Patzcuaro rests 3 miles south of the shore of the tranquil Lake Patzcuaro, and 36 miles south-west of Morelia, just at the midpoint between Morelia and Uruapan. Patzcuaro is an undeniably beautiful town full of elegant colonial architecture, vibrant markets and strong indigenous traditions. The first Bishop of Michoacan, Vasco de Quiroga, not only evangelized and defended the indigenous peoples of Patzcuaro; he built schools and hospitals there. Vasco de Quiroga carried out extensive and surprising social work in the town, pitting him against the authorities and even the clergy, whom, with the support of King Charles V of Spain, Quiroga stubbornly resisted.
Three basic elements of Quiroga's utopia can still be seen today: the mountainous landscape of pines, firs and junipers surrounding the lake, as well as the birds and fish that inhabit it; the small wood, tile and adobe villages containing some of the oldest churches and monasteries in the country, and boasting the characteristic handicrafts of each community; and finally the lacquer-work and silver, pottery, wood carving, copper, guitars and textiles that have been produced here for centuries.
The city of Patzcuaro boasts two central plazas and several quaint, smaller squares. The Plaza Principal (Main Square) is bordered by 17th-century mansions overlooking a central fountain and a statue of Quiroga. The city’s second main plaza, the Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra, is where the city’s colorful Mercado de Artesanias (Handcraft Market) is found, along with the Gertrudis Bocanegra Library and the Emperor Caltzontzin Theater, each displaying on its walls vibrant murals depicting the state’s elaborate history.
Other colonial-era gems include the Casa de los 11 Patios (House of the 11 Patios), Templo y Ex-convento Jesuita (Jesuit Temple and Ex-Convent), and the lovely Basilica Virgen de la Salud (Virgin of Health Basilica). Be sure to take advantage of your stay in Patzcuaro to stroll along its steep, winding streets and restful plazas, sample its traditional food, listen to its legends and absorb the delightful music of the pirecuas or the native tongue of the Tarascans. Remember, the most important fiesta is held on November 1 and 2, the famous Days of the Dead, when fishermen row across the lake to the Island of Janitzio in canoes aglow with candles.