Bernal, a quaint and captivating town located about an hour north of Mexico City and nestled in the heart of Mexico, will wow you with its irresistible charm and magical allure. As a designated pueblo mágico, Bernal boasts a unique blend of rich cultural heritage, awe-inspiring landscapes, and warm hospitality that leaves a lasting impression on all who visit.
So you can probably already tell that we found plenty of reasons to visit Bernal.
Join us as we let you in on our adventures in this beautiful, small town, we will delve into the top reasons why you should definitely add Bernal to your Mexico travel plans. From the majestic monolith of La Peña de Bernal to the vibrant festivals, culinary delights, outdoor adventures, and more, Bernal promises an authentic and unforgettable experience for every kind of traveler.
Where is Santiago de Bernal?
1. The Top Reason to Visit Bernal: The Town Centre
Stepping into Bernal feels like stepping back in time, or for us, like stepping onto an incredibly realistic movie set from one of the old westerns. The town’s colonial architecture, eye-catching colour palette, and cobblestone streets transport you to an era rich in history and cultural heritage.
And with one of the most spectacular backdrops of any town in Mexico, Bernal must rate as one of the most beautiful of the Pueblos Magicos. It may be small but it will leave a lasting impression.
Take a leisurely stroll through the town’s picturesque neighbourhoods, and you’ll encounter architectural gems that have withstood the test of time. The San Sebastián Parish Church, a magnificent Baroque masterpiece dating back to the 17th century, stands as a testament to Bernal’s rich religious history.
Immerse yourself in the town’s traditions by visiting local artisan workshops and shops, where you can admire and acquire intricately crafted pottery, textiles, and other handmade treasures.
2. Majestic Monolith: La Peña de Bernal
Standing tall and proud, towering over the town like an ancient guardian, the colossal monolith of La Peña de Bernal is the crowning glory of Bernal. This geological wonder is considered one of the three largest monoliths in the world, captivating visitors with its sheer size and majestic presence.
Embarking on the exhilarating ascent to the summit rewards you with panoramic vistas that showcase the beauty of the surrounding countryside in all its glory. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a nature enthusiast, or simply in awe of impressive natural formations, conquering La Peña de Bernal is a must-do experience.
For those who do not feel they are physically up to the challenge of the ascent to the top, you can still get up close and personal to appreciate the true stature of this imposing rock. Simply get one of the cheap moto-taxis found throughout the town, pay a few pesos, and have them take you to the base.
From there you can take an easy walk to the base viewing area, grab a coffee or a cold drink, and pull up a chair and admire your surroundings. Getting a ride back into the town centre is just as easy as getting here.
3. Gastronomic Delights: A Feast for the Senses
Food lovers will find their taste buds dancing with delight in Bernal. The town’s culinary scene is a harmonious blend of traditional Mexican flavours and regional influences, resulting in a symphony of gastronomic delights. Indulge in local delicacies such as gorditas, enchiladas queretanas, and cecina, each offering a unique and mouthwatering experience.
Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the local markets and food stalls, where vendors proudly showcase their fresh produce, spices, and homemade treats. From street food to fine dining, Bernal’s culinary offerings cater to every palate and promise to leave you craving for more.
In one of the local restaurants on the town square, I had my first experience with Tortas Ahogadas. Now we are both partial to a good torta at any time, but these are something special. The bun is dipped in red salsa and then fried on the grill before the fillings are added. You need to try these!
We also had some of the best, and cheapest, tacos of our entire trip through Mexico at one of the local street food taquerias which were on the main road just outside of the old town. In fact, everything here was amazing except for a very disappointing pizza we had one night in the town centre.
There are a few really cool restaurants/bars with rooftops that will give you some awesome views of the town and the Peña. The food and the cocktails were good but expensive compared to other options available in Bernal.
4. Magical Festivals: Celebrating Life and Culture
Bernal is a town that knows how to celebrate. Throughout the year, vibrant festivals and cultural events breathe life into its streets, enveloping visitors in a tapestry of colours, music, and joy. One such event is the Fiesta de la Santa Cruz, a spirited celebration that pays homage to the town’s patron saint.
Revel in the festive atmosphere as streets come alive with traditional dances, lively music, and dazzling decorations. Another unmissable celebration is the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), where locals honour their departed loved ones with intricate altars adorned with marigold flowers, favourite foods, and cherished mementos.
Participating in these magical festivals provides a unique glimpse into Bernal’s soul and offers an opportunity to create cherished memories.
