate at La Surtidora. Tanya and I regularly split our breakfasts. We got a giant plate of melons, berries, mango, and papaya with yogurt and granola for only $3.  And then another plate of scrambled eggs which generally included a few vegetables like tomato, onion, or mushrooms and cheese.  Everything was so fresh.  It made me long for such freshness in the states!

Enough about food, as when we were not eating, we were definitely touring.  We wandered Pátzcuaro, took side trips to Tzintzuntzan, Quiroga, and Sta. Clara del Cobre, and watched the Fat Tuesday parade as we acclimated to the high altitude in preparation of visiting the butterfly sanctuaries at 10,000 feet later in the week.

Things to Do in Pátzcuaro

Some places to see and things to do in Pátzcuaro include the following:

Stroll the Plazas

As mentioned previously, Plaza Grande is lined by hotels, restaurants, and shops that sell crafts and lots of Day of the Dead trinkets. Also bread and ice cream vendors set up shop under the shaded, arched colonial corridors.  In the center of the square is a fountain with a statue of Don Vasco Quiroga.

Don Vasco Quiroga was the first bishop of the Michoacán State in Mexico and was also appointed a judge in the early 1500’s.  He is credited to restoring order to Pátzcuaro after many rebellions by inviting the indigenous people back to the area Hospital-towns.

Just two blocks to the north of Plaza Grande is Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra, also known as Plaza Chica.  This plaza has more of a local feel.  You’ll find vendors such as shoe shine stands, the library, and a nearby market which stretches to the west off the plaza.

shoe shiner in Pátzcuaro

Stop in the Library

Be sure to pop into the Biblioteca publica Gertrudis Bocanegra (library) to see the mural which depicts the history of Michoacán, the original indigenous inhabitants, the conquering Spanish, the friars, and the peace time with the historical culture.

mural in bliblioteca publica gertrudis Bocanegra

Navigate the Market

The market features all sorts of items from traditional to modern. It includes tortilla making shops, fruit stands, shoes and clothing, a needle point stand, fabulous flowers, and of course butcher shops which always intrigue me.  I wonder who buys the pigskin head.

pig face at the market in Pátzcuaro

Check Out the Cathedral

Just two blocks east of Plaza Chica stands the most important Cathedral in Pátzcuaro.   The Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Salud was built by Vasco de Quiroga over an indigenous ceremonial site.  The church served as the Cathedral of Michoacán until 1850.  Its flat roof is painted to look vaulted. There is a small market outside of the cathedral as well.

basilica of nuestra senora de la salud in Pátzcuaro

Admire the Art

Not only are there murals tucked inside buildings and courtyards, but there are also art exhibits held at the Centro Cultural Antiguo Colegio Jesuita.  There was an artistic butterfly exhibit showing when we visited.  Perfectly timed for the monarch migration!

butterfly exhibit at centro cultural antiguo colegio jesuita

Taste the Chocolate

Across from the Centro Cultural Antiguo Colegio Jesuita is a chocolate shop, Joaquinita Chocolate Supremo.  Its chocolate has been awarded the best chocolate in the region.  They’ve been perfecting it since 1898!

joaquinta chocolate supremo in Pátzcuaro

Shop at Casa de los Once Patios

Casa de los Once Patios was was constructed in 1742 for Dominican nuns. As they expanded, they purchased adjacent houses which ultimately led to a complex with 11 courtyards. The complex of now five courtyards has been restored and functions as workshops that sell local crafts. After visiting, keep walking up the nearby stairs to the of the hill for a nice panoramic view of the city.

casa de los once patios in Pátzcuaro

Find a Festival

Pátzcuaro hosts many celebrations. Whether it’s religious ceremonies for Semana Santa during Easter, the Cantoya International Balloon Festival in July, or the Day of the Dead festivities in November, there is always something.

