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Peña de Bernal


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The third largest monolith in the world, just in Mexico!

Translated by Alison Isherwood — 10 days ago

Original text by Paola Villegas

Less than three hours from the capital of Mexico, and only 59 kilometres from the city of Querétaro, you will find one of the natural attractions that distinguishes the municipality of Ezequiel Montes: la Peña de Bernal. This is responsible for the constant flow of tourists in this area, especially due to its close proximity to the city of Querétaro, which is only 45 minutes away. It’s an obligation for all Queretaros, of birth or heart, to have visited the magnificent Peña de Bernal at least once in their life.

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(Me in the town of Bernal, where you can see the Peña de Bernal. In this street they sell a lot of artisanal products and souvenirs that maintain an active flow of tourists)

What is it? The Peña de Bernal figures

The Peña de Bernal is the third largest monolith in the world, after the Rock of Gibraltar in the Iberic Peninsular of Spain and Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese) in Brazil. The monolith has a height of approximately 350 metres. The age of this immense rock is somewhat difficult to believe, as many estimate it to be more than 65 million years old. In fact, they consider it to be one of the three wonders of Mexico and it is also on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list administrated by UNESCO.

A bit of history never hurts

It is said that before the rock there was a volcano that over the years became inactive, causing the inside to solidify and, with the passing of time, the magma solidified, giving it the rocky and distinctive aspect that it has now.

The Peña de Bernal has borne witness to many historic events such as the foundation of the town of Bernal in 1642, as well as events of the Conquest because the Spanish even came here to generate a mining quarry during the time period of the viceroyalty. Before the town, there lived the otomies and chichimecas of Tolimán, who were very brave people that often survived the harshest conditions; these tribes were known for their great resistance to the Conquest, opposing it from the arrival of the Spaniards.

After all these years, the traditions of the town of Bernal continue to be very well conserved, such as its symbolic attributes and its legends. Because of this, in 2006 another label was added to the Ministry of Tourism, which called it the ‘Magic Town’. So, if you go to Mexico, you should already know where you have to go.

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(Public Square in the town of Bernal)

Climbing the Peña de Bernal

I am sure that you will ask yourself about what happens after you’ve arrived and admired the stone for a while. Don’t worry, because I can assure you that the fun won’t stop after just half an hour. In fact, the best thing would be to arrive in the morning and leave at sunset, if you live in the city of Querétaro. If you live further away, I suggest you book a room for a night in the town of Bernal.

If you’re not scared of heights and you have a sporting attitude, I recommend climbing the Peña de Bernal. It usually takes less than an hour to climb it, more or less 45 minutes on average, although you have to consider that they do not allow you to go to the very top. You can only climb up 280 metres, more or less three quarters of the way to the top. Many people think that climbing the Peña de Bernal will be incredibly exhausting and many consider it impossible, but I recommend you try it with the whole family so that you’re motivated the whole time. You should know that this place is very popular among the people that practice climbing or mountaineering, as some parts have a rocky structure with cliffs and boulders that allows very few to climb to the top, and only if you have the necessary equipment and experience.

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(La Peña de Bernal in misty weather)

During the ascension it’s not uncommon for people you don’t even know to give you encouraging words that will bring out a smile in you; usually these cheery people are those who are already descending and know how much further you have to go. Whilst you ascend, you can admire much of the landscape, but your reward will be greatest when you reach the top, as, from there, you can admire the town of Bernal and the horizon, especially at twilight. Querétaro has one of the best twilights in existence, with bold colours such as pinks, oranges, purples and blues; on some occasions you can see all of them combined on the same horizon. It wasn’t for no reason that the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote in his book, El Aleph, the phrase that references the skies of Querétaro:

“Vi un poniente en Querétaro que parecía reflejar el color de una rosa en Bengala”.

(“I watched a sunset in Querétara that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal. ”)

When is the best time to climb?

So, with this information comes my first recommendation: ascend the Peña de Bernal after four o’clock in the afternoon, as in Querétaro the sun tends to beat down more strongly before one o’clock in the afternoon, so going up before then is going to be more difficult than doing it a few hours later. Also, considering the arrival time, if you go up at this hour it will give you time to observe the sky in Querétaro during sunset. If you want to go up in the morning, I recommend that you go as early as possible, again, to protect yourself from the sun.

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(View of Bernal from the distant villages)

Arriving during festival season

There tends to be road blocks leading to Bernal, the hotels are often full and the town begins to prepare for one of the most important festivities in the municipality of Ezequiel Montes: the Spring Equinox.

This festivity tends to be celebrated between the 19th and 21st of March and it’s very recommended to attend to see one of the Mexican traditions in action. The visitors that congregate here come from even the furthest away places in the country, looking for the ‘charge of energy’ that emanates from the rock. It’s very lovely to see the visitors, as they often come dressed in white, the colour of peace. For many this represents a ’new spiritual year’ as they are full of good energy with which to start the year. Although the majority of the people come to participate in this ritual, there are others more sceptical that come simply to enjoy the artistic, gastronomical and cultural event that occurs in the town.

