Special Events & Festivals
In April, the International Guitar Festival attracts performers from Latin America and Europe. In May, the city holds the International Organ Festival (linked to the variable feast day of Corpus Christi). The cathedral has a very large pipe organ that sounds wonderful, and for the festival four organists are invited to give concerts in the cathedral. In October, the city holds its increasingly popular film festival, Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia (www.moreliafilmfest.com). The festival has been attracting the big names of Mexico's film industry, including stars like Salma Hayek and Gael García Bernal. The International Festival of Music is held in November, with a series of concerts performed over 2 weeks. Performers come from all over.
On another day you might enjoy exploring Avenida Madero, east from the cathedral. After a couple of blocks, you'll reach the Templo de las Monjas (Nuns' Temple), an old church with a unique twin facade and B-shaped floor plan. Beside it is the massive Palacio Federal, which houses, among other official bureaus, the post and telegraph offices. Continue on and you'll reach the colonial aqueduct. The graceful arches of the aqueduct stretch from here about a kilometer (less than a mile) eastward. A stone walkway, lined with trees and long stone benches, starts from one of the arches in front of the fountain. This is La Calzada Fray Antonio de San Miguel. In the 1940s, this walkway was used to shoot some scenes for a Hollywood movie, with Tyrone Power, called Captains from Castile. The Calzada leads to the church of San Diego, the most ornate church in Morelia; San Diego is also known as El Santuario de Guadalupe. It has a colorful interior done in neo-baroque. In early December, food stands fill the entire plaza in front of the church, and a festival is held to celebrate the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Dec 12).
The distance from the cathedral to San Diego is about 1.6km (1 mile). You can take a taxi back or, if you still feel like walking, return by crossing the large plaza with the statue of Morelos on horseback. Go under the aqueduct, and enter Morelia's equivalent of Central Park, known as El Bosque (The Woods). Continue west and work your way back to the center of town. If you get turned around, note that if you're walking on level ground, you're parallel to or heading toward Madero; if you're walking downhill, you're heading away from it.
Michoacán's Monarch Migration
A visit to the winter nesting grounds of the monarch butterfly, high in the mountains of northeast Michoacán, is a stirring experience. It might be the highlight of your trip. The season lasts from mid- to late November to March. Tour operators in Morelia offer a day trip to see the butterflies for 650 to 750 pesos per person. The tour takes 10 to 12 hours and involves hiking up a mountain at a high altitude. You should only do this trip if you're in decent physical condition.
The best time to see the butterflies is on a sunny day, when they flutter through the air in a blizzard of orange and black. At the center of the group, the branches of the tall fir trees bow under their burden of butterflies, whose wings undulate softly as the wind blows through the forest; it's quite a spectacle.
From Morelia, you'll have no difficulty finding a tour; most hotels and all travel agencies can put you in contact with one. I particularly recommend Luis Miguel López Alanís (tel. 443/340-4632). He speaks English, is federally licensed, and belongs to a small cooperative of guides called Mex Mich Guías (www.mmg.com.mx). The easiest way to contact him is through the website. Most tours provide transportation, guide, soft drinks, and usually lunch. A good guide is important, if only to answer all the questions that these butterflies and their strange migration provoke.
A few butterfly sanctuaries are open to the public. (The monarchs congregate at nine sites, but five are closed to visitors.) The sites with the best access are El Rosario (admission 40 pesos; daily 10am-5 or 6pm) and the newer Chincua (same admission and hours as El Rosario). It is less of a drive, but usually more of a walk to the nucleus of the butterfly group -- but not always. Throughout the season, the groups shift, moving up and down the mountains and making for a longer or shorter climb. A good guide will lead you to the shorter walk.
If you're driving, take the autopista to Mexico City, exit at Maravatío, and go right. Keep right after going through Maravatío and take the narrow two-lane road toward Angangueo. When you get to a T-junction, go right, toward San Felipe. Enter the town of Ocampo and look for a small sign pointing left to get to Rosario, where you will find a parking lot near the trail head. If you want to make this a leisurely trip, spend the night in the nearby town of Angangueo at Hotel Don Bruno (tel. 715/156-0026; 600 pesos double). It's a little overpriced, so ask to see the room before you accept it.
Travel agencies from San Miguel de Allende also book monarch tours, which take 1 or 2 days.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.