Central Mexico has the country’s best climate, regional dishes, and culturally authentic cities and towns that are better destinations for travelers looking for a taste of the most authentic Mexican experience. Central Mexico is mountainous with a semi-arid climate that lends well to visits year-round and offers a wide range of natural and cultural sites to explore. La Peña de Bernal is a perfect combination of natural and cultural heritage characteristic of Central Mexico. Located 45 minutes outside of the capital city of Queretaro and 2,5 hours from Mexico City, La Peña de Bernal is a giant monolith or stone mountain that towers over the surrounding mountainous countryside and charming town that shares its name. You can grab a bus from Queretaro to Bernal for 55 pesos. The town is quaint and authentic, and the monolith is impressive and majestic, earning La Peña de Bernal the designation of one of Mexico’s 13 wonders alongside Chichen Itza. Here, we will explore activities in the town as well as hiking and climbing this incredible geographical wonder.
The enchanting town at the foot of the famous monolith that shares its name is prime Pueblo Magico material. Even if you are not a fan of strenuous hikes, you will thoroughly enjoy wandering through the cobblestone streets and visiting the unique and authentic locales of this colorful pueblo. The weather is nearly always sunny, dry, and cool, so no matter when you come, it will be a good time for an outdoor stroll.
There are a few small museums in Bernal worth visiting. The first of which is el Museo de la Mascara or the mask museum. Featuring over 300 masks from past and present indigenous cultures of the region, the republic, and other parts of the globe, this museum solicits local indigenous artisans familiar with cultural myths surrounding the monolith to design featured masks accordingly.
Another museum and sweets shop of note is Dulces Bernal. Queretaro is famous for a particular type of sweets made with natilla and cajeta, which is custard or caramel made from goat and sheep’s milk. They have a wide selection of sweets with cajeta and natilla as the star ingredients including caramels, alfajor cookies, guayaba jellies, truffle chocolates filled with cajeta, assorted cajeta custard candies, and many more. A box of artisanal candies or a nice bottle of high-quality cajeta are great souvenirs for sweet-toothed friends and family.
Lastly, Bernal is part of la ruta del vino y queso or the wine and cheese route, as the region in which it lies has optimal climatic conditions to support Mexico’s finest vineyards. There are plenty of restaurants and shops that sell local wine and delicious local fresh and cured cow, sheep, and goat milk cheeses. You could get some to go for a picnic or a post-hike snack.
The Peña de Bernal is the 3rd largest monolith in the world, and for 30 pesos, you can hike up 80% of the rock to an ample outlook point. It is an incredibly steep hike, and at an altitude of 2500 m or 8200 ft. above sea level, it is a challenge, to say the least. That said, it is not too long of a climb and takes maybe an hour to reach the top. They also allow you to hike with your pets, for those of you who travel with your furry family members.
At the highest point you can reach through hiking, there is a small chapel where many religious travelers like to leave offerings or pray to culminate the climb. However, I find the spectacular view of the town, sky, and surrounding mountains far more spiritual of an experience.
For rock climbers, you can scale up to the very top of the monolith with a local climbing guide. Obviously, La Peña de Bernal is a legendary climbing destination for the global climbing community. Climbers will take a different hike up half the monolith’s length, and from there will use proper bungee and climbing equipment to boulder the rest of the way up. There are four different routes: La Bernalina (which is classic route), El Lado Oscuro de la Luna (Dark Side of the Moon), Lluvia de Estrellas (Star Shower), and the hardest, most expert route, Gondwana.
I recommend visiting both the town and the monolith on a weekday as it becomes obnoxiously overrun with local tourism on the weekends. Whether you go for a day trip or a weekend getaway, La Peña de Bernal is the perfect destination to get a taste of local cuisine, cultural heritage, and experience one of Mexico's 13 wonders, probably the most impressive one.
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