Hiking in Mexico: Inside and Outside Patzcuaro on Foot

It was Saturday. The sky was clear and blue. The air cool. The sun warm and getting warmer. It was time to go hiking in Mexico. Setting out from our house in the central part of a gorgeous Mexican town named Patzcuaro, we climbed up to the lookout of Volcan de Estribo Grande and then found a way down to Lago Patzcuaro. Afterwards, we wandered through some small agricultural fields separated by grassy lanes lined on both sides by stone walls. Was this Devonshire or Patzcuaro?


The Journey Begins

This is the view from outside our house. The Volcano de Estribo Grande, now very dormant, is in the distance off to the left. The top is hidden.

I know it sounds weird, but all of the buildings (save churches) in Patzcuaro are painted the same two-tone colour. There is a strip about 2m high of a brownish burgundy. On top of that it is white. All of the business names are painted on the adobe buildings in black and red as shown in this photo. The writing is in the same font. All very organized.

Founded in, get this, the 1320s, Patzcuaro is one of the United Nation’s 100 Historic World Treasure Cities. I suppose the Hamburguesas sign doesn’t give you a good idea of how beautiful it is. More photos of Patzcaro to come.

Soon enough we’d left town and had began climbing through what would once have been a separate village, but is now contiguous with Patzcuaro. As is the norm, this village has a gem of an old church. When you go hiking in Mexico, you can’t help but pass by a church or two.

Then it was onto an old cobblestone road lined by coniferous trees. This road leads up to a lookout and is under construction as it’s being rebuilt and re-cobbled. The town has also built a brand new road so that you will be able to drive all the way around the old volcano. It’s unlikely to have a lot of traffic once it’s open, but on this day, it was devoid of cars since it was still being built and re-built.

As we climbed, we began benefitting from our increasingly lofty vantage point. Tell me if the vista below is what you expected of hiking in Mexico. Patzcuaro is in Michoacan state, which is pretty much due west of Mexico City. Patzcuaro is fairly high, at over 2000m (over 7000ft), and sits next to an enormous lake that you will see later. The state is considered to be one of Mexico’s most beautiful.

After walking for about 2 hours, we arrived at the lookout. On a normal weekend, this spot would be filled with cars, many of them with doors open and music blaring. Mexico is a very noisy country. There would be vendors selling everything from tomales to ice cream to pop, chips and, I imagine, beer and balloons. It’s festive, if not exactly conducive to a peaceful hike in the countryside. Weekdays are usually quiet with a few other hikers and lots of runners.

But not everyone comes here for the lookout or the party. At the top of the 400 plus stairs is a white cross. It’s a goodly climb. We didn’t walk up this day, but have been up to the top before. The Catholic Church dominates in Mexico, but the people continue with their own “pagan” rituals as well. There are many indigenous people. They add a richness to Mexico’s culture and its religious practices. You can make out the stairs as they continue behind me.

Around Lago Patzcuaro live Purepecha people who are more commonly referred to as Tarascan, an indigenous group who rivalled the Aztecs. Tarasca is also a hearty and delicious tomato-based soup that is readily available in Patzcuaro.

We took a few minutes out to enjoy the view from a spot that would be hard to rival while hiking in Mexico. We looked out over Lake Patzcuaro, an enormous (50k by 33k) lake created by a volcano. Although it was once connected to other nearby lakes, today it is completely contained. Shallow (5m to 11m deep), it is fished and small boats will take you to visit the islands you can see in the photo below.

But the view of Lake Patzcuaro, it is not out-done by the surrounding landscape. Agriculturally rich, this part of Michoacan state would make Canadian gardeners envious. Tropical fruits grow alongside wheat, adding another element to hiking in Mexico.

And with that, our descent began. We’d walked down toward the lake (away from Patzcuaro) once before, but weren’t sure of the route. This time, we found a much better trail. We followed along a ridge top and when we reached a lookout point, we discovered an old road that had been carved into the steep hillside. This latter trail cozied up to a cool and dampish north-facing cliff so it was full of birds. We also spied some beautiful spring flowers. Yup, on February 18, the spring flowers were beginning to decorate the landscape. This is a great time of year to go hiking in Mexico.

Now down onto the flatlands, we wandered along what must have been an old road. Bordered on each side by dry stone walls, the lane way sported a thin layer of grass that carpeted the cobblestones below. This part of the walk certainly made us wonder if we were England or Mexico, an impression that would grow stronger later in the hike.

With a population of about 100 million, Mexico isn’t exactly crowded, but there are lots of villages. After enjoying several hours traipsing through the forest and along country lanes, it was time for a village. This part of hiking in Mexico might not be everyone’s choice, but we were hungry and thirsty. The village of Huecorbia couldn’t have come at a better time.

Complete with a lovely church, the village offered a little store where we bought cold drinks and a street stand where we purchased tamales.

The woman in the photo made tamales that were a bit different. Normally, if there is a normal tamale in Mexico, these hot solid chunks of cornmeal are wrapped in corn husks and are rectangular. These ones were triangular and wrapped in long green leaves. Covered in what is very much like our creme fraiche, as well as a bit of salsa, they are a hearty meal for sure.

With our bellies full and under a now very warm sun, we wandered through this village in hopes of finding a back route down to the lakeshore. Passing by trees laden with oranges and great drooping swaths of brilliant bougainvillea, we wandered along cobblestone streets past brilliantly painted houses. No one can accuse Mexicans of being afraid of bright colours.

Finally, we made it to the lake where small farm fields had mostly been harvested and not yet replanted.

But we did come across a mother and daughter who’d dug a metre-deep hole in the rich volcanic soil. They were harvesting the roots and fruit of the cheyote plant.

A member of the gourd family along with melons and cucumbers, the fruit is usually cooked and can substitute for zucchini. The root is a tuber and served like potatoes. These women explained that while the huge roots were potato-like, they were much more expensive. They planned to sell what they dug up.

And now Devon began. We walked through a network of lanes lined with dry stone walls. We spied beans and corn and lots of yet to be planted fields. Cows mooed.

But just in case we really believed we were in England, the odd cactus tree would remind us that this was Mexico and it was mid-February.

Having now covered about 15k, we wandered back into Huecorbio where we had to wait all of two minutes before a collectivo van came along and picked us up. For 10 pesos each (60 cents), we were whisked back to Patzcuaro and dropped off in one of the town’s spacious squares in front of yet another church. Such is hiking in Mexico.

We decided to top off our hike in true Loops & Lattes form by stopping for a coffee in one of Patzcuaro’s plethora of cafes. Pictured below is one on my favourite square.

Afterwards, and just because we could, we passed through one of the many markets in yet another plaza.

Then, with the sun setting, it was a leisurely walk back to our house. Another wonderful day hiking in Mexico.

By any measure, that’s a lot to see in a day hike. In total we covered 21k, but 5k were in the collectivo.