An ideal day-trip from Uruapan, the “new” volcano of Paricutín, about 40km northwest of town, gives you an unusual taste of the surrounding countryside. On February 20, 1943, a Purépecha peasant working in his fields noticed the earth rumble and then smoke. The ground soon cracked and lava began to flow to the surface. Over a period of several years, it engulfed the village of Paricutín and several other hamlets, forcing the evacuation of some seven thousand inhabitants. The volcano was active for eight years, producing a cone some 400m high and devastating an area of around twenty square kilometres. Now there are vast fields of lava (mostly cooled, though there are still a few hot spots), black and powdery, cracked into harsh jags, along with the dead cone and crater. Most bizarrely, a church tower – all that remains of the buried hamlet of San Juan Parangaricutiro – pokes its head through the surface. The volcano wasn’t all bad news, though: during its active life the volcano spread a fine layer of dust – effectively a fertilizer – on the fields that escaped the full lava flow, and drew tourists from around the world. It is still popular, especially on Sundays, when the upwardly mobile from Uruapan come out to play.
To see much of Paricutín you really need to set aside a day. You’ll want to leave Uruapan early (say 7am or 8am) so you get as much of the hiking as possible done in the cool of the day and catch the ruined church in the morning light. It’s also a good idea to take food and drink as there is very little available in Angahuan, the small and very traditional village from which the volcano is visited.
Alternatively, you can visit Paricutín on horseback. Getting off the bus in Angahuan, and in the village, and on the way to the Centro Turístico, you’ll meet people offering to guide you or take you by horse; it’s not a bad idea to hire a guide, as the paths through the lava are numerous and can be difficult to follow. Prices fluctuate with demand, but you can probably expect to pay around M$400 for a guide for the day, plus another M$350 for each horse (one for the guide plus one for each tourist). A return trip to the cone of the volcano will take about eight hours, either on foot or on horseback. If you just want to see the ruined church, a couple of hours will suffice (and rates for guides and horses will be rather cheaper). The horse trail is easier than the walking trail, though it finishes at the base of the main cone, leaving you to tackle the final steep climb on your own.