We were looking for butterflies, Monarch butterflies to be exact. I had read about this marvellous feat of nature where millions of butterflies make their long journey from eastern Canada and the US to winter over in Mexico. Setting out on our journey this year little did we realize we would actually be seeing this marvel up close and personal.
Making our way from Guadalajara, on our sojourn to experience the butterflies, we travelled into the heartland of Mexico, and stayed in lovely under the radar towns; what treasures they turned out to be. Pre-Hispanic traditions and colonial style architecture meet up in Michoacán state. Now for those of you who read the travel advisories, Michoacán is a region of Mexico that has gotten a particularly bad rap. For the past several years, whenever Michoacán has made headlines, it’s been related to drug cartels and narco insurgencies, and as a result the travel advisories have warned visitors to stay away. Yes, there are definitely areas to be avoided, primarily deep into the countryside, areas tourists are not likely to find themselves in. We did our due diligence, made several inquiries regarding safety in this area and were reassured that a lot of the problem are now in the past and we would have no problems with the towns we planned to visit.
Now this is authentic Mexico, no habla the English from the folks in these towns and often it seemed like we were the only gringos in town. Curious stares often confirmed the same and those who did know a bit of English were curious to know where we were from. What we do know is that the people are very kind, friendly and always anxious to help when needed.
Morelia, the state capital, was our first stop and such a delightful surprise, actually exceeding expectations. A UNESCO World Heritage site it is a beautiful, well-preserved colonial city with too many historic buildings to count. The focal point is huge cathedral that is absolutely spectacular, especially when illuminated at night. This city is blessed with gorgeous churches, museums, a perfectly preserved aqueduct, gardens with bougainvillea overflowing the high pink quarry-stone walls and perfectly trimmed lush ficus trees. This all makes the city a picture-perfect historic center that would put many a European capital city to shame. This is also a college/university town and at night the sidewalk cafes are buzzing, music fills the air and the zocalo oozes with the locals out and about eating, drinking, watching the street buskers or just hanging out. We were fortunate to be there over a weekend and enjoyed the weekly Saturday night fireworks in front of the cathedral. On Sunday morning the main streets are again closed and bicyclists are out gliding their way along the pathways.
Sunday morning biking.
One morning while out exploring we came upon a church square, away from the main cathedral, with a huge police presence, riot gear neatly laid out on the ground. The ever present shoeshine guys were conducting their daily business while others sat docilely in the square chatting and kids were running around. Curious I wandered over to a police officer enquiring que pasa? We found out that the striking teachers were in the capital protesting wages and benefits. Guess this is a common thread wherever you go!
We decided to take a side trip one day to a nearby Pueblos Mágicos town. With a few enquiries we figured out the connections, hopped on a collectivo, (a van that picks up passengers along designated routes) then a local bus and an hour later we found ourselves in the beautiful city/historic town of Pátzcuaro. This quaint town is known as the arts and culture center for the State of Michoacán. Smaller villages bringing in their specialized crafts such as copperware, black pottery, musical instruments, and baskets. The adobe and wood houses have red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets dominate the center of town. Unlike all the other towns and cities in Mexico we have visited the main church, Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Salud, does not face the main plaza. This church is built on a pre-Hispanic ceremonial hilltop overlooking the town. The church is grand and behind the altar is a statue of Nuestra Señora de la Salud, “Our Lady of Health” made in the 16th century out of corncob and honey paste called “tatzingue” by the Tarascan people. Pilgrims come from all over Mexico seeking healing and miracles have been cited. Small pictures of loves ones and amulets are pinned to the mystical Virgin Mary’s skirt.
We also stumbled upon a wedding while visiting the church and stayed to observe the ceremony, definitely different from North American weddings, very modest and not a lot of frills.
This is an exhibit of the masks made throughout the different states in Mexico, some are quite antique. We had fun figuring out which mask best suits our personality. Guess it could also depend on the day and how we are feeling!!!? 🤡
It was a Saturday and the markets were ready and waiting! There was actually a lot of holistic type of herbs available and we purchased some marijuana cream, but since pot is illegal in Mexico I doubt it is the real thing. Oh well what do you expect for 40 pesos!
We could have stayed longer in Morelia and the surrounding area but a bus ticket had been purchased and we were headed to Zitacuera to chase the butterflies.
Note – click on the individual picture to get a full screen view of each