We rolled into town mid afternoon on Saturday. The Mexico City-Querétaro tollway takes you through these beautifully rolling mountains so your first view of the city is from the top of a crest. It’s gorgeous. After taking in the view, we drove down into the valley and under one of the 74 arches of the aqueduct to get to our hotel. The aqueduct is enormous: almost 1300 meters long with arches of up to 30 meters tall. Amazingly, it provided water to the city from its completion in 1738 all the way until 1970. Nearly 250 years!
The hotel we stayed in is a renovated hacienda and our room was gorgeous, if a bit dark. Since we were both STARVING by the time we got checked in, we decided to venture out to find food. As luck would have it, just across the street (and the canal/stream that runs down the median) was a taco place. We ate some of the most delicious tacos I’ve ever had and I’m not only saying that because I was hungry at the time. The chorizo tacos were killer and the house made horchata was to die for. You know the food is going to be legit in Mexico when the salsa bar has more options than you have fingers. My husband is a salsa fiend so he had to try all the varieties and we ended up with a bunch of tiny bowls of salsa and toppings at our table. The restaurant also makes their own cafe de olla, one of my very favorite Mexican treats, so we each ended the meal with a cup before venturing out into the town.
After a quick orientation walk through the old colonial part of town, we headed back to the hotel to relax, shower, and get some sleep. We were both exhausted from the travel and from both the hotel and car drama. Unfortunately, the hotel was hosting a wedding that evening and in a room with cement walls, that mean echo-y banda music playing at an ear-splitting level until 4 a.m. I was pretty pissed especially as the hotel had been billed as spa-like and quiet. My husband, bless his heart, slept through much of the music, but that is not a talent that I possess. I spent hours fuming and wishing I had earplugs until I couldn’t take it any longer.
I wanted so badly to go up and give those partiers a piece of my mind but then I thought about the bride and the groom and their families and how much of a gringa asshole that would make me look like, so I put on my very best metaphorical diplomat hat and instead walked across the street back to the taco shop and ate more extra-spicy chorizo tacos and downed several tasty glasses of fresh horchata. Because nothing quite kills sleepy-rage like tacos. It was about 4:15 when I finally got back to the hotel and into bed so I turned off both our alarms before I crashed.
Sunday was a gorgeous day, weather-wise. We got up late, had breakfast and decided to wander more in the colonial part of the town. There’s a lot of history in Querétaro and we wanted to absorb as much of it as we could. Here are some of what I think are the most interesting facts about Querétaro:
- Querétaro’s city center is unique because it’s one of the only cities in the New World where the indigenous populations and colonizers lived in the same space.
- The architecture of Querétaro was largely the reason for the city’s addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Most of the colonial buildings are Baroque in nature, but with a twist: incredible “multilobate arches” made of sparkly pink stone.
- The plot that began the Mexican War of Independence (1810) was hatched in Querétaro.
- It was the temporary capital of the country when U.S. forces invaded Mexico City during the Mexican-American war (1846).
- In 1848 the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed in Querétaro to end that same war and to establish the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico.
- Maximilian I of France was captured and executed in Querétaro in 1867 ending the French occupation of Mexico.*
- In 1917, the Mexican constitution was drafted and signed in Querétaro. This same constitution governs Mexico today and was the blueprint for both the Russian (1918) and the Weimar (1919) constitutions.
We toured a bunch of the historic buildings, many of them churches or residences-turned-museums. It really was incredible. Querétaro is also a city of gardens and squares. Most of the squares are surrounded by trees that are planted in straight lines and pruned into geometric shapes right out of Alice in Wonderland. Since we were visiting in the off season for tourists, we pretty much had the run of the place and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the buildings, churches, and public spaces of the town.
After an quick afternoon nap, we decided to take the rental car out for a spin and to venture a few kilometers out of town to check out La Peña de Bernal. San Sebastián de Bernal is a tiny–and I mean TINY–town at the base of one of the largest natural monoliths in the world.** The drive was pretty but the instructions we had to the town were a bit sketchy and our car had a tiny, automatic transmission so the approach was a bit touch and go, but we made it in time to hike up to the base and watch the sun go down. As luck would have it, the day we were there was also the Catholic Festival of San Sebastián, so we got to witness the processional and we stayed in the square for a little bit of the party before heading back to Querétaro.
Monday we didn’t have much time to explore because we both had flights to catch in Mexico City so we got up and packed and headed out of town. The drive back to the city was blissfully uneventful and we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. It was good that we got there early because it took nearly an hour to return the rental car due to a total system meltdown. The girls at the car rental counter were very sweet and apologetic and as payment for all the car drama and the system issues, they gave us a pretty sweet discount on the rental. After returning the car, we had just enough time to get some lunch in the airport and for my husband to head through passport controls on his way back to DC. I got to take the airport train from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 (wish I had known about that when we arrived!) and my flight left without a hitch.
Even with all the car drama, our 3-day weekend in Querétaro was one of my very favorite trips we went on in Mexico. It’s such a cute town, chock full of history, with good food, great wine, and incredibly sweet people. It’s the kind of small town that I’d visit regularly if I lived in Mexico again, especially if I lived in the center of the country, where it’s easy to reach via car.
*I had no idea that the French had occupied Mexico until I moved to Mexico. My mind was seriously blown. To read more about this crazy interesting part of history, click here.
**For those (like me) who didn’t know what that actually meant before googling it, monoliths are essentially isolated mountains or rocks that rise above their surrounding areas. There is some debate in the geologic communities as to exactly what constitutes a monolith scientifically, but so you get an idea in your head about what a monolith looks like, Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil and the Rock of Gibraltar are excellent examples.