capital and largest city of the Mexican state of Michoacán

With a consistent colonial style throughout, Morelia is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. It is not really on the well-trodden path of the leisure tourists and so you can walk around in comfort without fear of the bermuda shorts crowds. Morelia is the capital of the state of Michoacan in Mexico and it is a registered UNESCO World Heritage site. Almost all attractions lie within walking distance of the historical center, making the city exceedingly convenient to get around. Morelia can be an outstanding base for exploring natural destinations and small towns throughout the region because it is a large city (almost 750,000 as of 2020) with good hotels and restaurants, and modern transportation facilities including a busy regional airport and a large bus station with frequent service to Mexico City and colonial cities throughout Central Mexico.

Understand

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Centro Historico - Cathedral - Morelia

Morelia is the state capital of Michoacan. Its beautiful historical center, a   UNESCO World Heritage Site, is very clean, safe and walkable. It has a pleasant climate, nice parks to relax in, and plenty of shops and markets to browse. Due to Morelia's location off the beaten travel paths of Mexico, as well as it being a university town and center of government, tourists are not as common here as in some other areas of Mexico, yet the people are very friendly. As a gringo in Morelia, prepare to be somewhat of a novelty—in a good way.

If you stay in the historical center, most of the attractions like the cathedral, the square, museums and shopping, are within walking distance. Credit cards are widely accepted, although you may want to load up on pesos before ordering food or trying to make a purchase at more budget locations, as foreign currency is generally not accepted. In the central business district, drivers use their horns 24 hours a day to excess, prodding other drivers and giving notice at the numerous blind intersections. You will get used to it, but request a hotel room away from the street if you want to get some rest.

Morelia is more than just its historical center. Its outlying areas feature modern housing developments, shopping centers and parks. Tres Marias and Altozano are among its ultra-modern residential areas.

Get in

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By bus

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Deluxe buses serve Morelia from all parts of the Republic. Morelia's state-of-the-art bus station is located in the northern part of the city and consists of separate terminals for first-class and second-class buses. The cost of a taxi going from the bus station to downtown is about M$70 (Dec 2021), you can buy a ticket from the kiosk inside the station and then give it to the taxi driver. It is easy to reach Morelia from Mexico City or Guadalajara. The bus trip from Guadalajara is about 4½ hours and from Mexico City is 4 hours, depending on the company. You can also reach Morelia from the United States by way of Greyhound.

  • 1 Terminal de Autobuses Morelia, Perif. Paseo de la República 5555, Félix Arreguín (on the Periferico, northwest side of town), +52 443 334 1071. 24 hours. Morelia has one of the nicest bus stations in Mexico. It's large, spotlessly clean, very modern and served by a large number of first-class and ejecutivo-class bus lines. There are also some smaller (second-class) bus terminals nearby.

By car

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Aqueducts running through downtown Morelia.

Morelia is accessible by a modern toll road and is located about equidistant from Guadalajara and Mexico City, about 3½ hours driving. There are plenty of gas stations along the way with restrooms and food. Be prepared with change/pesos to pay tolls. The cost varies depending of the route you take; from Mexico City the cost is about M$500 (pesos) one way. It is a very scenic trip, to say the least.

By plane

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Get around

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Buses, combis and taxis form Morelia’s public transportation system.

Combis (also called colectivos or peseros) are small vans that run nearly continuously along popular routes throughout the city. Combis are a good way to see the smaller roads and backstreets of the city. Various destinations are usually indicated on the windshield of these mini-vans. As of February 2024, a ride within the city costs 9 pesos. Get in, grab a handle and sit down before the driver speeds off, and then give your money directly to the driver, or to someone else to pass to the driver for you (you can ask the person “Si no le molesta, por favor”, basically, “thanks, if you don’t mind”). Above your head you will find a buzzer to get out at the next corner, or you can simply ask “en la próxima ezquina, por favor” (next corner please). It is very common for people to greet other passengers when boarding, according to the time of day (“Buenos días”, “buenas tardes” or “buenas noches”). Combis are very popular in Morelia with several dozen routes available. Moovit provides current information about routes and schedules.

