On this route, you enter Mexico through the León/Guanajuato International Airport and leave from Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. In between, you're treated to a variety of places and scenes -- from the maze of streets and alleyways of the old mining town of Guanajuato, to the stately colonial city of Morelia, to the Indian town of Pátzcuaro, to the modern resort hotels of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. From November to March, you can add a day trip from Morelia to a magical place in the mountain forests east of the city where millions of monarch butterflies congregate in a yearly ritual that is one of the most intriguing of nature's mysteries.
Days 1 & 2: Guanajuato & San Miguel de Allende
These enchanted colonial cities are made for walking. Spend 1 day in each, taking in the sights and sounds of their colorful cobblestone streets, flower-filled plazas, and music-filled cafes and cantinas. If you tire of walking in Guanajuato, contract a taxi for a tour of this university town. The panoramic highway circles the narrow valley where the old town is nestled, and there's an excellent view from the statue of El Pípila before descending to the subterranean roads. Consider visiting the bizarre yet intriguing Museo de Las Momias (Mummy Museum).
In San Miguel de Allende, visit the architecturally stunning Parroquia, and be sure to stop in some of the marvelous galleries and shops. Most are housed in colonial buildings with beautiful interiors and lovely courtyards. Evenings are a particularly enchanted time to be in San Miguel, when the city is lit by candles and colorful lamps with people on the streets and music everywhere.
Day 3: Morelia
Drive or take the bus for the 3-hour trip to Morelia. Build in time to see the cathedral from the vantage point of one of the many cafes and restaurants that front Avenida Madero. Take a tour of the city and enjoy coffee, a drink, or dinner on the terrace of the Villa Montaña Hotel. In winter you can also make a day trip to view the magnificent monarch butterflies, or head out to see the dormant volcano El Paricutín.
Days 4 & 5: Pátzcuaro & the Lakeside Villages of the Purépecha
From Morelia, it's only an hour's drive to the picturesque town of Pátzcuaro and the heart of the Purépecha homeland. Enjoy a stroll around the two principal plazas of the town, and pay a visit to the House of Eleven Patios and the Museo de Artes Industrias Populares for a fascinating examination of the different art forms practiced in the region. On your next day, hire a car or guide to tour the lakeside villages and perhaps take a taxi to the town of Santa Clara to watch the coppersmiths at work.
Days 6 & 7: Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo
Zihuatanejo is one of the most appealing beach resorts in Mexico, a small fishing village and luxury getaway that retains its traditional coastal charm. Although I prefer Zihuatanejo to its more artificial neighbor, Ixtapa also offers beautiful beaches, family-friendly resorts, and exciting nightlife. The tollway connecting the central highlands to these resorts will get you there in 4 to 5 hours. Relax for a couple of days and then catch a flight back home.