Everything Morelia has to offer makes this city the best-hidden gem to visit in Mexico.
In this blog post, I want to share with you what makes Morelia the best hidden gem to visit in Mexico and why you should include the city in your itinerary the next time you visit the country.
Like most of you, I did not know much about Morelia before visiting Mexico in November 2022. I travelled to Mexico around November to attend el Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities.
I took part in el Dia de Muertos festivities in Morelia, and I would have not have it otherwise.
In the meantime, I found out that many more people travel to Oaxaca to attend el Dia de Muertos festivities. Yet, I believe enjoying the el Dia de Muertos festivities in Morelia was equally beautiful. What’s more, the region organises many events to celebrate the day, and I did not feel I missed something by not being in more popular places during el Dia de Muertos.
The festivities for el Dia de Muertos in Morelia were filled with traditional dances, songs and street shows. Morelia was beautifully decorated, and what I found really touching was that the entire population was part of the festivities. University students put up ofrendas (altars commemorating people who passed away), and local artists delivered beautiful live music concerts.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Michoacán region promotes strongly the indigenous culture and language, the Purépecha language. I went to several free music concerts in Morelia, where artists sang in the Purépecha language, the indigenous language of the region.
After enjoying everything Morelia organised during el Dia de Muertos festivities in the region, the city quickly became my number 1 favourite place in Mexico.
That’s why I would like to share my experience with you in case you’re looking for places (besides Oaxaca) where you would like to attend el Dia de Muertos festivities that it is not packed with foreign tourists.
If you are looking for such a place, I would like to suggest Morelia as it still is (for now) one of the best-hidden gems Mexico has.
Facts about Morelia (The Best Hidden-gem in Mexico)
Morelia is the most important city in the region of Michoacán, and it is located NW of Mexico City.
According to Wikipedia, Morelia is the 23rd most populous city in Mexico and has 849,053 inhabitants (according to the 2020 census data).
The region Morelia belongs to is not small either. According to Wikipedia, Michoacán is the 19th most populous region in Mexico.
Like many other cities across Mexico, Morelia is an important promoter of the local indigenous culture and language. The indigenous language of the region is the Purépecha language.
The indigenous culture and language are promoted extensively during events like El dia de Muertos, where one can attend music shows in the Purépecha language and guided tours about the indigenous culture.
Now that you know some factual information about Morelia, let’s look into why, in my opinion, Morelia is the best hidden gem to visit in Mexico.
Morelia is close to Mexico City
If you travel to Mexico from Europe (like I did), you will land either in Mexico City or Cancun. That’s all good if you don’t plan to travel further than Cancun and Mexico City. Yet, if you plan to explore Mexico and venture outside Mexico City and Cancun, but you only have 2 weeks to do so, then you need to pick the locations you want to visit carefully.
After all, you don’t want to spend the next 2 weeks of your precious holidays taking local buses and flying across Mexico for hours and hours.
Morelia is the perfect city to visit if your flight lands in Mexico City since Morelia is only 5h away by bus and 1h away by plane from the capital city.
For my fellow Europeans reading this blog post, road distances in America (including Mexico) are much bigger than the ones we are used to in Europe.
A 5h bus journey is considered short since long bus journeys can, in some cases, take days to complete in Mexico.
The funny thing is sometimes you end up travelling between 2 regions for days, that’s how big countries are in America compared to Europe. This is something you get used to as you travel more time on the American continent.
If your flight lands in Cancun, Morelia might not be that much of a place you want to visit, especially if you are in Mexico for 2 weeks. Yet, if you decide to include Morelia in your itinerary, the fastest way to get to Morelia from Cancun is by plane.
A direct flight from Cancun to Morelia is around 3h long, which some might argue is not a short flight. If you need to return to Cancun for your outbound flight, consider at least 6h to travel to and back from Morelia (this does not take into account the time you need to arrive at the airport each time neither does include the time you will need to check-in etc).
I could not find any direct buses from Cancun to Morelia, certainly, because the distance between the 2 places is significant (over 23h driving is what Google Maps suggested). Therefore, your best travel option to get to Morelia from Cancun is by plane only.
