Magical Towns: San Sebastián Bernal

In Culture, Magical Towns by Belen Molina

Beyond the luxurious resort experiences offered at Mexico’s most exclusive beach destinations, there is a vast group of “Magical Towns,” or Pueblos Mágicos, that are located all across the country and that remain largely undiscovered. In 2001, the Mexico Tourism Board acknowledged that Mexico offered a magical element that went beyond its beaches and that kept tourists coming back. For this reason, they created the Magical Towns Program, an initiative that seeks to promote a series of towns across the country that are significant due to their history, rich culture, unique traditions, and natural beauty. These towns welcome visitors from all around the world, offering them a truly magical experience.

Perched at the bottom of the Peña de Bernal, the third highest monolith of rock in the world and one of the 13 Wonders of Mexico according to the Ministry of Tourism, is the magical town of San Sebastián Bernal. This colonial town is located in the municipality of Ezequiel Montes, in the Mexican state of Querétaro. Better known as Bernal, its name is derived from the Basque Vernal, meaning “place of stones or boulders.”

Bernal was founded in 1647 by the Spanish soldier Alonso Cabrera in order to protect the region’s inhabitants against attacks from the Chichimecas. The place was chosen because it was considered a safe and secure spot from which they could monitor the region.

The magical town of Bernal offers visitors a great variety of things to do that center around ecotourism, culture, history, and fun. One of the most popular things to do in Bernal is climbing the Peña. Standing 350 meters high, climbing to the top of this monolith is a truly memorable experience. In fact, during the Spring Equinox celebration, which takes place from March 19-21, hundreds of people flock to its peak hoping to recharge with positive energy.

Peña de Bernal

Peña de Bernal

The town center, although small, is characterized by the beauty of its narrow cobblestone streets, as well as the colonial style of its architecture. In it, you will find a great variety of typical restaurants, stores, bars, cafes, and crafts stands.

Must-See Places:

  • Santa Cruz Chapel, which dates back to the 18th century
  • El Castillo, which dates back to the 17th century and which houses the Mask Museum
  • San Sebastian Martir Church, the main church in town, which was built between 1700 and 1725
  • The Otomi chapels in San Antonio de la Cal and Las Bóvedas (just a few kilometers North of Bernal), which were declared by UNESCO to be Intangible Heritage of Humanity
San Sebastian Martir Church

San Sebastian Martir Church

You Can’t Miss…

  • A guided visit at Rancho La Hondonada, a ranch that produces organic artisanal cheeses and that utilizes sustainable processes in the manufacture of all of its delicious products
  • The walking tours offered by the local Tourist Office, where you will learn about the history of the town, the geology of the monolith, and where you will visit colonial houses and churches that date back to the 17th century
  • The spectacular views from the top of the Peña de Bernal
  • The delicious and authentic dulce de leche candy
  • The handcrafted shawls, scarfs, blankets, rugs, and hats that are made out of wool and that are sold in the town center
  • The famous and exquisite Gorditas de Doña Justa located on Independencia street

To obtain more information about Bernal, such as where to stay, how to get there, what to do, and where to eat, please visit:


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