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7 Authentic things to do in Morelia, Mexico

Vendors hawk colorful balloons and cotton candy.

Strolling musicians sing enthusiastically.

Church bells peal loudly.

And families ride bikes, stroll, pull children in wagons and roller-blade along the wide street fronting the cathedral.

It’s Sunday morning in Morelia!

Visiting Morelia's Cultural Center is one of the best things to do in Morelia.
Morelia is a delightful city to visit in Mexico

Sunday mornings are car-free on Morelia’s major downtown street.

And this Mexican city is a riot of cheerful noise and color.

Things to do in Morelia? Enjoy the Sunday festivities
Sunday morning? Time to play in the street

Unlike other colonial Mexican cities and towns we’ve visited – like San Miguel de Allende – Morelia is quite non-touristy.

But you’ll find there are lots of fascinating things to do in Morelia, particularly in its historic heart.

Like enjoying these Sunday morning festivities…

Things to do in Morelia

There are many authentic things to do in Morelia, Mexico.

Is Morelia worth visiting?

The capital of Michoacan state, Morelia has a population of about 600,000 in the city proper.

The downtown center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, brimming with more than 200 colonial buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

Cool hotels and restaurants? Morelia has them. Great colonial attractions? You bet. Interesting tours? How about a Monarch butterfly tour in the nearby Sierre Madre Mountains?

Yes, Morelia is an attractive city to visit in Mexico.

Things to do in Morelia
Under the tourist radar, Morelia is one of the best cities in Mexico to visit (in our view)

In a world where so many popular tourist destinations are crowded (hello Venice!), we especially love that Morelia isn’t over-run with tourists.

Morelia feels authentic and real.

There’s a sense of discovery. You feel that your experiences are original.

(And, sorry if this post ends up taking away some of the surprise!)

Travel tip

If you’re planning a beach holiday in Zihuatanejo or Ixtapa, why not tack on a visit to Morelia? It’s only a 4-hour bus ride away.

And you can take a luxury bus to Morelia, so you get there in comfort – really!

Recommend reading: The first-class Mexico bus service is like flying business class

7 Best things to do in Morelia

Preamble out of the way, let’s go check out the best activities and attractions in Morelia…

1) Admire the Morelia Cathedral

It took 84 years to build the magnificent Morelia Cathedral.
It took 84 years to build the magnificent Morelia Cathedral

Built between 1660 and 1744, the Baroque-style Morelia Cathedral is stunning. Made from pink stone, it sprouts twin pink spires that soar 200 feet into the sky.

Many think it’s Mexico’s most beautiful cathedral.

Inside, it features a monumental organ, imported from Germany. With 4,600 flutes or pipes, it was the largest organ in the Western Hemisphere when installed in 1905.

Visiting the cathedral is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Morelia.
Visiting the cathedral is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Morelia

The cathedral is especially exquisite when illuminated at night.

And Saturday nights are particularly special – because that’s when a free “sound and light” show is held in front of the cathedral.

Morelia Cathedral lit up at night
Isn’t the Morelia cathedral magical all lit up at night?

To watch the show, we’re seated at our hotel’s restaurant on the outdoor colonnaded walkway, right in front of the cathedral.

A bright TV-like display of images has been projected onto the cathedral for at least 30 minutes now. The street in front has been closed to traffic, and both the street and plaza are packed with people.

The excitement is palpable as the crowd waits for the show to start.

Everyone in town, it seems, is here – families with small children licking ice-creams, kissing couples, groups of laughing young people, students – all awaiting the show.

We had thought the show might involve a depiction of Mexican or Morelian history, with dialogue and images, something like the sound and light shows we enjoyed at the Pyramids and Karnak Temple in Egypt.

But when it starts, it turns out to be an extraordinary spectacle of fireworks, accompanied by loud stirring music.

Some fireworks shoot straight up in front of the cathedral. Some whoosh out from pipes installed on the outside of the cathedral walls and burst into dazzling stars high above our heads.

All too soon though, it’s over.

And we return to our pizza and wine – wishing we could see a repeat performance – as the crowd slowly dissipates.

A wedding party gathers in front of the Morelia Cathedral.
We watch this wedding party gather by the Cathedral one afternoon – don’t your love the pink convertible?

