URUAPAN, they say, means “the place where flowers bloom” in the Tarascan language, though Appleton’s Guide for 1884 tells a different story: “The word Uruapan comes from Urani, which means in the Tarasc language ‘a chocolate cup’, because the Indians in this region devote themselves to manufacture and painting of these objects.” Demand for chocolate cups, presumably, has fallen since then, but whatever the truth, the modern version is certainly appropriate: Uruapan, lower (at around 1600m) and warmer than most of its neighbours, enjoys a steamy subtropical climate and is surrounded by thick forests and lush parks.
Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruíz
Located a mere 1km from the Uruapan’s central Plaza Morelos on the northwestern edge of downtown and comprising just fifty acres, the Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruíz (or Parque Nacional Barranca Cupatitzio) is far more compact than national parks you may be used to elsewhere. As much (luxuriant and tropical) city park as national, it remains one of Uruapan’s proudest assets. The Río Cupatitzio flows through in a little gorge, via a series of man-made cascades and fountains. The river springs from a rock known as La Rodilla del Diablo (“the Devil’s knee”); according to legend, water gushed forth after the Devil knelt here in submission before the unswerving Christian faith of the drought-ridden population. Alternatively, it is said that the Devil met the Virgin Mary while out strolling in the park, and dropped to his knees in respect. Cupatitzio means “where the waters meet”, though it’s invariably translated as “the river that sings” – another appropriate, if not entirely accurate, tag.
Locals come here to stroll the cobbled footpaths betweens stands of banana plants, gaze at the cascades (particularly good during or just after rain), catch trout and eat at assorted restaurants and taco stands. There are two entrances, one at the end of Independencia (take a bus along here if you don’t feel like walking), and one up by the Mansión del Cupatitzio hotel, with a string of crafts stalls along Calzada de San Miguel between them.
Some 12km to the south of central Uruapan, the river crashes over the waterfall of La Tzaráracua, an impressive 25m plunge amid beautiful forest scenery. This is also a popular outing with locals, especially at weekends, so if you don’t fancy taking the bus, you could share a taxi. If it seems too crowded here, make for the smaller falls, Tzararacuita, about 1km further downstream.
The Dance of the little old men
The Dance of the little old men
The Danza de los Viejitos, or the Dance of the Little Old Men, is the most famous of Michoacán’s traditional dances. It is also one of its most picturesque, with the performers (usually children), dressed in baggy white cotton and masked as old men, alternating between parodying the tottering steps of the viejitos they represent and breaking into complex routines. Naturally enough, there’s a lot of music, too. You’ll see the dance performed at festive occasions all over Michoacán, but the finest expression is at the guitar-making town of Paracho, 50km south of Zamora.
The most exciting and interesting local fiestas are: Año Nuevo (Jan 1), when the Danza de los Viejitos is performed; Palm Sunday (the week before Easter), the culmination of a week’s celebration when the indígenas collect palms from the hills and make ornaments from the leaves; Día de María Magdalena (July 22), when there’s a processions of animals through the streets; Día de San Francisco (Oct 4), one of the year’s biggest saint’s day celebrations; and the Feria de Aguacate (Nov/Dec), a three-week avocado fair with agricultural exhibits and artesanía displays.