Exploring Uruapan & Beyond

Uruapan's main plaza fills with artisans and craft sellers from around the state before and during Easter week. Vendors sell an unbelievable array of wares.

La Huatápera, attached to the church on the main square, is a good museum of regional crafts. It occupies a former hospital built in 1533 by Fray Juan de San Miguel, a Franciscan. It's open daily from 10am to 2pm and 4 to 6pm. Admission is free.

For the finest in woven, brilliantly colored tablecloths, bedspreads, and other textiles, pay a visit to Telares Uruapan (tel. 452/524-0677, or -6135), in the Antigua Fábrica San Pedro, Calle Miguel Treviño s/n. The old factory makes for an interesting visit, and the colorful fabrics are quite popular. The owners, Bundy and Walter Illsley, came to Mexico in the early '50s and started up a number of rural development projects before deciding to go into the weaving business. In my travels, I come across their distinctive fabrics a lot in establishments across central Mexico. Hours are Monday through Saturday 10am to 7pm.

When you enter the Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruiz, a botanical garden 8 blocks west of the main plaza, you'll feel as if you're deep in the Tropics. This semitropical paradise contains jungle paths, deep ravines, rushing water, and clear waterfalls. The garden is open daily from 8am to 6pm, and there is a small admission fee.

A Waterfall Outside Uruapan

Eight kilometers (5 miles) outside of town is the Tzaráracua waterfall. The falls are pretty but not spectacular, and sometimes they smell bad. The real reason to come here is for the walk -- a descent that takes you from cool pine forest to warm subtropical vegetation in no time. The return ascent takes 40 minutes, and the trail is good, with handrails in the steeper areas. You can catch a bus from Uruapan's bus station or take a cab, which costs only 75 pesos. Either one will drop you off at the trail head.

Angahuan & El Paricutín Volcano

About 34km (21 miles) from Uruapan is Angahuan, a village serving as the point of departure for trips to El Paricutín volcano. A taxi costs 200 pesos. The volcano was born in 1943 and grew quickly, eventually enveloping portions of a village in lava. In February 1943, a local man was plowing his cornfield in the valley when the ground began to boil and fissures opened up, emitting steam. At first he tried to plug it up; when that proved impossible, he fled. By that evening, the earth was spitting fire and smoke. Some villagers fled that night; others, days later. The volcano remained active and continued to grow. This was not a violent eruption, but an almost constant belching forth of ash and lava until March 1952, when it ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

Using a Guide -- Angahuan has a little tourist center that rents cabins and runs a small cafeteria (tel. 452/520-8786). It affords a good view of the volcano and the tower of the Church of San Juan Parangaricutiro, which is half-buried in lava. It takes 2 1/2 hours to get to the volcano, because you have to take a roundabout path to get there. The best way to go is with a horse and a guide. A horse costs 200 pesos. A guide costs the same. All the guides are villagers of Angahuan. Some speak English; some don't. But it doesn't make much of a difference; they're mostly there to lead the way, which is circuitous. Many visitors elect to go only as far as the church; it takes 45 minutes one-way, and you don't need a horse.

Climbing the Volcano -- Allow at least 7 hours from Angahuan. The route to the foot of the volcano makes a big loop around a lava field, before approaching the cone along a "sandy" wash (the texture only seems sandy; it's actually black volcanic cinder). The approach is mostly flat, with some rises toward the end. The only way to climb the crater is on foot; the trek is exhilarating but exhausting because of the footing. It's like climbing a giant pile of loose rock; for every step up, you slide back down a few inches. On the way to the top, you pass by a fumarole. The day I was there, it rained briefly as we were approaching the volcano, which is common (all guides carry rain ponchos for their customers). By the time we got to the fumarole, steam was rising from all the crevasses in the rock. The scene, so barren and vaporous, looked primeval. At the top of the cone, the view of the surrounding mountains is splendid, and you can clearly make out the lines of the lava flows on the floor of the valley.

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.