Peña de Bernal is a small Mexican magic town that is part of the wine and cheese route in Querétaro, Mexico. In addition to offering a unique gastronomic experience, it also has become very attractive town for adventurous travelers, since it is home to the Peña de Bernal, the third biggest monolith in the world!
San Sebastián Bernal, better known as Bernal, (which has been named after its chief attraction, refers to a "place of stones or boulders" ), is a colonial village in the Mexican state of Querétaro. It was founded in 1642 by Spanish soldier Alonso Cabrera. Bernal is located 40 minutes by road from state capital Santiago de Querétaro and two and a half hours from Mexico City. It is located in the Ezequiel Montes municipality, a few minutes from Colón and Cadereyta.
Bernal is a small town, with less than 3,000 residents, and thus it’s also one of the smallest Magic Towns in Mexico…which means it is very easy to get around as most of the activity is located in the Main Plaza. Though it’s small, it’s big in a world class / world famous way. Bernal is known for its enormous monolith of massive rock, the Peña de Bernal, the third highest on the planet but the only one that is surrounded by vineyards, a bustling Magic Town, and numerous activities which will keep you busy from morning until night!
In 2005, Bernal was designated a Pueblo Mágico ("Magical Town") by the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR). The Magical Towns are admitted for being localities that have magic symbolic attributes, legends, history, transcendental facts that associate in each of its cultural manifestations, and that today mean a great opportunity for tourism. And yet, while officially established in 1940, the surrounding areas have a history dating back to the 1500’s.
However, if you are planning a trip to Queretaro (the capital of the state by the same name) a visit to Bernal is a must. While the Bernal monolith is always the elephant in the room, it should certainly be on your to-do list. Hiking up to the top of the monolith, which is 1,420 feet high, can be a great daytime adventure. Although it may look daunting, those who have a moderate level of exercise capability should be able to reach the mid level without too much difficulty. However, doing the hike to the top is more challenging, and certainly more difficult and we strongly suggest this be undertaken by one of the many highly capable guides, should always be done with friends or family and always with a good amount of water and resting whenever feeling tired. Once having reached the summit, (or even the mid level) the views are absolutely astounding – and during a clear day, it is not unusual to see distant towns miles away!
After climbing “the rock”, (which by the way is taller than the Rock of Gibraltar or the Sugarloaf in Rio De Janeiro) you will want to rest, and think about lunch or dinner…and Bernal has many choices to offer to you! For a great lunch or early dinner, we recommend you get to the main plaza and just spin around – you will see numerous places to dine.
Additionally, there are some great shops to visit offering everything from handmade pottery, to great jewelry and fabrics stores. And since Bernal is on the Wine and Cheese route, don’t miss the most well known winery in this town – Las Cavas Freixenet. Or if you simply want to sample some great local cheeses along with a great glass of red wine, just about any restaurant will have a great local selection for you to select something that will treat your palate.
But if history is your thing, we recommend you visit the Templo San Sebastian, the stroll the streets of this small Magic town to see the Old Town Market Building, the red and yellow church on the main square (centuries old and still open and still acting as the main center of this town). Because Bernal is one of the smallest Magic Towns in Mexico, but one of the most interesting, you can see most of the town by just strolling along the beautiful historic and narrow streets – if you you decide to visit, there are numerous boutique hotels to stay for a night or two.
Aside from the history, the rock and the food and wine, we truly encourage you to engage with the local people. All across this great country, you will learn how friendly and interested the people are, and just how kind they are to all who visit. During the day, things can be quite busy, but in the evening, the town takes on a more peaceful demeanor, and you will see Mexican families out for a walk, a dinner or just some coffee and ice cream. Don’t be shy, and you will be delighted with the friendliness of the people of this great little Magic town…it’s one of my favorites!
Visit Peña de Bernal video, by Mexico Desconocido.