Santa Cruz festival

If you want to go up the Peña de Bernal, you will see a lot of crosses at the top. This is because of the festival of Santa Cruz that runs from the 1st to the 5th of May. Like the previous event, people tend to climb the Peña, but this time with a cross that participants put on the top and do not take it down for the whole year. In this festival it tends to be the inhabitants of the town that participate, but you can also find some visitors from other places.

Contest of Artisanal Masks

This is a competition typical among the townspeople but it is not as well-known by tourists. It consists of making artisanal masks, and though the word ‘artisanal’ makes it sound as though they will only have typical colours such as the ‘Mexican rose’, it’s a misconception as the masks are often made in the image of internationally recognised people. In general, they make them of characters with funny faces, but they also produce masks of relevant characters pertaining to the Mexican culture, such as from Chavo del Ocho or Pancho Villa. The best thing is that the winning masks are exhibited in the National Mask Museum every year.

Festival of Bernal

This is the most important and well-known festival of all. It consists of a religious celebration dedicated to the martyr, Saint Sebastian, celebrated during the 11th and 20th of January. Saint Sebastian is one of the most important people for the town as he did a lot for the town’s church. In fact, the Temple of Saint Sebastian was built in his name.

Door between two worlds: Bernal and UFOs

One of the most curious things about the Peña de Bernal is that many of the citizens believe the town of Bernal is often visited by UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) that fly over the surface of the monolith. Even the tourist office you will find several photographs on the wall where these ‘visits’ have been captured.

Many consider Bernal an area with high energy because it’s a kind of door between two worlds. It is even claimed that some lucky people have been able to cross this door and establish contact with other civilisation that are found in other dimensions and are not comprehensible or even visible to most mortals.

The citizens of the town of Berna swear that there are often strange apparitions in the town, as well as unusual sounds, fireballs and clouds with strange meanings. It’s for this reason, the town is usually visited by ‘UFO hunters’, that assemble their devices and seek to explain such strange phenomena. All of this has made Bernal known among those that study such events like ’Bernal, the rock that resounds’.

Bernal in the cinema

The beauty of Bernal is something that has not only captivated tourists, but also cinema directors. This city has borne witness to some of the most famous films of the Golden Age in the history of Mexican cinema. Mexico was one of the main producers of films a few decades ago, and they filmed most of these in Bernal. The most famous was ’La Cucaracha’ by María Félix, Pedro Almendáriz, Dolores del Río and El Indio Fernández. This film was as important as it was because the most recognised actors of the time were involved and now all of Mexico recognise them.

Places to eat

Climbing up 300 metres isn’t nothing, and many people come down hungry. But, I assure you that finding a place to eat will be no problem; the only ‘problem’ as such will be deciding which place you want to eat in and, above all, deciding what meal you would like to try. One of the most famous restaurants is ’El Mesón de La Roca’ that boasts of having the best Mexican food in the region at excellent prices.

I want to bring a souvenir back with me from Bernal!

The town of Bernal practically lives off of tourism, which is why in the streets there are many artisanal shops, typical Mexican clothing (and designer clothing), as well as jewellery, souvenir and sweet shops. My personal recommendation is to buy sweets made with fruit and covered in chili. The typical ones, that are made of tamarind, are not very spicy, although many foreigners say that they are. I recommend that you visit the Hidalgo street, because in this street are the most well-known shops.

How to get to Bernal?

If you’re coming from Mexico City by car:

Take the road Carretera México-Querétaro and in the second booth (the one in Palmillas) you will find the municipality of San Juan del Río. In this area, take the diversion to Palmillas/ Airport. From here you will begin to see many green signs that indicate the way, although La Peña de Bernal can be seen from miles away and can serve as a guide.

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(Road near to the town of Bernal, about fifteen minutes until arrival.

If you’re coming from Querétaro by car:

Take the road Carretera Querétaro – México and take the diversion to the Querétaro Intercontinental Airport. You will find a small road with two lands that is completely straight. Passing through the Wamerú Zoo, you will see the relevant signs.

Costs?

If you come from Mexico City, apart from the costs of gasoline you should keep in mind that there are two toll booths that cost $70. 00 Mexican pesos.

The menu in Mexican restaurants goes a long way for $15 per person.

Recommendations?

- If you want to climb the Peña de Bernal, it’s essential to bring trainers or comfortable shoes, these will make the ascension easier. I recommend you bring light clothing because in Querétaro it is often hot. I have seen girls wearing dresses or sandals and though they go up, they do so with a lot of difficulty.

- I recommend you try the street food, since there is Mexican food that you won’t find in a restaurant such as ‘gorditas’ or ‘tacos sudados’. Furthermore, if you buy them you will be helping the Mexican economy and commerce.

I hope you enjoy this delightful escape from the city!

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