Stop numero dos on our tour of the Central Highlands of Mexico is Morelia. This large city and capital of the state of Michoacán, is 120 miles southwest of San Miguel de Allende.
It’s in the Sierra Madre Mountains, at a similar altitude as San Miguel, and has an excellent collection of Spanish Colonial architecture in its historic centro. But that’s where the similarities end. The best expression for a comparison of the two is the segue phrase from Monty Python’s Flying Circus: “And now for something completely different!”
Founded in 1541, Morelia was one of the first cities in Nueva España. Its large, natural stone buildings, Baroque facades, and elegant archways were built from the 16-18th Centuries.
Many of the buildings are constructed from a faintly pinkish-gray volcanic rock (trachyte for the rockhounds), which adds to their beauty.
And unlike the Capital of Color, San Miguel, the stone is natural, unpainted, and has been allowed to weather to an attractive patina. But what the buildings lack in color, is more than made up for with grandeur.
One of the saving graces for Morelia is that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, and since that time, strict building codes have ensured that the original look and feel of the city are preserved.
Honestly, when we began our research for this trip, neither of us had heard of Morelia. It’s not exactly on the well-worn tourist track (which was one of its appealing traits), and we were looking for a different experience in the highlands. We’ve only had a few days, but so far, we’re very surprised at how few tourists are in town. The city feels very Mexican and Spanish, and unlike San Miguel, you’ll need some Spanish language skills. Tourists are still rare enough to turn heads in the market, but the people are friendly, helpful, and pleasant to deal with. Our stammering Spanish raises a few eyebrows, but we always work it out with a smile.
For those curious travelers thinking that Morelia is for you, an online search may ping the US State Department warning about travel in the state of Michoacán. We saw this as well. We’re never blasé about security concerns, but the major problems relate to a turf war between two rival drug gangs in the western part of the state (100 miles away). As always, we’ll keep a low profile, and go about our business.
We’ll be posting from Morelia for the next few days, and hope you’ll follow along.
James & Terri