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. Nor has the region been unaffected by the country’s drug wars, as gangs struggle for control of the country’s trade in illegal substances. This was gruesomely illustrated in 2006 in otherwise peaceful Uruapan, when mobsters invaded a nightclub and rolled five freshly severed heads onto the dancefloor, and during Independence Day celebrations in 2008, when they 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 is no cause for alarm, though you may notice an increase in highway police checks.
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 Fatzcuaro, although its the latter’s majestic setting and still powerful Indian traditions that first call your attention.
Aside from this, Jalisco and Michoacán are among the most serene states in the country: relaxing, easy to get about and free of urban hassle. Add the fact that Jalisco is the home of mariachi and tequila and you’ve got a region where you could easily spend a couple of weeks exploring without even beginning to see everything. Overall, tourist numbers are pretty low except for in Pátzcuaro around the Day of the Dead, and winter weekends at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary.Read More