On Thursday of our week-long stay, we were halfway through our trip. But the best parts of the travel were yet to come. Our friends, the K family, had traveled to Mexico and recommended reaching out to Uriel, of Bike Tour Queretaro, for our travel to this area. Our original plan had been to take a bus from Mexico City to Queretaro, but Uriel offered to pick us up and spare us the trouble.
Uriel and his wife, Ana, run Bike Tour Queretaro. They provide bike tours, as their name suggests, around their hometown. But they also take travelers to nearby places to explore, and there is plenty to discover in this area.
We all piled into their SUV and took off. Though young, Uriel proved to be an experienced driver and we felt comfortable throughout the trip with him. He is well versed in English and speaks a couple of other languages as well. The trip took us just over a couple of hours. We stopped along the way to try some pastes at Pasteko and a bathroom break. Pastes are baked pastries that can be either sweet or savory.
Situated to the northwest of Mexico City, just over 200 km away, Santiago de Queretaro has played several important roles in Mexico’s history. This area was first ruled by the Otomi tribe, who had to fight back the invading Aztecs. Once the Spanish arrived, the Otomi eventually allied with them to defeat the Aztecs. One of the Otomi chiefs, Conin, converted to Christianity and founded this city in 1531. Queretaro was a major player in fostering the idea of Mexican independence from the Spanish. Many revolutionaries made this their main headquarters during this fight. After Mexican independence in 1821, statehood was conferred on Queretaro in 1824.
During the Mexican-American War, Queretaro became the temporary capital of Mexico in 1846. It was here that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed at the end of the war, in 1848. Emperor Maximilian I of Austria moved here and this area was under French rule for a short period. He was executed on the Cerro de las Campanas (Hill of the bells) in 1867. In 1917, the Mexican Constitution was drafted and passed here in Queretaro at a constitutional convention, marking the end of the Mexican Revolution and the rise of a time of political stability.
By the time we reached Queretaro, we were famished, so Uriel drove us to the Mercado La Cruz. After finding a place to park, we entered the maze of shops in this colorful market, closely following behind Ana and Uriel. They led us to a small stall, Antojitos Rosy, where we got gorditas. Most fillings had meat but we were able to find one with cactus that was vegetarian. These were small and we had to eat 3 or 4 each to satisfy our hunger. Once lunch was done, we took a stroll around the market. We stopped at a vegetable and fruit vendor and sampled fresh fruits before buying some.
Next on the itinerary was the bike tour which typically takes about 1.5 to 2 hours and covers about 18 important locations, if one can be quick enough and keep a steady pace. I, however, am not the most established bike rider, so Uriel decided to change up the itinerary. We covered the more difficult terrain by car and left the easier parts to the actual bike tour.
We first drove to the Plaza Fundadores or Founders Square. This plaza was built to commemorate the founding of this city and the people associated with it. It’s said that at this site, during a war between the Otomi and the Conquistadors, a vision of Saint James appeared. This made believers of the Otomi and their chief, Conin (who changed his name to Fernando de Tapia after his religious conversion) who founded the city here. Across from the plaza is the Templo y Convento de la Santa Cruz. Built in 1531, with the origins of the city, the church has now been restored. There is a stone replica of the Holy Cross here. The other main unique feature of this church is a tree within the convent that grows cross-shaped thorns. Apparently, a pious friar, Antonio Margil who used to walk long distances to this area, stuck his walking cane here and after his death, the cane grew into a tree with these unique thorns instead of flowers.
From here, we walked down a short distance to the viewpoint for the Aqueduct which is the pride of Queretaro engineering. Built in 1736, measuring 75 feet tall with 72 arches and extending an impressive 4200 feet, this aqueduct conveyed water to the city from the nearby springs until 1970. Uriel told us an interesting story about a lady who became a nun who convinced a local businessman to build the aqueduct.
Uriel then drove us to his little office where he and Ana store their bikes. We got fitted with helmets and reflective vests. We chose the right bikes for each of us and soon we were off. Uriel had another guide join us on this tour.
Before, we left, Uriel gave us information about how the tour would go down, riding in a single file, all the rules, and signs to follow on the roads. Then off we went. The kids and Mr. JJ followed the leader guide, while Uriel brought up the rear to ensure I wasn’t falling too far behind.
It was definitely a unique experience exploring the city on bikes, something we hadn’t done before. The first set of streets we went on wasn’t too busy, the streets were narrow and the houses were all close together. Our first big stop was the Cerro de las Campanas. Called the Hill of the Bells, for the stone here that when struck has a bell-ringing like quality, this area is considered a National park. This is where Emperor Maximilian I was executed along with two other generals. There is also a massive, imposing statue of Benito Juarez. It was hot on the day we biked and it was good to rest under the canopy of the trees here and cool down.
From here we rode back, past the university area, until we were back on the main street to the Teatro de la Republica. Uriel pointed out smaller, locally important buildings along the way. The Teatro is an impressive neoclassical building that has been home to a few historical events. Emperor Maximilian was sentenced to death here and the Mexican constitution was drafted here. The building itself is entered through a 3 arched doorway, the inside lobby is beautifully done. The theater is unique in that the entrance to the building lies perpendicular to the stage and the auditorium. We did not have access to the inside, but we took some time to enjoy the little we could see.
Our next stop was at the busy Zenea Garden where we saw people playing music and generally having a good time. A fountain here pays homage to the goddess Hebe. The garden is across from the San Fransisco Temple and was once part of the atrium of this convent.
Back at the BTQ office, we picked up our belongings and headed to our Airbnb for the next couple of days. Luckily, it wasn’t too far from the main areas.
Uriel told us the city was safe to walk in at night. So after resting up for some time, we chose to eat at Bhaji curry house, an Indian restaurant. It was about a 25-minute walk to the area, but the architecture, the undulating streets, the busy Plaza de Armas kept us distracted. We were the only customer at the restaurant, the waiter was a young kid with a pleasant disposition and food was adequate.
We walked back to the Plaza and enjoyed the music outside the El Meson de Chucho El Roto. The Plaza was busy at that time of the evening with friends and families and couples. Further away, we stopped by the Zenea Garden again, this time to watch several older couples dancing to live music while younger kids skateboarded and hung out. We have come to truly appreciate the functionality of a plaza. It’s truly wonderful to see people out and about after dinner, enjoying a terrific evening, with great music and dancing thrown in. The streets were quaint, cobbled at times, some empty, some busy, but all very safe to travel on.