Trip Log: Atlixco and Cholula

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Puebla Trip part 3

Thursday: Atlixco and Cholula
After an outstanding breakfast at Casita de Barro we leisurely headed out for a 30 minute drive to Atlixco, “city of the flowers.” That slogan does not exaggerate! If you go to Puebla, I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful small town. Surrounded by fields of red and gold flowers, the town plaza was a feast for this eyes with every kind of flower you could imagine. Up top of the hill there is a lookout and church with a panorama of the entire area. I loved watching the farmers work the fields. Not only did we see lots of horse- and donkey-drawn plows, we saw hand plowing also! Here is where I finally saw the fields of cempasúchil I was longing for. Also in season were huge fields of red cockscomb. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

From Atlixco we headed to Cholula for the final days of our trip. Here we stayed in a gorgeously remodeled hacienda that is now a boutique hotel, La Quinta Luna. I had reserved this hotel for a couple of reasons. First, not knowing how “rustic” the cabin at Casita de Barro might be, I wanted to end our trip on a high note. And two, another photographer that I follow online had recommended it as having a gorgeous view of both the volcanoes and the famous hilltop church, Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies. This hotel is pricier than what I normally pay. During our stay it was cloudy and the volcanoes never showed themselves. The hilltop shrine can be seen from anywhere in the city. So, the view we got was not worth the price. Danny and I would stay here again in a minute, however, as it was such a gorgeous and luxurious place. We had two queen beds in a huge room with super high ceilings, a separate bathroom, dining, sitting room and kitchen. And the room overlooked an indoor courtyard. The hotel has an incredible library and a rooftop sitting area. It was a terrific way to end our trip.

The big draw in Cholula, in addition to lots of gorgeous churches, is the largest pyramid by volume in the world, atop which sits Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. The climb is steep and the view spectacular. Danny and I were also very pleasantly surprised at what a terrific town it is for young people: very hip restaurants, bars and clubs, and a whole happening section of the city. It would seem to be a young adult’s dream. There is one area called Container City, with a bunch of bars and restaurants housed in shipping containers. Two other places I absolutely want to recommend to you. One is Recaudo, an organic/vegan restaurant with food and drink that is seasonal and beyond delicious! The second is a handmade chocolate shop by the name of Ki Xhokola. You do NOT want to miss it! In Cholula we bought several types of mole pastes to bring home; can’t wait!

I of course had to go out at night in Cholula to take some photos as well.

This is the final entry in the Puebla trip log; I trust you enjoyed it and, more importantly, will thoroughly enjoy your trip when you make it!

Trip Log: The Volcanoes

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Wednesday: Paso de Cortés, San Nicolás de los Ranchos and San Jerónimo Tecuanipán
We drove out of Puebla in the very early morning so we could catch volcano views at sunrise, when it’s normally the clearest. On our way we passed Cholula and a number of churches on hilltops which were all beautifully lit in the pre-dawn darkness. Why can we not light Mazatlán’s cathedral like that?

I made Danny stop in the middle of a field just before dawn, as the silhouettes of Popo and Itze came into view. Oh did we enjoy ourselves in that early morning air! The climate was a welcome change from Mazatlán’s heat and humidity. We had clear views to all three volcanoes: Popocatéptl, Iztaccihuatl, and Malinche. It was glorious. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

After sunrise we headed closer to the volcanoes. Paso de Cortés is said to be the road that Cortez took. It goes right between the two volcanoes, into the national park.And oh my gosh are you CLOSE to those volcanoes! I was very happy it didn’t erupt while we were right there. If we’d had more time we could have gone hiking and camping, but we needed to get back to Mazatlán on Friday so we could drive to Cosalá for a big trail run.

Danny and I spent several hours on this dirt road, getting out to hike around, breathe the fresh air and enjoy the views. Wildflowers and butterflies were everywhere! They were alpine flowers and pines, and greatly reminded me of life in Colorado. I would recommend a four-wheel drive if you are planning to come here. Our little four cylinder rental car did fine thanks to Danny’s able driving, but luckily it wasn’t raining.

