A Guide to the Island of Janitzio: Mexico's Butterfly Island

Monarch butterflies of Janitzio | © Noradoa/Shutterstock
Monarch butterflies of Janitzio | © Noradoa/Shutterstock
Photo of Stephen Woodman
22 August 2017

Janitzio Island is one of the best places in Mexico to see the Day of the Dead celebrations and can be reached by a short boat ride from the dock of Pátzcuaro in the western state of Michoacán. Yet visitors should not feel restricted if they can’t make it in November, the island is a focal point for the indigenous Purépecha people and has spectacular cultural events and scenery throughout the year.

Day of the Dead celebrations

One of five islands on Lake Pátzcuaro, the village is well-known for its fishermen, who use traditional butterfly-shaped nets to snare their catch. The fishermen are famous throughout Mexico and their image was long depicted on the back of the 50 Peso bill.

Butterfly fishermen | © Angel Gonzalez Hereza / Flickr

Today, tourism is outpacing fishing as the leading industry in the area. Janitzio’s stunning Day of the Dead celebrations have firmly put the island on the tourist map.

The night of November 1 is still the best time to visit, as the town’s cemetery fills with candles and locals hold vigil sitting next to the graves of departed loved ones.

To reach the island for the celebrations, you need to take a round-trip ferry from the departure point, or embarcadero in Pátzcuaro. The boats are pretty regular and it takes approximately 25 minutes to reach the island.

Janitzio Cemetery | © MaloMalverde / Flickr

The statue

You’ll catch a glimpse of Janitzio’s most striking monument long before you reach its shores. The statue of José María Morelos – a hero of Mexico’s independence campaign – stands 40-meters high and is located on the highest and most central point of the island.

Janitzio Island | © Dante Aguiar / Flickr

The impressive monument was built in 1933 and visitors can climb to the summit via a spiral staircase that rises within the statue. Painted on the walls inside is an impressive mural depicting the life and career of Morelos. At the top of the structure, you can peer out from the raised fist of Morelos, and enjoy the jaw-dropping views of the calm surrounding lake.

But one word of warning: if you’re heading to Janitzio for the Day of the Dead, this tiny space can get very crowded and lines can be pretty long.

Inside Morelos statue | © Hernán García Crespo / Flickr


The tiny island of Janitzio is not Mexico’s hottest culinary destination, although there are several restaurants circling the monument. The best of these is Restaurante El Mirador, which has a patio that looks out onto the lake. Try pescado blanco, or whitefish, the famous local dish.

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