Saturday, January 25, 2014

Magical or Dangerous?

Girls in Purepecha village of Ocumicho
I am often asked when I talk about an upcoming trip to Michoacán, "but isn't it dangerous there?" And now, with headlines screaming that Michoacán is a "failed state", a lawless region with "spiraling violence"-- even those who never heard of the place before feel a need to voice their opinion, or rather, something they've heard or read somewhere. I'd like to share a few comments here from some folks on the ground. My Mexican friends assure me that Morelia, Patzcuaro, and most other areas in Michoacán are unaffected by recent developments and are-- as they've been for the 10 years that I have been going-- STILL safe to visit. As someone pointed out recently, would you NOT visit Chicago, which is the murder capital of the U.S.? It is, by the way. Or San Francisco and the Napa Valley because Oakland (an hour away) is #3 for overall crime? It's also a very popular place to live, and home to many fine restaurants. By the way, have you checked the crime stats for New Orleans lately?

The comments below represent the feeling of gringos who travel frequently to the state of Michoacán (like yours truly) or ex-pats who have chosen to retire there. Here are just a few:

David Haun, American expat and moderator of The Michoacán Net, put it this way:

"The problems in Michoacan are awful, but I feel safer here than in the USA.  I might be sounding insensitive, but the cartel is not after us. If you want to know what is happening in the colonial highlands of Michoacan, ask someone who lives there or owns property there.  I do not have rentals, nor any financial ties in Michoacan. However,  I have the largest forum in Michoacan, The Michoacan Net  and there have been no reports of violence against tourists or expats anywhere in Michoacan. You never have to ask if gringos have been killed in a foreign country, because if they had, it would be all over the news.  Every blood-thirsty-news-media in the world would have headlines that tourists are being killed somewhere.  We are still hearing of the poor high school girl killed in Aruba nearly 10 years ago.  That is not happening in Michoacan."

David continues...writing about a bed and breakfast in Morelia that took 6 groups of tourists last week to see the butterflies:  "There have been no incidents, no roadblocks and no sightings of anything suspicious or dangerous. The tours saw many butterflies, but no cartels."  

Michoacan's "Dance of the Little Old Men"

"Michoacan is Magical."
-- David Haun

And from frequent travelers to Michoacán:

"When I go to Michoacán I drive, sometimes alone.  I have never encountered any trouble to date.  That doesn't mean it couldn't happen but bad things happen everywhere.  You can always be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But I prefer to live my life doing what I like to do as long as there is not unreasonable risk.  If I should suffer some unforeseen situation or even die, at least I'm enjoying my life and not living in fear."

"I am a Michoacán lover and travel there often.  I hate that such a beautiful state with so much to offer is painted with such a broad brush.  I see so many people suffering because of the lack of tourism--hotel and restaurant owners, tour operators… and (very close to my heart) artisans.  I hear artisans saying that they will have to give up their craft and find a job in Morelia.  This breaks my heart because, if allowed to disappear, we may never get those crafts back."
Mexico By Hand Art and Culture Tour in Cuanajo
It breaks our heart too. Before this year's "crisis", it was all too common to hear about increasing numbers of artisans giving up their craft and moving to El Norte. Not because they want to wash dishes in our city's restaurants or work as our gardeners, but because there aren't enough tourists to buy their products. 
Mexico By Hand struggles to provide work for some of the state's most talented artisans through our sales here in the U.S., and we will continue to do that. But now, even more than ever, it is difficult to sign up folks for our Art and Culture tour, even though many people have expressed great interest. During the past 7 years, a few brave souls (mostly women, I might add) have ignored the pleas and warnings of their friends and families and ventured to "dangerous" Michoacán-- and all have lived to tell the tale of their fabulous adventures. They've visited artisan villages, traveled through gorgeous countryside, enjoyed delicious food and drink, were enthralled by the amazing architecture and culture offerings of colonial Morelia, felt welcomed by the warm and friendly people...and so on. All of our tourists were so happy they hadn't listened to their fearful relatives, because they in fact had "a trip of a lifetime". It truly saddens me how many of us are so fearful that we deny ourselves such life-enriching experiences. Of course the lack of tourism did not create the narco violence that is plaguing parts of Mexico. But if the violence and the media's flawed reporting on it continues, the Mexican artisans and others who depend on tourism will continue to suffer, as collateral damage in a failed drug war. And then we will ALL lose.

To see or purchase fine Michoacán folk art and crafts, please visit our website:

If you're interested in visiting Michoacán with us, there are photos, testimonials, and more info. here: or email us at