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Michoacan is a state in west-central Mexico known for the production of avocados, migrating Monarch butterflies, and diverse landscapes comprised of mountains, volcanoes, beaches, and charming towns like Paracho and Patzcuaro.
In recent years, Michoacan has also made headlines for its drug-fueled violence. As of January 2023, the U.S. State Department lists Michoacan as one of the states that travelers should not travel to due to crime and kidnapping.
But is Michigan dangerous like you hear on the news?
While you might want to leave some parts of the state off your travel itinerary, places like Morelia and Patzcuaro are mostly safe to visit.
We will look at how you can visit Michoacán safely and enjoy everything this state has to offer. So, if you are wondering whether Michoacan is safe, keep on reading!
Where is Michoacan?
Michoacan is in the west-central part of Mexico. It’s bordered by Guanajuato and Colima to the west, Guerrero to the south, Guanajuato to the north, and Queretaro to the northeast. It also has an incredible coastline that stretches for 155 miles and is home to the most stunning, untouched beaches in Mexico.
Is Michoacan safe for tourists?
Michoacan is safe to visit if you stick to major tourist destinations like Morelia, Patzcuaro, and Janitzio, and exercise reasonable caution. Michoacan is known for its beauty, history, and culture, and you can enjoy it if you follow common sense.
✅ Check my travel tips for Mexico to have a better and safer experience while visiting Michoacan
Safety in Michoacán: overview
Michigan often makes headlines for its problems with drug-related violence. Most of the state is rural, and distances are long between cities and towns, which unfortunately creates a favorable environment for the rivaling gangs who operate here.
One of the biggest industries in Michoacan is avocados (also known as green gold) the majority of which are exported to the United States.
The avocado industry in Mexico was valued at nearly US$3 billion in 2021, ahead of beer and tequila, two other main exports from the country. No other state in Mexico produces more avocados than Michoacan.
While it’s a lucrative business that lifted a lot of the local population out of poverty, it also attracted rivaling gangs who fight for control of the prized crops. Uruapan, the center of the avocado industry in Michoacan, and rural parts of the state where avocados are cultivated have seen an increase in violence because gangs battle over the control of the avocado growing territory.
The fight has been spilling over into rural areas of the state forcing many residents to flee the troubled regions.
As a traveler, you are unlikely to come into direct contact with this problem, but you should be aware of if you want to visit Michoacan safely.
Best places to visit in Michoacan to stay safe
Michoacan is not the most popular destination for foreign visitors in Mexico, as most people head to places like Yucatan, Oaxaca, and Mexico City, before considering Michoacan. Yet, this state has plenty to offer, and the best part is that it’s not as busy as some of the most popular destinations in Mexico.
When I first visited Michoacan, I was surprised to see fewer international tourists than in other locations in Mexico, despite everything that this state has to offer, and my second time, I saw more tourists here, so it looks like everyone is starting to learn about this place.
Things to do in Michoacan
- Lake Zirahuen
- Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
- Volcan Paricutin
- Michoacan beaches
Morelia is the capital of Michoacan and the largest city in the state. One of Mexico’s best-kept secrets, this place boasts magnificent architecture with palaces, old colonial buildings, and the majestic Morelia Cathedral. Here you can explore the local gastronomy, enjoy free museums and grab some sweet treats in Morelia’s Candy Market.
I celebrated the Day of the Dead in Morelia and had a blast. When I was choosing a destination, everyone was talking about the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico City, or even San Miguel De Allende. Morelia is surprisingly overlooked. I also loved that Morelia was much cheaper than many popular destinations in Mexico with prices on hotels and food that are perfect for a budget traveler.
How to get to Morelia?
The easiest way to get to Morelia is by taking a bus from Mexico City. Buses to Morelia depart daily from the Terminal de Autobus Poniente, and you can get a ticket from the ticket office or online through busbud.com
If you decide to drive from Mexico City to Morelia, limit your driving to daytime, and stay on federal highways with tolls. It will cost you more, but you will be much safer.
Is Morelia safe?
