These cities all lie north-west of Mexico City. Each has its own unique character, features and atmosphere—but together they make up some of Mexico’s best inland travel experiences. These cities are friendly places; the areas are not overwhelmed with tourists as some of the coastal areas can be.
It is in the colonial cities that the real Mexico begins to emerge. You’ll see real people living real lives; experience magnificent scenery; stay at wonderful colonial hotels that offer terrific value for money; savor local foods and flavors as colorful and diverse as the cultures that created them.
The road network in this region is well developed and traveling through it is fast and efficient in most places. These cities are safe: crime is low and its a great region to consider if you want to treat your family to a real cultural experience in Mexico.
Santiago de Queretaro, or just Queretaro as its known, is a colonial city steeped in Mexican history. The Spanish took control of the city in 1531 and designated it the “third city of New Spain”. It was here where the father’s of Mexico’s Independence Movement met in secret to discuss the overthrow of their Spanish rulers.
Installed by the French in 1864, Emperor Maximilian surrendered here three years later in 1867 after a 100 day siege. He was subsequently executed by firing squad, on an order handed down by Benito Juarez in San Luis Potosi.
The Mexican Constitution, written in 1917, was composed here— the same document that underscores the rule of law in Mexico today. Queretaro was also the birthplace of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI)—the political party that governed Mexico for 71 years, before Vicente Fox’s PAN (Partido de Accion Nacional) ousted the regime in July of 2000.
Queretaro itself is a bright, lively and very clean city. It’s just 130 miles north-west of Mexico City and is connected by high-speed modern highways (tolled).
The feel here is Baroque. Take time to browse its churches, its mansions with their graceful balconies, the myriad of tree-lined plazas and the quaint colonial side streets and alleyways. The local government in Queretaro strives to make the colonial city a pleasant place for people to live in and visit; and you will find that the historic colonial center is pristinely well kept and maintained.
This colonial city is one for walkers. Walk around the streets and discover little plazas leading off narrow alleys. At night, Queretaro lights up with a carefully orchestrated system of flood lighting, giving the whole place a wonderful look, feel and atmosphere.
Surrounding Queretaro are a series of beautiful small towns like Tequisquiapan and San Juan del Rio. This area is one of Mexico’s natural hot spring regions, which are a very popular attraction with locals and visitors alike. You’ll also find a good number of quality spas in this region, too.
Queretaro and its surrounding attractions are so close to Mexico City that it makes the destination an ideal one for visitors looking for a first stop on a colonial city tour starting from the country’s capital. Although day trips to Queretaro are easy from Mexico City, as well as other nearby colonial cities, it’s recommended that you spend at least one night here to have enough time time to experience Queretaro’s charm and elegance properly. Those who do, often stay longer, or come back for a longer stay later on.
Begin your exploration at one of the the town’s key plazas: Jardin Zenea. The bandstand dates back to the 1800’s and live music can be heard playing from it at weekends.
The main plaza is Plaza de la Independencia—central, and a very good place from which to explore the rest of city’s colonial charm.
For an excellent example of baroque architecture, visit the churches of Santa Clara and Santa Rosa de Viterbo, which you’ll find in the downtown colonial area of Queretaro.
Other places of historical and architectural interest include the Casa de La Corregidora, where Doña Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez lived (Heroine of War of Independence), La Casa de la Zacatecana, which is an excellent representation of the way that mansions looked and felt like during the colonial era, and the Cerro de Campanas (Hill of Bells), which is where Emperor Maximilian was executed after his capture here in 1867.
Queretaro also has a 1.3km Aqueduct (Acueducto) featuring 74 arches and is still used today as a means to transport water to the city.
Between Tuesday and Sunday, there is a tour that will take you around 21 of the most historical buildings and places of interest in Queretaro and explain the history behind them. The tour starts from the local Tourism Office – see Practical Information for details of where to find this.
Hot Springs & Day Trips
Just 40 miles west of Queretaro is the beautiful little town of Tequisquiapan. You can buy great arts and Mexican crafts here, and it’s also famous for its hot springs. This whole area has volcanic springs situated under it, so warm pools of water are said to be therapeutic and able to relieve the symptoms of arthritis, gout and insomnia.
Also nearby is the growing town of San Juan del Rio, which boasts high quality textiles and Mexican craftwork, as well as hot springs, and colonial architecture dating back to the 16th centuries.
Museums and Art in Queretaro
The Museo Regional (Regional Museum) offers visitors a selection of artifacts from pre-Hispanic, colonial and and republican times.
The Museo de Arte (Art Museum) hosts some of the finest collections of Mexican colonial artwork in the country, all housed in the fabulous 18th century Baroque architecture of Ex-Covento de San Augustin.
By Air – Situated 8km northeast of the city center, Queretaro’s modern international airport has regular flights to and from Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. You can take a taxi or a city colectivo (the more economical option) to the city center. For detailed information about flights and flying, see the Mexperience guide to Air Travel in Mexico.