Morelia Cathedral information

Hours: Daily from 6 am to 9:00 pm

2) Walk to the Morelia Aqueduct

Built between 1785 and 1788, the aqueduct (with its 253 arches) is one of the top attractions in Morelia.
Built between 1785 and 1788, the aqueduct (with its 253 arches) is one of the top attractions in Morelia

Walk east from the cathedral and, a mile later, you reach the Morelia Aqueduct.

Built in the late 18th century, the Roman-style aqueduct was used to supply water for the colonial town’s fountains and convents. An icon in the city, the aqueduct’s 253 arches stretch for over a mile.

When lit up at night, the arches are a particularly gorgeous sight.

We walk along a tree-lined pedestrian promenade running along one side of the aqueduct.

A tea shop playing classical music makes us pause to listen. We also admire the statue of Independence leader Jose Morelos on horseback and peek into the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guadalupe, where the interior is covered inside with gold leaf.

Then we turn around and head back into the city…

Statue of Mexican Independence leader Jose Morelos on horseback in Morelia, Mexico
Statue of Mexican Independence leader Jose Morelos on horseback

3) Indulge your sweet tooth at the Morelia candy market

Do you love sweets? Then you’ll be in sugar heaven – Morelia is known as a candy mecca in Mexico.

The city’s high altitude and subtropical weather is ideal for growing the mangoes, coconuts, sugar cane and other ingredients used to make the sweet treats.

There’s a whole market devoted to sweets – the Mercado de Dulces.

You'll find interesting candy at Mercado de Dulces (Morelia's famous candy market).
You’ll find interesting candy at Mercado de Dulces (Morelia’s famous candy market)

Housed in a former Jesuit college, the market consists of a long alley stuffed with stalls, displaying an extraordinary variety of concoctions guaranteed to give you a major sugar high.

Packaged chocolate bars or Western-style candies? No. Think instead balls of sugary tamarind, guava paste, haystack-shaped toasted coconut (made with condensed milk) and crystallized fruits.

Rompope (bottled eggnog liqueur) is another popular item for sale here.

There's not just candy at Morelia's Candy Market; you can buy souvenirs and crafts too.
Not just candy at the market; you can buy souvenirs and crafts too

Bonus: Many other stalls on side-alleys sell crafts, such as beautiful leather belts, sandals, guitars, copper pots and chess boards with carved wood indigenous figures.

4) Eat at Lu Cochina

Breakfast, lunch or dinner - it's all good at Lu Cochina in Morelia.
Breakfast, lunch or dinner – it’s all good at Lu (Credit: Lu Cochina)

Where to eat in Morelia – apart from the candy market? We know just the place.

Lu Cochina is one of the best restaurants in Morelia (see reviews on TripAdvisor).

Lu serves creative regional specialties from Michoacan state.

Try the hibiscus salad if it’s on the menu. With lettuce, cucumber, toasted peanuts, blackberries, Cortina cheese and fresh lime (with hibiscus dressing), it’s delicious.

Other recommended dishes include the black bean soup, fresh trout and stuffed chili peppers.

And to go with your food?

How about a hand-crafted blue corn beer? Or try the basil margaritas (yummy, but the glasses are really small, so you’ll need at least two).

Maybe an artisanal cocktail made with mezcal? (Credit: Lu Cochina)

Lu Restaurant

Breakfast: Daily from 7:30 am to 1:00 pm

Lunch and dinner: Sunday to Thursday from 1:00 to 10:00 pm (Friday and Saturday, open until 11:00 pm)

More information: See the restaurant’s website

5) See the Centro Cultural Clavijero

The Clavijero Cultural Center in Morelia exhibits well-curated displays of Mexican fine art
The Clavijero Cultural Center exhibits well-curated displays of Mexican fine art (Credit: Centro Cultural Clavijero)

Housed in what was a Jesuit monastery and college (in the 17th and 18th centuries), the Centro Cultural Clavijero is a cultural center and art museum showcasing contemporary art and photography.

The pink stone arches in the central courtyard of the two-storey building are impressive to see – as are the eight exhibition halls.