Coming back down from our steep mountain climb, we stopped in San Nicolás de los Ranchos, a small town surrounded by fields with a lovely church in the center of town. We enjoyed brunch in the market in front of the church, and then accompanied the bell ringer up to the roof of the church to enjoy his prowess and take in the views. By this time the view had clouded over, as we warned is normal. San Nicolás is a darling little town with friendly people and loads of produce.

I had to take a video of the two bell ringers; they were so very charming!

In the afternoon we headed to our next lodging place: Casita de Barro in San Jerónimo Tecuanipán. OMG! If you are committed to sustainable living, if you want to support people who in turn support their local community, if you just want to meet two incredibly interesting people, you must stay here! Ina and Manuel have done and are doing amazing things here. The cabin is GORGEOUS—a really luxurious tree house. Their home is adobe, surrounded by gardens. They have running water, killer views and a delectable homemade organic breakfast; the only small downside is that the toilet is outside. Below is a video interview with Manuel and Ina, the owners of Casita de Barro. I recommend you view the video on a phone or tablet so you can turn it sideways. Sorry about that!

It rained in the afternoon, so Danny and I took advantage of the rest to read and watch a movie. We went into town for more cemitas for dinner; gotta love them! At one point it cleared up and a double rainbow came out. About 5:00 pm local kids showed up for their free after-school classes in Casita de Barro’s school room. Hearing their joyous laughter was really delightful.

I was pretty sure that the cloudy, stormy weather would continue. It seemed to rain all night. We’d already been gifted with THREE gorgeous sunrises and two beautiful sunsets, surely it would be greedy of me to hope for a fourth. But, no! I opened my eyes at 4:00 am, I’m sure because Popo was calling to me. He was out! His silhouette was clear! The Milky Way was shining, too! So I put my sweatshirt on over my night gown, put on my boots, loaded up my camera and tripod and went on a hike. Oh did I have fun! Casita de Barro’s dogs accompanied me as I tramped through the field to get the best frame for my shots. I loved how the dogs’ eyes glowed blue, green and white in the light of my headlamp.

As the sun rose, I took a time-lapse of the sunrise over Popocatéptl. I’m not sharing it with you here, however, because it wasn’t the most spectacular sunrise. The photos do the moment better justice.

To read the third and final installment of this Trip Log (Atlixco and Cholula) click here.

Trip Log: Puebla

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I have long been in love with Don Goyo; the name of my husband, Greg, but also the nickname of Popocatéptl, México’s beloved and active volcano. For years I have been wanting to get close to take some special photos, and that desire has grown this year as the volcano has been so very active.

The trouble is that, as with most any volcano, clouds often shroud the view. Add to that the smog and heat haze from the nearby cities of Puebla and Cholula, and my research showed me that I would have to be very lucky to have clear weather. I talked with a few photographer friends, I researched photo locations on the internet… I wanted to be ready for the next eruption.

Then one of my god daughters invited her mother and me to Mexico City, to present at her university. What fortuitous timing! The trip would be in the fall, during cempasúchil (marigold) season, just before Day of the Dead. I had seen those killer shots of the orange flower fields in the foreground with Popo as the focal point, and I was eager to attempt my own version.

Fortunately also, my son is living with us for a few months before he goes on to his next adventure. He agreed to join me on the trip. I made the lodging arrangements; the young chef and bartender was in charge of food and drink. We hit the ball out of the park on both counts, and the weather joyously cooperated with us as well. If you are planning a trip to Puebla, I trust this post might help you. If not, I trust you’ll at least enjoy some of the photos from the journey.

