Michoacán is a state full of culture, beautiful architecture and thriving markets, a state not to be missed when travelling Mexico despite the area being deemed somewhat ‘dangerous’.
After a super comfortable overnight six-hour coach journey to the capital Morelia, we set up base in a friendly hostel situated only a few minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. With sepia toned buildings, the famous Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías, a beautiful cathedral and a host of cafés and restaurants, the city is a favourite for tourists especially during Día de Los Muertos (1st November is to remember young’uns who’ve passed away, while the 2nd, the main day, is for adults) which also falls towards the end of the famous Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia.
When traveling to new places, the first things I look out for are markets and food, and Michoacán is a great place to explore both of these. Walking around the Mercado de Dulces, it becomes even more evident that Mexicans have a major sweet tooth. With rows of stalls stacked high with sugar skulls, catering for Día de los Muertos, ates de frutas and huesitos de leche (in a variety of flavours including rompope, a vanilla flavoured eggnog like drink), the market is a wonderful place to browse Morelia’s famous sweet treats.
After a morning in Morelia, we headed off to Pátzcuaro in order to catch a lancha on the lake taking us to Isla Janitzio. The pier was full of food stalls, selling two of my favourite snacks gorditas de nata (clotted cream cakes) and nieve de pasta (almond and cinnamon ice cream), and souvenir shops. My Lonely Planet book does warn you that the whole thing is a little cheesy, and extremely obvious that it’s purely for tourists. Nevertheless, the atmosphere on the pier was great as everyone got ready to head out onto the lake.
Nearing the island, which is identifiable by the huge statue of independence hero José María Morelos, the views from the boat are quite beautiful. Butterfly fisherman circle the boats, which is a wonderful sight, however it’s quite clear that from the start it’s a bit of a tourist trap. Everyone whips their cameras out to capture the moment, then the fisherman go round asking for moneda.
Small winding cobbled streets will take you up to the main area of the island where the statue stands, where even more food and drinks are served including ponche, quite like mulled wine but can be drunk with or without liquor snuck in.
The island’s cemetery was a lovely sight for Día de los Muertos with marigolds covering practically every surface, offerings of food to the dead, and candles lighting up the graves. But I couldn’t help but feel a little weird. The whole tradition is quite personal as families remember their loved ones who’ve sadly passed away. But there I was, alongside other tourists, gazing at the graves of people I didn’t even know. Despite knowing about the tradition, I unconsciously made a spectacle out of an important religious weekend.
Regardless, my first weekend away in Mexico was a success. Trying different food, getting a fairly authentic taste of a Mexican tradition and capturing lovely views of Michoacán was a fun escape from the chiquita city of Colima.