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Bernal Queretaro: Magical Town and Monolith

  • Joel CZ 
  • 10 min read
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The Magical Town of Bernal Queretaro is so closely associated with its famous giant rock (peña) that it is now known as Peña de Bernal when people refer to it.

However, Bernal has multiple charms that I am pleased to present in this complete guide, apart from its famous monolith.

Bernal is a town of just over 4,000 inhabitants located in the Queretaro municipality of Ezequiel Montes. Its prominent emblem is the Peña de Bernal, the largest monolith in Central and North America and the third-largest in the world, only surpassed by the Sugar Loaf in Rio de Janeiro and the Rock of Gibraltar.

Because of this unique attraction, the colonial beauty of the town, and the natural attractions of the surrounding area, Bernal was incorporated into the Mexican system of Magical Towns in 2006.

Where is Bernal Queretaro?

bernal queretaro
Source: AMADO HERNANDEZ / shutterstock.com

Bernal is located about 60 km from the city of Santiago de Queretaro, the capital of the state of Queretaro, and 217 km from Mexico City.

To get to Bernal from Mexico City, take Highway 57 to Queretaro and then take the route to Tequisquiapan on Highway 120.

Once you reach Ezequiel Montes, head of the municipality of the same name, take Highway 4 to Bernal. Travel time from Mexico City is approximately 2.5 hours.

What is the weather like in Bernal?

Bernal’s climate is pleasantly cool, with an average temperature of 17° C (63° F). It is cold in the mornings and evenings, so it is advisable to bring a jacket or other warm clothing.

In winter, of course, it is even colder. The environment is semi-dry and has scarce rainfall, barely exceeding 500 mm per year.

Origins of the Town

During the XVI and XVII centuries, the Pames, Chichimecas, and Jonaces that inhabited Querétaro’s soil did not stop the Spaniards from colonizing.

Lieutenant Alonso Cabrera founded Bernal in 1647 to guard the southern flank of the Great Chichimeca. This vast area included the territories of the current states of Queretaro and Guanajuato and part of Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí.

Bernal Queretaro: The famous monolith

bernal queretaro
Source: LukeandKarla.Travel / Shutterstock.com

The rock was formed about 10 million years ago when solidified lava from the interior of an extinct volcano was exposed after erosion and eliminated the surface layers over the millennia.

On March 21st it is the scene of a spring festival with mystical and religious connotations.

Its summit is at 2,513 meters above sea level, its height is 286 meters, and it has an estimated weight of 4 million tons. It is one of the Mexican sanctuaries for climbing.

After arriving at the village, you take a path that leads approximately to the middle of the crag. From there, you have to continue with climbing equipment.

The classic climbing route is La Bernalina. Experienced climbers say that climbing Peña de Bernal is more difficult than it looks and recommend attempting the ascent only if you can go with an experienced climber.

Other climbing routes are El Lado Oscuro de la Luna, Lluvia de Estrellas, and Gondwana, the extreme route equipped by Mexican climber Edson Ríos and only for experts.

Apart from the monolith, what other attractions does Bernal Queretaro have?

bernal queretaro
Source: SANDRA ARTEMISA PHOTO ART / Shutterstock.com

Bernal’s historic center is a cozy space with cobblestone streets, colonial mansions, and religious buildings of great architectural and artistic interest.

Among these buildings are El Castillo, the Templo de San Sebastián, the Capilla de las Ánimas and the Capilla de la Santa Cruz.

Bernal’s climate is excellent for outdoor activities, and in the vicinity of the town, there are farms, vineyards, a botanical garden, the Cheese and Wine Route, and picturesque Queretaro towns.

The church of San Sebastián Mártir, the town’s patron saint, is a construction erected during the first quarter of the XVIII century in which different artistic styles are mixed, including indigenous features.

Its beautiful stained glass windows are a recent addition. The building called El Castillo, the seat of the municipal government, dates from the XVII century and has a beautiful German clock in the front tower that marked its first hour to welcome the XX century.

The Chapel of the Souls is another 18th-century construction, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross is visited by pilgrims who come to the atrium on their knees in gratitude for favors.

How is the celebration of the spring equinox?

It has become a tradition that between March 19 and 21, Bernal welcomes spring with a mystical and religious festival that brings together locals and thousands of tourists who come to recharge their bodies with the positive energy that is said to emanate from the rock.

During the colorful festivity, a cultural program is developed, including pre-Columbian rites and dances.

Other popular festivities are on January 20 in honor of San Sebastian and the Cruz de Mayo, when pilgrims climb up to the monolith carrying a cross, and a mask contest is held. The most outstanding masks are exhibited in the Mask Museum.