Monday and Tuesday: Puebla
I met Danny at the Mexico City airport, where he was flying in from Mazatlán. There we rented a car for the week. The easy and very scenic drive to Puebla took about an hour and 45 minutes. It was a bit challenging to get out of the airport and onto the correct highway, but Google Maps on our phone and the instructions from the car rental helped a lot. There are many affordable buses that take you this route as well, leaving from within Mexico City itself or from the airport. We wanted the car so we could drive out through the countryside to take photos. If that’s not important to you, the bus would be easier and probably cheaper (the road has tolls).

The drive to Puebla from Mexico takes you north of Popocatépetl and his princess volcano, Izteccihuatl. You pass loads of gorgeous churches on hilltops—that seems to be a thing in the state of Puebla—and you also see Malinche volcano to the northeast of Puebla City. It was an incredibly clear day; as I took the Uber to the airport to meet Danny, we could see all three volcanoes clearly from Mexico City, something I was assured was very lucky indeed.

Arriving in Puebla we checked into our hotel. I had chosen the NH Hotel Centro Histórico for two reasons: it was in the middle of the historic center, and it appeared to be one of the taller hotels in the area, so I figured we might get a good view. But first, we were hungry! And very much in the mood for some mole poblano!

Luckily for us, a few doors away is Fonda La Mexicana, with terrific ambience, delicious food and excellent service at very affordable prices. Danny had chicken mole, I had enchiladas with three different moles, and we also enjoyed some really interesting and tasty cocktails. I was very much liking Puebla already! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

After comida we walked the two blocks down to the zócalo, toured the cathedral, and admired the historic center’s architecture. Feeling lazy (Danny had a cold, I’d gotten sick in Mexico City), we opted for one of those bus tours of the city and very much enjoyed it. The views from up top, in the “zone of the forts,” are incredible day or night! Puebla, of course, is where the Cinco de Mayo battle was fought in 1862 (Battle of Puebla in Spanish), with General Zaragoza defeating the French.

The special in nearly every restaurant for Day of the Dead was huaxmole de espinazos or mole de caderas—a very typical seasonal dish of the Mixteca Poblana that is a stew of goat meat or pig spinal cord and green bean-like legumes (huajes). We fell in love with cemitas, the local style of torta sandwich; you absolutely MUST try them, any time of day! Another meal worth mentioning was that in El Mural de los Poblanos, where chiles en nogada were served for the very first time on August 2, 1821. Danny and I found it a bit too touristy/kitschy for our taste, but the food was good (pricey).

We then had plenty of time for our sunset photo session of the volcanoes. The receptionist of the hotel sadly had told us that none of the rooms were high enough to have a view of the volcano, but she gave us one facing the San Agustín Church. What an incredibly fortuitous surprise! I had not realized we would be right across the street from this gorgeous temple with its Byzantine style dome, built from 1555 to 1612. Danny and I walked up to the rooftop pool and conference room area. Bingo! Killer views of the volcanoes! As an added bonus, Templo San Agustin’s dome and tower made an excellent foreground. The sunset was amazing, with the sun’s rays emanating out in a way that almost looked surreal.

While Danny rested up, I headed out with my camera after dark to take some night shots of historic downtown Puebla. I learned that they also do night bus tours (I wasn’t interested, but the man sure did hit on me!)

We woke up before sunrise the next morning, and were again regaled with some incredible views from atop the hotel; this time the volcanoes glowed purple. The city at night also showed very nicely.

In Puebla we absolutely loved visiting the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the oldest library in the Americas (25 pesos includes a free guided tour): a UNESCO “Memory of the World” and Mexican National Historic Landmark.

I was fascinated by the tour of a talavera workshop, as I love the art of handmade pottery. The one I visited was called Uriarte Talavera, and a tour through their facilities is something I’d highly recommend (I think it cost 50 pesos). The guide took us through every step of the process, from mixing the clays to making the pieces, drying and firing, to stenciling, painting, glazing and firing again. It was fascinating, as you can tell from the photos. There are also a museum and showroom on site.

I took two short videos. One explains how the workers tell if a piece is “good” or if it was damaged in the kiln. Here’s a job I think I could actually handle!