Taxis are also plentiful and inexpensive, operating on zone fares. As elsewhere in Mexico, make sure to determine the price before getting into the taxi. Sitios are located throughout the city and hotel staff will be happy to call a radio taxi for you. Uber is available in Morelia and rides can be scheduled in advance through the app.

Driving in the city is not easy but, with patience, it is doable. Drivers use their horns to excess, to prod others and at the numerous blind intersections. The Centro Histórico suffers from a severe shortage of parking spaces. That said, driving in and around Morelia differs little from driving in any urban area. However, there is an “uno y uno” protocol in place. Drivers are actually quite respectful and obey this “one and one” rule, where — in stark contrast to Mexico City — at an intersection, you do not simply charge into any space larger than 5 cm, but fall into line, with one vehicle at a time from each direction driving through the intersection.

 
Day of the Dead Altar, Morelia
 
Inside the Casa de Morelos, now a historical museum dedicated to one of Mexico's colorful Independence era heroes.
 
Morelia Centro Historico
 
The Palacio del Gobierno is filled with murals by Alfredo Zalce

There are a lot of interesting and beautiful colonial buildings to see in Morelia, most of them are open to the public for at least part of the day. There are at least two "information" booths in the area of the square. They are staffed with students who are very helpful. Highlights of a Morelia city tour will include:

  • 1 Cathedral. One of the downtown highlights is the baroque cathedral with its surrounding gardens and parks. The cathedral is enormous, covering more than 2 city blocks in area. Architectural details like the flying buttresses and tiled cupolas give it a distinctive look. The Cathedral is the site for the local “Day of the Dead” celebration in early November. It is more of an experience than can be described here. Most of the activities take place after dark, make sure you have a good seat around the square at dark for the outside performance of the choir and the fireworks each night.    
  • 2 Casa Natal de Morelos. Hero of the Mexican War for Independence, native son Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon, was born, raised, and lived his life in Morelia. There are two Morelos homes in the city, and both are historical museums that chronicle Morelos and his role in shaping Mexico.
  • 3 Casa de Morelos. The second museum dedicated to Jose Maria Morelos.
  • 4 Museo de Arte Colonial. A collection of colonial art painting that date from the 18th century, as well as a collection of sculptures comprised in large part of representations of Christ on the cross. Many of the sculptures were created using a pre-Hispanic technique known as Caña de Maiz, where corn stalk paste is allowed to dry over wood before sculpting. Free.
  • 5 Cupola Aqueduct. Running down the center of Avenida Acueducto is an enormous aqueduct built in the 17th century to bring water into the budding young city.
  • 6 Santuario de Guadalupe. One of the most serenely beautiful churches in Mexico, adorned in soft pink and white with gold trim, the church is a work of art in itself. It also houses a series of 17th-century oil paintings that ideologically depict the Spanish missionaries’ conquest over the “barbaric” religious traditions of the Aztecs.
  • 7 Jardín de las Rosas (across from the Conservatory of the Roses). A verdant plaza and popular meeting spot adjoined by cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating.
  • 8 Plaza Villalongin. A plaza with a large fountain at the foot of the Morelia aqueduct. Surrounded by trendy shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
  • 9 Museo de Dulces, Av. Francisco Madero Ote (Av. Madero between the Cathedral and the Tarascan Fountain), +52 443 312 0477. Su-F 11:00 - 19:30, Sa 11:00 - 18:00. Definitely worth a stop. More than just a museum, it contains a coffee shop and offers the widest variety of candies as well as demonstrations of candy-making. Operated by Calle Real.
  • 10 Benito Juarez Zoological Park, Calz. Juárez S/N, Félix Ireta. Daily 07:00 - 15:00. A 250-ha (620-acre) urban oasis that is home to a 30-m (75-acre) lake and a large and diverse collection of animals, including everything from polar bears to monkeys. Kids love it! M$30 for adults and $20 for kids.
  • 11 Monument to Lazaro Cardenas, Av Francisco I. Madero Pte, Nueva Valladolid. Historical landmark built as a memorial to Lazaro Cardenas, a general during the Mexican Revolution who served as President of Mexico from 1934 to 1940.
  • 12 Centro Cultural Clavijero (Palacio Clavijero), El Nigromante 79, Centro Histórico, +52 443 312 0412. Tu-Su 10:00 - 18:00, closed M. Wonderful colonial era palace with galleries set around a central courtyard and fountain. The galleries feature a range of art, some of it historic indigenous works, but mostly modern and contemporary art. Free.
  • 13 Palacio del Gobierno (State Capitol), Benito Juarez, Centro Historico. M-F 09:00 - 17:00. Beautiful colonial era capitol building, constructed between 1760 and 1770. The building consists of two levels set around 3 courtyard plazas with covered archways, fountains, and wide stairways with ornate iron works and stained glass windows. Like government buildings in Mexico City, the capitol is filled with large-scale murals from the Mexican muralism program of the early early 20th century. Unlike the murals in Mexico City, these concentrate on the Mexican War of Independence, particularly the role of Morelia's hometown patriot, Jose Morelos y Pavon. Free.
  • 14 Planetario de Morelia (Morelia Planetarium), Calzada Ventura Puente y, Perif. Paseo de la República S/N. Sa-Su 11:00 - 15:30, closed M-F. Hour-long shows in the planetarium on the solar system and worlds beyond our own galaxy. Exhibits on space exploration. Very limited hours.
  • 15 Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Alfredo Zalce (MACAZ) (Alfredo Zalce Museum of Contemporary Art), Av. Acuaducto 18, +52 443 312 4544, . M-F 10:00 - 20:00, Sa-Su 10:00 - 18:00. Housed in a 19th century mansion, Morelia's contemporary arts museum is named in honor of Alfredo Zalce, one of the artists of the Mexican muralism movement who was born in Michoacan and whose works include a large number of murals in the state capitol (Palacio del Gobierno). The MACAZ is known for its large collection of paintings by Efrain Vargas. Free.
  • 16 Museo de Historia Natural (MUNAH) (Natural History Museum), Av. Ventura Puente, Bosque Cuauhtémoc 23, Centro, +52 443 312 0044. Daily 10:00 - 16:00. Small museum that explores the natural world with lots of preserved plant and animal specimens and exhibits oriented towards children. The museum can be fully experienced within about an hour. Free.
  • 17 Fuente de las Tarascas (Tarascas Fountain), Av. Acueducto 890. Famed city landmark featuring a bronze fountain with three Purhepecha women holding up a fruit bowl. The work was sculpted by artist José Luis Padilla Retana in 1984. This is one of the most photogenic spots in town with manicured flower gardens in front of the fountain and the graceful arches of the aquaduct in the background. Can you say "Instagram selfie"?

Take some time to stroll around Morelia, particularly near the Cathedral. You'll stumble on to one gorgeous colonial building or plaza after another. Be sure to find out about other local festivals. Morelia frequently hosts outstanding events, like a regional foods festival in late fall, and music or cultural festivals at other times of the year.

  • 1 Conservatory of the Roses (Conservatorio de las Rosas). Listen to a concert by the Morelia Boys Choir at the spectacular Conservatory of the Roses. The group is modeled on the Vienna Boys Choir, and their director is a former maestro from Vienna. The Conservatory is housed in a historic monastery built in 1594, though the conservatory traces its roots to the founding of a girls school here in 1743. Besides the famous choir, the conservatory also has an orchestra and other performing arts ensembles.
  • Parque Nacional Insurgente José María Morelos (Morelos National Park), MEX 15, Km 23 (23 km east of Morelia on federal highway MEX 15). Large heavily forested park with 7,000 hectares of natural backcountry to explore. Forests are mostly pine, cedar, and oak. Several springs and mountain streams. Hiking trails, picnic pavilions, zip lines, and horseback riding.
  • 2 Estadio Morelos, Leandro Valle (other side of the Periferico from the bus station). Professional soccer stadium built in 1989 to seat 35,000 spectators. Home field for the Club Atlético Morelia, an Expansion League team (second division).

