Monolithic! – Bernal, Querétaro, Mexico


For a tiny town, Bernal–less than an hour from the city of Querétaro–has a lot going for it, including Peña de Bernal (Bernal’s Boulder or Bernal Peak) which is, according to some estimates, the second largest monolith in the world after Mt. Augustus in Western Australia. At 1,115 feet (350 meters) tall, the big rock in Bernal is also the fourth tallest (or third tallest, again, depending on who you ask) monolith in the world after Mt. Augustus, the Rock of Gibraltar and Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio. As you can imagine, a pedigree like that means a lot of rock climbers travel here. The rest of the scant visitors to Bernal come to this Mexican town for its unique brand of peace and quiet.

Peña de Bernal is one of the largest monoliths in the world (2nd largest according to some) and the 4th tallest

Peña de Bernal, seen from the porch of our room at the Parador Vernal, is one of the largest monoliths in the world.

Bernal, stuck in time

Bernal was designated a Pueblo Magico by the Mexican government in 2005 so it delivers a pleasantly stuck-in-time look and feel with simple buildings, festive colors and a central square dominated by a lively church. Old men sit around and do what old men do while younger men gallop down the cobbled streets on horses. Every once in a while a woman pokes her head out of the shop or restaurant she’s running. It is altogether nap inspiring.

Where to sleep in Bernal

While in Bernal we stayed at the Parador Vernal about a 10 minute walk above town itself. The hotel’s mediocre and poorly translated web site doesn’t do the hotel’s quirks and charms justice.

The lobby is largely populated by big colorful birds in even bigger ornate cages. Our room, #8, had one wall which was painted entirely electric green and featured a huge, loosely looped wool area rug that felt like walking on a sheep. The bed was comfortable and the view of Peña de Bernal couldn’t be beat.

Some of the hotel’s other rooms (there are 13 in total), however, seemed a bit small and dark so ask for room 7 or 8 if you plan to stay the night. Or just pop up for a bite or a drink in the dining room or outdoor bar with an unobstructed view of the monolith.

Peña de Bernal rises above the town of Bernal

Peña de Bernal rises above the tiny town of Bernal.

Village square in Bernal

A wedding at the church of St. Sebastian in Bernal.

Where to drink in Bernal

Throughout Mexico we rarely saw beer on tap, so we were surprised and delighted when we walked past a pretty cafe in Bernal with outdoor seating and cerveza de baril (beer on tap) on the menu. And that’s not the only beverage surprise the area had in store for us…

Pena de Bernal at night

Peña de Bernal features a hypnotic light show every Saturday that goes on for more than an hour.

If you don't have a horse to get you around the sleepy streets of Bernal, you can flag down an Asian-style tuk tuk to get you where you need to go.

If you don’t have a horse you can flag down the Asian-style tuk-tuk that plies the streets of Bernal.

Historic Mexican wine

About 30 minutes from Bernal, in the town of Ezequiel Montes, is the Cavas Freixenet winery complete with tours and wine sales and a kind of manic crowd on weekends that seems intent on downing as much of their newly purchased wine and sparkling wine right then and there at tables and chairs set up in an open-air courtyard.

We missed the last tour of the day so we just wandered around trying not to get between the Mexican couples and their wine. Weirdly, there wasn’t a single black bottle of the too-sweet Cordon Negro sparkling wine that we associate with the Freixenet brand in the U.S. In fact, none of the wine for sale even had Freixenet on the label–the sparkling wine was called Petillant and turned out to be just as sweet as Cordon Negro.

Grapes

There’s more to drink in Mexico than just beer and tequila.

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