The other explains the information that is hand-painted on the back of every piece of talavera made in the workshop.

There is a whole lot to see and do in Puebla, including some incredible cooking schools and classes. A photographer friend of mine took us back up to the fort area to see sunset and the night view the second night we were in town. I had been so focused on Popo and Izta volcanoes that before we went I had not realized how gorgeous La Malinche would be from the city. There is an African Safari park nearby, and tours of some beautiful villas in the small towns of the Puebla area. Our two and a half day visit felt quite short.

To read about the next portion of this trip click here.

 

 

Tzintzuntzan: One of Mexico’s Most Traditional Holy Week Celebrations

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We love what is unique to a place—that which is different from the ordinary—and the incredibly pious, faith-filled, self-mutilating Holy Week traditions of Tzintzuntzan in Michoacán are some of the most remarkable in Mexico.

Tzintzuntzan is a Pueblo Mágico just north of Patzcuaro and south of Quiroga on the lake. Its name means “place of the hummingbirds” in Tarasco and P’urhépecha, and was pronounced “Huitzitzilan” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. It is the ancient capital of the P’urhépecha and the first capital of Michoacán—the heart of Tarasco. We absolutely loved getting to know a bit about these incredible people! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

There is a horrible and also encouraging history of cross-cultural impact here. The Spanish conquistador Nuño de Guzmán burned alive P’urhépecha chieftain Tangaxuan II, and then largely dismantled Tzintzuntzan in order to use the stones for the Fransiscan monastery of Santa Ana, modern-day Templo de San Francisco. Fortunately, Don Vasco de Quiroga followed in 1530, a Spanish bishop wise enough to teach each pueblo around the lake a handicraft—lacquerware, copper smithing, wood and rock carving, pottery, basketry, embroidery, furniture making… The P’urhépecha have kept alive and perfected these crafts, and that handiwork supports them to this day, to the delight of artisan-lovers worldwide. It’s difficult to visit this area and not leave with a car-full of artesanía, as we do; it’s all just so gorgeous.

Ask anyone in a small village in the lake region who are the richest people in town, and they will usually say, “the artisans.” One local man told us a story about a “junior,” a wealthy young man from the DF, who contemptuously called a local woman “India.” He said she stood tall, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “Look what you are wearing: mass-produced blue jeans and a shirt. My handmade apron is a piece of art worth 6000 pesos. My skirt is handcrafted and worth 4000. My blouse 2000. My earrings are hand-forged silver worth 5000. These works of art connect me to my ancestors, my heritage and my community.”

Vasco de Quiroga was bishop of the lake region. Frustrated that the P’urhépecha would not come to mass in Tzintzuntzan, he ordered construction of a chapel in each of the town’s twelve barrios. He commissioned artists to make a crucifix or Cristo for each chapel. They are made from pasta de caña, or cane paste. These 16th Century Cristos, all twelve of them, still exist, lovingly cared for by descendants of the same families for generations in each barrio. The Cristos are on display for community members throughout the year, but on Holy Thursday and Good Friday each year they take on a more public role.

Wednesday and Thursday of Holy Week, the espias, or Roman Spies (clad in red hoods), set out looking for Christ, to arrest him. On Thursday find him they do, in twelve different homes around town. At each home, they are given food and drink by barrio members. All but two of the Cristos have been restored, and only one of them has dark skin—the Cristo in the Barrio de Santa Ana.

Holy Thursday is a day of preparation in Tzintzuntzan. Men clean grilletes, or shackles, for the Penitentes to wear the following day. They make and sell disciplinas: knotted lashes or whips covered in nails. They also string lights and put up tents.

Women put out candles and flowers, and cook for all of the others who are helping; this is most definitely a community-wide event. Every time you look around, an altar has appeared or been cleared, a tent has been put up or removed.

The patron saint of the town, El Señor del Santo Entierro, whose extremities are believed to grow, is usually seen in a glass showcase. During Holy Week, however, He lies in a bed, and pilgrims seek His blessing. A crown is held over each pilgrim’s head, in exchange for a small donation.