To sum up, if you happen to land in Mexico City, you should consider Morelia and plan a visit. The city is lovely, there are hardly any foreign tourists, and you will have good transport links with the capital city, in case you need to return there for your outbound flight.
Morelia has a colonial city vibe
For someone who lived most of her life in Europe, I immediately recognised the Spanish colonial vibe Morelia has.
I was fortunate to have lived in Spain several years ago, and the moment I stepped into the main square in Morelia, I had the feeling that I was somewhere in Spain.
If you like colonial architecture, then you will find Morelia an interesting place to visit in Mexico.
The city is simply beautiful and includes the most beautiful pieces of colonial architecture like the Morelia cathedral as well as many public squares and pretty little streets. I liked very much the Alley of the Romance, which as the name suggests, can be the perfect place for couples to celebrate their love while in Mexico.
The city centre is quite compact and brings together the most beautiful places and buildings you can visit in Morelia.
What I like about Morelia is that it has this cool, colonial vibe, not many people know about it yet, making it the best hidden gem to visit in Mexico.
The People in Morelia make you feel welcomed
For a city which does not seem inundated by tourists as the south of Mexico is, I found the people in Morelia to be very welcoming towards foreigners.
It is true that it might have helped the fact that I speak Spanish. Yet, I found everyone extremely polite and welcoming whenever I needed help.
It was in Morelia where I also had the best customer experiences when I used services like Uber & Airbnb. Everyone, including the driver to the Airbnb host, has been extremely polite and willing to help. This includes the wonderful bakery lady who gave me a free item only because I purchased 2 items from her bakery shop.
Again, all these experiences made my stay in Morelia much better than expected and only made me appreciate this city even more.
Morelia has affordable accommodation options
Mexico is generally perceived as an affordable country to visit.
Although there are cities which are more expensive than others (Mexico City, Cancun vs. Morelia), Mexico is still far more affordable than even some parts of Eastern Europe.
High accommodation prices in some parts of Mexico are usually driven up by tourists. The more tourists visit a city, the more expensive that place becomes. Bear this in mind when planning your itinerary to Mexico.
When I travelled to Mexico, I stayed in very popular regions (like the Yucatán Peninsula) and less touristy regions like Michoacán.
I quickly found out that less touristy regions are also much more affordable, but also more culturally appealing to me.
When it comes down to accommodation costs, I found Morelia to be extremely affordable compared to other regions.
If I compare my accommodation price in Ciudad de Mexico with the accommodation price I paid in Morelia, Morelia definitely wins. The cost of my accommodation in Morelia was 5 times cheaper than the one in Ciudad de Mexico.
For one night in Mexico City, I paid almost £100, whereas, in Morelia, I paid £18.5.
I have booked the same type of accommodation in both places (en-suite hotel/ Airbnb rooms). The location was in both cases central as I intended to walk pretty much everywhere and only use public transport or Uber when strictly necessary.
If you travel on a budget, you should consider Morelia. It is extremely affordable, and the customer service (at least in my experience) was of a 5* hotel, although I did not stay in one at the time :).
Morelia is one of the best cities to be in for el Dia de Muertos festivities
Dia de Muertos is THE most famous event in Mexico that foreigners know about.
If you’ve watched the Disney movie, Coco, then you know what I am talking about.
If you haven’t yet watched the movie, well, Dia de Muertos is celebrated every year in November, and it’s about people remembering their loved ones who passed away in a joyful atmosphere.
There are specific things people do during this time of the year, like visiting the tombs of their loved ones, decorating them and spending more time there.
Others even bring food and spend the entire night in the cemetery.
There are celebrations and events throughout the entire country at the beginning of November.
Yet, some Dia de Muertos events are more famous than others. Tourists usually visit Oaxaca around this time of the year, as it is known for its street shows and parades. Yet, something will happen in almost every village across the country.
For my first time attending el Dia de Muertos in Mexico, I chose to be in Morelia. It ended up being the best choice I could make.
When planning your own Dia de Muertos itinerary, you need to be aware that local fiestas happen everywhere, so it is better if you can move around that night so you can take part in as many traditions and rituals as possible. The best way I found at the time to do this was through an organised tour.
