Pena de Bernal: 5 Best Things to Do in Bernal Mexico

April 22, 2024

pena de benal

Our quest to visit Mexico’s pueblos magicos brought us to postcard-perfect San Sebastián Bernal, better known as Bernal, in the Mexican state of Querétaro. As we were driving from Tequisquiapan, we could see the towering Pena de Bernal monolith dominating the landscape from the highway, inching closer with each minute.

Oozing color and charm, Bernal looks like one of the fantasy towns you’d find in Epcot or Disney World. It’s undoubtedly one of the most picturesque villages in Mexico. The beauty of the Peña de Bernal is one reason why Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism has designated Bernal as a pueblo mágico, or magical town. Pueblos mágicos are towns distinguished by their natural beauty, culture and traditions, cuisine, arts and crafts, and other unique qualities; Bernal surely fits the bill.

Founded in 1642 by Spanish soldier Alonso Cabrera, the tiny village has maintained its old-world colonial charm. The narrow cobblestone alleys lead to the main square lined with old Spanish architecture, souvenir shops, and the bright ochre San Sebastian Temple in the center, sitting under the shadow of the towering monolith (Pena de Bernal). It’s a bit like stepping back in time.

When to Go

pena de benal

Since the monolith is designated as one of the 13 Wonders of Mexico, Bernal is a favorite getaway for Mexican locals and is bustling on the weekends. However, we visited during the week (February) and we had the town practically to ourselves.

How Long to Stay

How long to stay depends on whether or not you are planning to climb the monolith. For just sightseeing, a few hours are enough. If you are hiking you’ll want to stay overnight. There are some very charming options in the old town.

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Here are our favorite things to do at Pena de Bernal.

5 Eat Street Food

pan de queso

Bernal has some very tasty street food!

You have to try the famous blue corn gorditas (which look black) a thick, rustic, doughy, corn tortilla that’s been prepared on a griddle, split down the middle like a pita pocket, then stuffed with guiso – a thick meat stew, shredded beef cheese, cactus, or other fillings. They only cost roughly $1 each.

My favorite was the pan de queso – an absolutely scrumptious oval sweet bread filled with local mascarpone-like cheese and topped with crunchy cinnamon sugar.

Dulce de leche de cabra is a sweet, caramel fudge-like confection made from goat milk and raw sugar.

Another thing to try is the ice cream in one of the unusual local flavors such as lavender, cactus, or prickly pear.

4 Enjoy a Rooftop Bar or Restaurant

pena de benal

A rooftop bar is a great way to enjoy the view of the Peña de Bernal. There are a few cafes surrounding the center square and many others on the side streets overlooking the center plaza and monolith.

3 Municipal Square

Parroquia San Sebastian

The Peña de Bernal plaza, is a beautiful town square with gardens and shade trees, anchored by ochre, rust-trimmed San Sebastián Temple. It is surrounded by colorful colonial architecture with arches, and pillars, boutique shops and cafes.

The Parroquia San Sebastian adorns the small town. The early 18th-century Catholic Church, with its vivid exterior, towering belfry, and domed roof, with monolith as a backdrop makes it a stunning Instagram spot.

2 Wander Around

pena de bernal

In the small downtown, Calle Miguel Hidalgo is the main street that leads through the historic center (#3). As you can see from the photo above, the colorful pedestrian-only alleys leading to the center plaza could not be more picturesque or gorgeous.

pena de bernal

Lele mural on a side street

Surrounding the square are small shops selling traditional and locally-made goods. I did purchase some gorgeous handmade earrings and an adorable Lele rag doll for my granddaughter (okay, I got one for myself, too).

Most of the side streets in Bernal are constructed out of well-worn cobblestones with alleys leading up to the monolith. It’s a small, easily walkable town, but very hilly and bumpy, with many areas impassable by car.

1 Hike the Monolith

view at the top of monolith

Peña de Bernal is a volcanic monolith, sacred to the Indigenous Otomí-Chichimeca people long before the arrival of the Spanish. They believe the monolith is a source of power, and energy rituals take place especially during the spring and autumn equinox.

The impressive monolith is one of the 13 Natural Wonders of Mexico and was just recently listed as the “tallest freestanding monolith in the world.” It stands at 1420 feet high above the surrounding area with a total elevation above sea level of 8230 feet.

pena de bernal

The monolith is the main reason to come to Bernal. Hikers can ascend a moderately challenging route to the summit along a steep, well-maintained, trail. Dress in layers because it was cool when we started, but I needed to shed my jacket before too long. You’ll also need to wear good hiking shoes or sneakers, a hat to protect from the sun, and water.

pena de bernal

The path consists of smooth white stones and boulders, sometimes cut into for steps. The path follows a natural incline with lots of switchbacks, offering views all along the way. Sometimes the path is wide with plenty of space to rest, other times there’s only room for one person to get through at a time.

As we approached the top, the rocky path became steep and slippery, and there are parts where I had to scramble.

pena de bernal

The biggest challenge was the point at a smooth, steep rocky slope without any footholds, requiring quite a bit of balance and confidence. If not for the cable fastened into the stone wall which I held onto for dear life, I would not have been able to do it.

Rewarded by stunning panoramic views at the top, I was glad I persisted!

view at the top of monolith

However, I will say it was much scarier coming DOWN holding onto that chain, and I may or may not have whimpered a little until Kary came to help me. Still, I was determined to do this hike, if only to brag that I conquered this 8-million-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site. Boom!




By happenstance, we stumbled into Tequisquiapan (Tequis, as it’s more colloquially known), a Pueblo Magico on our drive from Grutas Tolantango to Bernal. We loved the well-preserved Spanish colonial buildings lining the charming cobbled streets; the pink neoclassical Santa María de la Asunción church in the charming center square overlooking the arcaded Plaza Miguel Hidalgo.


We spent a couple of hours leisurely strolling around the town and of course taking advantage of the brightly colored Tequis letters that dominate Tequisquiapan centro.


In a country boasting 177 pueblo magicos, Bernal is one of the prettiest. It’s like traveling in a time machine to old Mexico. The sleepy town will not appeal to partiers, but for those looking for a place where you can lose yourself in postcard-perfect surroundings, Bernal won’t disappoint.

Photos by Kary Kern.

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About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of the “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the next few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

1 comment

  1. Comment by Antionette Blake

    Antionette Blake Reply May 5, 2024 at 2:53 pm

    We haven’t been to Mexico in years, thanks for sharing this.

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