The normal Lavatoria de los Pies/washing of the feet Mass is said in the old Santa Ana Monastery, now the church in the parroquia complex. Here it is one of the most beautiful that I have witnessed in my 56 years. I noticed several P’urhépecha influences:

  1. A tall man dressed in a white dress and conical hat with peacock feathers, who road to Mass on a horse, processed into the church after the initial opening, and sat there throughout Mass. He is called “El Centinel.” According to the man in charge, he is based on P’urhépecha tradition. He represents the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with his spear to verify his death, a blind soldier who then regained his sight. In Tzintzuntzan after Mass a man blew a romanesque horn/bugle while the Sentinel processed out, and the Sentinel sat waiting for Jesus throughout the night outside the church.
  2. The incense burner was native-made, and really reminded me of the Aztec purification ceremonies we witness to this day. It was a palpable connection between indigenous history and modern liturgy.

Mass is followed by a reenactment of The Last Supper and Judas’ fateful kiss that led to Jesus’ arrest, a full-blown dramatic stage production with costumes and amplified sound, with the crowd organized by the red and white-clad espias.

Good Friday is the most remarkable in Tzintzuntzan, at least for me. In the morning, about 40 barefooted men in white hoods put on the grilletes (shackles) to shuffle around the Olive Garden, with the help of two Cyrenes each, collecting alms from the pilgrims who are gathered there. The shackles mean these men, called Penitentes, have to jump up and down stairs and stumble over the cobblestones, gaining blisters and bloody scrapes in the process.

In the afternoon, eleven of the twelve 400-year old Cristos (one is too delicate to transport) are relocated—a lengthy and very delicate process—to the “atrium” of the  Templo de San Francisco complex, an open-air park where olive trees planted by Don Vasco de Quiroga grow to this day. The Cristos are lined up from largest to smallest.

There is a reenactment of the Via Crucis or Stations of the Cross, which in Tzintzuntzan is called La Judea.  Once that is finished, El Señor del Santo Entierro is crucified and processed through town with the other Cristos, to later be returned to the Temple for a vigil.

Then, about 9pm, nearly 400 Penitentes begin their own incredible journeys, continuing till Saturday morning. They are each motivated by a manda, a reason for which they commit to being Penitentes for at least three years—perhaps a relative is sick and they pray for a cure, perhaps they are in school or starting a new business or family and want to succeed. After three years, if their manda has been completed, their wish realized, they perform the corrida in reverse—a fourth year of thanks to the Señor del Santo Entierro. These men are so very committed, pious, and serious, it is a blessing to witness them. And so very many!

These evening Penitentes are different than the morning ones in a few respects. First, they are bare-chested. Second, their journeys are much more arduous. Third, they must move on their knees through the church. And fourth, they have a couple of choices to make. Their first choice regards which route will they follow. There are three routes:

  • Around the Olive Garden, which has about 14 stations (maybe half an hour)
  • Around the town, which has about 24 stations (about 50 minutes)
  • To Ojo de Agua, a nearby town, a route that includes about 30 stations (90 minutes to two hours)

The length of time each route takes depends on many factors: how long you pray at each station, whether the crowds let you through, and how fast you can move. Along each route, local families gather to watch, much as they would a parade. They sit in their chairs all night long, till 7:30 am when the Penitentes finish and come out of church to thank the community and God.

The second choice involves how you will make your journey: carrying a cross or wearing shackles. Crosses are very heavy, and cross-carriers are supposed to run at all times. They have one or two Cyrenes, friends to help them on their journey. The Cyrenes may not carry the crosses for the Penitente, but they hold the cross while the Penitente prays at each station, they wield flashlights and guide the hooded Penitente so he stays on track, and they help to part the crowds so the Penitente can get through. They can also clean the glass, rocks and splinters off the Penitente’s feet.