Visit the Mask Museum

This collection is integrated with more than 300 masks related to mythical characters around Peña de Bernal and the community, and artisans and settlers elaborate, many with artistic talent to celebrate the festivities of the Cross of May. 

The most valuable pieces are made of patol wood. The museum also includes masks from other cultural traditions of the country and things from different parts of the world.

Tablecloths and blankets from Bernal Queretaro

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Traditional Bernal handicraft fabrics – Source: Bernardo Ramonfaur / Shutterstock.com

Bernal has an old and beautiful artisan tradition of making tablecloths, blankets, shawls, jackets, blankets, rugs, cushions, and other textile pieces made on looms that are more than 100 years old.

These pieces are exhibited in many local stores, and rarely does a visitor not buy one to take away. Another typical artisanal product of Bernal is milk candies and crystallized fruits.

Bernal’s gastronomy

It is said that the longevity of Bernal’s inhabitants is due to the good vibes communicated by the monolith and the local “gorditas de maíz quebrado.”

This Queretaro delicacy is not prepared with common corn but with the martajada variety, resulting in exceptionally light and crunchy gorditas.

Other delicacies of Queretaro’s culinary art that you can enjoy in Bernal are the nopales Santos and enchiladas serranas con cecina (cactus paddles and beef jerky enchiladas).

In Bernal, you can take a delicious cultural and gustatory tour of goat’s milk-based sweets from pre-Columbian times, through the impact of the arrival of Spanish customs and the new trends introduced by the accelerated development gastronomy since the 20th century. 

What attractions are there in the nearby towns?

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Source: Arturo Verea / Shutterstock.com

About 36 km south of Bernal is the small city and Magical Town of Tequisquiapan, a charming colonial town whose historic center stands out its main square and the temple of Santa María de la Asunción.

Tequisquiapan is surrounded by vineyards and is part of the Cheese and Wine Route of Queretaro.

Every year the Pueblo Mágico hosts the National Cheese and Wine Fair, bringing together national and international cheese and wine tasters and tourists.

Enjoy the Cheese and Wine Route

The semi-desert territory of Queretaro offers good weather conditions for producing wine. The grape harvest festival occurs between late August and early September, and the region’s vineyards and wineries fill up with wine tasters and visitors.

Queretaro’s artisanal cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk cheeses, both fresh, matured, and cured, are famous for their flavor and an excellent pairing with wine.

Bernal, Tequisquiapan, and other picturesque towns in Queretaro are part of the Cheese and Wine Route. Their vineyards, cheese factories, and restaurants are frequent venues for tastings, samplings, and gastronomic festivals.

Visit the nearby botanical garden

Less than 20 km from Bernal is the picturesque town of Cadereyta de Montes, one of its most outstanding attractions is its botanical garden.

This educational and recreational conservationist institution specializes in the flora of the semi-desert of Queretaro. In its 5 hectares, it gathers the most representative of the state’s plant species, some of which are in danger of disappearing.

The walk among yucca palms, izotes, and other species is delightful and can be guided to understand better.

Bernal Queretaro Hotels

  • On Calle Los Arcos 3 in Bernal is the Hotel El Cantar del Viento, with a splendid monolith view. The hotel’s guests highlight the friendliness of the staff and the excellent breakfast they offer, which is very important if you are planning to undertake the challenge of climbing the Peña
  • Hotel Villa Bernal is a small and cozy lodging with an excellent price/quality ratio located at Avenida Revolución 50
  • Casa Tsaya Hotel Boutique, at Ignacio Zaragoza 9, the rooms are decorated in a colonial style, and the staff is very attentive and helpful
  • Casa Mateo Hotel Boutique is located downtown, in front of the main square, in an 18th-century building, and its clients highlight its pleasant and clean rooms
  • Hotel Posada San Jorge, on the outskirts of town, is near the peña
  • Casa Caro, at Aldama 6, is nicely decorated and has a privileged view of the monolith

Where to eat?

  • Arrayan, the restaurant at Casa Tsaya Hotel, is mentioned for its delicious dishes, such as the cochinita lasagna and the steak with chipotle sauce
  • Tierracielo restaurant has a spectacular view and is praised for its prime steaks
  • The Piave restaurant offers pasta, pizzas and is also known for its carpaccios and its mutton with fine herbs

Enjoy a night out!

Bernal’s nights are ideal for putting on your jacket, slipping into a cozy bar, and ordering a drink to warm up your body and recover from the exhausting but pleasant day.

Terracielo, Mesón de la Roca, La Pata del Perro, and El Solar are some of the most frequented establishments.

Ready to climb Peña de Bernal Queretaro and admire the incomparable scenery from the top? If you don’t make it to the top, it doesn’t matter; you can always try again! I wish you success in your climb!

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