Although millions of tourists arrive in Mexico every year, most of them simply confine themselves to the country’s gorgeous beaches. In doing so, they miss out on 90% of all the wonderful things Mexico has to offer.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a beach vacation. Beaches are awesome! However, once in a while you should get off the cruise ship, forget about the luxury resorts, and think twice before you book a traditional and predictable, all-included vacation.
If you want to experience the real Mexico, you need to dig a little deeper. And believe me, you’ll be doing yourself a favor because it will be an unforgettable experience.
Mexico’s Magical Towns
The Mexican Ministry of Tourism awards the title of “Magical Town” to certain cities that are unique and culturally special. There are over a hundred Magical Towns scattered all over the country, just waiting for you to discover their hidden treasures. Can you imagine that?
It would be difficult to pick out only a few Magical Towns as “the best”, but I do have a favorite- San Sebastian Bernal in the central province of Queretaro.
The Magical Town of Bernal
Bernal was founded in the 17th century and it still keeps much of its colonial charm. The streets are narrow and wind through old, -Spanish-style buildings painted in bright colors. To be honest, I’ve never seen anything quite as charming as the streets of Bernal.
Visiting Bernal is like traveling in a time machine and stepping back to the time of horse-drawn carriages, literally. This isn’t a party town, but if you’re looking for a place where you can get lost in picture-perfect surroundings and slow down the pace of life, then Bernal is for you.
The Peña de Bernal
The first thing that stands out about Bernal is that the town is built at the foot of an enormous rock monolith, or “peña”. This peña is one of the world’s largest monoliths. To give you an idea of its size, it’s only about 200 feet shorter than the Rock of Gibraltar. But the best thing about the rock at Bernal is that you can climb it.
There’s actually a path that leads almost all the way to the top of the peña. But if you want to get to the very top, you’ll need to do a little vertical rock climbing, aided by metal rods embedded ladder-like to the side of the monolith. Not everybody can get to the summit, but if you do, you’ll enjoy a breathtaking view of the countryside below.
There are many legends surrounding the peña. In fact, it’s considered a sacred place for the local indigenous tribes. Some people say that the minerals inside the rock will fill you with positive energy. Every March 21st, during the spring equinox, thousands of people arrive to take part in a sacred ritual. If want to join in, don’t forget to wear all white clothes.
The Menu in Bernal
After you get down from the peña, you might be feeling hungry. You can eat at restaurant in the town center, or enjoy some street food, or take a seat in one of the many local homes that double as little diners. Personally, I think you should choose either one of the two last options. Just ask one of the locals to point you in the right direction.
On the menu, you’ll find enchiladas, tacos with handmade tortillas, barbacoa (barbecue) made in a hole in the ground, gorditas, or any other sort of traditional Mexican dish. You can even sample of the locally made wine. Trust me, you won’t be missing the food from back home anytime soon.
Walking in the Streets of Bernal
Walking through the cobblestone streets of Bernal is one of the loveliest experiences I’ve ever had. It seems like every street, every corner, and every little nook and cranny holds a colorful surprise. Seriously, it’s absolutely delightful.
Since Bernal is an old colonial town, the most interesting buildings to see are churches and chapels. Honestly, I think you should take a walk through the entire town. Even if you’re not a fan of old architecture, you’ll find that the atmosphere completely draws you in. Or take a guided tour. And remember to clear the memory in your camera because you’ll take lots of pictures!
What I like to do in Bernal is shop. I go crazy for all the handcrafts but I specially love the textiles. In Bernal, artisans weave woolen cloth in looms that are over a hundred years old, and this makes for some spectacular items. You can find sarapes, coats, blankets, carpets, tablecloths, bedspreads, and any other textile you can think of. I already own bedspreads, cushions, placemats, and scarves from Bernal. Do yourself a favor and don’t leave the town without at least one of such souvenirs.
How to Get There and Where to Stay
If you’re already in Mexico, Bernal is the perfect weekend getaway. Most people simply take a day trip there, but I prefer to stay overnight. There are plenty of little hotels housed in old colonial buildings and you’ll love the ambience. It makes you feel like you’re inside a Zorro movie! Prices vary, but accommodations are nowhere near as expensive as a resort in Cancun or Los Cabos. You’re almost certain to find something that suits you.
To get to Bernal, first you have to get to the city of Queretaro. The Dallas and Houston airports offer direct flights, but you can also fly to Mexico City and then take a flight or a bus to Queretaro and from there to Bernal. If you’re arriving from Canada or Europe, you’ll have to go through Mexico City.
Seek Out Mexico’s Hidden Treasures
I hope that when you come to Mexico, you’ll be willing to travel beyond the border towns and the beach resorts. The province of Queretaro, with magical towns like Bernal and Tequisquiapan and its wine country, is an excellent option. In a place like this, you’ll discover a whole new side of Mexico and its people. Don’t wait too long to come!
This guest post was written by Fabiola Rodriguez, a Mexican blogger, ESL teacher, translator, dedicated to sharing all the fascinating things about Mexico at My Heart Of Mexico