As if carrying the sharp-edged cross while running barefoot with a hood on, or walking hooded while in shackles, weren’t hard enough, each Penitente carries an eight-whipped disciplina full of nails. He is required to whip himself with the nailed lashes at each station, causing prodigious bleeding. Heavier or more muscled, less flexible Penitentes tended to have two bloody spots on their back, as the lashes didn’t reach the center. Teenagers and thinner men tended to have one deeper wound, in the center of their backs. Either way, I would not wish to have a manda and perform this penance anytime soon!

If you stumble or miss a station, or if your Cyrene helps you more than he should, you need to start your journey over from the beginning.

Holy Saturday includes the Easter fire or Fuego Nuevo at night, while Easter of course involves the Mass of the Resurrection.

Tzintzuntzan is about an eight hour journey from Mazatlán. We spent one night in Guadalajara, then a few nights in Uruapan, where on Palm Sunday they hold Latin America’s largest indigenous handicraft tianguis/fair. We stayed in a gorgeous cabin beside the river, and near there (in Parangaricutiro) we also hiked the ruins of a church buried in lava.

From Uruapan it is a three hour journey to Tzintzuntzan. From Tzintzuntzan, any of the villages around the lake are easily reachable, as are the islands in the lake or the state capital of Morelia.

There are cabañas in town, on the lake, or plenty of hotels in nearby Quiroga. Our AirBnB didn’t work out, and we ended up finding a hotel at the last minute. We were invited to stay in at least five different homes, so even if you travel without reservations, you should have no problems.

I like how very informal things are here; I hadn’t brought an Easter dress or shoes, and I fit in at Easter Mass just fine. Makeup isn’t that common, either. We found the people we encountered most welcoming, though perhaps more standoffish/shy at first than in Mazatlán. You definitely need to speak Spanish; many of the locals have trouble even with that, as they speak P’urhépecha natively and Spanish as a second language; English tends to be only spoken by those in Patzcuaro, who work with tourists, or who have lived north of the border. The beauty here is driving into any town and just discovering what it has to offer.

I trust you might visit and, if you do, enjoy your adventure!

Mexican Pompeii

DSC_0171©Today Greg and I visited the incredible ruins of a 17th Century church sticking up out of a lava flow! The sight reminds me of Pompeii, yet it’s just outside Uruapan, in the state of Michoacán, where we are for Semana Santa.

Paricutín Volcano completely destroyed two towns, but amazingly the original tower, altar, front and rear walls of the Templo San Juan Parangaricutiro still stand—with lava right up to them. You can see why villagers call it a miracle. Today, old San Juan Parangaricutiro is a pilgrimage site, and Greg and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know it. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

THE STORY
Construction of Templo San Juan Parangaricutiro began in 1618 under the direction of Friar Sebastián González. It was completed in 1720 but with only one tower; villagers were in the process of completing the second tower when the lava struck two centuries later.

Dionisio Pulido became the first person in history to be present during the formation of a volcano, on 20 February, 1943 when Paricutín erupted. He was working his field when he felt the earth rumble and heard a loud roar. Looking up, he saw plumes of smoke coming out of a crack in the earth and rocks flying through the air.

In the next 24 hours Paricutín would grow seven meters tall, within one week it was 50 meters high, and eventually it became an ash cone 600 meters tall. Its first lava flow began four months after the initial eruption, flowing at 20 meters per minute, and lasted four years.

Parangaricutiro is a Purepecha town six kilometers from Paricutín. The villagers hoped that Captazin Hill would block the lava from entering their town. Lázaro Cárdenas came to warn the villagers to leave, but they refused, saying that the lands they’d relocate to already had owners, and they would not be welcome. To his credit, Cárdenas camped outside Parangaricutiro for one year, ready to help evacuate the villagers, but not pushing them. By May 1944 the lava flow had traveled ten kilometers and made its way around Captazin Hill, entering Parangaricutiro from the other side. The villagers finally made the decision to leave their homes rather than die, and amidst tears and cries they departed on May 10th, led by Cárdenas and the “Señor de los Milagros” cross from their church’s altar. I am currently reading a book about Cárdenas, Tierra Roja, so this historical note was especially interesting.

