Roadtrip to Historic Santiago de Querétaro

Church, Queretaro, Mexico

Recently we found out our good friend, Tom (a friend from our magazine-publishing days about a hundred years ago in Los Angeles), was going to be spending a few weeks in Querétaro. Every year he teaches a volunteer ESL class there and he—like everyone else I talk to—raves about the place. So we decided pay him a visit and see for ourselves.

With Scout in school full-time and Mark and I busy with the ebook-design business, we’ve barely explored Mexico. I hate to admit that, but it’s true. I don’t even feel like a traveler anymore. A weekend road trip was a welcome treat.

Because we didn’t want Scout to miss school (no idea why not…a mistake in retrospect) and we also wanted to visit the monarch butterfly reserve in the nearby state of Michoacán, we only spent one full day in Querétaro. Seriously, why does anyone go to school? It doesn’t leave time for anything else.

Where is Santiago de Querétaro?

Santiago de Querétaro (the city) is located in Querétaro (the state) in central Mexico.

Geographically the state is tiny, but about half of its 1.6 million residents live in the city of Querétaro. Fun fact: When Father Junipero Serra launched his expedition to build missions in California, he started from Querétaro.

Map geeks: Here’s the route we took from Lake Chapala.

Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico

First impressions

The moment we drove into the city center (the night we arrived) I knew Querétaro was our kind of place.

The primary clue? Bike cops. Honest-to-god bike cops. In proper bike shorts. Riding fancy mountain bikes and wearing actual bike helmets. We love bikes as transit, but so far we haven’t seen much biking in Mexico.

Naturally our pet-friendly hotel was waaaaaaay out in the suburbs, so before going there, we spent a few minutes winding through the cobblestone streets of Querétaro’s colonial downtown, just to get an overview. It was a beautiful evening. I’m sorry we couldn’t stay in one of the gorgeous historic hotels there.

At 9 pm the square was packed with Mexican families, food vendors, entertainers and brass bands all spilling onto the streets. It was lively and fun and made us want to be outside. A total contrast from the sleepy town where we live. Mexican middle-class professionals were everywhere, something else you don’t see much of where we live.

Querétaro seems to be a pretty healthy blend of old and new. Founded in the 16th century, the historic downtown is a charming UNESCO world-heritage site (like so many cities in central Mexico), packed with ornate 17th and 18th century buildings and monuments. Peeling gates protected stunning interior courtyards.

Colonial doorway in historic Queretaro, Mexico

But surrounding all the colonial charm is a sprawling modern city hosting a surprising number of high-tech corporations like ThyssenKrupp and Bombadier. Dozens of shiny corporate outposts lined the freeway near our hotel. It turns out Querétaro is one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico, with one of the highest per-capita incomes in all of Latin America.

Another great thing. There’s also a big university here. So the city has historic charm, cutting-edge industry to keep the economy healthy, and the dynamism of a college town with all it’s young people and bookstores and music.

I’m adding this city to our list of potential bases.

Traveling with a dog is a pain in the butt

OK, there. I admitted it. Normally I’m at peace with the restrictions and irritations that are part of traveling with a dog. I love my dog, so the trade off is worth it. But this time we were all disappointed that we couldn’t stay in one of the fancy, historic, pet-unfriendly boutique hotels that flanked the central plaza. That’s where Tom was staying. You can just step out the front door right into prime downtown action.

No, no. As usual, we had to stay way out in the suburbs. In fact finding a hotel that would take Archie was a nightmare, but I’ll save that for another post.

Exploring El Centro

We met Tom the next day for lunch, and he showed us around. Tom, lovely man that he is, encouraged us to bring Archie along rather than leaving him in the car (in the shade). No one ever thinks to invite Archie along, so I really appreciated that. Tom also didn’t get impatient when Scout wanted to stop at lots of candy shops. A true gentleman.

I wish our visit to Querétaro had been longer, but here’s some of what we did see.

In the lobby of one of Queretaro's boutique hotels

Courtyard of the Hotel Hildago in downtown Queretaro

Historic monument to a heroine of the War of Independence from Spain, Queretaro, Mexico

lottery, Queretaro, Mexico

THe lovely hotel Hildago in Queretaro

Mark and Tom, Queretaro, Mexico

paletas and other dulces at the dulceria, Queretaro

paletas y dulces Queretaro, Mexico

Dancing indian statue in a plaza in Queretaro

Historic church, Queretaro, Mexico

historic church, Queretaro, Mexico

Woolworth's, Queretaro, Mexico

Scout and friend

Dog fountain in one of Queretaro's many plazas

Scout in the beautiful European-style public park


We had so much fun! After our day in Querétaro, we headed off to visit the Monarch butterflies in Mexico at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

Learn More about Querétaro


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clélie March 1, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I love the various sculptures/statuaries/arty bits. Very interesting.


2 Renee March 1, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I wish we’d had more time to explore. Definitely worth a second visit. Soon.


3 Tom Medsger March 1, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Hi, Renee, Mark, Emma, and of course, Archie,

What a great appreciation of Santiago de Querétaro and our time together! I’m so glad you loved the city as much as I do, and we saw only a tiny bit. As I said to you, Mark, your visit was probably going to be one of the highlights of my trip, and it was. Another highlight: working with the students and teachers at the Universidad Tecnologica de Querétaro, pure gold, pure teaching, and after seven trips, as fresh as ever. I feel privileged to be there and welcomed so warmly. So now I’m thinking how can I spend more time there, and when I figure it out, I’ll be sure to let you know. (Will you already be living there?) There was lots more I would have liked you to have seen (art museums, galleries, favorite restaurants, friends who live there) but they’re not going away. Let’s do it again. Thank you, Renee, for writing so beautifully, and for the evocative photographs.

Best wishes to all, Tom Medsger

P.S.–As I said to Mark on Facebook, I missed you and Archie the next day. It was great seeing you all.


4 Rebeca March 1, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Looks lovely! It’s on our short list of possibilities for next fall.


5 Renee March 2, 2013 at 10:18 am

Rebeca, excellent choice. We’ve been planning to go to Merida or Valladolid next, but we loved Queretaro enough to seriously consider it. I wish it were closer to the ocean, but that’s about the only negative I could see.

What are cities are on your short list?


6 Jen March 2, 2013 at 10:05 am

Wow! Now that is the Mexico we are looking for!! Thanks Renee, another city to add to the list!


7 Renee March 2, 2013 at 10:18 am

Yes, add it to your list!


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