Just a short three hour drive north of Mexico City, the charming city of Querétaro is recognized for its Spanish colonial architecture, baroque buildings, and pink stone aqueduct.
Located in the Colonial Highlands of Mexico, Querétaro sits at a high altitude and benefits from spring-like temperatures, sunny skies, and dry climates throughout the majority of the year.
Unlike San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, which are also located in the Colonial Highlands, Querétaro is less hilly and the streets are mostly level, making it more comfortable for tourists to explore by foot.
History of Santiago de Querétaro
Originally founded by Otomí natives, Querétaro became a part of the Aztec empire in 1446. Once the Spanish took it over in 1531, it became a military outpost to protect against enemies in the north.
During colonial times, Querétaro was well-known for being a city made up of Otomí, Tarascan, Chichimec, and Spanish residents.
Historically, the city is famous for playing a major role in the fight for independence from Spain.
Santiago de Querétaro, as it is more formally known, is the place where the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848 (terminating the Mexican War), The Mexican Constitution of 1917 was written, and where the birthplace of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party began in 1929.
Although few tourists outside of Mexico know about Querétaro, the city is a popular destination for Mexicans who are interested in exploring ancient ruins, wineries, waterfalls, and beautiful historic well-preserved Baroque architecture.
Museums & Sights to See
In order to truly take in the colonial architecture of Querétaro, we recommend exploring side streets and alleyways by foot.
Querétaro has a number of lively squares and plazas where visitors can enjoy musicians, performers, restaurants, and cafes.
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Querétaro’s Forbidden Love Aqueduct
According to local folklore, the most iconic structure in city––an 18th-century pink stone aqueduct––was built in honor of forbidden love.
The Marquis of Villa del Áquila, Juan Antonio de Urrutia y Arana, requested that the aqueduct be built after he became enamored with a Capuchin nun named Sister Marcela (also known as Clarissa).
Tragically, since the Marquis was married and Sister Marcela was committed to the convent of Santa Clara, their love never came to fruition. So the marquis decided to build an aqueduct as a tribute to their love.
Although the tale is romantic, the aqueduct which was mainly built by the Chichimeca and Otomí people, historically served a much more important purpose.
During this time, many citizens became ill after consuming unclean water. By providing fresh drinking water, the viaduct essentially ensured the well-being of many ‘Queretanos’ (people from Querétaro).
The aqueduct is no longer in use, but it is one of the most historic and culturally recognized symbols of the city and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.
The aqueduct, which encompasses the historic city center, includes 74 arches (the tallest one being 75 feet tall) and can be seen at multiple vantage points around the city.
The aqueduct can be seen from different parts of the city, but we also recommend taking the time to visit the structure up close.
Pro-Tip: Visit the terrace “Mirador de los Arcos” (located on Ejército Republicano street) at sunset to take in spectacular views of the aqueduct.
La Casa de la Corregidora
Located in the city center, “La Casa de la Corregidora” is famous for hosting some of the most important meetings leading up to Mexico’s declaration of independence against Spain.
The conspiracy political meetings, which were concealed as literary gatherings, were attended by some of Mexico’s most famous revolutionaries.
Promoted mainly by Doña Josefa Ortiz, known as “La Corregidora,” the meetings were coined “the Querétaro conspiracy” and were eventually divulged to an ecclesiastical judge who was warned about the plans for independence.
After hearing this news, “La Corregidora” also known as “the mother of Mexico’s nationhood,” risked her life by alerting the rebel insurgents that the conspiracy for independence had been discovered.
As a result, the date in the fight for independence was moved to the early hours of September 16th, 1810 and the rebels were able to successfully achieve Mexican Independence from the Spanish monarchy.
Today, Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez is recognized as a legendary heroine and a patriot of Mexico’s independence movement.
And the building serves as the government palace of Querétaro and houses two patriotic murals and two busts––one of Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez and another of her husband, Miguel Domínguez.
La Casa de la Zacatena
If you like a good ghost story, you should pay a visit to La Casa de la Zacatena.
Filled with an incredible collection of 17th-century interior design and art, legend has it that the married couple who live here, ended their relationship in a mysterious way.
According to the tale, the wife was unfaithful while the husband traveled for work and eventually, the husband disappeared completely.
Today, many believe the couple’s ghosts are still haunting the home.
José Antonio Origel Aguayo, took the property over, and turned it into a personal museum containing objects and decorations from the 17th through 20th centuries.
While the home is filled with extravagant and decadent objects and art, there is an abnormal and supernatural feeling that creeps throughout the property.
Some of the art works include a painting of the souls of purgatory, a vase with the face of Medusa, and objects containing dragons and elves.
The overall ambiance is heavy and even includes a wall filled with 53 crucifixes.
If you really want to be freaked out, don’t leave without venturing into the backyard, where you’ll find a woman’s reflection peering from one of the windows.