That’s how I was able to visit a family and see first-hand how people were celebrating. We were also given enough time to walk through the village and take part in the local fiesta. We then continued visiting local cemeteries and witnessed what people did that night.
Cemeteries are beautifully decorated with a specific orange flower called cempaxochitl.
As part of the guided tour, we were even able to give our ofrenda (a gift we made out of flowers and fruits) to the family we visited. In return, we were given corn-based drinks and tamales, as well as presentations of the local culture.
We were then taken to a local island (Isla de Pacanda), where we continued to enjoy the local events prepared for the night.
What I liked about the organised tour was that we were taken to various villages (Tupataro, Cuanajo) and cemeteries throughout the night. I could have not covered that many villages and activities if I were to do it by myself. Plus, I would have missed the background information we were given at each step.
We also had time to enjoy local drinks and food since the tour included some time in a local market where we mingled with the locals and tasted the local cuisine.
Another thing I liked is that during the tour we were given plenty of time to visit everything. Now, I don’t know if this is a Mexican thing, but it was one of the few organised tours I booked where I did not have to rush to be back on time.
Something you need to consider if you book an organised tour during el Dia de Muertos is that it takes place during the night.
My tour started at 5 pm and finished at 5 am the next morning. Night tours can be quite exhausting not because you walk that much, but because you need to stay awake the entire night.
Although we stopped around places where you can grab food and water, it is good if you bring some snacks with you because it will be a long night.
Also, the weather is warm and pleasant around this time of the year in Mexico, but make sure you bring a cardigan in case you get cold later in the night.
You will also have plenty of bathroom stops during the night. But make sure you have cash on you as you will need to pay for it (this is common throughout Mexico).
Finally, make sure you know how to get home when the tour ends. This tour did not offer drop-off (although they did stop if you asked them to be dropped off on the route back to Morelia city centre where the final stop was). In my case, I used Uber to make it back home and was totally safe.
My entire experience with this organised tour for el Dia de Muertos was really good.
EcoTurismo Morelia did a wonderful job organising everything. The fact that tour included many activities where we had to be part of the rituals that usually happen during el Dia de Muertos like visiting a local house, bringing ofrendas, being part of family celebrations, trying local food, drinks and visiting cemeteries, making the experience feel as authentic as possible.
After my experience in Morelia during El Dia de Muertos, I cannot recommend this city enough if you want to experience this unique celebration in the Mexican culture.
Yet, Morelia is not only an excellent location to take part in El Dia de Muertos Festivities. It is also the perfect place if you want to see the Monarch butterflies.
According to www.bestwesternplusmorelia.com.mx, the butterflies are in the region from November to March, leaving you some good 4 months to plan a visit to the forest.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to visit Morelia and whether you are after more cultural activities like El Dia de Muertos or you are more nature activities inclined, Morelia always has something for you to enjoy.
Morelia is a university city
I don’t know about you, but university cities are cool places to visit and live. I lived in quite a few throughout my lifetime in the UK, Spain, well, mainly Europe. Therefore, it has been interesting to discover a university city in Mexico.
If you’ve lived in a university city before, you will quickly notice the high percentage of students in Morelia. I noticed that as soon as I ventured more into the city centre.
I was curious to find out if it was true or if it was just my impression. But I was right.
A quick search on the internet revealed that Morelia is home to not 1 university but 7 higher education institutions. Morelia is definitely a university city.
Why visit University cities?
Some people might be scared of university cities. They probably think of loud, drinking young people. But this does not have to be this way.
University cities give more opportunities to travellers, especially the solo ones to go out, attend cultural events, and befriend students who are usually open-minded and fun to hang out with.
Many events in university cities are hosted or organised by university students.
For example, in Morelia, the students played a significant part in setting up the ofrendas (altars) for the el Dia de Muertos festivities. The students also organised art shows, including local dances, which were fun to see as a tourist.
Morelia is also a good place to do less touristy activities, like going to a theatre play. Most of the audience were young people, and probably some of them were university students too.
