PÁTZCUARO is almost exactly halfway between Uruapan and Morelia, some 60km from both, yet strikingly different from either – far more colonial than Uruapan and infinitely more Indian than Morelia, boasting both fine architecture and a rich indigenous culture. Sitting on Lago de Pátzcuaro, Mexico’s most beautiful lake, it hosts the country’s most spectacular Day of the Dead celebrations. Although the outskirts of Pátzcuaro straggle about 3km or so down to the lakeshore, the centre of town is very small, focusing on the two main squares, Plaza Vasco de Quiroga (or Plaza Grande) and Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra (Plaza Chica).
More than anywhere else in the state, Pátzcuaro owes its position to Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, whose affection for the area’s indigenous peoples led him to settle in the Purépechan heartland on the shores of Lago de Pátzcuaro. It was he who decided, in the face of considerable opposition from the Spaniards in Morelia (then known as Valladolid), to build the cathedral here, where it would be centrally located. Although subsequent bishops moved the seat of power back to Morelia, the foundation had been laid for the community’s continued success. Pátzcuaro enjoyed a building boom in the sixteenth century and has been of secondary industrial and political importance ever since. Throughout the centre are old mansions with balconies and coats of arms, barely touched since those early years. Today, quaint Pátzcuaro has developed into an upmarket and artistically inclined town with numerous boutiques. You can spend hours wandering around the beautiful – and expensive – arts, crafts and antique shops, aimed mainly at visitors from Mexico City and abroad.