Morelia is safe if you stay around the tourist zone. Still, you should be cautious. Stay around areas frequented by other tourists and avoid isolated parts of town, especially when it gets dark. Never accept food and drinks from strangers, and don’t divulge too much personal information about yourself or your travel plans.
One of the most beautiful and popular places to visit in Morelia, Patzcuaro is a pueblo magico with historic white-and-red buildings and tiled roofs. Although Patzcuaro doesn’t yet have a lot of international tourism, it’s super popular among domestic travelers who come here for weekends and holidays. This small town boasts dramatic scenery with mountains in the background and a stunning lake.
It’s also home to the Purepecha people, one of the prehispanic civilizations in Mexico, just like the Mayas and Aztecs. Purepeacha people have almost become extinct with the arrival of the Spanish, but a sizable community of Purepecha descendants remains and they even speak the Purepecha language.
Patzcuaro is a perfect place to spend a couple of days, as it’s near other popular destinations like Janitzio, Santa Clara Del Cobre, and Tzintzuntzan, all of which are within one hour of driving.
What are pueblos mágicos?
Pueblos mágicos or “magic towns” are designated by the Mexican government because of their cultural and historical significance. There are over 130 pueblos magicos in Mexico, and Patzcuaro is one of several pueblos magicos in Michoacan.
Often combined into the same trip with Patzcuaro, Janitzio is a big island on Lake Patzcuaro. The town of Janitzio sits on top of the island and is considered one of the best places in Mexico to see the Day of the Dead festivities. Janitzio can be reached by a quick boat ride from the outskirts of Patzcuaro.
Even if you don’t visit Janitzio on the Day of the Dead, you will still have a great time here as various celebrations and events are held throughout the year.
4. Lake Zirahuen
Lake Zirahuen is one of the most beautiful and tranquil spots in Michoacan that’s perfect for kayaking and spending time in nature. You can reach Lake Zirahuen by car from Patzcuaro and spend the night in one of the cozy cabins around the lake.
Cuitzeo is a small pueblo that’s perfect if you want to get off the beaten track. Located along Cuitzeo Lake, this hamlet is surrounded by nature and stunning landscapes.
6. Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
Michoacan is home to a wonderful sight that happens every year when thousands of monarch butterflies migrate here from Canada, attracted to the region’s climate and vegetation. I visited Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary near Valley De Bravo but haven’t been to the one in Michoacan.
The best time to observe Monarch butterflies is on a sunny day, as they tend to be less active when there’s little sunlight. The migration season for monarch butterflies is from November through March.
7. Volcano Paricutin
Compared to larger volcanoes in Mexico and Central America, Paricutin is very small. While it erupted in 1943, it’s now extinct and you can even hike it – although a guide is recommended to help you navigate the route.
When the volcano erupted, it destroyed the two nearby villages, and all that remains today is the San Juan Parangaricutiro church, which makes a perfect picture backdrop amid the surrounding mountains.
8. Michoacan beaches
Located along the Pacific coast, Michoacan’s beaches are some of the most gorgeous and untouched in the country. You won’t find crowds or mega resorts here, and instead will be able to rest in small, thatched-roof huts, visit local communities and enjoy the rustic charm and slow pace of life.
Local transportation is scarce in the region, which is why exploring Michoacán beaches might be a better option if you have a car.
The largest municipalities in the region are Lázaro Cárdenas, Coahuayana, and Aquila.
Best beaches in Michoacan:
- Playa Maruata
- Playa Azul
- Playa Ixtapilla
- La Ticla
- La Manzanillera
- Faro De Bucerias (Playa El Faro)
Places to avoid in Michoacan
To stay safe in Michoacan, avoid small, rural towns in the mountains. If you are traveling by yourself, skip Uruapan. And stay away from Apatzingan and Aguililla, that have been particularly affected by organized crime and violence. Avoid places in the avocado-producing region of the state and areas that have been affected by illegal logging, which is another prevalent problem in the state.
✔️Skip the conflict zone along the border of Michoacan with Guerrero and Colima, two neighboring states.
Is Michoacan safe: FAQ’s
How to stay safe in Michoacan?
While Michoacan is worth a visit, you should exercise increased caution. One of the best ways to protect yourself ahead of your trip is to buy travel insurance.
