Must-Do Day Trips & Artisan Towns – Vanlife Patzcuaro, Mexico

I get itchy feet. No, not physically (although it wouldn’t be shocking given some of the questionable showers I’ve used over the past couple of months). Metaphorically! When we travel, I tend to get restless spending a lot of time in one place. We loved a lot about vanlife in Patzcuaro (click here for more about that), and one thing of the things we loved most is the plethora of surrounding villages, towns, and cities, each worth visiting for a mini adventure. These day trips kept my feet happily planted in Patzcuaro for almost a month, and there was still so much more to discover.

In this post, we’re sharing with you some of our favorite artisan towns and day trips from Patzcuaro. If you’re in the area and love a good mini adventure, adore Mexican artisan crafts, or relish a day of shopping and sightseeing, jump in your van, hop in a ‘colectivo’ or board the nearest bus and don’t miss part of what makes this part of Michoacan so special.

About the Artisan Towns

To understand Patzcuaro, the surrounding towns, and their local crafts, it’s important to know a bit about the area’s history. Patzcuaro and the area that now forms the state of Michoacan were originally ruled by the indigenous Purépecha people – one of the most advanced pre-Columbian societies in western Mexico. They were never subdued by the Aztec empire however they were conquered by the Spanish in the 1500s and their population was devastated by Nuño de Guzman, one of the most murderous conquistadors. To remedy some of the damage and heal (+ convert, unfortunately) the indigenous people, Bishop Vasco de Quiroga established Purépecha communities throughout the area and promoted education, self-sufficiency, and the further development of their natural skills as craftsmen. Eventually, each community became dedicated to a particular handicraft, and many of the towns continue their crafts today. Vasco de Quiroga is still one of the most revered historical figures in Michoacan.

Capula – The Ceramic Town

Why Go: Rust-coloured and capulineado-style ceramics, Catrina skeleton dolls, Quaint village atmosphere
Distance from Patzcuaro: 40-minute drive

What we loved: Winding our way through the mountain landscape with our friends in their Sprinter van. Admiring the ceramics stalls and shops lining both sides of the town’s mainstreet. Eating ice cream paletas in the central square. Visiting the picturesque Templo de Capula church. Discovering murals throughout our shopping expedition. Purchasing a copious number of mugs, plates, and bowls from the central coop… I can’t believe Marc “approved” the extra weight in the van!

What we didn’t love: We loved everything, seriously.

Handicrafts from the villages of Capula, Santa Clara del Cobre & Tzintzuntzan… gifts from us to us, lol!

Tzintzuntzan – The Weaving Town

Why Go: Woven craft products, K’unichekua festival, San Francisco Monastery
Distance from Patzcuaro: 30-minute drive

What we loved: Admiring the beautifully woven handicrafts made of reed and straw. Purchasing a woven napkin holder shaped like a pig… who doesn’t need one of those?! Wandering through the San Francisco monastery and peaking in the church. The chill and welcoming dogs. Attending the annual K’unichekua Festival held after dark at the archaeological site. The festival included a two-hour show featuring traditional dances, music, and religious ceremonies from communities across Michoacan. One of the dancers was 102 years old – impressive.

What we didn’t love: Getting a taxi after the K’unichekua Festival was impossible and at 11 pm, we had to give up and go to the police station so that they could call a cab for us. Bad tourists!

Santa Clara del Cobre – The Copper Town

Why Go: Copper goods of all kinds, Lively central square, Colonial buildings
Distance from Patzcuaro: 30-minute drive

What we loved: The scenic drive through the mountains and pine forests and into the colonial ‘Pueblo Magico’. Peeking into a seemingly endless number of shops. Discovering unique and beautiful copper creations. Sampling the Tarascan soup (a local specialty) at the new and beautiful Olivo Restaurante. Buying unique gifts to bring back to friends and family (and maybe a couple for us). Finding beautiful leather dog collars, which we’ve been searching for since arriving in Mexico. Admiring copper details on buildings throughout the town.

What we didn’t love: Parking Sally in this bustling town was difficult; we felt lucky to find a place to squeeze her in. Yapping rooftop dogs would cause the street dogs to get riled up as Walter went by, creating quite a commotion in some parts of town.

Isla de Janitzio – Home of the Butterfly Fishermen

Why Go: Fishermen with butterfly nets, Views of the lake, Day of the Dead festivities
Distance from Patzcuaro: 25-minute taxi boat ride

What we loved: Taking the dog-friendly taxi boat to the island on clear glassy water, with views of pelicans and fishermen with their butterfly nets. Climbing the stairs up the island to various viewpoints, past a picturesque church, murals, and the famous cemetery that inspired Disney’s ‘Coco’ film. Climbing more stairs into the Jose Maria Morelos statue (a hero of Mexico’s independence), for 360-degree views at the top. Chatting in Spanish with the local Purépecha kids.

What we didn’t love: Being chased by territorial local dogs throughout the day. Trying the crunchy little whitefish (offered by a friendly tourist… hated to say no😉). Finding mostly trinket-y tourist shops throughout the island. Young kids hustling to sell tourist trinkets. The very loud mariachi band providing entertainment on the boat ride back to Patzcuaro… they were great, but poor Walter!

Santuario de La Santa Muerte – A Shrine to “Saint Death”

Why Go: Elaborate shrine to the saint of death, Healing, or magical favours
Distance from Patzcuaro: 20-minute drive

What we loved: Learning about la Santa Muerte (click here for an excellent article), the folklore, and the religious culture. Seeing all the different and colourful forms taken by la Santa Muerte. Capturing pictures and videos of the unique temple and sculptures. The self-guided tour is short and can be paired with another day trip activity.

What we didn’t love: The mood was very somber in the temple and taking photos, while allowed, felt very awkward. There was not very much information about la Santa Muerte on site.

Morelia – The Michoacan State Capital

Why Go: UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cathedral & colonial buildings, Regional cuisine
Distance from Patzcuaro: 55-minute drive

What we loved: “Camping” for free in the convention centre parking lot, surrounded by leafy trees, parks, and 24-hour police surveillance. Sampling local and Mexican delicacies, including one of our new favourites, fruity gaspacho from Gaspachos El Guero de la Merced. Strolling through the historic centre admiring the colonial buildings. Visiting the old aqueduct, which contrasts with the modern roadway it parallels. Taking advantage of all the unique pedestrian areas. Admiring the ornate interiors of the churches. Getting lost in a big city.

What we didn’t love: Being picky here because we truly loved almost everything, but we did not love the stinky little river that ran along the otherwise scenic little pathway between the convention centre and downtown.

Final Bits of Day-Tripping Advice

We loved each of these day trips and would highly recommend them. We included “what we didn’t love” about each place not to dissuade you from visiting, but to help you with planning and setting expectations. Each trip was so unique that it was hard to pick a favourite. Our visit to Morelia was up there and can be done in a day, but we would suggest staying at least one night, especially if you are travelling there in a van or RV. There are so many other day trips from Patzcuaro that we didn’t manage to squeeze in… yet another reason to return next year!

Stay Tuned

From Morelia, we headed north toward our next destination, an adventure in a Copper Canyon. We got more adventure than we bargained for on that leg of our trip… but more about that in our next post!

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