When considering a vacation in Mexico it will not be complete without time to explore colonial Mexico, exemplified by cities such as Morelia, Michoacan. The capital city has its own international airport or is just a 4-hour luxury bus ride from Mexico City. Whether you would like to enjoy engaging cultural attractions, amazing food, or colonial architecture, you will not be disappointed by all that Morelia has to offer in its historic downtown.
Morelia City Guide
Morelia Walking Tour
With over one hundred city blocks, Morelia’s historic center is the place to stay. The Hotel Virrey de Mendoza stands stately on a corner of the central plaza. This beautiful building dates to the mid-1700s and is decorated with gorgeous antiques that take you back to colonial times. From its patio dining, you can take in the area. The Baroque cathedral, built in the 1600s of locally quarried pink limestone, dominates the skyline. Its baptismal font made of silver was used to baptize Agustin de Iturbide, Mexico’s first emperor. And the dramatic yet more modern organ with 4,600 pipes was a gift from Germany in 1905. The 230-foot high bell towers stand watch over the city and each Saturday night at 8:45 they host a sound and light show with fireworks.
If you are more of a morning person you can take in an early mass, then enjoy the prominent café culture across from Plaza de Armas at Panoli. Take a spot on the patio and the waiter will bring you a tray of freshly made pastries. Point to one or two to savor and the waiter will serve them with a freshly brewed coffee or hot chocolate while you peruse the menu. Musicians will come to play tableside while you enjoy the city waking up around you. It is generally expected that if you listen to the song you will provide a small tip. If you don’t wish to participate just shake your head and they will get the message, ready to move on to another table.
After your breakfast, take time to appreciate the colonial-era architecture the city has gone to great lengths to preserve. Just across the avenue from your breakfast spot at Panoli, you will find the Museo Regional Michoacano. Emperor Itrubide’s father-in-law originally owned the building which was finished in 1775. It now houses a collection that reflects the history of the area with first floor rooms dedicated to pre-Hispanic and colonial-era artifacts.
Walk past the Hotel Alameda Morelia on Calle Abasolo until you reach the romantic setting of Jardin de las Rosas.
This peaceful square is the perfect place to sit and enjoy the surrounding architecture of the Conservatorio de las Rosas. Designed as a convent in 1595 then used as a school, and finally now home to one of the world’s oldest music conservatories, the building is absolutely beautiful. The name of the building was once considered a double entendre for the boys who used to hang out in the garden and wait for glimpses of the girls, or the roses as they called them, who attended an all-girls school housed in the building. Today you should take time to admire the beautiful interior and check out any one of its many scheduled events.
Continue past the Museo del Estado, a museum dedicated to the state’s eventful past and its role in the War for Independence, along the street 20 de Noviembre until you reach Avenida Morelos Norte. Two blocks north you will find the Casa de la Cultura de Morelia. This former monastery was completed in 1619 and is now home to the Michoacan Institute of Culture. The city has taken this historic building and given it modern purpose as it currently hosts local artisans and a dance studio. You can sometimes catch a local art exhibit while also appreciating the architectural elements of Morelia’s colonial past. Your visit to Morelia is not complete without time spent enjoying one of the many mercados, or markets, peppered throughout the city.
Mercado San Juan, just a five-minute drive from the historic center, is a feast for your eyes with displays of locally sourced colorful fresh fruits and flowers. The residents of Morelia have little need to frequent grocery stores but rather markets like these provide most of what they need, from groceries to household items. But those in the know have come here to eat. Wait for a seat at the most crowded stall and you can’t go wrong. Enjoy corundas, a regional Michoacan specialty of masa wrapped in long green corn leaf and steamed like a tamal, enchiladas, or pozole verde. Any number of tasty treats are prepared fresh right in front of you.
Another market, the Mercado de Dulces y Artesanias is just a six-minute walk from the cathedral, down Avenida Francisco Madero. You must visit here to pick up high-quality leather goods made by local artisans as well as traditional Mexican sweets. Every item on your souvenir list can be happily tackled in one amazing place. And on your way to this worthy stop, you will pass by another landmark as is typical in this city with over 200 historical sites.
Colegio Primitivo y Nacional de San Nicolas de Hidalgo can be recognized by the gorgeous deep violet bougainvillea that cascades down the side of the building. The college dates from 1570 and native son Hidalgo was a student there before he became one of Mexico’s military leaders and ultimately a martyr. Step inside the main doors and admire the magnificent library. Established in the 1500s this library is open to the public. Its multistoried book stacks hint at the history held within the rich wood and glass cases.
Add a refreshing snack to your late afternoon by picking up a gaspacho, a cup filled with fresh diced locally-sourced tropical fruit doused with a healthy squeeze of lime and orange juice. Locals will tell you that if you come to Morelia and you don’t get a gaspacho then you haven’t really visited. To get the sweetest experience it has to come from the original shop, Gaspachos El Guero de la Merced, just down from the Mercado de Dulces, on a street named Andres Quintana Roo. Select your own choice of fruits (think watermelon, cucumber, chunks of juicy orange, pineapple, mango, jicama) and you can personalize it further by selecting chili powder, Chamoy sauce, or a tangy tamarind sauce and salty cotija cheese.
The combination of sweet, salt, and spice will leave you diving in again with your spoon before you have even finished your first bite.
Take your gaspacho to go in a cup or a plastic bag so you can enjoy a sunset stroll to the Calzada Fray Antonio. One cannot help but appreciate this tree-lined avenue seemingly designed for the twilight promenade. Enjoy people watching by resting and putting your feet up on the pink limestone benches that line the walkway. From here you can spot the clash of modern with ancient as lanes of traffic pass through arches that claim this stretch of the city’s original aqueduct. The ancient structure was used from the 1500s until it stopped flowing in 1910. Yet another example of how the city has worked diligently to hold on to both its beauty and complex history, this architectural marvel still stands today.
As night comes and the city’s lights illuminate, you’ll want photos of the beautiful Fuente de las Tarascas. Water flows around these three bronze Purepecha princesses posed opposite the aqueduct. They hold to the sky a fruit basket as if in offering to ancient gods. As you take your photo of the fountain and surrounding green gardens you must wonder if they are there to eternally remind those who travel here of the bounty the city of Morelia has to offer us all.
About the Author:
Michelle Muncy-Silva is a travel blogger who enjoys sharing the beauty of different cities, cultures, and countries around the world. You can find more of her family adventures at Silvas Travel Tribe.
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