The “Señor de los Milagros” cross is now in Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro church. Legend says that a traveling religious icon salesman brought three crucifixes to Parangaricutiro in the late 1500s. A villager—Nicolás Moricho—chose his favorite, but the salesman refused to let him pay for it. The visitor wouldn’t share his name, where he came from, or where he was headed, and he didn’t eat or drink anything during his stay. He left the village walking north, and when the villagers went after him he was nowhere to be found. Thus, villagers began to believe that the cross was brought to them by an angelic messenger or divine destiny. An Augustin friar heard the story and blessed the crucifix, proclaiming that it would bring miracles to the town; that is how it came to be known as the “Señor de los Milagros.” I can only imagine the hope those villagers put into that cross as they fled while lava destroyed their homes, and I can understand why they feel it’s a miracle the church survived.

Paricutín Volcano stayed active for nine years, 11 days, and 10 hours: six different lava flows eventually covered 25 square kilometers, and the main ash cone also remains. Fortunately no one was killed.

HOW TO GET THERE
We conducted extensive research online, but details are very hard to find. I therefore hope the below will help you.

From Uruapan you need to drive to Angahuan. From there you can hire a guide (150-300 pesos, plus horse rental if you want one) or you can drive to the end of the road, following the signs to the volcano. You can park in one of two ecological parks that rent cabins (of course, you could stay there, too), including Centro Turistico de Angahuan. You can also rent horses and hire guides there. From the tourism centers, it is an easy 35 minute walk on a wide dirt road to the site of the church ruins. The stroll is gorgeous; you walk amidst pine trees and cactus, and, finally, alongside fields of dried lava. Once you reach the ruins there are a few simple restaurants selling food and drink.

One of the restaurant owners is Jesús “Cachuy” Velázquez Gutiérrez, the son of two survivors of the volcano: Aniceto Velázquez Contreras and Paula Gutiérrez Aguilar. He told us you can access the ruins by car, but you have to drive way out of your way, covering about 24 km; the walk or horseback ride is much easier. He has a Facebook page for the church ruins, so you can also ask him questions before you visit.

From the restaurant area you can easily see the tower of the church amidst the lava. From that point, however, you have to climb over lava in order to get to the ruins. Be sure to take sturdy hiking boots, and wear a hat and sun screen. During our visit quite a few people started out to see the ruins and turned back. Greg and I spent about two hours climbing around the site and had a ball!

Cachuy shared with us a popular Mexican tongue-twister, centered on this place:
“San Juan Parangaricutiro, el pueblo que fue desparangarimicutirizado por el volcán Paricutín. Y yo anduve en San Juan Parangaricutiro, parangarimicutirimicuariando. Y aquel que lo desparangarimicutirise será un desparangarimicutirizador!” He recites it in the video below:

The walk back to your car is uphill so it’s much more difficult than the way out. Obviously the road was built for cars, but it is no longer accessible to 4-wheeled vehicles; rock barriers cross the road at various points, and benches have been installed in the center of the road at key intervals as well. We went at sunrise so I could get good photos. By 10:30 am there were busloads of visitors, most of whom entered on horseback, so lots of dust on the trail. Of course, we were here on Monday of Holy Week; normal weekdays probably have far fewer visitors. Early in the morning, even during Holy Week, Greg and I were the only ones there.

Some people continue past the ruins to the top of the volcano. We were told that it’s a 2-3 hour hike each way; we highly recommend a guide if you make this journey. Cachuy offered to take us to the top in his pickup truck. He said it would take one hour and cost 1,200 pesos, and he is willing to take a group up.

If you love adventure tourism, religious tourism, or you are just looking for something out of the ordinary, we definitely recommend this place!