Monday, January 20, 2014

Semana Santa in Pátzcuaro

article from March 15, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

Now that we are past the debauchery of all the various carnivals celebrated throughout the hemisphere and elsewhere, we have a few weeks to prepare for Easter – which leads me to the first question: Who the hell came up with the Easter Bunny? You can probably Google that.

But since we are a few weeks away from that grand celebration, may I suggest an incredible destination?

Pátzcuaro, a relatively small city on the shores of a lake with an island in the middle that features the statue of Morelos, one of Mexico’s many heroes. You can climb up to the top of it (ladies, wear trousers – the voyeurs will be disappointed), which will give you a great view of the entire surrounding area.

Located 45 minutes from the capital city of Morelia, Pátzcuaro is one of the most scenic and colonial of Mexican cities, occupied by mainly Purépecha “Indians,” the original inhabitants of what today is the state of Michoacán, and Semana Santa is celebrated there in grand style.

Hundreds of artisans congregate around the two main plazas, and there are several solemn parades where the faithful carry statues of the local saints as well as Jesus, himself, in a glass coffin, though the streets. Up by the Basilica, there is a carnival, with street vendors selling all kinds of goodies, from great little tidbits cooked on the spot to plastic items and house wares. The amount of noise is typically Mexican, and so is the potential for pickpockets. But it is a weeklong celebration that one must experience, especially when it culminates with the full moon rising over the Plaza Grande while the processions are in full swing.

It seems that a large portion of Mexico congregates there for the celebrations, and accommodations are hard to come by, so my recommendation is to contact Monica Gray, the daughter of an American expat who arrived there in the 1940s, at She has a large assortment of apartments available within walking distance of the center of town that come fully furnished with kitchens and bedrooms, large parking areas, and vistas over town, a settlement that has been around since pre-Columbian times, and the magnificent architecture reflects this. 

While in Pátzcuaro, you are likely to fall in love with the place and consider it for retirement or as a second home. Real estate prices have never been better, and houses in the center of town, which have 300-500 year histories, are always available for reasonable prices, but as always, use a reliable local real estate attorney or agent to assist you in your quest. Monica Gray, being native born there, knows everybody and will be able to hook you up with whatever needs you have. (She is neither an attorney nor a real estate agent.)

Lake Pátzcuaro is a haven for artists, having hosted John Steinbeck, Judith Deim, and many others. Today, the region is home to many writers and painters, including my good friend Vatche K. Geuvdjelian, a world-renowned artist whose expat experience had him cover half of the planet before finally settling in Pátzcuaro.

The local artisans produce a large selection of handicrafts that includes jewelry, pottery, furniture, and lacquered fineries. Copper goods are made in a neighboring town of Santa Clara del Cobre. Many of these artisan goods are all available in the Casa de los Once Patios, a Dominican convent that has been turned into a cultural center, where you can actually watch the artisans at work as they produce their superb crafts. Weaving is also very prevalent, with blankets, tablecloths and other textiles.

There is so much to do and see in Pátzcuaro that it is a blessing that it is an early town – by 10 pm, everything is pretty much closed and the streets are empty. Some of the main attractions are the many convents and churches. Not to be missed is the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, which, after almost 500 years, is still unfinished and probably never will be finished according to its original design. But the interior is something to behold, whether you are Catholic or atheist. It is always a mysterious place, where many Purépechas come to be healed, and during Semana Santa, they have the monopoly on setting up their stands to sell everything from milagros, to handicrafts, to made-in-China toys, to food.

I highly recommend that you contact your travel agent and make bookings to fly to Morelia, the nearest international airport, located on the very far side of Morelia from Pátzcuaro. You can hire a taxi to take you to Pátzcuaro, a good option, as it will save you the confusion of finding your way through Morelia, the large capitol city of the state of Michoacán. Or you can be adventurous, rent a car and try it on your own. You don’t really need a car in Pátzcuaro. Taxis and buses are very inexpensive and tours to the surrounding countryside are easily available.

So go for the colonial adventure, see Patzcuaro and fall in love!
Jamie Douglas

[Image via Wikipedia]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.

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