Overview / Introduccion
This volcano is part of central Mexico's Cordillera Neovolcanica which includes the much more well known and higher Mexican Volcanos. I have read that it is this same west-east strip of volcanic activity that denotes the geological division of North and South America.
Paricutín is a cinder cone amid strombolian lava fields that grew out of a cornfield in February 1943. This surprising development has resulted in it being included in various unofficial 7 (or even 12) Wonders of the Natural World lists. Although the landscape of the Michoacán-Guanajuato volcanic field is covered in stubby cones only Paricutín and El Jorullo (about 50 miles northeast) erupted in historical times. El Jorullo formed in 1759.
In addition to the main cone, two additional vents opened. In Spanish they are called Bocas de lava
or Mouths of lava.
Eruptions stopped in February 1952 after a brief increase in activity. There are active steam vents on the main cone and secondary vents.
Getting There / Como Llegar
This trip is usually and fairly easily done as a day trip from Uruapan in Michoacán State west of Mexico City.
The closest village on a main road is Angahuan. By car take take the road to Los Reyes for 45 - 60 minutes. The village will be on the left. There is a covered bus stop and signs for the volcano. By bus take the Ruta Paraíso line from the Central Camionera. The ride is one hour and costs around 20-30 pesos. The last bus back is reportedly at 21:00.
From the bus stop it is a short walk to the main square and tourist office. You will be accompanied by salesmen with horses and good Spanish trying earnestly to get your business. They are all selling the same trip and none of them is the actual guide.
You have three options.
1) Arrange a horseback ride to the base of the volcano through your new friend (ask to meet the actual guide first).
2) Step into the tourist office (locked up when I was there) and see what they suggest as your options.
3) Walk about 30 minutes more to the visitor center where you can easily see the volcano and terrain and then just keep walking towards it. Take care to avoid private property. There is a walking path through the jagged lava field. Somewhere.
Red Tape / Permiso
There is no red tape in the sense there are no permits, however, there is a small fee to visit the visitor center which most people do.
The people trying to sell guiding services will inform you that you HAVE to take a guide, but my suspicion is that is a lie. If anybody has experience going independently please leave your comments.
Camping / Acampar
Camping probably is not worth the trouble. There is no official camping and the area is all private property and no ground water in all but the wettest times. If you simply must overnight, I am sure the ash fields are very comfortable. The tourist information center in the main square can probably help you arrange something.
Recommendations / Recomendaciones
I recommend an early start from Uruapan. Ideally your first photos should be taken from the visitor center overlook early in the morning for the best lighting.
Second take a horse trip and visit both the volcano and the buried church. The church visit is typically always included, but it is wise to check. I found it fascinating. Also since the approach on horseback has to skirt the lava flows, you see the other side of the volcano and a bit more of the local farms and terrain. On the way back the afternoon or evening lighting on the volcano should work to your advantage rather than against you as well.
The horse trips are expensive. If you are a gringo, even solo, they will want 500 pesos for the guide, his horse, you, and your horse. It is easy enough to get them down to 450 (about USD $43) but lower than that requires some hard barganing. If you are with a group, splitting the cost of a guide and his horse is not so bad. If you are alone I strongly suggest arriving at the bus station early and waiting for other foreigners. Even when I went mid week during the low season there were five other people visiting.
Please keep in mind that the local language is not Spanish. Children grow up speaking Purépecha and learn Spanish in school. While this means that in theory you should be able to communicate with adults in Spanish, do not count on it.
Interestingly the language is not related to other tongues in modern Mexico. Some scholars have noted similarities with Quechua, the language of the Inca in South America. Combined with shaft burials and a wide mix of archetectual influences seems to point to an impressive seafaring cultural exchange.
This powerful group called Tarascans also possessed a higher degree of metalworking skills than found elsewhere in North America and were the only group to defeat the Aztecs. Some suggest that were it not for the arrival of the Spanish, the Tarascans would have come to dominate.
San Juan Viejo
The town of San Juan was one of several destroyed by the lava flows. New San Juan was rebuilt not far away. What makes the town so remarkable is the church has partially survived. Struck sideways by the lava but not overwhelmed, the large white stone structure is visible against the black basalt from far away. Remaining is a portion of the nave with a crucifix and towers and main entrance. One of the tower had not been completed so it is only a stub. The lava reaches the second story.
External Links / Hiperlinks
There is a lot of good information about this volcano on the Internet. Here are some of the better ones.
Evolution of the Paricutin Eruption
Vuelta al Volcán Paricutín
El Parícutin: Una de las 12 Marivillas del Mundo