Festivals

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  • Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe - Visit the Santuario de Guadalupe between the last week of November and December 12. For two weeks, Mexico celebrates the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Morelia's celebration is a classic!
  • International Music Festival - Performances featuring international artists of different musical genres, takes place the last week of July and the first week of August.
  • Organ Festival - Spotlights music performed on the beautiful pipe organ in the city's main cathedral, which is an impressive instrument consisting of more of 4,600 tubes. The festival happens the first two weeks of May.
  • Guitar Festival - Features guitar performances by both international and national artists, and draws audiences from around the world. The festival is organized in the spring each year, but dates vary, so check local calendars for details.
 
Casa de Artesanias - Morelia

Numerous department stores as well as local markets dot the city center. Artworks from local artists are often sold throughout the various plazas. Markets in the center include:

  • 1 Casa de Artesanias. Reserve your shopping until you visit here; this is a primary location where local artists display their wares.
  • 2 Mercado de Dulces. Features candy as well as inexpensive souvenirs splayed out through a long corridor.
  • 3 Mercado Independencia, Av. Lazaro Cardenas 526. Daily 07:00 - 18:00. Morelia's main marketplace sells anything and everything, though it's foremost a marketplace for fresh produce, freshly butchered meats, and an astounding variety of the most authentic regional foods in the state. It's a large marketplace with sections dedicated to household goods, auto parts, clothing, and more.

Morelia is one of the most exciting places in Mexico for innovative yet traditionally based cuisine. Avoid chain restaurants in Morelia because the wealth of outstanding restaurants not only offer unique regional flavors found nowhere else in Mexico, they are shockingly affordable for the quality they deliver.

Regional dishes unique to Morelia and surrounding Michoacan include:

  • Sopa Tarasca: Smoothly pureed bean soup base spiced with dried pasilla chiles and swirled with a touch of slightly soured creme mexicana, it’s a bean soup that will change the way you think of bean soup. Similar to Sopa Azteca.
  • Enchiladas Morelianas: Enchiladas in Morelia are nothing like enchiladas in any other part of Mexico. In Morelia, they’re based on chicken and potatoes, but they explode with rich flavor from a slow, deep-seated chile spiciness and deep red color that comes from the careful use of guajilla chile.
  • Uchepos: A staple of the breakfast table in Morelia, uchepos are small, soft tamales made with sweet ground creole corn. They taste of sweet tender corn with cream and fresh cheese.

Budget

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Some chains like Subway and Burger King are present on the square and throughout the city, for those who prefer to avoid culinary adventure. The dining room on the 3rd floor above the department store on the square is interesting to visit and has very good food. In the tourist and historic centre, many restaurants may have an English menu available. Be prepared to pay in pesos.

Historical center

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There are several Taquerias in the centro histrorico.

  • 1 Cocina Económica Virrey, Calle Virrey de Mendoza (antonio) 694.
  • 2 Tacos El Lic, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón 26-A.
  • 3 Mirlo, C. de Velázquez de León 25.
  • 4 Japanese Food Bonsai, C. Aldama 125.
  • 5 D'gusta Pizza, C. Vasco de Quiroga 480-b.
  • 6 Cocina Económica Anita, Revolución 135.
  • 7 Hamburguesas Richard's, Av. Morelos Sur 398.

Vasco da Quiroga

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  • 8 Hamburguesas las Tradicionales de las Tarascas. A local secret and delicious late-night food spot located just northeast of the historical center. Look for a street stall tucked into a side street, Cal. Universidad de Salamanca, just across from the Poza Rica gas station. It can be a be bit hard to find, but their Mexican-style hamburgers are worth the effort, especially after a night out. Tacos too, of course. Get there before 23:00 to avoid the crowds.