One room has a permanent exhibition of pictorial works, which includes art by Diego Rivera, Mexico’s famous muralist.

Visiting the Clavijero Cultural Center is one of  the top things to do in Morelia
Visiting the Clavijero Cultural Center is one of the top things to do in Morelia (Credit: Centro Cultural Clavijero)

Clavijero Cultural Center

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm

More information: See the museum’s website

Interested in the Mexican muralists? Then you must visit Orozco’s fiery murals in Guadalajara

6) Witness the Monarch butterfly migration

Visiting Morelia between December and March?

Then you must do a day trip to the neighboring Sierra Madre mountains to witness the amazing sight of thousands of Monarch butterflies wintering in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

Monarch butterflies migrate in winter to Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains.
Monarch butterflies migrate in winter to Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains

Monarch butterflies spend summers in the United States and Canada.

But when the weather turns colder, they fly up to 3,000 miles south to Mexico – to this natural protected area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The story of the migration of the Monarch butterflies is truly remarkable.

A special “Methuselah” generation even lives longer than other generations so these butterflies can survive the perilous journey.

Monarch butterflies are easily recognized by their distinctive orange and black markings.
Monarch butterflies are easily recognized by their distinctive orange and black markings

We visit the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary, one of four sanctuaries open to visitors in the world-famous Monarch butterfly reserve.

After riding caballitos (small horses) up to the fir trees where the butterflies have gathered, we see them.

You can hike up to the Sierra Chincua butterfly sanctuary - or ride a horse (fun!)
You can hike up to the Sierra Chincua butterfly sanctuary – or ride a horse (more fun!)

The butterflies are everywhere – swirling about our faces, alighting on bushes, quivering in the sunshine on nectar-laden lupines.

Thousands upon thousands of delicate orange-and-black Monarchs fill our view.

When clouds scuttle overhead, we even hear the sussuring of the butterfly wings, like soft rain falling, as the Monarchs flutter to the trees to huddle in clumps.

How wonderful! We're touched by butterfly wings...
How wonderful! We’re touched by butterfly wings…

It’s quite magical.

And a once-in-a-lifetime experience we won’t easily forget…

Monarch butterflies, Mexico: Tours

When to visit: The best months to visit the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries are December through March.

Day trip: We booked a private day tour from Morelia.

Week-long butterfly tours: The company also offers 7-day, small group tours focusing on the Monarch butterfly winter sanctuaries in Michoacan.

7) Tour the Museo Regional Michoacano

The Regional Museum of Michoacan
The Regional Museum of Michoacan (Credit: Michoacan Travel/Visit Mexico)

Dating back to 1886, the Museo Regional Michoacana (Regional Museum of Michoacan) is one of the oldest museums in Mexico.

It occupies an 18th century Baroque palace, and you can see some eye-catching murals by Alfredo Zalce (one of Diego Rivera’s contemporaries) on the stairway.

Inside, the museum displays hand-crafted historical furniture, enormous vases, colonial art and relics, pottery and so on.

Unfortunately, the information explaining the artifacts is only in Spanish.

Regional Museum of Michoacan

Hours: Daily (except Monday) from 9 am to 5 pm

Cost: 50 pesos (about $2.50 USD)

Where to stay in Morelia

Charm? 5-star luxury? Boutique vibe? Yes, at Cantera Diez Hotel, Morelia
Charm? 5-star luxury? Boutique vibe? Yes, at Cantera Diez Hotel, Morelia

We bunk down at the 5-star Cantera Diez (or Cantera 10).

One of the best hotels in Morelia, Cantera Diez is an architectural wonder. The building is over 300 years old, but the inside has been totally renovated in contemporary style.

It also has perhaps the best location in Morelia – smack dab in front of the Morelia Cathedral.

There are 15 designer rooms and suites.

Cantera Diez room
Cantera Diez is a great boutique hotel in Morelia (Credit: Hotel Boutique Cantera Diez)

Our junior suite has polished dark wood floors, a soaring wood-beamed ceiling, golden onyx lamps, king-size bed and a beaten silver bathtub on a raised upper level. One wall is exposed pink stone.

Complimentary tea, coffee and cookies are available in the dramatic atrium lounge in the mornings.

