Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Spend a long and lovely weekend in Querétaro

When the magical chaos of Mexico City starts to grate on my nerves, I hop on a bus to somewhere. Knowing my preference for unbridled walking, interesting museums, bright colors and good food, I decided recently to spend a long weekend in the lovely, charming city of Santiago de Querétaro.

Full disclosure: I’m a fairly recent transplant to Mexico still donning rose-colored glasses. My Mexican honeymoon rages with crystalline palpability, but as a professional traveler, I remain acutely aware of its setbacks. 

Otomis in Queretaro
Otomis in Quéretaro still hang on to their heritage. (Photo: Government of Mexico)

Nonetheless, I would, without a shred of hesitation, suggest a getaway in Querétaro to even the most jaded of travelers. If you like: 

  • flowers
  • history
  • museums
  • nature
  • wine
  • shiny, sequined quinceañera dresses 

You’re going to enjoy Queretaro.

You really don’t need much time to adequately explore the city and its surroundings. I spent three nights here and felt that to be perfectly sufficient. My mood was lifted, creativity sparked and thirst for adventure quenched. If you’re looking for a great weekend away with friends or solo (like I was), Querétaro might just be the ticket. 

The region’s background is worth a refresher. The 13th century saw its original indigenous inhabitants, the Otomí, conquered by the almighty Mexica (Aztecs). In 1522, the Spanish arrived in what is now Queretaro and struck an alliance with the Otomí to push the Mexica out. As a sign of loyalty, the Otomí leader Conin converted to Catholicism and founded Querétaro in 1531. 

Ethnically diverse and economically sound, Querétaro grew alongside the Spaniards until the 19th century, when local revolutionaries planned a rebellion. As a result, it’s the official birthplace of Mexican Independence, which was finally won in 1821. Today, Santiago de Querétaro boasts about 2.3 million inhabitants and explodes with soul.

History lesson over. What is there to do?

Let’s start with food because, well, isn’t it an essential component of any meaningful experience? While I would be remiss to label Querétaro a foodie city, one should try its personalized, noticeably thicker version of mole and enchiladas Queretanas, filled with chicken and slathered in red sauce and crumbly cheese. 

Vanggie restaurant, Queretaro
Queretaro is surprisingly full of vegetarian and even vegan options. (Vanggie)

Being pseudo-vegan, I was unable to try either of these dishes. However, being a taco LOVER, I was absolutely delighted by the handful of excellent vegan options sprinkled throughout town. Vanggie Restaurant is a must-try that can be found within the sleek walls of a stylish, floral courtyard. If you dig hipster vibes, TacoGreen is another fantastic option to fill your belly.

Since I start nearly each day of my life with fresh juice, I always beeline for the closest open-air market upon waking up. Mercado de la Cruz is the city’s main attraction, but Mercado Hidalgo captured my heart, and that’s largely due to the pleasant, friendly people. 

I found myself unable to break free of one popular stall whose name never caught my eye. Entering from Calle Hidalgo, you will see a set of bar stools to your right and two to three jolly women selling café de olla, vegan tamales and not-vegan-at-all-but-couldn’t-care-less carrot cake that I dream about on the regular. It’s vibrantly local. 

Once satiated, I meandered the quaint streets lined with colorful facades that positively dripped with bright bougainvillea trees. Querétaro is bursting with museums situated inside stunning historical buildings. The Regional Museum is in a former monastery, and the Museum of Art is in a former convent.

MUCAL, the museum of the calendar in Queretaro
Take time to visit the city’s museum devoted to the calendar, MUCAL. (Photo: MUCAL)

Personally, I really enjoyed the MUCAL museum — a museum devoted to calendars — with its fun 1930’s pinup-girl throwbacks, and the haunting, lifelike paintings at Museo Fundacion Santiago Carbonell wowed me. For more examples of stunning historic buildings, check out the Casa de la Marquesa — an opulent mansion-turned-hotel that has hosted President Eulalio Gutiérrez and would-be emperor of Mexico, Maximiliano l —as well as the gorgeous Convento de la Santa Cruz.

Time for a coffee break. While I can’t speak for the quality of the coffee itself, one of my favorite moments was drinking tea by the open-air window at Cafeteria De Barrio. From here, I had unobstructed views of the square’s cathedral, surrounded by local families and spirited street vendors. 

Once revived, I made my way to Cerro de las Campanas, a park that can be reached on foot or by Uber. Not only did I stumble on several wonderfully dramatic quinceañera photo shoots, I later realized that I was standing on the very grounds where Maximiliano l was executed in 1867.

Pena de Bernal
Bernal’s monolith, the iconic Peña de Bernal, attracts many hikers.

By now, I could no longer ignore the city’s penchant for wine. Instead of tasting it in town, I went straight to the source, on a day trip to wine country. 

My small group tour stopped at Freixenet, probably the most well-known of all the Querétaro-area wineries due to its cellar packed with Spanish-style cava. Not my fave, but my travel mates were happy. 

Most tours offer the option to visit the traditional towns of Tequisquiapan, Bernal or both. I opted for Bernal because of its 100-million-year-old monolith that I ambitiously thought I’d be hiking. Pro tip: Make Bernal its own day trip if hiking is on your radar.

Because I chowed down on various tacos most of the day, my dinner consisted of my preferred Mexican delicacy (besides tortillas): mezcal. I spent two of my three nights snacking and sipping in Alquimia Cocktail Bar, where I felt comfortable alone, chatting with the bartenders in Spanish (which improved exponentially with each drink I downed). 

By Day 4, I was ready to return to Mexico City, feeling thoroughly recharged and reenergized by my visit. While I didn’t have the chance to indulge in all of Querétaro’s offerings (I would have loved to partake in the nighttime tram tour and visit the El Cerrito archaeological zone), I felt wholly fulfilled by my four-day adventure.

Wine route of Queretaro state
Just outside the city, the state of Querétaro has a wine route with several wineries that hold tours, do tastings and during, harvest season, grape stomping. (Photo: Dreamstime)

Bethany Platanella is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Mexico City. With her company, Active Escapes International, she plans and leads private and small-group active retreats. She loves Mexico’s local markets, Mexican slang, practicing yoga and fresh tortillas.  Sign up for her (almost) weekly love letters or follow her Instagram account, @a.e.i.wellness

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