Morelia is an enticing mix of outstanding colonial architecture, a thriving café culture and plenty of charm. But sandwiched between two of Mexico’s largest cities, Guadalajara and Mexico City, it is often overlooked. So, you may ask, is Morelia worth visiting?
Well, being the capital of Michoacán state, it is somewhere with much to offer. If you’re looking to soak up the city’s rich history, there are museums aplenty. Or perhaps indulging in local cuisine is your favorite vacation pastime? Countless cafes, bars, and restaurants await, ready to serve you up a host of Mexico’s finest delicacies. And for all the family to enjoy, there is an array of markets to suit all tastes, the state’s largest zoo, and several extraordinary locations nearby for the perfect day trip.
But this is just a sample of what makes Morelia worth visiting. Cue this guide to seven reasons for adding Morelia to your travel bucket list this year.
One of the best things about Morelia is that it is relatively unknown. Forget the likes of raucous Cancun nightlife or the hustle and bustle of Mexico City here. Morelia is all about the charm. This less touristy spot allows you to experience the country in its most genuine form.
Let the laid-back pace of life envelop you as you while away your time in one of the countless cafés or take a gentle stroll through the maze of colonial structures. And for added charm, be sure to head to the downtown area on a Sunday morning. Starting at 8am, the main street is closed to cars and the locals come out to play. The picturesque streets are transformed into a playground for bike riding, rollerblading, and skateboarding, while vendors offer up candy floss, and street musicians treat you to a song or two.
An Abundance of Eateries
What’s a vacation without a good deal of dining out? And Morelia is brimming with options.
If you’re looking for a little something on the go as you wander through the labyrinth of market stalls, there are numerous taco stands and other street eats on offer. But if you’re wanting to give your feet a rest, head to the main square, Plaza de Armas. Here you will find an array of cafes and restaurants to choose from.
But what to eat? Well, if you want to eat like the locals, we definitely recommend you try gazpacho Moreliano. But don’t let the name fool you, as this is nothing like the cold soup of Spain. This regional delicacy is actually just a fruit salad. Another favorite around these parts is the enchiladas placera (Michoacán style enchiladas made with chicken and vegetables). Wash it down with a little La Bru (local craft beer) and you’ll feel like a true Morelian in no time.
Michoacán is also the state responsible for the popular frozen treat, paleta. These fresh fruit-based popsicles are sold by vendors throughout the city. Or if you’re looking to gorge on something a bit sweeter, you can indulge in chocolate heaven in one of the many chocolaterias.
Home to beautiful pink stone buildings, the exquisite architecture around every corner definitely makes Morelia worth visiting.
One of the finest examples is the 17th-century baroque-style cathedral. This downtown structure, with its 220 feet bell towers, dominates the landscape and is one of the city’s top attractions. And it’s not just the exterior that will blow you away. The interior is equally impressive, with its gold altar, spectacular organ, and numerous paintings from influential artists of the time.
The aqueduct is another must see of the architectural highlights in the city. This 18th-century structure, which measures 1,600 meters in length and consists of over 250 arches, is one of the city’s most important landmarks. It was commissioned as a structure to carry drinking water after a drought and is now one of the most photographed sights to be found here. But this remarkable feat of engineering is even more spectacular when viewed at night when it is all lit up.
The Candy Market
If you have a sweet tooth, Morelia is worth visiting for this reason alone. Known as somewhat of a candy mecca, the subtropical weather is perfect for growing the sugar cane, coconuts, and other ingredients for these sweet treats. Candy-making here dates back to colonial times and has always been an important aspect of Morelia culture. And in fact, they even have a whole museum dedicated to the city’s confectionary roots.
But the Mercado de Dulces (candy market) is by far the best place to see the wealth of sweet treats on offer. Stalls and stalls of unique local delights await you here. Everything from balls of sugary tamarind, crystallized fruits, and toasted coconuts are up for grabs. Although if you don’t want to leave penniless, best not to venture here on an empty stomach.
While this market is mainly known for its mounds of colorful candies, you will also find stalls selling crafts and souvenir items. So, you may want to head this way after your sugar high.
A Stunning Historic Center
One of Mexico’s 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the historic center of Morelia has lots to marvel at. Built in the 16th century, it is a well-preserved treasure trove of over 200 pink stone historic buildings. Showcasing a blend of Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical elements, there are photo opportunities to be had around every corner. And it’s here you’ll find the most photo-worthy piece of them all – Morelia Cathedral. Make sure to venture there on a Saturday night when a special LED display and fireworks show takes place.
But it’s not just a feast for the eyes. It is also a cultural hub of theatres, museums, cafes, and shops, worthy of a good chunk of your Morelia itinerary. Much of the action centers around the main square, Plaza de Armas, making it the perfect starting point for exploring this magnificent part of the city. To make sure you don’t miss out on any highlights, there are several walking tours you can take or even a tourist tram for the ultimate in chilled sightseeing.
If you like a little time spent gazing at ancient artifacts on vacation, Morelia is definitely worth a visit. Michoacán’s capital is home to many museums and galleries displaying the most prominent pieces from its abundant history.
Home to the leader of the Mexican War of Independence Movement, José María Morelos, there are two museums in his honor. The first being Museo Casa Natal de Morelos, his birthplace, which now houses a collection of relics, exhibits and even an animatronic of the man himself. Then there is Museo y Archivo Histórico Casa de Morelos, where you can find plenty more information on this revolutionary figure.
Or if you’re an art lover, you must stop in at Centro Cultural Clavijero. This former convent is now home to several exhibits displaying the best in contemporary art. And for the perfect mixture of historical and art exhibits, a trip to Museo Regional Michoacano is in order. Set in a stunning 18th-century Baroque palace, it boasts an impressive selection of Pre-Hispanic artifacts, including a reconstructed open tomb.
Brilliant Day Trips
While you could easily spend your days just exploring Morelia, the bonus is the plethora of day trip options nearby. The state of Michoacán is often referred to as the soul of Mexico. So, with that being said, there are quite a few enticing locations surrounding Morelia worthy of a little journey time. Here are just some to add to your day planner:
Patzcuaro – Just an hour from Morelia, this charming town is worth a visit. With its crooked cobblestone streets and quaint colonial architecture, it’s a setting begging to be photographed. It’s also thought to be one of the best places to experience Day of the Dead celebrations. But while in Patzcuaro, you simply must visit Janitzio Island also. This is the main island of Lake Patzcuaro and lies just a 45-minute ferry ride away. Inhabited by indigenous people, it is a great spot for soaking up some native culture.
Volcan Paricutin – Although you may have to set off a little earlier for this one, as it’s around three and a half hours away, it’s worth it. Coming into form in 1943, Volcan Paricutin is one of the youngest volcanos on earth. Many people come to climb this now dormant natural wonder and gaze at the lava covered ruins of a local church in its path.
El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary – Located roughly two hours from Morelia, this sanctuary is the winter nesting grounds for millions of monarch butterflies that have migrated from the US. This is truly a magical sight for anyone fond of these fluttering little guys. You will find them covering tree trunks, hanging from branches and some may even use you as a resting spot. Situated at the top of a mountain, it is a bit of a trek to get there, but well worth the effort.