Tangancicuaro de Aritsa, Michoacan Mexico
It’s a mouth full; the locals call it “Tangas” for short (which translates to thongs).
Even though the town parameters spread into quite a large area, about 23 acres belong to a gorgeous lake and much of the rest of the land is used for farming and crops. The town has a population of just over 14,000 with 46% of them being indigenous and/or still speak the indigenous language.
The town is located 108 miles from the state capital of Morelia (International Airport) and 111 miles from Guadalajara International Airport. It’s not a terribly easy hike to the town but there are a number of options to get there: you can take a luxury bus, rent a car, or charter a private mini van or luxury vehicle. The drive is just under two hours through the autopsist (highway/freeway) which are toll roads that are very nicely kept.
So, my grandparents were born in this town; my mom’s parents still live here- which is how I know it. I grew up visiting the town almost every summer and even as a kid and always loved spending time there. Things in this town move at a much slower pace than any of us are used to, especially in the US. The town is filled with at home mini marts where you just cross the tiny street from wherever you are and get anything from water, to a snack, to local produce.
Tangancícuaro is straight out of of a movie, with a very cute and charming town square where everyone gathers every day. There are always street vendors with your choice of Mexican treats, meals, fresh fruit and even some nicknacks. The town square during the day is filled with locals on their way to or from the mercado (farmer’s market) enjoying some fresh fruit, ice cream or fresh water. And in the evenings, locals gather to socialize, eat dinner, some street tacos or Mexican bread. When I say dinner, think stands or tiny restaurants that are cooking full gourmet meals fresh to order. Everything you eat in this town is likely to be locally farmed and grown. If you are eating chicken, for example, that chicken was alive earlier that day. Now on the town square; the cutest thing happens on Sundays! Being in Mexico, the town square is centered around their church; and the town is primarily catholic so every one goes to church on Sundays. The thing to do here is to go to church in the evening. After church, you hang out in the town square, grab food, a snack or some treats, and now for the cutest thing: single young girls and boys will walk around the town square in opposite directions. If a boy is interested in a girl, he will buy her a rose and ask I he can go around the town square with her. I mean… is this real life? And believe it or not, this is how my parents met!
Like most Mexican places, the town is known for it’s sweets- here is the Mexican sweet bread and many varieties of it. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan; but I’m not a huge fan of sweets in general so I’m not a reliable source- everyone else I know and has tried the sweet bread, loves it! My favorite sweets here are Gorditas and Churros- so much that I usually bring Gorditas back home with me.
The town is home to Lago de Camécuaro which is really Tangancicuaro’s claim to fame, and rightfully so. This lake and its surroundings are considered a National Park that extends over 23.8 acres. The Lake is supplied by a number of natural springs in the surrounding areas. The lake is gorgeous; has crystal clear water, inmense trees all around the lake, and natural habitat for several species of fish and ducks. The lake has several tide pools around it varying from different depths that many use as swimming pools.
As if the lake’s natural beauty wasn’t enough, you can enjoy a large selection of Mexican gourmet meals, fresh fruit, water, sweets and even full bottles of tequila, beer, or cocktails and micheladas. All the food here is exactly like at the town square; cooked to order, locally grown/farmed, fresh and gourmet. You can also find and hire musical bands, trios, or mariachis to preform for you while enjoying your time at the lake. And if you want more, you can rent canoes to take a ride all around the lake and get more amazing views.
Of course, you can most definitely swim anywhere in the lake, and it is quite narrow for the most part, but it can get up to 20 feet deep so make sure you are a strong swimmer or have a life vest/floaty (which you can rent for a small price). Locals have added diving boards and ropes to jump into the lake which are a lot of fun. The water is quite cool, but temperatures often reach the high 90s during summer and can feel quite refreshing.
If you like getting souvenirs, this is the place to get them.
I can go on and on about Lago de Camécuaro as it’s truly breathtaking; one of the most pure natural beauties I’ve seen. Visiting the lake is an absolute traveler must have, you will not be disappointed.
I’ve mentioned a few times the town is small. People know each other, and if you’re not from there, you will likely be stared at; don’t take this the wrong way, they are just curious as to who the visitors belong to as they are likely visiting family members. Everyone in town is extremely nice, friendly and welcoming. Should you need anything from directions to a glass of water or a snack there will be a line of people ready to offer and provide help.
Now, I’ll say if you enjoy traveling for amenities and luxury, this town is not for you. You won’t find any kind food chain restaurant, or fancy restaurant, or supermarkets around. The nearest city to the town is about 25 minutes away, Zamora; and there you can find some store chains like Sam’s Club and definitely more proper restaurant options; but the city is swill small in comparison to most. Zamora is still very authentic with many other great food options or even local hangouts like bars or movie theaters if you’re interested.
If you love authentic Mexican food, this is the town for you. Everything is fresh, and everything is home cooked from scratch. In my opinion, this town holds the best home made flour tortillas and street tacos. Let me rave about these street tacos; they are sooooo good, it’s hard to stop eating. When I’m visiting, I typically have tacos every night! They are that good! And they are pretty small, so really you can have as a pre or post dinner snack just to take the edge off 😉
A typical day on the town would be spent like this:
- Breakfast at home with home made flour tortillas (you can buy these likely from someone a few doors from wherever you’re staying. Chona has my favorites! You can ask anyone in town and they will point you in her direction.
- Heading to the mercado for some fresh fruit snacks, sit in the town square, relax and chat
- Leave for the Lake and spend a few hours there enjoying the view, maybe a canoe ride, a nice michelada, probably another snack as well
- Dinner at a local farm, enjoying company, learning about the crops of the season and appreciating the nice breeze and views.
- Relax for a bit before heading out for tacos
Again, Tangancícuaro moves at a much slower pace than I’m used to. Priority for the people here is quality time with family and food. The days and activities are planned around meal times and everyone is always welcome.
Although the town is wired and there is access to WiFi in most public places as well as in most people’s homes, it is unlikely you will see anyone on their phone even half as much as we see it in the US. The locals really focus on being present, enjoying meals and time together with friends and family.
The streets are quite narrow, and distances are pretty short, so once you’re in town you don’t really need a car. I would recommend a bike or moped to get around- quite efficient and fun.
Because it’s a small town and not commercialized at all, prices are quite cheap, like really cheap! Our dollar is worth quite a lot so the most expensive thing you are likely to spend on is your flight and transportation into the town. Having said that, locals can spot tourists from a mile away and vendors of some items like souvenirs, or canoe rentals will quote you a higher price so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Never accept the first price quoted! At the end of the day, they want to help and for you to enjoy your stay.
Visiting this town always reminds me of how much I complicate things in life and how little I really need to be happy. This town is so pure and genuine and full of beauty that it always brings me back to center.
Now, having raved about this town this whole time, I know this isn’t a lifestyle I could actually maintain. Its very slow pace and my brain is trained to move much faster. But I do enjoy a good 5 days here before moving onto the next adventure. If you’re visiting or flying into Guadalajara or Morelia I would highly recommend you head off the beaten path and visit Tangancícuaro even for a day; you won’t be disappointed. Just make sure you stay long enough for the street tacos to come out 😉