Cerro de las Campanas
This iconic National Park, translates to “Hill of Bells”, and became historic for being the place where Mexico’s last emperor, Maximilian of Habsburg was executed, thus ending the French intervention in Mexico.
Although historic, what makes this place so intriguing are actually the phonolite stones located on the property. When struck, these volcanic stones produce a bell-like-ringing sound, hence the name “Hill of Bells.”
Although visitors who venture to this location will find a series of stones distributed around the hill, unfortunately many of the phonolites disappeared due to tourists who got their hands on them.
Today, only the largest phonolites remain, and the rare rocks are now protected as state property.
Food, Shopping, & Relaxation
For a really old-fashioned and classic experience visit La Mariposa, a Mexican diner with traditional breakfast, cakes and candies.
For the caffeine and bicycle lover, there is no better place than El Apapacho, a little nook where the smell of freshly roasted coffee works serves as the perfect companion to the welcoming atmosphere.
Note: Keep scrolling for more food and restaurant recommendations.
No visit to a city would be complete without a visit to the local market. Stopping by the traditional Mercado de la Cruz will undoubtedly end up in a sensory overload in the most pleasant way.
Try to stop by one of the many fresh juice stands and get an antigripal, a thick concoction made of guava, lime, and honey, all the components needed to boost your immune system.
Walk towards the back aisles to find a row of ladies standing behind huge wicker baskets selling one of the most iconic dishes of the region: enchiladas Querétanas, big tortillas dipped in a flavorful chile Ancho adobo, folded in half and stuffed with chicken, potatoes and carrots that are normally topped with lettuce and eaten on-the-go.
*For a renovated upscale version of this classic dish, head to Pia, Cocina libre, a restaurant that’s part of the Slow Food movement and has been playing with the classic tastes of the region in a fun innovative way and a very casual and lovely venue.
Don’t leave without trying the classic “gorditas de migajas” a round shaped pattie made with corn masa and stuffed with a meatier, dryer version of pork cracklings. It can either be cooked on a griddle or deep fried, and it’s normally served with nopales (cactus), cheese and of course salsa. You can either get them from a market stall or from one of the dozens of vendors you’ll find while wandering the streets of the city center.
For the last seven years, Querétaro has been brewing some of the best craft beer in the country.
Compañía Cervecera Hércules is settled in a building that’s over a hundred years old and that used to be a huge fabrics factory. The gigantic venue is now home to a beautiful beer garden, cellar, and a grocery shop with amazing local cheeses, sourdough bread, local spirits and lots of pickles, jams and preserves.
The menu was carefully planned to pair perfectly with their huge selection of beers, always working with local producers and regional ingredients.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to try some of their special beers which they tend to open at least once a month.
If you want to feel relaxed and renewed, you can book a massage at La Casa del Atrio and enjoy some soaking time in their open-air bathtubs.
Beautiful Towns Nearby
Querétaro state is home of several “Pueblos Mágicos” or magical towns, which are places with rich cultural heritage, outstanding regional food and unique natural wonders.
Just a short drive south, you’ll find the exquisite town of Tequisquiapan known for being an important part of the state’s Wine Route. Every year La Pila park becomes the venue for the Wine and Cheese festival, where dozens of local wineries and farmers bring their best bottles and dairy produce to an audience of both locals and foreigners. But even if you’re not here during the festival, you can still visit some of the wineries, Freixenet and La Redonda are always great options.
A visit to this charming municipality would not be complete without wandering through the beautiful city center, visiting some of the lovely cafes and restaurants and doing some shopping at the upscale boutiques and traditional craft markets.
San Sebastián Bernal, also located south of the state’s capital, is more commonly known for being home to one of the 13 wonders of Mexico and the third largest monolith in the world (after Rock of Gibraltar and Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro)
With a fairly small but very photogenic city center, the main attraction here is to climb up the Peña de Bernal, as well walking around the center trying the local foods and stopping by the numerous traditional candy shops.
If you are a natural wine lover, you have to add a quick visit to the amazingly creative Tierra de Peña winery and taste their fascinating wines.
Getting to Querétaro
The best way to visit Querétaro when traveling from Mexico City is by bus or car.
Renting a car in Mexico City is quite easy and affordable. Once you pass the hectic traffic areas and the first toll, the drive is relatively easy thanks to a recently upgraded highway.
If taking a bus, you can leave from the main terminals in the city like TAPO (Terminal de Oriente), North terminal (Terminal Central Norte), and/or south (Terminal Central Sur / Taxqueña). Just be aware that south will take 20 minutes longer.
The buses are comfortable and the journey will take approximately three hours to arrive at the main bus terminal in Querétaro.
Once you arrive, you can take a designated yellow cab or request an Uber to take you to your destination. The city center is a quick 15 minute ride from the bus terminal.
Luisa Navarro contributed to this report.
Top Image: Daniel Mendoza for Mexico In My Pocket
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