The town of Patzcuaro, in the Mexican state of Michoacan, is famous for a nearby lake, its fishermen and their butterfly-shaped nets, though this tradition is disappearing. It is also known for its colorful Day of the Dead celebrations on 1 November. The townspeople spend the night in candlelit, decorated cemeteries, talking with their ancestors and offering them special foods, such as the corunda, a pyramid-shaped tamale that's typical of the region. It serves as a base for visiting the handicraft towns around the lake for carved masks, guitars, and pottery. Well-preserved Patzcuaro is designated as a "Pueblo Magico" by the government.
While in Patzcuaro, take a short walk up to El Estribo—a picnic site—for a beautiful view of the town and the lake beyond (take it easy, though—Patzcuaro is 7,000 ft/2,135 m above sea level).
In town, drop by the library (which has a fresco by Juan O'Gorman), and spend time in some of the small plazas and shop at the town's wonderful markets: Souvenir toy boats, serapes, straw items, copperware, lacquerware, sweaters and rebozos (shawls) are only some of the items for sale. The town is also famous for its textiles. If you are there on a Friday, visit the fish market.
Take some time to head to the lake to watch the fishermen catching whitefish, a local delicacy. You can get a fishing boat to take you to Janitzio Island or take the regular ferry. We suggest you spend at least a day there. Try to avoid going on a weekend, when the streets are uncomfortably full of visitors and garbage.
In the middle of the island, there is a giant statue of Morelos, a hero of the fight for independence from Spain. Climb up inside for a good view of the island and lake.
Janitzio is also famous for its colorful Day of the Dead celebrations, during which villagers carrying candles traverse the lake in boats at night. Book a room well in advance in Patzcuaro or Morelia if you want to take in the Day of the Dead festivities.
The small Tzintzuntzan ruins are about 15 mi/25 km north of Patzcuaro, which lies 200 mi/300 km west of Mexico City. If you visit the ruins, look for pottery there, especially the work of Manuel Morales, and for embroidery and straw handicrafts spread out in a large, open-air market.
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