What started out at the beginning of our stay as an annoying, almost constant boom of exploding fireworks, and not the pretty coloured ones, actually marked the beginning of the Fiesta de la Santa Cruz. We had no idea this was on during our stay but being in the middle of this traditional cultural event made our stay in Bernal a standout of our 5-month adventure.
5. Outdoor Adventures: Nature’s Playground
One of the most popular activities in Bernal is hiking. The towering Peña de Bernal provides an incredible backdrop for hikers, offering various trails that cater to different skill levels. As you ascend the monolith, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
The hike can be challenging but is well worth the effort, as it provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the area.
Another popular outdoor activity in Bernal is rock climbing. With its imposing monolith, the town attracts climbers from around the world seeking a challenge. Peña de Bernal offers various routes for climbers of different levels of experience, providing a thrilling and adrenaline-pumping adventure.
Whether you’re a seasoned climber or a beginner looking to try something new, Bernal’s rock climbing opportunities are sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.
Nature lovers will also appreciate the opportunity to explore the nearby Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. This vast protected area is home to diverse flora and fauna, pristine waterfalls, and breathtaking canyons.
Hiking through the reserve allows you to immerse yourself in the natural wonders of the region, observe rare bird species, and marvel at the lush vegetation. It’s an ideal destination for birdwatching, photography, or simply reconnecting with nature.
In addition to hiking and rock climbing, Bernal offers activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking, ATV tours, and hot air balloon rides. These experiences allow you to see stunning landscapes from a different perspective while enjoying the thrill of outdoor adventure.
Whether you’re galloping through the countryside on horseback, pedalling along scenic trails, or floating peacefully in a hot air balloon, Bernal offers endless opportunities for outdoor exploration and excitement.
6. Warm Hospitality: Embracing the Spirit of Bernal
The warmth and genuine hospitality of the local residents are integral to the Bernal experience. The town’s friendly and welcoming atmosphere makes visitors feel like cherished guests, ensuring a memorable and heartwarming stay. Strike up conversations with locals, who are more than happy to share stories, traditions, and recommendations. Choose from a range of accommodations that reflect the town’s spirit, including charming bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels, and cozy guesthouses. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of Bernal and allow the kindness of its people to leave a lasting imprint on your heart.
7. Artisan Crafts: Handmade Treasures to Cherish
Bernal’s artistic scene and skilled artisans are a testament to the town’s commitment to preserving traditional crafts. Wander through the town’s markets and workshops, and you’ll discover a treasure trove of handmade goods and artistic creations.
Delicate pottery, intricate embroidery, exquisite jewellery, and supple leather goods are just a few examples of the artistry that awaits you. Support local artisans by acquiring one-of-a-kind souvenirs that serve as tangible reminders of your Bernal experience. The craftsmanship and attention to detail that go into each piece are a testament to the town’s artistic soul.
8. Wine Tasting: Savoring the Fruits of Mexican Viticulture
Bernal finds itself nestled within Mexico’s wine region, offering oenophiles a delightful opportunity to explore the country’s burgeoning wine scene. Embark on a wine-tasting journey through the region’s vineyards and wineries, where you’ll have the chance to sample a diverse selection of Mexican wines.
From crisp whites to robust reds, each sip unveils the unique characteristics of the local terroir. Engage with passionate winemakers, learn about the winemaking process, and gain a deeper appreciation for the art of viticulture. Bernal’s wine culture is a hidden gem that promises to delight wine enthusiasts and create lasting memories.
9. Tranquility and Relaxation: Embrace the Peaceful Ambience
In a world filled with constant hustle and bustle, Bernal offers a tranquil escape for those seeking respite and rejuvenation. The town’s serene ambience, coupled with its idyllic surroundings, provides the perfect backdrop for relaxation and introspection.
Take leisurely walks along the cobblestone streets, allowing yourself to be immersed in the gentle rhythm of Bernal’s daily life. Find solace in the town’s plazas, where you can sit beneath the shade of ancient trees and watch the world go by. Bernal’s peacefulness is a balm for the soul, allowing you to reconnect with yourself and find harmony in the present moment.
10. Perfect Day Trips: Exploring the Enchanting Surroundings
Bernal serves as an excellent base for exploring the surrounding region, which is dotted with fascinating destinations and attractions. Here are some of the best day trips from Bernal that allow you to delve deeper into the cultural, historical, and natural wonders of the area.
