Embedded upon a hillside of avocado plantations and ancient forests, Uruapan features one of the most bewitching city backdrops of any municipality in ancient Michoacan. Nestled upon the banks of the “singing river” Cupatitzio, Uruapan lies upon the boundary of Eduardo Riz National Park in the green West of Michoacan State – best known for the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries of nearby El Rosario. Natural wonders are a definitive selling point of the region, notably the thundering Tzararacua Waterfalls of Eduardo Riz which see in excess of 30,000 visitors each year.
Uruapan has somewhat of an interrupted history, since prior to the settlement of Franciscan friars in 1523, little is known about the inhabitants of the area. Archaeological findings from ruinous mountain settlements affirm the belief it may have been a significant site for the Chichimecas and Otomi around the 12th Century – yet few other clues exist beyond that medieval age. Modern Uruapan features rarely within the guidebooks, merely serving as base for exploration of the nearby Monarch butterfly sanctuaries and Eduardo Riz National Park. Rappeling and adventure biking are popular activities within the area and have prompted a slew of hotel brands to recognize the city's touristic worth.
Divided into six barrios, the character of Uruapan varies greatly by district. Descendants of the Chichimeca dominate the North, while other Nahua ethnic groups have made the East their own. While Spanish monk Fray Juan San Miguel didn't envisage quite such diversification of the “Eternal Spring” city when he founded it in 1533, it has benefited the city in terms of its unique qualities. Plaza San Miguel remains the best example of the Fray's innovative vision for the city, bounded by religious buildings and featuring a wealth of shady spots for respite and reflection. Marking the heart of the plaza is the statue of Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico's “Father of Independence”. With its two tone pink facade and contrasting sandstone bell tower, the Catedral de San Miguel stands out somewhat against the backdrop of modest commercial buildings – a nod two one of the few surviving relics of the city's “golden age”.
Uruapan is best known for its proximity to one of the world's newest natural wonders. In 1943, the peaceful community of Paracutin (8 km from Uruapan) was rocked by a huge explosion in a nearby cornfield. Closer analysis by seismologists and volcanologists from the CSAV (Center for Study of Active Volcanoes) confirmed the blast had been caused by a build up of magma pressure beneath the earth. Less prepared were they for the birth of the world's youngest volcano, which rose 1,000 feet above the long-abandoned community of Paricutin and continued to billow and rumble until 1952. Paricutin is regarded by experts to be a monogenetic cinder volcano, meaning that once it has formed, erupted and burnt out, it will forever become extinct. Sadly it was too late for the village of Paricutin, which today remains a beautiful, yet desolate ghost town in the midst of a volcano shaped paradise.