A Visit to Patzcuaro, Mexico

I had always wanted to visit Patzcuaro, one of Mexico’s “magical towns” high in the mountains of Michoacan, the state touted by Mexicans as the most beautiful in all the country.  After my friends built their house there, I had no excuse to wait any longer.  Patzcuaro was actually one of the places I had once planned to visit as a potential place to relocate many years ago, but I got waylaid and ended up elsewhere.  So I was doubly excited to finally get there.

Happily, Patzcuaro did not disappoint.  Built on the remains of an historic P’urepecha town, the colonial city retains the ambience of an ancient culture.  The two central plazas, Plaza Chica and Plaza Grande, are impressively clean and well manicured.  Cafes, food stalls and restaurants open on to the parks and are always lively and full of (mainly) busy, middle-class locals.  The “gringo” presence here is barely felt at all, though Patzcuaro gets its fair share of tourists.  The full time resident extranjero population seems negligible, though I’ve been assured it is indeed growing.  Striking red and white old colonial buildings line the steep, narrow cobblestone streets and the ubiquitous stone churches and little plazas open on to delightful courtyards with well-appointed artisan shops.  Slugging up a hill always pays off in a spectacular view of the city and its lake below, or the surrounding lush, sparkling green countryside with its rolling hills and forests.

My friends built a three story, three-bedroom house very close to the center of town, in the historic district.    The rooftop terrace looks out on the whole city, with expansive views in three directions.  All told, it had cost around 200 Gs, but they now have a potential moneymaker vacation rental, and a very comfortable, pretty living space.  In fact the house was already rented out for future dates before it had even been finished.  So there seems to be great demand in this area.  I spent a couple mornings looking at real estate and based on what we saw, figured I could probably purchase a small, fairly central lot and build a 1,000-1,300 sq ft house for 100-150 Gs, if I really looked hard and negotiated.

The little colonial villages around Patzcuaro are very picturesque and sweet, and most are famous for a particular craft.  For example, Santa Clara is a copper paradise.  I didn’t even think I liked copper until I got there and was blown away at the remarkable artistry.  We agreed that it was worth building a house in Patzcuaro solely for the pleasure of filling it with copper ware from Sta Clara.

Well, that’s Mexico for you – quality handicrafts and art of every sort to die for.  This locale is certainly no exception.

Here are my Pros and Cons of living/retiring in Patzcuaro.   Pro’s are:

  • Cost of living and price of real estate still reasonable
  • Charming, scenic city that’s not too big and not too small
  • Good opportunities for businesses that will be needed if more expats come:  art galleries, translation service, ethnic restaurants, etc.
  • Proximity to Morelia (45 minutes) and the international airport, a city of 1 million that is a Unesco World Heritage Site in its own right, with lots to see, plenty of stores and goods that might not be available in Patzcuaro.
  • Proximity to beautiful countryside for hiking, horseback riding and other outdoor activities.
  • Very, very safe city – low crime rates, burglaries almost unheard of.
  • Temperate climate, though a little on the cool side for some.  December and January can be downright chilly, though it doesn’t snow.
  • Not too “gringo-ized”; retains its strong Mexican culture.
  • Surrounded by lovely villages, easily accessible by public transportation.
  • Good walking town.  You don’t really need a car if you don’t want one.
  • Good infrastructure and services:  excellent roads, reliable water/electricity/phone/cable/internet, public transportation excellent and taxis reasonable.

Con’s:

  • Not a large gringo population so it might be hard to meet people.  And you’d better speak Spanish. (of course, this could be considered a Pro, not a Con)
  • Not much to do at night
  • Limited selection of restaurants
  • The lake is dirty and needs a serious cleaning.  There is some talk of a project in the works.

I just can’t think of any others!   All in all, Patzcuaro rates very high on my list of potential living/retirement/real estate investment locations, and as I write this, I’m seriously considering putting some money down on a lot.

Do you have similar stories to share about expat life or moving abroad?  We’d love to hear from you.

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