Explore The Bajío
Most people seem to hammer straight past Querétaro on the highway to Mexico City, catching sight only of the expanding industrial outskirts and the huge modern bus station. Yet of all the colonial cities in the Bajío, this is perhaps the most surprising, with a tranquil historical core that boasts magnificent mansions and some of the country’s finest ecclesiastical architecture. Little more than two hours from Mexico City, and at the junction of every major road and rail route from the north, it’s also a wealthy and booming city, one of the fastest-growing in the republic thanks to industrial decentralization and its close proximity to the capital. This vibrancy, along with a series of pretty plazas linked by narrow alleys lined with restaurants and bars, makes Querétaro an alluring place to spend a couple of days. There are points of interest, too, in the surrounding hills of the Sierra Gorda, notably the small towns of Bernal and Tequisquiapan, and much more distant charms of Edward James’s jungle “sculpture garden” at Xilitla.Read More
From Querétaro you can race straight to Mexico City on Hwy-57, and if you are not reliant on public transport, then there are a couple of places that might be visited en route: the ancient Toltec capital of Tula, and Tepotzotlán, with its magnificent Baroque architecture, both of which are covered in Chapter 5. But before charging south, consider exploring the towns around Querétaro, particularly Bernal, Tequisquiapan and San Juan del Río, where you could easily spend a pleasant few days exploring.
The pretty village of Bernal, 45km east of Querétaro, hunkers under the skirts of the soaring Peña de Bernal, a 350-metre-high chunk of volcanic rock that towers over the plains and is claimed to be the fourth tallest monolith in the world – after Australia’s Mount Augustus, the Rock of Gibraltar and Rio’s Sugarloaf. By wandering towards the peak you’ll soon pick up a rough but clearly marked path about two-thirds of the way to the top (the ascent takes up to an hour, half that to get down), where there’s a small shrine and long views stretching out below. Only appropriately equipped rock climbers should continue up the metal rungs to the summit, passing a memorial plaque to an earlier adventurer along the way.
At weekends, half of Querétaro seems to come out here, making for a festive atmosphere, but midweek it is an altogether more peaceful place: the mountain is likely to be deserted and you’ll be just about the only thing disturbing the serenity of the village plaza with its charming little church and terracotta-washed buildings, sumptuous in the afternoon light. Be forewarned, however, that many businesses are only open at the weekends and many more shut for the month of May.