A Weekend Guide to Visiting Peña de Bernal + Tequisquiapan, Querétaro’s Best Pueblos Mágicos
Despite there being many, many day trips (across eight different states!) that you can take in under four hours from Mexico City, I would say Querétaro will always up there as a big fan favourite destination amongst travellers and locals alike. This is perhaps in part due to its reputation as a wine and cheese hotspot, with vineyards aplenty, but arguably also because Querétaro state plays host to five of the country’s 111 Mexican magic towns (Tequisquiapan, Bernal, Jalpan, Cadareyta and San Joaquín). Even so, it still took almost two years of living in Mexico to drag myself there and enjoy the sights and sounds it had to offer; let’s just say I wish I’d got around to it sooner.
In this brief weekend guide, I’ll be detailing how to enjoy a few leisurely hours in the exquisitely named Tequisquiapan (Te-kiss-key-a-pan) and Bernal, a town best known for its towering peña (no albur intended).
While commonly known as Peña de Bernal, the town itself is actually called Bernal, with the Peña part coming from the giant monolith that dominates the town’s skyline. Honestly? This was the real jewel in the crown of my weekend exploring Querétaro’s pueblos mágicos and is easily up there as one of my top 10 Mexico destination recommendations; it was small enough to explore on foot and feel like you’d covered good ground in a short space of time, plus it has a unique attraction in the peña and the food was great.
(¿Qué hacer en Peña de Bernal?)
Visit the Peña de Bernal
The world’s tallest (but not largest) monolith, beating out Brazil’s Sugarloaf Mountain and the Rock of Gibraltar, la Peña de Bernal is quite the attraction and actually way better in real life than the photos make it look. While you can theoretically hike to the top, who has the time? We rented a man with a van who gave us a detailed (if repetitive) explanation of the town, the peña and the key sights, all while he drove us around the winding streets of Bernal. Unless you’re desperate to stand atop a giant monolith, I highly recommend seeing it this way instead.
Explore on foot
There were at least five points during our car tour when I wanted to get out and snap a photo of the quirky surroundings, but it just wasn’t possible. Therefore, this is a town you must also explore on foot. Wander through the shops, maybe treat yourself to a glass of slimy-but-apparently-quite-good-for-you pulque and get the obligatory photo of the peña from the town’s main street.
(¿Dónde comer en Peña de Bernal?)
We ate gorditas at the ‘base camp’ of the peña, where we were released from the man with a van for thirty minutes to browse the tacky souvenir options and grab a quick bite to eat. For just £1 I got a quite frankly enormous disc of dough, stuffed with chorizo and topped with ensalada de nopales (cactus salad), so you really can’t go wrong.
(¿Cómo llegar a Peña de Bernal?)
If you’re going directly from Mexico City to Bernal, then you need to get a Flecha Roja bus to Ezequiel Montes, which takes just under four hours. From there, you need to head to the next street down from the bus station, which is where buses bound for Bernal leave from. They depart every 15 minutes or so and cost around 20 pesos each way.
Alternatively, if you’re travelling from Tequisquiapan Querétaro to Bernal Querétaro, go to the bus station and head to Ezequiel Montes that way, then follow the rest of the steps above.
A quaint and quiet town in the south-east of Querétaro, Tequisquiapan’s main attraction is a pleasant central square, lots and lots of gorditas (the food, obviously) and proximity to plenty of the state’s best vineyards. I actually went to Tequis (as it’s more colloquially known) primarily because a friend of mine had a house there, but it’s prime weekend trip material and there are so many hotels. Genuinely, a ridiculous amount, when you consider how small the place is. Unfortunately, I can’t give you any accommodation recommendations though, so you’re on your own with that.
(¿Qué hacer en Tequisquiapan?)
OK, this sounds like a cop-out answer, but really, wandering the quaint streets of Tequisquiapan, snapping photos of the plant hemmed windows and picturesque doorways as you go (I have a bit of an obsession for taking pictures of Mexican doorways), is a must. Why? Well, realistically, you’ve come to Tequisquiapan as an escape from the overwhelming mania that is Mexico City, probably to drink a ton of wine and eat cheese, so you’re unlikely to wanna do much more than take a leisurely stroll and pose in front of the brightly coloured Tequis sign that dominates Tequisquiapan centro.
One of the main attractions of Tequis is the monument that marks the geographical heart of Mexico. Fascinating for geography nerds, a photo op for the rest of us, but still pretty cool either way.
On that note, getting day drunk (a favoured pastime of mine) at a vineyard is pretty standard behaviour and hugely recommended for any visitors in Tequis. We unfortunately didn’t make it to them on our visit (after sleeping in, oops), but they’re a top activity in Tequisquiapan for any traveller hoping to visit this part of Mexico. Buses and tours run regularly from the town and the vineyards you want to pay most attention to are Freixenet and La Redonda.
(¿Dónde comer en Tequisquiapan?)
Mexican food at the local market
There’ll definitely be something to take your fancy (I had a gordita, someone else had tacos de cochinita pibil), and make sure you get a milkshake or freshly squeezed juice to wash it down with. The central location and ease of access makes this the only place to eat in Tequis. OK, that’s a lie. We also had breakfast one day at a hotel just off the central square that was mediocre at best. Stick to the street and market food if you want to eat well in this tiny pueblo mágico.
(¿Cómo llegar a Tequisquiapan?)
Working on the assumption that you don’t have access to a car, the best way to get to Tequisquiapan is, obviously, to take a bus. From Mexico City’s Terminal del Norte, there are plenty of bus companies that run to Tequis every day, such as Flecha Roja, but I recommend the luxurious ETN experience.