Querétaro City: Just a short drive from Bernal, Querétaro City offers a blend of colonial charm and modern vibrancy. Explore the well-preserved historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and marvel at the elegant architecture, grand plazas, and beautiful churches. Visit the iconic Aqueduct of Querétaro, take a stroll along the charming streets, and savor the local cuisine in the city’s diverse restaurants.
Tequisquiapan: Known for its tranquil atmosphere and picturesque streets, Tequisquiapan is a charming town that exudes traditional Mexican charm. Enjoy the colorful handicraft markets, taste the local wines and cheeses, and relax in the town’s thermal baths. Tequisquiapan is also renowned for its hot air balloon rides, providing a unique and breathtaking perspective of the surrounding countryside.
Cadereyta de Montes: An easy day trip, or even a half-day trip from Bernal is another one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos. Cadereyta probably doesn’t have enough going for it to spend days there but it certainly worth a few hours to enjoy the quaint town square, the impressive churches, local markets and desert botanic gardens.
Peña de Bernal Wine Region: If you have a penchant for wine, a visit to the nearby wine region is a must. Take a tour of the vineyards and wineries, learn about the winemaking process, and indulge in wine tastings. The region is known for its production of high-quality wines, and you can savour a variety of types while enjoying the scenic vineyard landscapes.
Tolimán Archaeological Site: Embark on a historical journey by visiting the Tolimán archaeological site. Located on the outskirts of Bernal, this pre-Columbian settlement provides insights into the ancient indigenous cultures that once inhabited the region. Explore the ruins, admire the intricate stone carvings, and learn about the fascinating history of the area.
Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve: For nature enthusiasts, a day trip to the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is a must. This expansive protected area is a haven for biodiversity, featuring lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and diverse wildlife. Embark on hiking trails, visit the stunning Puente de Dios (Bridge of God) natural rock formation, and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the reserve.
San Miguel de Allende: A bit further afield but worth the journey, San Miguel de Allende is a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its artistic and cultural scene. Wander through the cobblestone streets, admire the well-preserved colonial architecture, and explore the numerous art galleries and craft markets. Don’t miss the iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, a stunning neo-Gothic church that dominates the town’s skyline.
Common questions about Bernal
How do I get to Bernal?
Getting to Bernal, Mexico, is relatively easy with several transportation options available:
By Car: Bernal is approximately a 2-hour drive from Mexico City. You can take the Queretaro-Mexico Highway (Federal Highway 57) and then connect to Highway 45. The route is well-marked, and car rental services are available in both Mexico City and Queretaro.
If you are coming from Queretaro the drive is only about 30 minutes.
By Bus: Bernal is well-connected by bus services from major cities in Mexico. You can take a direct bus from Mexico City or Queretaro to Bernal. Several bus companies operate on this route, offering comfortable and affordable transportation options.
By Private Transfer: Another convenient option is to arrange a private transfer from Mexico City or Queretaro to Bernal. This allows you to travel at your own pace and enjoy the comfort and convenience of a dedicated driver.
Renting a car gives you the flexibility to explore Queretaro and its surrounding areas at your own pace. But you also have the option to hire private drivers, use a taxi, or even Uber for very reasonable prices, if you are not sure whether you want to rent a car in Mexico or not.
What is the best time to visit Bernal?
The best time to visit Bernal, Mexico, is during the spring and fall seasons. From March to May and September to November, the weather is pleasant, with mild temperatures and lower chances of rainfall. During these months, you can enjoy comfortable temperatures for exploring the town and its surroundings.
A great time to visit is during the Fiesta de la Santa Cruz in May, giving you an unforgettable opportunity to be immersed in the traditional celebrations and party mood that sweeps through the town for several days.
Another favourable time to visit is during the annual Festival of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, celebrated in June. This traditional festival features colourful processions, music, dance, and fireworks, offering a unique cultural experience.
It’s important to note that Bernal can get crowded with tourists during weekends and holidays, as it’s a popular day trip option from Mexico City or Queretaro, so visiting on weekdays or during off-peak seasons can provide a more tranquil and enjoyable experience.
Although before the tour groups arrive, and after they leave around mid-afternoon, the town settles into exactly the peaceful oasis you hope it would be.
Keep in mind that Bernal’s climate can be variable, with cooler temperatures during the winter months (December to February) and higher chances of rainfall during the summer (June to August). If you don’t mind cooler weather and smaller crowds, visiting during the winter months can still be enjoyable.