For Fat Tuesday, the local neighborhoods each make a bull from chicken wire and tissue like a float.  A person wears the bull while spinning in circles as a “matador” waves a red flag at it.  Meanwhile, men dressed in drag as well as costumes, mostly devils and werewolves, dance around them, as a band all blowing horns to the same tune repeatedly follow behind.

The parade, which starts in the Plaza Grande at 5pm on Fat Tuesday, travels to Plaza Chica and back to the Plaza Grande. It is one of the most bizarre celebrations I have ever seen.  I was completely perplexed as to why they dressed in drag, wore odd costumes, and had a bull-fighting contest in advance of lent.

As I stood to the side snapping photos, a participant stopped and asked for my Instagram account because he wanted to see the pictures I posted.  I typed @etbtravelphotography into his phone but warned him I wouldn’t be posting immediately.  Then it dawned on me that he was speaking English!

I asked him the meaning of the costumes and he said, the idea is it is the last day of fun before lent!  Well, I couldn’t argue that.  I was completely entertained by the entire experience.  We even participated, buying hollowed out eggs full of confetti that we smashed on each other’s heads! I may have to return for the Day of the Dead celebrations!!

Take a Side Trip

While Pátzcuaro is nice and is the central trading place for the surrounding communities, there are many lovely side trips in the area.

Tzintzuntzan Archaeological Zone

Go back in time at Tzintzuntzan Archaeological Zone (the T’s are not pronounced).  Tzintzuntzan comes from the Purépecha word Ts’intsuntsani which means place of the hummingbirds. The site, built atop Yauarato hill overlooking Lake Pátzcuaro, was the capital of the Purépecha Empire until the Spanish arrived in 1522.

Tzintzuntzan, was established around 1450 and grew to a population of 25,000-30,000 people under Purépecha empire.  Initially, an administrative bureaucracy, Tzintzuntzan later served as a defensive fortification and religious center.

Despite being the 2nd largest empire behind the Aztecs, the Purépecha surrendered peacefully to the Spanish as they did not want to suffer the fate of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan

Today, the site includes one large structure of five yácata pyramids used for religious ceremonies, a small museum, and a few other sites, including a house with human remains excavated from their burials.  Tzintzuntzan also hosts annually, the Festival Cultural de Fin de Año.



After visiting Tzintzuntzan, continue on to Quiroga which was also part of the Purépecha empire.  The town of 14,00 features a square, cathedral, and markets. The street vendors on Lazaro Cardenas street were handing out free samples of their pork.  It was a very lively scene!

quiroga sign

Santa Clara del Cobre

Thirty minutes to the south is Santa Clara del Cobre, a town known for its copper.  Stop in the Museo Nacional de Cobre for free to see the ore, all sorts of beautiful pieces, and perhaps a demonstration. 

Museo Nacional de Cobre

Then visit Cobre el Portón, a coppersmith and shop just a few blocks away from the museum that has been in business since 1900.  We had such a great time watching the two men making copper pots.  I never knew the real color of copper is almost red! We asked how many hours it took make a specific pot and they responded, “weeks.”  Then we got a chance to swing the sledgehammer.  I have a new appreciation for the making of copper pots.  It was hard!!

Butterfly Sanctuaries

Last, but not least, certainly take a trip to see the monarch butterflies.  February is the peak time to visit one of the butterfly sanctuaries.  These are best visited from Morelia or Mexico City.  We actually returned to Morelia for an overnight before visiting Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Sierra Chincua and the following day, El Rosario.

If you only have time to visit one sanctuary, make sure it is El Rosario.  If you have time for two, go to El Rosario second!  Here is a sneak peek, but stay tuned for a future post on the monarch butterfly migration from Canada to these sanctuaries yearly.  It is truly fascinating.

Monarch butterflies at El Rosario

In the meantime, enjoy Pátzcuaro!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

19 thoughts on “Things to Do in Pátzcuaro

    1. Ha! My stomach is churning even more now that I learned from an expat that the Mexican boil it and use the meat in tamales (that I ate)! But they were delicious!!

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