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Planning a visit to Mexico for Dia de los Muertos? Taking place from the end of October through to November 2nd, Day of the Dead in Pátzcuaro is one of the most authentic and traditional celebrations in Mexico.
Founded in 1320, the town also happens to be a fascinating year-round destination thanks to its indigenous Purepecha and Tarasco traditions, colonial architecture and the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, an important pilgrimage site.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning a trip to Pátzcuaro, Michoacan on Day of the Dead or any other time of the year:
Day of the Dead Traditions in Pátzcuaro, Mexico
Much like in other parts of Mexico, Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro is a joyous and sacred time. It’s a time to prepare for the return of the souls of the dead by preparing altars, visiting gravestones, gathering marigold flowers and cooking traditional Day of the Dead food.
You’ll have an opportunity to experience all of the major Day of the Dead traditions popular throughout Mexico as well as certain Dia de los Muertos rituals unique to the region, such as the performances by the butterfly net fisherman, fire dances and special gravestone ceremonies.
The candelit Noche de Muertos or Night of the Dead is especially memorable as it takes place in several of the villages around Lake Patzcuaro. Day of the Dead is also an opportunity to see Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men) a traditional folk dance of Michoacan.
Day of the Dead Costumes in Patzcuaro
Many of the Day of the Dead costumes are based on La Calavera Catrina a zinc etching originally created by Jose Guadalupe Posada between 1910 and 1913, then named and painted by Diego Rivera in his famous murals.
These representations of elegant female skeletons dressed in European attire of sweeping hats and long flowing gowns were originally intended as a satirical commentary on native Mexican who were abandoning their culture in favour of European turn-of-the-century fashions and fads.
Today’s Day of the Dead costumes are elaborate recreations of those early depictions. They are accompanied by white face paint and make-up designed and applied to look like skulls.
Day of the Dead Decorations and Artisan Market
If you are visiting Patzcuaro for Day of the Dead, be sure to arrive for October 30th, when the Artisan Market begins. Vendors travel from across Mexico to set up their stalls filled with religious icons, reed weavings, embroidery crafts and fantastical Ocumicho ceramic sculpture.
The high quality goods at the Artisans Market means it’s a shopping magnet for residents of San Miguel de Allende (and NYC art dealers) so go early to get the best selection.
The Historic Hotels of Pátzcuaro
You really can’t go wrong with the Hotel Meson de San Antonio. Located in the heart of the colonial centre on Benigno Serrato (the same street as the Day of the Dead flower market), it is just steps to the Basilica and the popular La Lupita restaurant and a short walk to the Plaza Vasco de Quiroga.
Due to its location on the historic Camino Real, the hacienda-style inn was formerly a stop for mule drivers and has retained its lovely courtyard ( the largest in Patzcuaro), fireplaces and architectural traditions. Rates are quite economical and include a modest continental breakfast.
Semana Santa (Easter Week), Christmas and Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos (October 29-Nov. 2) are peak times for visitors in Patzcuaro. Although you can sometimes find last-minute accommodation you should begin making hotel bookings six months in advance if you want to get your hotel of choice.
Food and Drink to Try – Pátzcuaro Restaurants
In addition to traditional Day of the Dead food such as pan de muerto, atole and pozole, there are several regional dishes worth trying in Patzcuaro. You don’t want to miss Sopa Tarasca or Tarascan soup.
It’s an ideal lunchtime meal after watching processions during Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro. This satisfying soup features pinto beans, chiles and crispy tortilla strips in a delicious combination.
Also be sure to explore the daily market set up at La Plaza Chica every day from 8:30 am to 5 pm and be sure to try Michoacan ice-cream and corundas (pyramid-shaped tamales).
A popular spot for lunch, dinner and cocktails is Lupita restaurant ( at Cuesta de Don Vasco # 5 on Calle Buena Vista near the cathedral) featuring live music, original art and local cuisine.
Plan your own Dia de Muertos celebration with our 25 Best Recipes for Day of the Dead.
Day Trips to Pátzcuaro Lake and Beyond
One of the top places to visit on Day of the Dead in Pátzcuaro is the village of Tzintzuntzan. Highlights include its straw crafts, ceramics and atmospheric Ex-Convento de San Francisco and the Purepecha ruins of Las Yacatas
It is also the spot to be for Dia de Muertos. In town, make a visit to the Virgin, Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Our Lady of Good Health), where she is said to perform miracles.
The island of Janitzio in Lago de Patzcuaro and the village of Santa Fe de la Laguna are also worthy day trips and an opportunity to see the fishermen with their butterfly nets. Plan on a minimum of five days for your visit to see several of the villages.
Packing Guide for Patzcuaro Michoacan
Be sure to pack sturdy shoes, a rain jacket and a warm jacket if you’re going for Day of the Dead. The high altitude brings fog and chill so you’ll be happiest with lots of layers ( and a room with a fireplace).
A flashlight will be handy for Day of the Dead where you’re literally be tripping through graveyards in the middle of the night.
Safety in Patzcuaro
If you’re planning on celebrating Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro, it’s important to note that the U.S. Department of State ( and Canada) issued Travel Safety Advisories for the state of Michoacan (except for Morelia) due to crime.
It’s worth reading the full advisory prior to travel and making your own decision whether to visit Patzcuaro. Avoid travel at night, use toll roads and minimize displays of wealth such as jewellery.
Get the full Semana Santa schedule or Day of the Dead line-up of activities at the official Visit Michoacan: The Soul of Mexico website.
How to Get to Patzcuaro
If you’re arriving at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, book a flat-rate taxi to the long-distance bus station Camionera Poniente de Observatorio from one of the kiosks in the airport arrivals area.
They are safe, secure and fast (Nueva Imagen offers reservations at 5716-16-16 but you really don’t need a reservation). Count on 30-45 minutes (depending on traffic) to get to the bus station.
By Bus: Once at Camionera Poniente de Observatorio, book a bus to Patzcuaro on the ETN or La Linea bus line. The first-class bus lines are very comfortable, offering movies, snacks and washrooms onboard. The bus will make a brief stop at the bus station in Morelia and the trip takes about 5 hours.
First-class La Linea buses run every hour from the Central Camionera Poniente de Observatorio Bus Station in Mexico City to Patzcuaro bus station with a brief stop in Morelia. The cost is 409 pesos ($35 CAD) one-way.
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Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
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