Despite being widely considered to be the soul of Mexico, Michoacan often gets overlooked by international travelers. I visited the state of Michoacan on a whim, and unfortunately, only gave myself a few days to explore this beautiful and diverse state of Mexico. I used Morelia as a home base, and absolutely adored the city. The gorgeous architecture, local feel, and proximity to some of Mexico’s best adventures made it an excellent place to settle.
I arrived in Morelia late at night, and initially was a bit hesitant to stay long. Arriving at night in any new place can often be disconcerting, but after an intense bus ride that left me shaking, I was considering catching the next bus to Guadalajara the next morning. The original plan was to go straight to Guadalajara, but it was too late to catch a bus from Mexico City and arrive at a reasonable time. So despite never having heard of Morelia, I decided to catch a bus there as a halfway point. I had heard that Michoacan isn’t exactly the safest state in Mexico, but figured it couldn’t be too bad. However, that definitely got into my head as I arrived that night.
Thankfully, when morning came around, I’d almost forgotten the misadventures from the day before. I gave Morelia a chance and quickly grew to love the vibrant, beautiful city. By the end of my five days there, I wanted to stay much longer. Only the prospect of a sizzling weekend in Guadalajara with some of my best travel friends finally dragged me away from Morelia. I extended my stay in Morelia three times, and still felt like I had so much more of Michoacan to see.
From the gorgeous streets of Morelia, to the incredible butterfly sanctuaries, to the quaint pueblos magicos of Tzintzuntzan and Patzcuaro, I could have spent a while in Michoacan. I was one of the only travelers, although a few expats have decided to make Morelia home. Who can blame them? This city has it all, and as far as international tourism is concerned, remains a hidden gem to my fellow gringos.
Getting to Morelia, Michoacan
Morelia is about four hours from Mexico City and four hours from Guadalajara. The only reason I visited Morelia in the first place was to split up the bus ride from Mexico City to Guadalajara. Thank god I did, because that led to some of my favorite travel experiences so far. There’s nothing in the world like that butterfly migration, let me tell ya.
Anyway, you can catch a bus straight to Morelia from both Mexico City and Guadalajara. It’s also only a few hours away from Leon and Guanajuato. Morelia, being a larger city and the capital of Michoacan, also has a decently-sized airport. Flights are pretty frequent to and from Morelia. If you are coming from any big city in Mexico, it shouldn’t be too hard to catch a flight to Morelia.
Where To Stay in Morelia
One of the nice things about Morelia is that despite being a large city, it often gets overlooked in terms of tourism. Because of this, hotels and hostels tend to be pretty cheap. I stayed at La Casa Azul hostel with breakfast included for 170 pesos a night. I had the entire place to myself for four of the five nights, due to Morelia being pretty off the backpacker radar. It was just three blocks from the main square of Morelia. They also have private rooms and a beautiful terrace with a beautiful view of the Cultural Center across the street. The workers at the hostel were super friendly and super helpful, and it was definitely one of the best values I’ve gotten from a hostel in my travels.
While I didn’t find too many other hostels in Morelia, there are a number of great hotels and Airbnbs. They aren’t too expensive either, since the majority of Morelia’s tourists are national tourists.
The Best Things To Do in Morelia
Morelia is an absolutely gorgeous city with no shortage of things to do and places to see. Within the city itself, there are quite a few things to visit. Most of it revolves around the rich history and beautiful architecture of Morelia. Museums, cultural houses, markets, and cool buildings make up the brunt of things to do within Morelia. A diverse restaurant scene and buzzin’ nightlife round out Morelia as a very complete destination.
The historic center of Morelia is where you’ll likely be staying. This city feels like a museum to walk around in. The entire city of Morelia was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, so in some ways, it is a museum. One of the cool things about Morelia is that it was built from the ground up by the Spanish colonists. However, it still has a huge indigenous and native influence due to the Purepecha and Tarasco people of Michoacan.
Aqueduct de Morelia
Another of Morelia’s top attractions is the Aqueduct that looks straight out of Ancient Rome. It’s so famous that you can even see it on the back of Mexico’s 50-peso bill. It’s a scenic piece of architecture to walk along, and is another testament to just how much Morelia feels like a huge museum.
Mercados of Morelia
As always, there is always a lot of action in Mexico’s mercados. One of the ones you can’t miss is the Mercado de Dulces y Artesanias, or the Market of Sweets and Artisans. While many Mexican cities have similar markets, the one in Morelia is unique because they take their sweets and candies quite seriously. There were a lot of delicious snacks here that I’d yet to encounter throughout my travels in Mexico.
Cultural Centers and Museums
I mentioned a few times that Morelia often feels like the entire city is a museum. Of course, there are actual museums that you can visit within Morelia. One of the big ones is the Museo Casa Natal de Morelos, the birth home of Jose Maria Morelos, one of Mexico’s greatest heroes. They converted his home into a museum. Also, in case you didn’t notice, the name Morelia is derived from Morelos. As the capital and cultural hub of Michoacan, you’ll also find art museums, contemporary art galleries, and cultural centers to give you more information on Morelia and Michoacan’s rich history.