Chapultepec Sur

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  • 9 Las Autenticas Quesadillas de Artilleros, Artilleros de 1847 1332.
  • 10 Condesa, Av Acueducto 1308.
  • 11 Petirrojos Food and Drinks, 58260, Niños Heroes 1632.

Mid-range

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Outdoor patio dining under the city’s historic portals is casual, fun and affordable. There are also numerous cafes and restaurants situated along the gorgeous Jardín de las Rosas, just northwest of the cathedral.

  • 12 Cafe Michelena, Allende 209, +52 443 393-5535. A lovely cafe and bookstore, with part-French, part-Mexican cuisine, situated in the heart of the historical center.
  • 13 Panoli, Portal Matamoros 98A, +52 443 313-4232. A popular restaurant, particularly for brunch, along the edge of the central plaza. Outdoor seating.
  • 14 Tacopolis La Huerta (at the south end of the city, on La Huerta, the road leading to Patzcuaro, shortly before you get to the mall area). Offers a great range of salsas to accompany your quesadillas, tacos, alambra (massive meat overdose for the hardcore travellers only!). Their chipotle and avocado salsas are awesome. The hard-to-find vegetarian alambra is a nice vegg option when you are tired of quesadillas, but theirs, made with mushrooms, peppers, pineapple and optional cheese, is fairly bland. Here they serve flour, not corn, tortillas. Wireless available.
  • 15 Las Trojes, Juan Sebastián Bach 51. An elegant steakhouse in the upscale neighborhood of Camelinas. The restaurant uses only certified Angus beef, cooked to perfection. The service is attentive yet friendly, and no detail is overlooked. Even the bread is spectacular at Las Trojes — delicately crispy baguettes accompanied by a spicy bean and herb spread.

Splurge

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  • 16 Kaitori, Artilleros de 1847 1675.

Drink

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Although not a premier nightlife destination in Mexico, the historical center and its immediate surroundings have an interesting and lively bar scene. As with most of Mexico, venues in Morelia tend to come to life around 23:00. Before then, grab a drink at one of the many bars and cafes located along the lovely Jardín de las Rosas, just northwest of the cathedral.

  • 1 Manglar, Bartolomé de Las Casas 600 (just south of Plaza Villalongin). A popular rooftop bar with a relaxed atmosphere. Makes a good mojito.
  • 2 Cactux, C. Héroe de Nacozari (on the northern edge of the historical center). The local hipster joint. Often hosts live music events.
  • 3 La Brü Pub, Bartolomé de Las Casas 310. A popular brewery and beer hall serving their own local brew as well as a wide range of domestic and international beers.
  • 4 Amsterdam Café, Humboldt 217B. One of the best gay café/bars in Morelia. The café organizes several activities, such as the Gay Pride march on May 17. Amsterdam Café/Bar offers a large coffee menu. It has a great ambience, all the place is decorated with colorful paintings, for example, a copy of Karina Kun’s La Majo Desnuda and a big fresco by Belgian painter Peter Nyu. The barmen are also very nice and friendly.
  • 5 Bunbury's Bar, Matamoros 52. A very local pub just south of the cathedral.
  • 6 Sense Club, Blvd. Jefferson 600 (on the southwest of town, on the way to Altozano), +52 443 292 9199. The most popular disco in Morelia.

Nude table dance bars cluster on the outskirts of the city along the Perinorte.

Sleep

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Hotel De La Soledad Courtyard, Morelia
 
A room overlooking the plaza at the Hotel Virrey de Mendoza

Morelia has a very large selection of rooms in all classes and is a very affordable city with many moderate hotels charging about M$1000 per night as of early 2024. Hostels at M$400 can be found as can ultra-splurge super luxury at around M$4000. Spending more than that generally doesn't buy you better quality or even a better location.

