Located only two and a half hours northwest of Mexico City, Santiago de Queretaro (or commonly referred to as Queretaro) is the capital of one of the most culturally rich and industrially developed states in Mexico. Taking a couple of days to enjoy this place should be mandatory to every traveling enthusiast who wants to go knee-deep in a crash course of Mexican history and traditions.
From more than a couple of friends, I got to hear the expression “It’s like being on a cleaner, safer Mexico city”, and to be honest I can say that, without the harsh connotation implied towards Mexico’s capital city, it is one of the most accurate descriptions I’ve heard of Queretaro. It’s a hard, honest truth to say that Mexico City could be cleaner and safer, but then again, so could New York, Hong Kong, New Delhi and many other monstrous cities that we can fit into the “metropolis” category. For those that have never visited Mexico and think of the big capital as too much for a first approach, Queretaro offers all the goodness with less to none of the risk and intensity Mexico City might represent for an amateur traveler.
As I began to enter the city, I immediately got the feeling that, as well as in many other cities in the south and center of Mexico, the geographical distribution and the landscape conditions were going to result in an eclectic mixture of modern infrastructure, a perfectly preserved trace of colonial heritage and a sure dose of archeological sites that offer a piece of native Mexican history beyond what any book can offer. I was totally right.
Thanks to its location, Queretaro is highly attractive for both business and pleasure. The state is currently (and constantly) experiencing an exponential industrial and economic growth. Its territory makes it a very convenient site for any company from the industrial sector looking to settle permanently and saving millions in manufacturing and in all the logistics involved in the business of exporting to Central and South America. But also, it’s this geographical advantage which contributes to the city’s touristic appeal. A two-hour drive in any direction can guarantee you you’ll get to one of the many magical neighbor towns that surround this cultural paradise.
For me, hospitality doesn’t really mean people smiling at you with every step you take or inviting you to have dinner at their table. I think real hospitality is a city’s ability to make you feel at home even if you’ve never been there before. That’s how Queretaro’s people make you feel like. If you say hello, they’ll wave back with a smile. If you ask for directions, they’ll gladly come to your assistance. But if you just go on your merry way, they’ll continue theirs as well without even noticing you. No social pressure, no significant cultural shock. No one will treat you any different if you’re from out of town.
Some say that the food of a region is a direct reflection of its heritage and traditions, and I couldn´t agree more. Unlike most places in Mexico, Queretaro doesn’t have a signature dish or beverage (at least none worth mentioning). But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Queretaro’s food, just like its weather, landscape and even the way its citizens speak, seem to be a perfect combination of every other region in the country. On a restaurant menu you can find traditional pre-colonial meals right next to beef dishes from the northern states. Weather-wise, when it’s hot it isn’t nearly as hot as Sonora or Nuevo Leon, and when it it’s cold, a light jacket will surely be enough.
The characteristic landscape formations of the mountain range called Sierra Gorda, the archeological ruins of Tancama and Juriquilla’s artificial lake, will make you feel like you are in three different places at once, but at the same time, it all comes together nicely in one package.
So take my advice and add this checkmark to your bucket list. Take a week or two to live a “cliff note” of Mexican culture.
Roam the streets of a completely preserved downtown and let it tell you about the revolution conspiracy that led to the Mexican movement of independence.
Attend one of the many business symposiums that take place at the magnificent “Centro de Congresos y Exposiciones”.
Witness a piece of Spaniard colonial history just by contemplating the astonishing aqueduct that leads to a monastery used as a military base during a couple of wars, then have a drink at an Irish pub just a couple of blocks down the street.
Get four classics of international literature for less than 20 dollars in the book fair and order a glass of local wine in one of the many outdoor bars as you listen to live music coming from the “Corregidora” plaza.
It’s no wonder Queretaro was given UNESCO’s “World Heritage Site” title. With top of the line first world architecture in the middle of a richly forested valley and an ongoing industrial development only minutes away from the historically renowned downtown, this city and state could easily be used as an example of every good aspect of Mexico depicted in one place.
Normally, as it happens regarding movies or books, I build up expectations based on what other people tell me, and the same happens with trips and locations.
More often than not, I have found myself yearning for a picture-perfect greeting card of an exotic and unreal location I slowly created in my mind. But when it comes to Queretaro, I was in for a treat. It wasn’t exactly as I imagined, but far better in every possible way.