By Bus – You can travel to Queretaro on a luxury bus from Mexico City – the trip takes around 3 hours. You can get a bus directly from the Airport or from the Northern Bus Terminal in Mexico City. Buses run all day from Mexico City to Queretaro at least once an hour. For detailed information about bus transportation read the Mexperience guide to Bus Travel in Mexico.
By Car – Driving to Queretaro is very fast and efficient on the toll roads that connect the Capital to Queretaro. Take Highway 57D from Mexico City, Highway 57D (South) from San Luis Potosi, or Highway 111/57D from San Miguel de Allende. See additional information about Driving in Mexico and Mexico’s Toll Roads on Mexperience.
Car Rental – To explore Mexico’s colonial towns and cities, consider renting a car for your visit. Having your own car will give you more flexibility than using public transport options and, in some cases, offer you access to places which are otherwise difficult to visit without the use of a car. Read our guide to Car Rental in Mexico to learn what you need to know about car rental in Mexico and connect to the Mexperience Travel Center to reserve your Rental Car.
Taxis – Taxis in most of Mexico’s colonial towns and cities are not metered, so agree your price before you get in. Taxi travel is very affordable in Mexico, in comparison to the USA, Canada and Europe, and so provides a viable means of public transportation in Mexico. Your hotel can arrange taxis for you; some post their rates on a board in the lobby; taxi hotel rates are usually higher than cabs you hail off the street. If you speak Spanish, you will have a distinct advantage and be able to negotiate a price with the driver. For detailed information, read the Mexperience guide to Taxi Travel in Mexico.
December 1st – 14th: International Fair – Queretaro’s annual fair is primarily focused on attracting investment to the area and focuses on commercial and agricultural themes. Nevertheless, Queretaro’s fair is one of the biggest in Mexico and there’s always fun things to do and see during the period. The local tourist office will have details of the planned schedule of events and festivities for the fair next December.
Telephone: Connect to the guide about Communications in Mexico on Mexperience for detailed information about keeping in touch and the latest table of national dialing codes.
Exchanging Currency: Banks with ATM machines are found throughout the downtown area of Queretaro, especially around the main plaza. During business hours, they and the local Casas de Cambio will buy traveler’s cheques and cash from you as well. For detailed information about exchanging and managing your money, read the Mexperience guide to Money in Mexico.
Travel Insurance: We recommend that you are adequately covered with travel medical insurance and/or travel assistance insurance when you are visiting Mexico. Read the Mexperience guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico for full details and links to specialist insurance suppliers.
Internet Access: Internet cafes can be easily found in towns and cities across Mexico and WiFi is increasingly commonplace–from cafes, shops, hotels, and some cities even offer free WiFi in some defined public spaces.
La Mariposa. A popular local eatery serving traditional Mexican dishes (try the enchiladas and tacos). A delicous attached bakery turns out winning desserts. Casual dining, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Angela Peralta 7. Tel: (442) 212 1166.
Padeca. For an atmospheric meal right off the Plaza de Armas, Padeca serves finely prepared Mexican and international dishes within the walls of a restored mansion. Both casual and fine dining, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Pasteur Sur 17, Hotel Meson Santa Rosa. Tel: (442) 224 2623.
Queretaro has a selection of good night spots to suit those looking for culture and those looking for a party. Queretaro’s flood lights really add a special touch and feel to the city once night falls – so stay overnight and wander around the colonial center when its lit up, to experience the night atmosphere while enjoying some of the local food and drink.
Locally Hosted Parties – Check with yours and other local hotels about public parties they may be hosting during your stay. Traditional Mexican theme night parties are popular with the locals, and there’s a chance you could join a really special night out – the real Mexican way, and certainly on the eve of September 16th – Mexico’s Independence Day! Hosted parties usually include dinner, dancing, a show and / or live music (usually authentic Mexican Mariachis) plus all drinks for a fixed fee and are always excellent value for money! Ask at your hotel to find out what is happening locally.
Nightclub Scene – Queretaro has a number of nightclubs. Some nightclubs charge an all inclusive cover fee; some a smaller cover and drinks on top. Drinks are served all night – don’t even consider going to a nightclub before 11 pm. Nightclubs keep going all morning and most people will start to leave between 5 and 7 am
Night Bars / Restaurants – There’s a good variety of late night entertainment in Queretaro to keep you happy and entertained into the early hours.
Queretaro is well known for its sale of Opals—soft stones which have chameleon-like properties as they exhibit different colors and play games with the light they reflect. Queretaro still mines Opals for their local, national and international sale. Be sure to find a bargain for yourself here in Queretaro, where the stones are particularly good value for money.
Queretaro enjoys year-round hot, dry weather. The climate is ideal for taking part in a variety of outdoor sports and activities and for taking in the local culture, architecture and scenery. Rain is seldom a feature here; when they do come they tend to be during the months of April thru November. Rains tend to be fierce and brief in the late afternoon, leaving the evenings dry and cooled off.
Weather & Climates in Mexico
Learn more about the weather and climates through the seasons and regions by connecting to the Mexperience guide about Weather and Climates in Mexico