Safety Wing is one of the best insurance plans for long-term travelers and digital nomads that covers you in the event of stolen and lost luggage, hospital visits and other unforeseen circumstances. WorldNomads is one of the most popular travel insurance options that offers option for long and short-term travel.
Register for the STEP program
If you are a U.S. citizen traveling to Michoacan, consider enrolling in STEP, The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service that allows U.S. citizens abroad to register their trip with the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Here are some of the benefits of enrolling in the STEP program ahead of your trip:
- Get updates from the embassy about safety conditions in your destination.
- Stay in contact with the U.S. Embassy in case of an emergency whether it’s a natural disaster, political unrest, or anything else.
- Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
Is Michoacan expensive?
Michoacan is a cheap place to visit. The state still sees little international tourism with the majority of visitors coming from other places in Mexico, and prices here tend to be lower than in more popular destinations around the country. If you are a budget traveler, you will love Michoacan, as it’s possible to enjoy some of the best things to do in Michoacán without breaking your budget.
Is it safe to drive in Michoacan?
Driving in Michoacan is safe as long as you stick to major highways, and avoid rural and secondary roads. Federal Highway 150 from Mexico City to Guadalajara which goes through Michoacan is considered safe. Federal Highways 43 and 48D from Federal Highway 15D are also safe.
To stay safe while driving in Michoacan, check local news reports and drive only on major highways that are well-maintained and have more police presence.
How to stay safe in Michoacan?
The best way to stay safe in Michoacan is to avoid conflict zones and stick to popular tourist destinations. Don’t wear flashy clothes and jewelry and be aware of your surroundings.
As a precaution, you should follow the same rules for driving in Michoacan, as you would anywhere else in Mexico.
- Drive during the day – Limit your driving to daytime, especially if traveling by yourself.
- Use major highways with tolls – If you decide to drive in Michoacan, avoid isolated roads and use toll roads (cuotas). While it will cost you more money, you will be safer. Always have cash on you to pay for tolls, because credit cards are not accepted.
- Keep someone posted about your travel plans – Always communicate with someone about your whereabouts or travel plans, so they know your location, and can check on you as you continue your journey
- Always have cash on you – When you are on the road in Mexico, you should have at least a couple of hundred pesos on you at all times. Credit cards are accepted at gas stations and stores, but small food stalls and street vendors operate mostly on cash.
- Research your travel route – If you plan on driving in Michigan, carefully assess your travel route to make sure that it’s safe for driving, and doesn’t go through the conflict zone. Check local news reports to see if you can find what road conditions are like at the moment.
- Be prepared for checkpoints – It’s not uncommon to encounter checkpoints on major highways in Michoacan. This is done to keep main travel routes safe, and if you see one, you will need to show your documents, and open your car for an inspection, if asked.
- Don’t pump your gas – You are not allowed to pump your gas in Mexico. When you arrive at a gas station, you will have a gas station attendant help you fill up your tank. Leave a small tip at the end.
- Learn some Spanish – Michoacan is mostly a rural state, and you shouldn’t expect many people to speak English here. Brush up on some Spanish, especially if you plan on being on the road.
Is Michoacan safe: final word
Michoacan is a beautiful state that sits off the beaten track for most travelers. People in Michoacan are friendly and welcoming. The culture is rich and the food is second to none with many regional specialties that you won’t find anywhere else in the country. To visit Michoacan safely, remember to exercise increased caution and stick to popular tourist destinations. Avoid remote, rural parts of the state and keep your friends and family posted about your whereabouts.
I never had problems or felt unsafe during my time in Michoacan, and enjoyed many of its hidden gems.
Michoacan offers a different side of Mexico, and is perfect for the kind of traveler who wants to get off the beaten track, and explore what might be one of the hottest destinations in Mexico in the future before everyone else figures it out!
What to do in case of an emergency:
In case something happens, call 911 – an emergency number in Mexico. As a tourist, you should report any crime to the state’s prosecutor’s office. This is especially important if you want to proceed with the criminal investigation, as it would not be possible without filing a formal document with authorities in Mexico.
All complaints have to be filed in person while you are in Mexico.