Ultimately, the best time to visit Bernal depends on your preferences and the activities you plan to engage in. Consider the weather, local events, and your personal preferences when choosing the ideal time to explore this captivating town.
Where should I stay in Bernal?
Since the entire area is within walking distance, even if it is quite hilly in sections, when it comes to choosing accommodation in Bernal, you have several options that cater to different preferences and budgets. Here are some suggestions for places to stay in Bernal:
In the Heart of Town: If you want to immerse yourself in the charm of Bernal, consider staying in a hotel or guesthouse located in the town centre. This allows you to be within walking distance of attractions like the Peña de Bernal, the main square, and local shops and restaurants.
Boutique Hotels: Bernal offers a selection of boutique hotels known for their unique character and personalized service. These accommodations often blend modern amenities with traditional Mexican architecture, providing a memorable and comfortable stay.
Haciendas and Country Retreats: Experience the tranquility of the surrounding countryside by staying in a hacienda or country retreat. These accommodations offer a peaceful atmosphere, scenic views, and the opportunity to relax in a natural setting.
Ecotourism and Sustainable Lodges: For those seeking an eco-friendly experience, there are ecotourism and sustainable lodges available near Bernal. These accommodations prioritize sustainability, offering a chance to connect with nature while minimizing your environmental impact.
Vacation Rentals: Another option is to rent a vacation home or apartment in Bernal. This can be a great choice for families or larger groups, providing more space, privacy, and the flexibility to cook your meals.
When choosing where to stay in Bernal, consider factors such as location, amenities, price, and the type of experience you desire. It’s recommended to book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to ensure availability. Regardless of where you stay, Bernal’s unique beauty and warm hospitality will make your visit a memorable one.
Are there any local customs or etiquette I should be aware of?
When visiting Bernal, it’s helpful to be aware of local customs and etiquette to ensure a respectful and enjoyable experience. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
Greetings: Mexicans are generally warm and friendly. It is customary to greet people with a handshake or a hug, depending on the level of familiarity. Use “buenos días” (good morning), “buenas tardes” (good afternoon), or “buenas noches” (good evening) when entering shops or interacting with locals.
Politeness: Politeness is highly valued in Mexican culture. Use “por favor” (please) and “gracias” (thank you) when making requests or receiving assistance. Address people respectfully using “señor” (sir) or “señora” (ma’am) followed by their last name, or “joven” (young person) for someone of a similar age.
Punctuality: While Mexicans tend to have a more relaxed approach to time, it’s still important to be punctual for scheduled activities or appointments. Arriving a few minutes late is generally acceptable, but being excessively late may be considered disrespectful.
Dress Code: Bernal is a small town with a laid-back atmosphere. Casual attire is generally acceptable, but it’s advisable to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites or attending traditional events. Wearing a hat, sunscreen, and comfortable shoes is recommended for exploring outdoor areas.
Respecting Cultural Sites: Bernal is home to cultural and religious sites, such as the Peña de Bernal and churches. When visiting these places, dress modestly and behave respectfully. Follow any guidelines provided by the site authorities and be mindful of taking photographs only where permitted.
Tipping: Tipping is customary in Mexico. In restaurants, a tip of around 10-15% of the total bill is appreciated. In hotels, it’s customary to tip the staff who assist you during your stay, such as housekeeping and bellhops.
Spanish Language: While many locals in Bernal may speak some English, knowing a few basic Spanish phrases can go a long way in communicating and showing respect for the local culture. Consider learning simple greetings and phrases to enhance your interactions with the residents.
By being aware of these customs and practicing respectful behaviour, you’ll be able to engage with the local community in Bernal and have a more enriching and rewarding experience.
What about the food scene in Bernal?
The food scene in Bernal is a delightful mix of traditional Mexican cuisine and regional specialties. When visiting Bernal, you’ll have the opportunity to savour a variety of flavours and dishes that showcase the rich culinary heritage of the area. Here’s what you can expect from the food scene in Bernal:
Authentic Mexican Cuisine: Bernal is known for its authentic Mexican food, featuring flavorful dishes made with fresh ingredients. From tacos and enchiladas to tamales and mole, you can indulge in the vibrant flavours and spices that Mexican cuisine is famous for.
Regional Specialties: Bernal is located in the state of Queretaro, known for its distinctive culinary offerings. Don’t miss the chance to try local specialties like gorditas, enchiladas queretanas, and barbacoa, a slow-cooked meat dish. These dishes showcase the unique cuisine and cooking techniques of the region.