Budget

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  • 1 Hotel and Hostel Allende, Allende 843, +52 443 312-2246. Popular hotel and hostel with a convenient downtown location and a lovely courtyard. The dorms are a bit cramped but the private rooms are more than worth the price. Dorm-style bunks from US$10, private rooms from $15.
  • 2 La Casa Azul, Av Morelos Nte 306, +52 443 312-4475. The city's only backpacker hostel. Convenient, central location and friendly staff. Old building; don't expect much in terms of wifi.

Mid-range

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  • 3 Hotel Alameda, Av. Madero 113, +52 443 312-2023. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. A modern hotel in the heart of colonial downtown Morelia. Clean, safe hotel with an outstanding central location and room rates starting around US$40.

Splurge

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  • 4 Hotel De La Soledad, Ignacio Zaragoza # 90 Col. Centro, +52 443 312-1888, fax: +52 443 312-2111. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Located in the historical center, one block away from the Cathedral. Opened in 1752 as a diligence hostel, now an upscale hotel. If you use valet parking, give at least two hours notice to have car returned. No elevator to 2nd floor rooms (given that it was built in 1752). Rooms at back of courtyard have less street noise. Sanborns Dept. store adjacent, with 3rd floor dining room.
  • 5 Hotel Virrey de Mendoza, Av. Madero Pte. 310, +52 443 312 0633. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Historical hotel with elegance and old-world charm. Some rooms may be loud or small owing to its historical authenticity. Rooms are comfortably furnished and service is always outstanding. Live piano music in the lounge, outdoor dining in one of Morelia's colonial portals.
  • 6 Los Juaninos, Morelos Sur 39, +52 443 312-0036. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. An upscale boutique hotel with graceful furnishings, unbeatable central location and exquisite rooftop dining room.
  • 7 Villa Montanas, Patzimba 201, +52 443 314-0231. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. An elegantly rustic mountain lodge featuring rough hewn wood beams and fireplaces in the rooms, not to mention outstanding nighttime views of the city from its perch on a mountain overlooking the city below.

Connect

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Internet speed is good, if not perfect. You can acquire a SIM card for your phone at the large Telcel store on the main street through the historical center, Av. Francisco I. Madero. Walk west from the cathedral until you hit C. León Guzmán. You can't really miss it. 5G cell service is available in town.

Stay safe

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Although Michoacan state has a deserved reputation for cartel violence, the drug cartels operate mostly in rural areas in Michoacan.

Morelia is a world apart from the cartel violence and is quite safe by Mexican standards. Travelers are unlikely to have any security issues in Morelia, though the usual precautions apply, as they do in any large Mexican city: avoid walking alone late at night, and be more wary in some of the far-flung suburban areas outside of the city center (you likely won't find yourself there anyway). One nice thing about Morelia is that, although the traffic noise can be infuriating, drivers are usually exceedingly courteous to pedestrians and usually obey traffic laws and act courteously toward their fellow drivers (albeit with a honk of the horn for the inattentive).

Go next

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Morelia is an excellent gateway city for cultural and outdoor adventures throughout the state of Michoacan.

  • Monarch Butterfly Reserves: Millions of monarch butterflies descend on the forests of Michoacan each November and leave for their northward migration around March. There are at least 10 designated butterfly reserves within a 4-hour drive of Morelia. Tours can be arranged through hotel concierges. Hiring a private guide with a late-model sedan for an individual trip will cost about M$2,000 for a full day for up to 3 people.
  • Patzcuaro: The quaint, tranquil, artistic town of Patzcuaro is an easy 1-hour bus ride from Morelia. It is worth spending quite a bit of time getting to know. It is the center of Mexico's "Day of the Dead" tradition, and is one of the great centers for finding authentic popular art pieces produced in quaint indigenous towns surrounding Lake Patzcuaro.
Routes through Morelia
Zamora de HidalgoZacapu  W   E  Ciudad HidalgoToluca



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