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Bernal Queretaro

Bernal, Querétaro

A tiny little tourist trap, Bernal is also an adorable villaje that's well worth a visit. Nature-lovers, hikers, and rock climbers come to enjoy la Peña de Bernal, a stately monolith that's on the short list of the world's biggest rocks. At the base of the picture-worthy rock, San Sebastián de Bernal winds along a main street and several arteries, inviting an easy wander for those who prefer to admire the Peña from town. Mexico has named Bernal a Pueblo Mágico, a designation that provides funds for beautification and tourism-related projects, encouraging residents to preserve what they have. In fact, the small plazas, fountains, unusual church, and one- and two-story homes are charming and well-maintained.

Bernal has simple shops and basic eateries where you can get some great deals. On a recent visit, a friend and I peeked into a low-budget eatery called Gorditas Don Coco. It was full of Mexican families and couples, so we decided to give it a try. Young girls in jeans and aprons moved between the long wooden tables and the beaten metal grills, doling out gorditas de papas con chorizo, champiñon, flor de calabaza, and rajas (maize cakes stuffed with potatoes and sausage, mushrooms, pumpkin flowers, chile strips or other fillings), along with quesadillas and tacos. The most delicious thing we ordered, along with the strong coffee, was nopal en penco, a warm salad of chopped nopal cactus cooked inside the large "leaf" of another type of cactus. Exquisite! Our meal for two, consisting of coffee, three gorditas, two tacos, and serving of cactus salad was only about 69 pesos---just over US$5.

After stuffing ourselves with healthy snacks, we browsed the galleries and shops along Bernal's main street, paved in flat stones and graced with flowering trees and bushes. Among the best buys are blankets, sweaters, capes, and other woolen goods for which the town is known. My friend was looking to purchase a bedspread, and found the best deal at Artesanías Sujey, attended in person by its friendly owner.

Bernal sits at 2,080 meters (6,824 feet) above sea level and has a semi-desert climate. Hikers can climb the lower slopes of Pena de Bernal without equipment, but a guide and some basic equipment are suggested for climbing to the summit. Most folks, however, just stop by for a stroll around town to enjoy the views and the relaxing, provincial air that Bernal exudes.

Called La Puerta de la Sierra Gorda (the gateway to the Sierra Gorda mountains), Bernal is a worthwhile destination and easily reached from Queretaro, Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende. Its main festivals are the Feast of the Holy Cross, in early May, when a cross is carried to town from the top of the mountain, and the feast of Saint Sebastian, in honor of the town's patron saint. But Bernal is a pleasant getaway any time of year.

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