Street Food: Exploring the streets of Bernal, you’ll find street food vendors offering delicious treats. Try antojitos such as tlacoyos (masa filled with beans or cheese), esquites (corn cups with toppings), or elotes (grilled corn on the cob). These tasty snacks are perfect for a quick bite while exploring the town.
Traditional Bakeries: Bernal is home to charming bakeries that tempt visitors with their fresh-baked bread and pastries. Treat yourself to traditional pan dulce (sweet bread), conchas (shell-shaped sweet bread), or empanadas (filled pastries) for a delightful culinary experience.
Local Markets: Bernal has local markets where you can discover an array of fresh produce, regional ingredients, and local products. Explore the markets to surround yourself with the brilliant colours, aromas, and tastes of the local food culture.
Mezcal and Wine: Queretaro is renowned for its production of mezcal and wine. Take the opportunity to sample these local beverages and learn about the art of mezcal production or enjoy wine tasting at the nearby vineyards.
Whether you’re dining at a local restaurant, trying street food, or exploring the local markets, the food scene in Bernal promises a delightful culinary adventure. Immerse yourself in the flavours and traditions of Mexican cuisine, and don’t forget to savour the authentic dishes that make this region a gastronomic paradise.
Where do I find the town name letters in Bernal?
Like many Mexican towns, Bernal has large, colourful letters spelling out the town name. Unlike most other towns the letters of Bernal are not in the town centre but a few blocks away, located to take advantage of the magnificent backdrop of the Peña.
To get to the letters begin at the Gazebo and head down the alley behind the Parroquia where you will intersect with Calle 5 de Mayo. Turn right and then left into Calle Cristóbal Colón. At the next intersection, turn left onto Calle Independencia, and in a minute or two you will see a small amphitheatre on your right, and inside the gates, you will find the letters.
The view here is impressive and you may even be lucky enough to be there during one of the many local events held in the amphitheatre.
Road Trip possibilities
Not only is Bernal a great option for a day trip from Mexico City, but it is ideally located to be a part of an amazing road trip starting in Queretaro, that takes in some of Mexico’s most beautiful towns. Take a week or two of easy driving and discover gems like San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, Bernal, Tequisquiapan, Cadereyta de Montes, San Juan del Rio, and Amealco de Bonfil.
We collected our car in Queretaro and made our way to Bernal. San Miguel de Allende was not part of this road trip for us as we decided to use Uber to get us there and back from Queretaro, only because we wanted to stay in the old town centre and, while cars can still get around most of the streets in the centre, accommodation options are way fewer if you need to park a car.
Bernal is less than an hour’s drive from Queretaro and only about 20 minutes from the International Airport. Which made it the perfect place for Pauline and me to stay while we waited to collect Junior from the airport a few days after we arrived.
Cadereyta makes an easy day trip from Bernal or can be done as a short stopover on the way to the next gem, which for us was Tequisquiapan.
This entire road trip is just under 400 km (or about 250 miles), but the towns we visited in this area quickly rekindled our love of Mexico and showed us why most of them are considered Pueblos Magicos, or Magic Towns.
Our opinion of Bernal
Our epic road trip through Mexico was heavily influenced by our desire to experience as many of the beautiful small towns of Mexico as possible, the Pueblos Magicos, and Bernal was the first stop on our adventure from our starting point in Queretaro.
We knew very little about the town except that it lived in the shadow of one of the three largest monoliths in the world. And being Aussies and having Uluru, the largest of these in our backyard, we were interested in a comparison.
It turns out that they are very different. And I must admit that having a movie-set perfect Mexican town at the base of this enormous rock really does create something very special. The town and its location are truly outstanding!
Not only does Bernal have one of the prettiest town squares in Mexico, but it exudes an incredible atmosphere of tranquil country living, and you can immediately tell that the locals have enormous pride in their town.
Almost everything we ate during our stay was well above average, delicious, and extremely inexpensive. From mouthwatering breakfast treats and smoothies at Veintidós Café, to the lunchtime gorditas and tortas ahogadas at Gorditas Doña Coco, and finishing with the super cheap, and awesomely delicious street tacos and extras at Taqueria La Flamita.
Getting caught in the middle of the festivities and excitement of the Fiesta de la Santa Cruz was the icing on the cake, putting Bernal firmly in the running for the most outstanding experience we had in Mexico. I can not emphasise more that you should definitely take more than just a day trip to Bernal if you are in Mexico City. It deserves more of your attention and you won’t regret it.