Visiting Isla de Janitzio

Isla de Janitzio is the main island of Lake Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán, Mexico.

The town of Janitzio, which means “where it rains”, is located atop the hill. Janitzio can only be reached by boats which run regularly back and forth from about 7:30 am to 6 pm, accessible from Pátzcuaro’s pier (embarcadero). These boats can be hired to take visitors around other parts of the lake. The town is famous for the butterfly fishermen who are skilled at lowering their butterfly-shaped nets to catch the local famous cuisine “pescado blanco”. The butterfly fisherman were also located on the back of the 50 peso Mexican banknote.

An island town without a single road on it, rises from the center of Patzcuaro Lake. Janitzio Island is cone shaped, with an enormous statue of Jose Maria Morelos, one of the leaders of the Mexican Independence, on top. An indigenous Purhepecha town, the economy is based primarily on tourism; shops line the many staircases that in any other town would be streets. Many of the inhabitants take a boat to and from Patzcuaro to work. The women are famous for their embroidery and the little restaurants along the edge of the lake are excellent. It’s quite a hike to the top of the island, and even more strenuous climbing up to the raised fist of the statue. But the 360 degree views from there are worth every bit of effort.

The 40-meter statue of José María Morelos, a great hero of Mexico’s independence, started in 1933, is found on the island’s highest point. Visitors can climb to the top of the statue by way of a staircase that spirals up the inside. Along the interior walls, the life of Morelos is depicted in murals painted by Ramón Alba de la Canal and other great Mexican muralists. Although the steep stairway can become congested and distract one’s attention, it is a good Mexican history lesson. At the top, one can peer through peepholes in the giant raised fist of Morelos, giving a spectacular view of the island, lake and surroundings.

Some of the people of Janitzio and the towns surrounding Lake Pátzcuaro are of indigenous descent and are known as Purepecha (Tarascans). Available in Janitzio are regional handicrafts. A variety of handmade textiles and artwork are sold.

Its main festivity is “El Día de los Muertos” or Day of the Dead. As part of this festivity, candle-lit boat processions make their way to the island and then to Janitzio’s Church and graveyard, remaining there for the night for a large festive vigil with much imbibing involved.


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