Full-day excursions from Mexico City are a great way to explore other parts of Central Mexico and offer a nice retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city itself. It has been a full year since I last came here, so I was more than ready to hit the road once again and explore the beautiful historic parts of Santiago de Querétaro, 213 kilometers northwest of Mexico City in the state of Querétaro. It is also referred to as the “Pearl of the Bajío” and the safest city in whole Mexico with the highest quality of life.
The historic downtown area was declared UNESCO World Heritage in 1996 and truly is a marvel to explore by feet. While the Querétaro metro region has roughly around 800,000 inhabitants, walking the streets of the old town actually felt like being in a small urban village with beautifully appointed squares, enchanted alleyways and lots of richly fitted churches and cathedrals.
A wide array of cafés, bars and restaurants line up in the streets and invite for a sit to watch the lively street scenes or how about browsing through the many artesian shops and boutiques? There are lots of places to sell locally produced sweets and candies, all made of natural products grown in the Querétaro region.
It was also interesting to learn that Santiago de Querétaro is also a hot spot for the wine growing agriculture, being the second largest vineyard region in Mexico after the Baja California. If I had the time, it would have been fantastic to participate in one of the many wine and cheese tasting tours that were on offer or to visit the small village of Bernal, about 40 minutes by car from Santiago de Querétaro. This town is well-known for its beautiful sunsets and the mysterious mountain called Pena de Bernal towering above.
But even if you decide to stay in the city, there are lots of things and sites to discover and time will fly as you walk around the colorful streets.
How to get there?
The best starting point is the Autobus del Norte terminal which can easily be reached by the yellow metro line. For a general overview of operators on this route, their timetables and prices, Checkmybus.com is a helpful website. Yet I would recommend to buy the tickets online on the website of the bus company itself. I did with Futura and it was hassle free. I payed around 560 Pesos for the roundtrip (27€). Prices from the southern bus terminal Tasquena may be cheaper, but as you will have to pass the entire city in order to get to the North, this may add additional travel time and may result in loosing at least an hour during rush hours.
The travel time to Santiago de Querétaro is roughly 2 1/2 hours, maybe three, depending on traffic. So I would recommend to depart Mexico City not after 8am and return not before 6 or 7pm! Most buses arrive and depart at the Querétaro Bus Terminal, a 15 minutes taxi ride away from historic downtown.
Official taxis are paid in advance at the ticket counter inside the bus terminal or right outside, close to the taxi stand. The fare is 50 Pesos. For the return, budget for the same amount. I paid the driver automatically 60 Pesos (with a little tip) and he accepted happily upon arrival at the terminal.
What to see?
I let the driver drop me off at the Plaza de la Constitución. From here, it is easy to make your way around. There is a Tourist info a block away right opposite of Jardín Zenea, right next to the beautiful Templo de San Francisco. They provide you with a map and can answer any questions you may have, as always in the friendly and hearty Mexican way that I have encountered anywhere I have traveled in the country so far.
I always enjoy to simply start off without a set route when going somewhere new, so please do not expect me to provide you with one. But as I walked criss-cross through town, I automatically passed most of the many sites that are recommended to visit while being in Querétaro. The area is pedestrian friendly and filled with amazing colonial architecture. Here are my top sightseeing highlights in Santiago de Querétaro:
Most prominent, of course, the impressive Aqueduct with an overall length of over 1,2 kilometers and an average height of 23 meters. It was built in the 18th century to serve the residents of the city of La Canada with water and is a well-preserved relict.
From the small church Pantéon de los Queretanos Illustres, very close to the aqueduct´s origin, you can enjoy a gorgeous panoramic view over the whole city and the construction itself.
The Franciscian Santa Cruz monastery inherits beautiful Baroque and Neoclassical interiors and you can take a guided tour of the monastery´s garden (20 Pesos, Spanish only).
Plaza de Armas is a rather small square compared to the other ones, yet it is the city´s main plaza and starting point to events such as the Night of the Legends. Together with Plaza de Independencia, it forms the oldest part of Querétaro and is lined by beautiful Indian laurel trees and colonial mansions.
My two favorite squares though are Jardín Zenea and Jardín Guerrero. Zenea lies right across the street of the San Francisco monastery and features a beautiful kiosk with lots of benches to unwind on. Guerrero is adjacent to the gorgeous Santa Clara cathedral and has a beautiful fountain in the center. This is a very busy public space with old and young socializing in the shadow of the trees and street musicians playing their tunes. The famous Neptune´s fountain is just around the corner as well.
Another green hideaway is the city´s gorgeous park Alameda Hidalgo, just a little off the historic city center. I went for a little rest and enjoyed the lively atmosphere with the kids splashing in the grand water fountain on this hot and sunny day.
Other places of interest that I would recommend to see are the Teatro de la República and the Templo de Teresitas. The latter looks rather like a judicial building from the outside, yet it was particularly the ceiling that got me. Sadly, I arrived just when a funeral service had finished and the grieving widow broke down in tears on the outside steps.
Apart from that, there were so many more things to tour and see, but that would have busted my entire schedule. To get a more detailed knowledge about the city and its rich history, it surely may be recommendable to stay for at least a few days. But for now, it was just the perfect day in another perfect Pueblo Mágico that Mexico has to offer. Wonderful!