Churches and Cathedrals
Like most Latin American cities, there are no shortage of churches and cathedrals to admire from the inside and outside. Without a doubt, the gem of Morelia is Morelia Cathedral. It’s the star of the main plaza. Seriously, you can’t miss it even if you tried. Outside of Morelia Cathedral, you’ll find dozens of other stunning churches. The towers are hard to miss, and you’ll stumble into quite a few of them just through your aimless wanders.
Indulge in Morelia’s Food Scene
I mean, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll be eating food regardless of if I tell you to or not. However, here are a few suggestions. Michoacan has an amazing food scene, and a lot of my favorite things I’ve had in Mexico come from Michoacan. Okay, let’s start with paletas. Throughout my travels in Mexico, I’ve seen dozens of ice cream places called La Michoacana. So obviously, when I got to the namesake, I was going to eat as much ice cream and paletas as possible. Another thing you need to try is Gaspacho Moreliano, a weird fruit salad thing that is almost like a fruit michelada. Sound gross? I thought so, but it is still something you need to try. Carnitas are another thing, and the best ones can be found in the neighboring town of Quiroga. Enchiladas Placera are a Michoacan twist on the classic enchilada. And of course, charales.
Best Day Trips from Morelia, Michoacan
While Morelia serves as a great central hub to explore Michoacan, some of the best adventures lie outside the city. There are nine pueblos magicos in Michoacan, although I’ve only been to three of them so far. Along with visits to those charming and unique villages, Michoacan is a hub of culture, and often considered to be the soul of Mexico. If you’ve seen the movie Coco, Michoacan played a big part in inspiring some of the movie’s scenes and settings. During Day of the Dead, there are few places you’d rather spend it than Michoacan.
The pueblo magico of Patzcuaro is one of the most famous day trips from Morelia. However, I’d recommend making the trip on your own and staying for a few days. It’s only an hour away from Morelia, and going by yourself gives you more time to explore the city as opposed to with a tour. The city reminded me so much of Cusco, Peru. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know it’s no secret that Cusco is one of my favorite cities in the world.
Patzcuaro was like a mini version of Cusco. I loved the small town vibe, gorgeous architecture, and walkability of Patzcuaro. The city is as cute as they come, and undoubtedly deserves its title as a pueblo magico.
No visit to Patzcuaro is complete without making the trip out to the island of Janitzio. It’s about a 45-minute boat ride from Patzcuaro and is one of the most unique places I’ve visited in Mexico so far. I didn’t spend much time in Janitzio as I only had a limited time in Michoacan, but I loved the vibe. The views from the statue are beautiful and gives you a panoramic view of the lake, islands, and mountains. One thing you can’t miss is the charales, a fried snack made from fish that you can only catch in Lake Patzcuaro. Janitzio also played an important role in inspiring Coco, and it’s Day of the Dead festivities should go to the top of your Mexico bucket lists.
Angangueo and Butterfly Sanctuaries
I don’t I’ve done anything in my life quite like this. Hiking through the forests of Michoacan during the Monarch butterfly migration was an unforgettable experience. If you can only do one thing during your visit to Michoacan, this would be it. Hell, if you can only do one thing in Mexico, I still might say this is it. During the winters, millions of Monarchs migrate to Michoacan and spend a few months there. Between November and March, you’ll be surrounded by a blizzard of butterflies. It’s an experience that I can’t compare to anything else.
From Morelia, it’d take about 6 hours round trip to visit the butterfly sanctuaries. Because of this, I’d recommend spending some time in the neighboring pueblo magico of Angangueo. You can even spend the night in the sanctuary itself, as I saw cabanas for rent at the trailhead of the hike. The majority of the butterflies will be atop the mountain, though, which is a 30-40 minute hike or so depending on your fitness levels. I absolutely recommend doing this trip on your own instead of with a tour. I could have spent hours and hours watching the butterflies. However, I went with a tour for simplicity’s sake since I was short on time. We got less than an hour at the top of the mountain where the butterflies were.
The town of Tzintzuntzan is more than just a cool name, although I’ll admit that was what attracted me to it. This is another of Michoacan’s pueblos magicos. With Pre-Hispanic ruins, an ex-convent, and handicrafts unique to the town, Tzintzuntzan is well worth a day trip. I don’t think you need to much time here, but its proximity to Morelia means that it’s worth a visit if you want a day away from the city.
Miscellaneous Tips for Morelia, Michoacan
Is Morelia, Michoacan Safe To Visit?
While Michoacan itself has a bad reputation as being dangerous, Morelia is often excluded on those no-travel lists. I found Morelia to be just like your typical Mexican city. The historic city center felt very safe, and that’s where you’ll likely be staying. I did notice a larger armed police presence throughout Morelia and Michoacan. As long as you keep your wits about you and don’t make yourself a target, you should be completely fine traveling in Morelia.
Nightlife in Morelia, Michoacan
One of my favorite things about Morelia is that it is a university town. That means a large population of the partiers will be young adults looking to have a good time. You can probably tell by my blog name that I am always down for a good time. Mexico is one of my favorite countries to party in, and Morelia is no different. It may not have the reputation as a top party destination of Mexico, but it is never too hard to find a roaring fiesta in the city.
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