Peña de Bernal
Estado de Querétaro paints more than a pretty picture of old-world Mexico. Beset within the Ezequiel Montes region North West of the state, the 16th Century pueblo of Bernal is arguably the most blessed of them all for intrinsic natural beauty. Set against the backdrop of rusty mountains and elevated plateaus, the colorful village lives in the shadow of the world's third largest massif - Peña de Bernal.
To understand the resonance of Bernal's allure, one must first be aware that Peña de Bernal (350 meters) is in fact, neither mountain nor hill. A free-standing sculpture of nature's artistry, Peña de Bernal is regarded a monolith due to its formation as a single protruding rock from the earth's surface some 100 million years ago. While many such formations exist throughout the world, few are as gargantuan or steep than Querétaro's “Bernal Boulder” - third only to Sugarloaf Mountain and the Rock of Gibraltar in height, and second largest to Mount Augustus, Australia (encompassing an area of 4,795 hectares).
An oft photographed view of Peña de Bernal is from the diminutive Iglesia de San Sebastián courtyard in Bernal, framed by the exquisite colors of village buildings below. Unbeknown to first time visitors, Peña de Bernal is also the site of a famous capila (chapel) – one which has since become a place of pilgrimage for Catholics from every corner of Latin America. Hiking to the halfway point of the Peña is a challenging feat, recommended only for those with energy to endure a 90 minute climb. The rough-shod path has been well trodden, however remains notoriously steep in places – surprising considering the many water vendors encountered along the path, who seem to spend their entire day in the blistering sun. Capila de Bernal is overwhelmingly tiny; in fact, so small only one person may enter the cavernous chapel at any one time. Prepare to get your knees dirty, since the entrance is less than 4 feet in height, influencing many to crawl rather than risk a bang on the head. There is little of note inside the chapel, save for a miniature icon of the Virgin and a flower strewn altar, refreshed daily with new offerings.
To locals Peña de Bernal represents more than just nature's gift for tourism. Visions of the Virgin; wandering souls in Purgatory and even murmurings of the god Quetzlacoatl are just some of the fascinating legends attributed to the mountain. Whether admired from afar, or undertaken for your a hiking adventure, Peña de Bernal is one to put on your to-do list!