Queretaro: Mexico's must visit colonial city
January 1, 1970
Walking is one of the best ways to get to know a new city. Queretaro’s historic monuments zone is meant to be roamed around. Where to go, what to eat and what to do, go together. Wherever you go there’s something to eat and something to do. So let’s begin.
Where to go
Queretaro is rapidly growing, so don’t let the outskirts fool you. The place to be at is the historic monuments zone. UNESCO named it as a World Heritage Site, the whole place is frozen in time by the alluring baroque colonial architecture.
It was built in the 17th century to bring water to the city. The arch structure better known as Los Arcos is tastefully kept and beautifully lighted at night. With streets going from each side, you can walk this piece of history from beginning to end and back. After I did that, I learned that the best way to have a look of the aqueduct is from the lookout platform at the west end.
For over two hundred years, the trees of this balustrade enclosed park have provided shade to the benches where numerous artists were inspired to compose and paint. How do I know this? There are statues of them all over the place and I’m the history nerd that reads about it. This spot is then the perfect place to draw, write, read or simply relax. With four gates, each facing a cardinal point, the park welcomes everyone for no charge.
The locals endearingly call the historic monuments zone, El Centro. Once all the sidewalks and streets have turned to quarry, you’re in it. There’s something really curious about it in that plazas, gardens, and museums are always next to churches. The reason for this is that many sections from religious buildings were donated to cultural and recreational spaces.
Templo de la Santa Cruz and Plaza Fundadores
In my experience, it is best to start a tour of the historic center from the aqueduct’s lookout platform. Following the street and some steps ahead you’ll find Templo de la Santa Cruz or Temple of the Holy Cross. This building stands on the hill where the natives were defeated, there’s even a statue commemorating the indigenous population next to it.
It is open to everyone, be sure to go inside and snap some pictures.
On weekends, the atrium is filled with food carts that sell typical Mexican refreshments, the carts are government issued, so I encourage you to try some street bites. Neighboring the temple is Plaza de Los Fundadores or Founders’ Plaza, surrounded by restaurants and cafes.
From here on, everything is a lovely downhill walk.
The main plaza
Plaza de Armas or Plaza de la Independencia is where the main government building is located. It is adorned by a colonial fountain with water pouring dogs, and on its perimeter, you’ll find more restaurants, cafes, and even an art gallery. To the side, there are a couple pedestrian streets with cute shops and street vendors.
A church, a museum and a couple of plazas.
Templo de San Francisco and Museo Regional, a church and a museum sharing the same building. To their side, another statue in honor of the native people and the temple’s main gate depicts the history of how the city was established. Visit the museum for more history about pre-Columbian civilizations and Mexican independence heroes.
Outside the museum, there’s a touristic tramway that will drive you around for more cultural and historic spots. There’s even a hill where an archduke of Austria/Emperor of Mexico was executed.
Since I mentioned Mexican independence heroes, there’s a statue commemorating a heroine of the movement just a few steps north from the church and museum. La Corregidora stands proudly in her plaza as she overlooks Jardín Zenea, a French-inspired plaza just crossing the street. A kiosk, an iron fountain for the Greek goddess Hebe and superb greenery embellish the place. If you travel around Christmas time, you’ll witness a massive nativity scene at this plaza.
The Art Museum
The city’s art museum or ‘Museo de Arte’ is an absolute must visit, even if you’re not into art because the building displays colonial architecture at its finest. And of course, next to it there’s a religious building. The museum holds ancient permanent collections and regular art shows. Also, it has an amazing book shop.
On weekends there are several pedestrian streets, as regular ones are closed so the historic center is even more enjoyable. I already mentioned a couple of the permanent ones, another one would be south from the art museum and it leads to a lovely plaza called Jardín Guerrero.
Near it stands the city’s museum, city’s gallery, and many cafes. And yet again, another temple!
Walking Down the River
From east to west, part of and adjacent to the historic center there’s Queretaro’s river. Ideal for another stroll or relaxation on the many benches along it. If you walk to the west soon enough you’ll find yourself back to the aqueduct with some memorable views, including a statue that captures the moment when the independence message was sent to the rest of the country.
On the Other side of the River
La Vieja Estación, the old train station is ideally kept and is the perfect place for pictures with a whimsical background. If you’re in the mood for a drink or some tacos, there are various cantinas and a great taco spot you should try in front of this historic spot.
What to eat
Speaking of tacos, I cannot stress enough how good authentic Mexican food is. Support the local businesses, and try some.
Tacos come in all shapes and sizes, but which one should you try? Well, the one that makes your mouth water when you hear about it. There’s ‘al pastor’ which is pork marinated in chili and other spices, bistec (beef), lengua (tongue), sesos (brains) and many other unusual parts, but don’t worry you can stick to the first two. Some other foods would include a torta (Mexican sandwich) or a tostada, this I would define as an unfolded taco.
Now, for some delicious hometown treats and refreshments, there is corn prepared with mayonnaise, cheese, and chili. It is weird for a foreigner but it tastes amazing and if you want one look for a street car and order an ‘elote con todo’, they can hold the chili or serve you a nonspicy one.
Maybe it’s really hot outside and you need something refreshing, you should look for ice cream or as they call it, nieve. Another refreshment would be fruit, like no other fruit you’ve tried. It is served with lime, salt and chili, it will forever change the way you think about regular fruit.
Finally, you cannot leave this place or Mexico without trying tamales and churros. You’re most likely to find a cart selling tamales and atole ( a warm drink that goes with tamales) in the morning, and old school churros at night. Although there are some stores that sell churros all day long.
Some dishes look really crazy on paper but the taste is the greatest, be adventurous and try.
What to do
Once you know where to go, what to do is easy. Go into the museums, galleries, and churches. Walk through the aisles and you’ll find there are many little shops begging you to go inside, and street vendors of breathtaking Mexican craftwork. Take your time, there’s plenty in this picturesque city.
Lastly, I leave you with these.
Adding por favor (please) at the end of a request and saying gracias (thank you) when you receive the service will make you earn points with the locals.
Most plazas have a free wifi connection.