Riddled with tumbling, ruinous forts and languid, mirror-like lakes, the “door to heaven” is still very much open within the mountains of Michoacán. Nestled amid the knife-edge peaks lies a city of grandeur and colonial greatness, blessed with an undulating backdrop of lush forests and dark ravines just ripe for exploring. Pátzcuaro is thought to have evolved from the Tarascan name “Tzacapu-ansucutin Patzcuaro”, loosely translated as “door to heaven” or “place where darkness begins.” Colonial legacy may well be visible within the heart of the mountain city, however Pátzcuaro also bears a wealth of indigenous history – one of the primary motivations for it's inclusion among SECTUR's “Pueblos Magicos” in 2002.
The State of Michoacán is situated in the far South West of Mexico, bounded by the Estado de Mexico to the South and Colima to the West. With a backbone of mountains and elevation of some 2,130 meters above sea level, Patzcuaro is one of the highest mountain cities in Mexico and home to the highest lake – Lake Patzcuaro. Tarascan villages cluster along the shore and islands of the lake - a mirage of color with canoing fishermen gracing the water, out for the morning catch.
The people of Yunuén (another small island on the lake) believe the glacial reservoir was actually created by a mighty fireball that fell from the skies. According to legend, the fireball hurtled into the mountain at Patzcuaro, causing water to burst forth from the impact. A natural habitat for the egret bird species, Lake Patzcuaro is also enveloped in the myth of a tribal chief's daughter Hapunda. Said to be so in love with the lake, she could not bear to be parted from its wondrous wildlife; Hapunda ventured out one night in a small boat to the center of Lake Patzcuaro and dove in. This would be an act of sacrifice that sealed the guardianship of the lake and egrets for eternity. Natives of Yunuén are still consigned to the belief that if the egrets of Patzcuaro should ever leave, the lake will once again be swallowed by the mountain.
A proud colonial city, the magic of Patzcuaro is not limited to the myths and legends that swirl around it like mountain mists. Enveloped by neo-Classical architecture and regal archways, the Plaza Grande is by far the most beautiful square of the city – its myriad of alleyways leading to hidden shopping precincts and archaic art galleries such as Museo de Artes y Oficios. Patzcuaro's Palace of Huitziméngari overlooks the square, shielded by towering ash trees. Its a static reminder of the city's former importance as the seat of the Tarascan empire.
Tradition continues to sway the pace of Patzcuaro. On November 1st each year, the town comes to a standstill in homage to Dia de los Muertos (the Day of The Dead.) Far from being a sombre night of remembrance, the festival is a flamboyant celebration of the lives of those no longer with us. Patzcuaro is renowned for the convivial soirees and exuberant street parades on this, one of Mexico's most important public holidays of the year. This enchanting spectacle is one aspect of Patzcuaro's character that no visitor ever forgets!
Attractions & Things To Do in Pátzcuaro
Church of San Ignacio de Loyola – one of the most important religious structures to Patzcuaro, the “Temple of the Company of Jesus” is famed for being the final resting place of Vasco de Quiroga - the first bishop of Michoacán. Today, it has become a magnet for tourists, owing to the legend of it's “punished” clock, which has yet to chime for midday mass! Open: Monday – Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm.
Museo de Artes e Industrias Populares - Patzcuaro's primary exposition for arts, crafts and archaeological finds dating back to Mayan settlement. It houses one of the widest collections of indigenous art and ceramics in Mexico, along with lacquered items and handmade jewelery produced locally through the ages. Open: Monday – Friday, 9 am – 6 pm