Cantera 10 Boutique Hotel, Morelia

Check rates and availability here

Best time to visit Morelia

Temperatures in Morelia don’t change all that much throughout the year.

Having said that, the hottest months are May to June (highs often reach the 90s F in May). The weather is humid too, and you can expect more rain in summer.

The best time to visit Morelia is when it’s a little cooler – from December to February. It’s also less muggy (so more comfortable) in winter.

We found the weather in Morelia perfect in January
We found the weather in Morelia perfect in January

Is Morelia safe to visit?

The state of Michoacan has a reputation for drug violence.

Most of the attacks are between drug cartels, or between criminal groups and the police or government officials. (No doubt, this is one reason international tourists aren’t flocking to Michoacan’s capital.)

Morelia, however, has not been hit by this violence. While the Canadian government safety advisory for Mexico warns against travel to Michoacan, it excludes the city of Morelia from its warning.

Americans tend to be more cautious traveling to Mexico than Canadians. And this is reflected in the U.S. government advisory, which says “do not travel” to Michoacan. But it goes on to advise that U.S. government officials may travel to Morelia (by plane or via certain highways).

So, is Morelia safe?

Over the years, we’ve visited many parts of Mexico (e.g., Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas) when there have been travel warnings.

We’ve never yet felt unsafe (no more unsafe than we would if visiting any foreign country).

During our Morelia visit, we notice a light military police presence – jeeps with armed personnel occasionally drive down the streets. But it gives us no cause for alarm.

We find the people warm, friendly and helpful (and they patiently bear with us as we struggle to speak limited Spanish).

Right now, Morelia is a delightful city to visit!

Recommended reading: Our Ultimate Mexico Travel Guide is packed with travel information on beautiful colonial cities you’ll want to visit, how to see Mexico by 1st class bus, Mexican beach resorts and more!

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Authentic Things to Do in Morelia

Photo credits: 1, 8 to 12, 17 to 20, 22 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

FRANCISCO RAMIREZ

Saturday 19th of March 2016

OUR BEAUTILFUL CITY OF MORELIA HAS MANY THINGS TO OFFER!

Rahman

Saturday 24th of January 2015

Your explanation of Morelia has caught my attention. It's great to have such a well-known place with several tourists in it while it's not a tourist place at all. Can you please explain how they've managed to keep it that way? Usually, places frequently visited by tourists become very much spoiled. I'm sure there must be a reason for that.

Janice and George

Saturday 24th of January 2015

Mexican tourists will visit Morelia. But Morelia isn't on the radar for most North Americans (there have been safety concerns about the state of Michoacán, where Morelia is located). So the city just doesn't feel very "touristy," compared to say, San Miguel de Allende, another of Mexico's colonial cities, which we've also written about.

Anita

Thursday 25th of December 2014

I'd heard of Morelia and its aqueduct and, after reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, "Flight Behavior," I would love to visit the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve which sounds magical. A visit to this area is definitely on our "must see/must do" list!

Janice and George

Friday 26th of December 2014

We certainly enjoyed Morelia and especially our visit to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Morelia is only a 4- to 5-hour first-class bus ride from Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, so you can easily combine a beach holiday with cultural city attractions.

Kay Dougherty

Wednesday 24th of December 2014

I never heard of Morelia before - thanks for telling me about it! I'd love to see the butterflies and am a sucker for UNESCO World Heritage sites. I'm going to be in Mexico next July for a wedding and may see if I can somehow work Morelia into the itinerary. Thanks for the scoop!

Janice and George

Thursday 25th of December 2014

Mexico has several colonial cities that are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites - San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato come to mind. We worked our way down from Guadalajara to Guanajuato, San Miguel, Morelia, ending up in Zihuatanejo. Next time, we'd like to visit Zacatecas and Oaxaca.

Amy Lynne Hayes

Tuesday 23rd of December 2014

I have yet to go to Mexico! I confess that I don't know much about it, other than the hot destinations that everyone knows... Cancún, Cabo, etc. Now that I am back in the States on a more permanent basis I'll have to start exploring places a bit closer to home! San Miguel de Allende looked so charming, and I do always love seeing places a bit off the beaten tourist track. :)