Lake Patzcuaro, Mexico

Lake Locations:

Mexico - Central Mexico -

Also known as:  Lago de Patzcuaro

Lake Patzcuaro, in the State of Michoacan in Central Mexico plays a key role in the history of Michoacan and indeed all of Mexico. The large volcanic lake has been a center of the native Purhepecha people, called by the Spanish invaders the Tarascan Indians, since well before the arrival of the Spanish. The town of Patzcuaro was founded in 1324 by the king Curatame and reconstructed in 1372 by his descendant Tariacuri. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Purhepecha empire was a powerful and prosperous civilization whose influence spread as far as what now are the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Colima and Guerrero. The Purhepechas had already discovered iron and they were the only people that the Aztecs or Mexicas were unable to defeat in the many battles they fought. By 1528, the Perhepechas were overrun by Spanish forces led by Nunio de Guzman, their temples destroyed and those remaining alive dispersed into the surrounding mountains.

The history of the Purhepechas at Lake Patzcuaro might have ended there except for the wise management of Don Vasco de Quiroga. In 1531, at the age of 60, Vasco de Quiroga was sent to become administrator of the Michoacan area and set about repairing as much as possible the ravages brought upon the native people by Nuno de Guzman. He established hospitals, facilities and systems to care for the poor and boarding houses for traveling friars. At Patzcuaro, he helped set up villages around the lake organized as collectives and dedicated to the manufacture of crafts and skilled work, each village assigned its own specialty. From this stable base, the Purhepechas could again fish the waters of Lake Patzcuaro using cotton butterfly nets of ancient design. Their skilled craftsmen, now generational businesses, are still one of the most powerful drawing cards for visitors to the lake. According to the people here, the spirit of “tata” Vasco still inhabits the lakes, valleys and mountains of this earth that he loved so much.

Lake Patzcuaro lies in a large shallow basin and is dotted with several fair-sized islands. The shoreline is primarily wetlands which help to filter sediments washed down from farming and logging. Larger islands support villages who have for generations thrived on fishing the lake as a form of livelihood. A recent government estimate suggests the lake supports around 800 fishermen who fish for black sea bass, Patzcuaro chub, trout, perch and white fish or blanco – a fish in the sardine family. There is no true tourist fishery, although visitors occasionally try their luck. Due to sedimentation and drought, the lake is losing an estimated 173 acres annually. The blanco are becoming scarce. International efforts are aimed at encouraging better land use practices to alleviate the problem.

A visitor to Lake Patzcuaro, located 35 miles west of Morelia and 200 miles west of Mexico City by improved road, usually comes by bus or private car. The nearest airport is located at Morelia. Thousands of visitors come here for festivals such as the Day of the Dead in November, Christmas and Holy Week. Each village holds its own celebration of these holidays. One of the best attended is usually the one held on the island of Janitzio. This colorful island sports a giant statue of one of the initiators of the Mexican War of Independence; Jose Morelos. The Janitzio village Day of the Dead celebration – not nearly the morose and morbid affair the uninitiated might expect – is so popular that people wait in line for hours to take the ferry to the island.

Lake Patzcuaro isn’t the kind of lake where people come to engage in major water sports. The Patzcuaro region is noted for it’s beautiful buildings dating to the time of the Spanish Conquest, its plentiful birds, wildlife, handicrafts and history. Here, visitors can find vacation rentals in the form of villas equipped with every amenity, lodgings in small hotels and cottages and modern motels. Some of the nearby villages have lodging facilities also. There are a couple of campgrounds near the village. The city of 70,000 has the feel of a small village, with two plazas, excellently preserved Spanish architecture, many small restaurants and handicraft establishments.

Most tourists visit the Museo de Artes Populares to orient themselves to the different villages and their unique handicrafts. Buildings a visitor absolutely must see are the The Basilica, Old College of San Nicolas (now the Museum of Crafts and Folk Artists), Convento Dominico De Santa Catarina (or House of the 11 Courts-which now contains artisan’s shops) and the House of the Giant, among others. Also nearby are the ruins of the old Tarascan capital at Tzinzuntzan with yacatas (pyramids) and an old monastery built in 1533. The olive trees – still producing – are said to have been planted by Vasco de Quiroga himself. A wildlife sanctuary is nearby which provides nesting grounds for a variety of native and migratory birds.

Both in Patzcuaro and in the 26 villages on the islands and around the shore of Lake Patzcuaro, handicrafts are king. There is wood working – from toys, to laquerware, to furniture such as chairs, tables, doors and carved trunks, and everything in between. Also, there are wrought iron, tin, paper mache, and wool – woven and knitted sweaters, zarapes and rugs with characteristic designs. Of equal beauty are products made with reeds that grow around the lake, and with henequen, brought from outside Patzcuaro and used to make small carpets, pouches, tablecloths and other things. As for jewelry, the traditional Purhepecha style consists mainly of designs that mix silver and red coral,or red porcelain. A primary manufactured commodity in the city is pure cotton fabric (and large tablecloths), dyed in bright and contrasting colors. Cut-work embroidery, stitchery, and clothing characteristic of the region, such as hand woven shirts, shawls and other items customary to the Purhepecha way of dressing are also available for sale.

Cruise boats, much like water taxis take visitors to the different villages and islands. There is a modern road around the lake which connects with the road to Guadalajara. A nearby town, Paracho, is noted for fine handcrafted guitars and well worth a visit for music lovers. The scenic “C”-shaped Lake Patzcuaro, nestled beneath the 11,000 foot high pine-covered peaks of the Tarascan Sierra is serene and beautiful to behold – a calming respite from a busy world. Immediately to the west of the Lake Patzcuaro, the slopes of the central plateau abruptly end, and plunge into the humid tropics.

Here at Patzcuaro, life slows to an idyllic holiday interlude far from the cares of the work-a-day world. For this reason, ex-pats have often selected Patzcuaro as prime real estate for a retirement home. They are careful not to try to ‘modernize’ Lake Patzcuaro though as to do so would take away its special charm. Come to Lake Patzcuaro for a visit. You may find yourself scheming to join them!

Things to do at Lake Patzcuaro

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Museum
  • Ruins

Fish species found at Lake Patzcuaro

  • Bass
  • Carp
  • Perch
  • Trout

Lake Patzcuaro Photo Gallery

Lake Patzcuaro Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 32,123 acres

Shoreline Length: 31 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 699 feet

Water Volume: 22,699,969 acre-feet

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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