I don’t remember when I first read about Bernal, but I was sure I wanted to go there. A giant rock you can climb? And there’s a cute little town there, too? Sounds like my kind of place! And it was close to Queretaro, where I based myself for five nights in August, 2014. So, I decided to go see for myself.
Bernal has also achieved “Pueblo Magico” status, being promoted by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism for having special historic or cultural significance. In my varied experiences, some of these places are great, and some not so much.
To get to Bernal, I first caught a cab to the massive U-shaped bus station in Queretaro. At the station, there are multiple terminals. Local, second class buses to places like Bernal run out of Terminal B, which is sort of where the bottom of the “U” is. I found that Flecha Amarilla ran a bus for $40 pesos (about $3 US), and it left at 7:35, 9:35, 11:35, etc.
I hopped the 9:35 bus and was on my way. I was one of only a half-dozen people aboard. However, second class buses stop often, picking up and dropping people off along the way. So what is often a fairly short distance seems to take longer than it should. When the bus arrived in Bernal after more than an hour, there was no bus station. We were simply dropped on the side of the road, and had to walk a few blocks into town.
The town square features a small church, a park, and a great view of the Peña de Bernal.
I asked for, and was given permission, to climb up on the roof of a building to take the above photo. I found the residents of Bernal to be quite friendly! The Peña towers over the town:
The Peña itself is a solid rock, nearly 1,500 feet tall. There seems to be varied opinions on whether it is the largest monolith in the world — similar to the Rock of Gibraltar, or Sugarloaf Mountain. If it isn’t the tallest, everyone agrees it’s in the top three.
I spent some time just walking around Bernal taking photos. There are lots of cute little shops, as one would expect in a town that draws tourists. The streets were quiet on this day, I went on a Friday knowing that Saturday and Sunday would be much busier.
After exploring Bernal for a while, it was time to climb the Peña. I started walking that way, eventually you reach a street which just starts going up. As I walked up that street, I was able to get some nice photos as I got closer.
At one point, you reach a set of stairs, which you can take to go up higher. Click here for a map which shows this location. There are a lot of little stands here with people selling souvenirs and other things. There are also some food stands (more on that later). Keep walking upwards, and you reach a little hut where someone will ask you to sign in. I assume this is to keep track of how many people are up on the rock.
As you head up, there is a path. It’s rocky, but some of the rocks are cemented together. So, if you are moderately fit, you should be able to get up pretty high. If you are like me and from a lower altitude, it will be taxing! The elevation here is around 8,000 feet, which is quite high for people used to flatter lands. The image below should give an idea of what the path looked like:
About 3/4 of the way up, the path ends. At this point you could clamber up smooth rocks to get even higher. I went a little further, and then decided I had gone far enough. The views were quite spectacular. The photo below shows Bernal, the yellow-red blob in the center is the church:
On my way back down, I stopped at the little snack and shopping area at the bottom. I was interested in some gorditas, and in particular, some made with blue corn. As luck would have it, there was a lady cooking some. I ended up with two bean and cheese gorditas, and they were some of the best I have ever had.
I spent some more time walking around and enjoying Bernal. When I was ready to leave, I walked back out to the main road and waited for a bus. After about 30 minutes, a Flecha Azul bus came along. I hopped on, and for $40, I was on my way back to Queretaro. I was told that buses don’t pass much after 5:00, so you need to be ready to leave by then if you are taking the bus. Here are a few more photos from Bernal, as always, click them for larger versions.