Wednesday, October 10, 2012

San Sebastián de Bernal


San Sebastián de Bernal is a lovely little Mexican town in the state of Querétaro. Just 54 KM. from Querétaro City, it is an easy day trip from San Miguel de Allende. In 2006 Bernal was given the status of Pueblo Mágico by the Ministry of Tourism of México, in recognition of the preservation of cultural and historical heritage. It is one of 36 other towns in Mexico to receive this designation, a privilege also shared by San Miguel de Allende and Patzcuaro.



Peña de Bernal


The prominent rock formation shown in the the picture above is Peña de Bernal ( Bernal’s Boulder or Bernal Peak) and is what really puts Sebastián de Bernal on the map. In November 2007, Peña de Bernal received a medal from the Ministry of Tourism recognizing it as one of the 13 Wonders of México  and as a tourist destination of great historic value and culture. Then in September 2009, Bernal was added to the list of “Intangible Heritages of Humanity” by Unesco: "Places of memory and living traditions of the Otomi-Chichimecas of Toliman: the Peña de Bernal, guardian of a sacred territory”.

This massive rock rises right out of the ground to a height of 350 meters and is third in line behind the Rock of Gibraltar and Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro as the tallest monolith in the world. According to Leonor López Domínguez of México Desconocido, this porphyrytic monolith was formed 100 million years ago, from an active volcano, during the Jurassic period, and scientists feel that it was three times larger then than today.


CJ Berna

Señor Cabeza Jícama in Bernal


La Peña is shrouded in mystery and legend and people flock from all over México to bathe in the energy that supposedly radiates from the core of the monolith. Obsidian, a giant amethyst and quartz crystals, in the rock are said to be responsible for this phenomena, which is purportedly strongly therapeutic. Apparently there are more centenarians here than anywhere else in México and the life expectancy of the citizenry is about 94 years.

On March 21, at the Vernal Equinox, crowds of spiritual seekers and new agers throng to Bernal. Dressed in white with read scarves, they gather at dawn, when the earth is vertical on its axis and the emanations of energy are strongest, and surround La Peña.

Legends abound in Bernal and among the hoards of visiting rock climbers I’m sure there are some who are looking for the cave. Legend tells us that on the sheer side of the monolith, when the light is just right, the shadows form a huge arrow pointing to a perfectly round cave in the rock face. Inside the cave lives a giant snake and if you can fight the snake and emerge victorious you win his treasure. The treasure is not comprised of the usual tangibles though, it is the knowledge of the origin and destiny of the human race.


Capilla De Las Animas


The legend of the Capilla de las Animas, ( the Chapel of the Lost Souls of Purgatory ) is another story of mystic origin. It tells of the souls who are often seen at night, walking with their faces lit by candles, from the graveyard that has been near La Peña since the founding of Bernal in the mid 1600s. It tells, as well, of a merchant who was being chased by bandits, bent on stealing his days earnings. When he arrived at the site where the Chapel stands today, he saw some bushes and hid among them, trusting that the souls of purgatory would protect him. They did, and in gratitude he erected the chapel seen in the picture above. To this day the souls still walk near the chapel at night and many who live in Bernal claim to have seen them. 

Mysteriously enough, there are also an inordinate amount of UFO sightings in and around Bernal. Really, when you think about it, La Peña does bear a strong resemblance to the mountain in the movie “ Close Encounters of the Third Kind “.




Good Eats!


Obviously there must be things, beyond the supernatural, that bring people to the Pueblo Mágico of Bernal. We found several restaurants with appetizing menus but decided on the Mesón de la Roca. The food and drink were excellent and the prices very reasonable.




Chicken with Corn and Poblano Sauce


If you like opals, Bernal is the place to be. While doing a little research, I discovered that there are 25 different kinds of opals. The ones you will find in Bernal are fire opals, displaying beautiful rich earth tones such as yellow brown, orange, yellow orange and red orange. Because of it’s physical nature the fire opal is the only one that can be faceted, and they range from translucent to transparent. I was really surprised to find out how inexpensive some of them were and that you can buy them singly or set in rings, necklaces and bracelets. I actually bought a ring set with a “sun stone” which comes to life and sparkles deeply with colour, when in the sunlight.



Weaving Factory, La Aurora


Bernal is also known for the wool that they produce as well as intricate weaving, and the artisans there produce truly beautiful wall hangings, rugs, tablecloths and clothing. When we arrived at La Aurora, the workers were on a break and we were able to have a behind the scenes tour. It was really fascinating.




Hand Dyed Wool


The wool is hand dyed with local dyes or left natural in soft greys, browns and whites. Patterns in rugs and wall hangings were very different than anything I have seen elsewhere in México.


New Homeb


In the picture above you can see one of the wall hangings we purchased in Bernal hanging in the hall in our house in Patzcuaro. This one was done in all natural wool in shades of grey.



Artisan in La Aurora



Beautiful Throw Pillows and Cushions


Another thing that brings about 4000 people a year to Bernal is the 5 day festival of the Holy Cross. During the first five days of May, Bernal celebrates the Feast of Santa Cruz. On the final day of the festival there is a procession, with music and dancing, which winds through the streets of town to La Peña. The procession marches up the path to the capilla where they meet 6 carefully chosen escaleros, climbers. After the capilla, the trail becomes more and more difficult to traverse, becoming almost vertical at times. The escaleros carry a cross weighing more than 100 pounds, passing it hand over hand without the help of ropes or harnesses, until they plant it on the top of La Peña. I think I’d like to visit next May.


  1. Mysteriously enough, there are also an inordinate amount of UFO sightings in and around Bernal.

    Well, that's a shock.

    Did anyone consider the UFOs were the limousines for all those candle-lit souls?

    1. LOL! No, I don't think they did. Nor did I, and I can't for the life of me figure out why not.

  2. Love Bernal - first time I went the whole town was shut down. Middle of the week, middle of the day. It was graduation day at the escuela primaria and the whole town had gone! Don't you just love that? Best Italian meal I've ever eaten was in Bernal.....

    1. I do love that!! It's really a pretty little town and it's been a while since we've visited. I want to go to the festival next May. I got the loveliest sweater/coat there for under 200 pesos last time too!

  3. Thanks for sharing this pueblo. The craftwork is inviting.


  4. You're welcome Eric. If you get a chance to visit it will be well worth your while. The craftsmanship is amazing in both the jewelry and the weaving. It's also a very pretty town.

  5. Thanks for writing about Bernal. I have not visited in years, but every summer when I am working in the Querétaro countryside I take a bus ride that affords a wonderful distant view of the peak. You've inspired me to visit Bernal again on my next trip to the area.

    1. You're welcome Marc. From Queretaro you are so close. I look forward to going back in May for the festival.