Separated from the country’s colonial heartland by the craggy peaks of the Sierra Madre, the stretch of land from Guadalajara to Mexico City through the semitropical states of Jalisco and Michoacán has an unhurried ease that marks it out from the rest of the country. Containing a complex landscape of lofty plains and rugged sierras, the area is blessed with supremely fertile farms, fresh pine woods, cool pastures and lush tropical forest.
Something of a backwater until well into the eighteenth century, the high valleys of Michoacán and Jalisco were left to develop their own strong regional traditions and solid farming economy. Wherever you go, you’ll find a wealth of local commercial goods, both agricultural and traditionally manufactured items, from avocados to tequila, glassware to guitars. Relative isolation has also made the region a bastion of conservatism – in the years following the Revolution, the Catholic Cristero counter-revolutionary guerrilla movement enjoyed its strongest support here.
Easygoing Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city is packed with elegant buildings and surrounded by scenic countryside. Outside the city, the land is spectacularly green and mountainous, studded with volcanoes and lakes, most famously Laguna de Chapala. There are also some superb colonial relics, especially in the forms of Morelia and Pátzcuaro, although it’s the latter’s majestic setting and still powerful Indian traditions that first call your attention.
The region has not been unaffected by the country’s drug wars, however, as was gruesomely illustrated during Independence Day celebrations in 2008, when gangsters threw grenades into the crowd in Morelia’s main square, killing eight people. The drug lords aren’t interested in law-abiding tourists, so there’s no cause for undue alarm, but you’ll notice an increased presence of heavily armed soldiers and federal police, especially in smaller towns. What you won’t see is the number of Michoacán’s villages which are now under the control of armed gangs, whether drug producers or local vigilantes, but at any rate no force belonging to the state. Again, unless you’re venturing well off the beaten track, you don’t need to worry about this, but you may want to confine your wanderings to the well-worn routes, and when travelling along the state’s byways, to do so during the hours of daylight.Read More
Jalisco and Michoacán fiestas
Jalisco and Michoacán fiestas
Both Jalisco and Michoacán preserve strong native traditions and are particularly rich in fiestas: the list given here is by no means exhaustive, and local tourist offices will have further details.
New Year’s Day (Jan 1). Celebrated in Pátzcuaro and Uruapan with the Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Little Old Men).
Día de los Santos Reyes (Jan 6). Twelfth Night is celebrated with many small ceremonies and dances such as Los Sonajeros (rattles), Las Pastoras (the shepherdesses) and El Baile de la Conquista (conquest). Particularly good at Los Reyes (west of Uruapan) and Cajititlán (25km south of Guadalajara).
Día de San Sebastian (Jan 20). Traditional dances in Tuxpan (30km southeast of Ciudad Gúzman).
Día de Nuestro Señor del Rescate (Feb 1). In Tzintzuntzán, the start of a week-long fiesta founded in the sixteenth century by Vasco de Quiroga.
Carnaval (the week before Lent, variable Feb–March). Celebrated everywhere.
Festival Internacional de Guitarra (late March or early April) International Guitar Festival in Morelia.
Palm Sunday (the Sun before Easter Sun). Palm ornament market in Uruapan.
Semana Santa (Holy Week). Observed everywhere, but especially in Tzintzuntzán.
Expo Feria (variable April–May). Arts and industry show in Morelia.
Día de la Santa Cruz (May 3). Native dances in Angangueo; mariachis and tequila in Tequila.
Día del Señor de la Misericordia (last Sun in May). Fiesta and dances in Tuxpan (southeast of Ciudad Gúzman).
Corpus Christi (Thurs after Trinity, variable late May to early June). Traditional dances in Paracho (50km south of Zamora).
Día de San Pedro (June 29). Mariachi and dance festival in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara.
Día de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (first Sun in July). Torch-lit religious processions in Quiroga (25km northeast of Pátzcuaro).
Día de María Magdalena (July 22). Fiesta in Uruapan featuring a procession of animals.
Día de Santiago Apóstol (July 25). Lively celebrations and fireworks in Tuxpan (southeast of Ciudad Gúzman) and Uruapan.
Fiesta tradicional (Aug 8). Ancient pre-Colombian fiesta in Paracho (50km south of Zamora).
Feria Nacional del Cobre (second week in Aug). National Copper Fair in Santa Clara del Cobre, near Pátzcuaro.
Morelos’ birthday (Sept 30). Celebrated in Morelia.
Fiestas de Octubre (all month). Massive cultural festival in Guadalajara.
Día de San Francisco (Oct 4). Saint’s day celebrations in Uruapan.
Día de la Raza (Oct 12). Uruapan celebrates Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas.
Día de la Virgen de Zapopan (Oct 12). Massive pilgrimage in Guadalajara.
Festival de Coros y Danzas (Oct 24–26). Singing and dancing competitions in Uruapan.
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead; Nov 2). Celebrated everywhere, but especially around Pátzcuaro. Also picturesque in Zitácuaro.
Arrival of the monarch butterfly (second week of Nov). Las monarcas start arriving in Michoacán in big numbers around now. Festival Internacional de Música (third week of Nov). International Music Festival in Morelia.
Feria de Aguacate (variable Nov–Dec). Three-week avocado fair in Uruapan.
Día de la Inmaculada Concepción (Dec 8). Celebrated in Sayula (32km north of Ciudad Gúzman on the Tapalpa road).
La Señora de la Salud (Dec 8). Pilgrimage and dances in Pátzcuaro and Tequila.
Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe (Dec 12). Large celebrations in Tapalpa.
Pastoral plays (Dec 24). Performed in Tuxpan (southeast of Ciudad Gúzman).