If you ever visit Morelia and want to do something less touristy, but fun and a bit different to the regular going out to a pub, I would like to suggest you go see one of their Local Legends plays. The plays will be in Spanish, so you need to have a good grasp of the language. But, they are so much fun and will teach you so much about the local culture and overall about Mexico.
Morelia is the perfect city in Mexico for digital nomads
While travelling around Mexico, I often asked myself if I would find a place good enough for digital nomads. I am not one yet (although I aspire to become one). Yet, even if I cannot move to Mexico and work remotely from Morelia yet, I would recommend the city to everyone who is a digital nomad and can do so.
Why do I think Morelia can be the perfect base for digital nomads? Because it has everything a digital nomad needs:
- It has good transport links with Mexico City in case you need to travel outside Mexico
- It is well connected to the rest of the country (both via plane and bus)
- Morelia is affordable compared to other, more popular regions and cities in Mexico
- Morelia is a university city, meaning there is always something happening like theatre plays you can go to, pubs you can try out etc. Living in a university city means you can make friends easier too
- Morelia did not feel like a touristy place. In fact, I hardly saw any tourists on the streets. This is perfect if you are looking to immerse yourself in the local culture and even learn some Spanish
- The city is quite compact, and you can walk pretty much everywhere
- Food-wise, Morelia offers a wide range of choices like local markets, supermarkets, cool restaurants and bakeries
I have to say that my opinion about Morelia might be biased simply because I liked the city so much. Yet, if you are looking to relocate to Mexico for a while and want to skip the touristy places like Cancun or even Mexico City, I would say you should look up Morelia.
What else makes Morelia the best-hidden gem in Mexico?
Morelia is safe for female travellers
I found Morelia to be a very safe city. Before travelling to Mexico, I read about how unsafe the country can be and how some regions (especially the North of Mexico) are more dangerous than others.
While walking around Mexico City, I often saw notice boards with flyers about disappeared women (mostly Mexican women). While this is a sad reality, it is not the only reality I experienced as a female traveller in Mexico.
Morelia at night
Like everyone on their first trip to Morelia, I was reticent about how safe the city could be at night for female travellers. Yet, while in Morelia, I decided to attend an event in the evening because I felt one cannot do everything during day time.
Thus, I went out to see a play called Leyendas de Morelia (Urban Legends of Morelia). I walked to the venue and then took an Uber back when the play ended (it finished around midnight). The journey was totally safe, and I arrived home just before midnight.
While this is not something I often did, while in Mexico, I wanted to share my experience of going out in Morelia and how safe everything felt for me as a female traveller.
I would not encourage anyone to do what I did. I am simply saying that Morelia is not as spooky as some of us think it might be due to the bad publicity Mexico sometimes gets on TV & online.
I also have to say that this was one of the few times I was out on the streets at night while in Mexico. I usually follow a simple rule wherever I go. And that is to be back inside before it gets dark. This is one of the golden rules I followed when visiting India, SE Asia, and the Philippines, which I believe kept me safe this whole time.
Morelia during daytime
During the day, I walked pretty much everywhere in Morelia, and there was no instance where I felt unsafe or felt that someone would follow me.
What’s more, after the tour I booked for el Dia de Muertos festivities finished (around 5 am the next day), I booked an Uber, and the journey was totally safe.
In fact, I was surprised that so many Uber drivers in Morelia were women. The Uber driver I got on that morning was a woman too, which made the entire journey more relaxing.
All in all, I found Morelia to be a safe place at night and during the daytime.
I used Uber cars with total confidence, walked pretty much everywhere and never had any bad experiences that would make me question my safety in Morelia.
Morelia is worth visiting
Before visiting Morelia, I did not have any expectations from this place. I barely knew anything about the region, let alone the city. Yet, it took me a few days to fall for Morelia.
Out of the places I visited during my trip to Mexico, Morelia was the most beautiful discovery, followed closely by Tuxtla Gutierrez and the Chiapas region.
Morelia is definitely worth a visit. It is a culturally rich city, not so touristy (at least not yet), welcoming, safe for women and can be the perfect stopover for low-budget travellers. Morelia also has good transport links, and it is one of the best places to be for el Dia de Muertos festivities.
All these make Morelia worth a visit and make this city one of the best hidden gems in Mexico.