Paricutín: the Youngest Volcano in the world

June 21, 2015

I hadn’t heard of Paricutín before and I was already in Guanajuato, further east than I would be if I were going to go there. But I was reading an article about the 7 modern natural wonders of the world, and one of them just happened to be in the next state over in Michoacán. Hmmmm. Karen, my Mexican friend had already told me not to go to Michoacán because of the drug war violence. But I mean… I was so close, you know? It’s the next state over! It’s one of the 7 modern natural wonders of the world (according to some person somewhere)! I asked a few more of my Mexican friends what they thought. I mostly heard, “Morelia is okay to travel to, but I wouldn’t go to Uruapan.” I looked at a map and Paricutín is just outside Uruapan. Sweet.

So I talked with Ángeles, a girl I met in Guadalajara, and she offered to join me. Safety in numbers!

It just so happened that the day we got to Morelia there was a shootout in Michoacán between a cartel and the police, killing 43. Hmmmm. But whatever. This was a border city that was just as close to Guadalajara as it was to Uruapan. I didn’t give it much thought.

Paricutín is the youngest volcano in the world. In 1943 the ground just started rising up on this farmer’s land. The volcano was active for 9 years and covered two towns in lava. The only thing that you can see of one of the towns is the top of a church that peeks out over the lava.

From Uruapan, you have to take a bus for about 75 - 90 minutes until you get to Angahuan, an indigenous town where they speak Purépecha as the native language, and some people speak Spanish as a second language. In order to get to the volcano you have to go by horse. Ángeles and I rented horses and a guide and off we went. My horse’s name was Cántaro, which means a jar made from mud, Ángeles thought probably because he was brown. Anyway, Cántaro was a dick. He did not like to listen to what I wanted to do, and loved running. I would pull on the breaks so hard to get him to slow down, and he was like, “hahaha, I do what I want.” Ángeles on the other hand, got Tamarindo, a smaller horse that seemed super pleasant. Whatever!

Paricutín, Mexico - Horse and Fruit
Paricutín, Mexico - Horse and Fruit

The way to the volcano took about two and a half hours. There was fruit everywhere! Avocados, apples, all kinds of berries and fruits that I didn’t recognize. The berries in this picture were plentiful. You could grab a whole tree limb with hundreds of these, and they were so good! And the blackberries we found were to die for. Here’s the view of the mountain from the top of Cántaro, which was a bit hard to take while he wanted to run.

Paricutín, Mexico - The Volcano
Paricutín, Mexico - The Volcano

And here’s the view of the hole from the top:

Paricutín, Mexico - The Volcano
Paricutín, Mexico - The Volcano

The volcano is no longer active, but there are still hot spots where smoke is rising out of the ground. It was super cool to see.

The coolest part of the day, though, was the descent. The way up is a pretty steep hike, but the way down goes down one of the steepest sides where there’s a lane of soft, sand-like ash. And basically you just slide down. It. Was. Awesome. Here’s a video of us running down the volcano:

I wanted to hike back up the volcano just to come down again! So much fun.

Paricutín, Mexico - The Volcano Descent
Paricutín, Mexico - The Volcano Descent

After descending the volcano we mounted our horses again and rode off to the buried town. There were old women making quesadillas all over the place and they all wanted to give us free samples to entice us to come to their place.

Paricutín, Mexico - Cathedral
Paricutín, Mexico - Cathedral

The church that you can still see is San Juan Parangaricutiro Church. There was a window sticking out of the lava where you could enter into a room and out another window on the other side.

Paricutín, Mexico - Church
Paricutín, Mexico - Church

After crawling around the lava for awhile we went back and helped ourselves to the quesadillas and beer. It was well-deserved after five hours on a wooden saddle. We then road the last 30 minutes or so back to Angahuan and said goodbye to Cántaro and Tamarindo.

Uruapan

Uruapan isn’t really a tourist city. Nobody actually goes there. In fact, it was just our launching pad for Paricutín, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone there. But still, it wasn’t a bad place to spend a couple of nights. While we were here there was some kind of concert going on with girls singing and dancing. Not to be mean, but it was hilariously bad. The plaza was pretty neat though (and they had a train pulled by a lawn mower!):

Uruapan, Mexico - Plaza
Uruapan, Mexico - Plaza

Morelia

Morelia, likewise, isn’t a frequent tourist spot. It’s the biggest city in Michoacán and I never felt unsafe in any way. If Michoacán didn’t have such a bad reputation I would’ve never known.

Morelia, Mexico - Aquaduct
Morelia, Mexico - Aquaduct

I’m a sucker for aquaducts. They remind me of playing games like Caesar when I was a kid, ha.

There was one really cool alley here called Callejon del Romance. All along the alley were plaques on the walls written in really strange print describing weird stories. At first I thought it was supposed to be a romantic alley. But I think it meant Romance as in “of Rome.” The Spanish was a bit over my head for several of the plaques though. I’m not even sure Ángeles understood it all. It was really cool though.

Morelia, Mexico - Callejon del Romance
Morelia, Mexico - Callejon del Romance

We didn’t end up finding much night life… but it’s a beautiful place at night.

Morelia, Mexico - At Night
Morelia, Mexico - At Night

Cuitzeo

One day we took a road trip to a nearby Pueblo Mágico called Cuitzeo. This was such a bizarre trip. Pueblo Mágicos in Mexico are designated for being a “magical experience” for a variety of reasons, maybe because they’re beautiful, historic, cultural, have great food, or anything else. Cuitzeo is nestled into a lake, and so we thought it would have some kind of beach, or dock, or plaza overlooking the lake. Except, it turned out that it didn’t. We walked out to the lake and there was nothing there. Pretty disappointing. I’ve been to quite a few Pueblo Mágicos now and I’m usually really impressed. This one was a puzzling letdown.

Cuitzeo, Mexico
Cuitzeo, Mexico

To go or to not go

So if you’re wondering if you should brave the “dangerous” Michoacán state, I would say it’s worth it. Paricutín was one of the highlights of my time in Mexico. Enjoy!

Penned on June 21, 2015 by Kevin Sweet.

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