What is the Peña de Bernal and Why Should You Visit?

Ever heard of San Sebstian Bernal and the Peña de Bernal ? I hadn’t! I didn’t even know exactly what we were doing. Was it a crater? A mountain hike? Or some other natural phenomenon?

“I think we are going to go hike through a crater or climb a pyramid tomorrow,” I texted to a friend. Yeah, I didn’t know anything about Bernal. I sure had it together, huh?

Peña de Bernal, Queretaro, Mexico


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Pena de Bernal, Peña de bernal pueblo magico

We finally got ourselves moving one Saturday morning in July and headed to Bernal. It’s around a 40 minute drive from Queretaro (the nearest large city and as always, that timing depends on the traffic). After a harrowing trip through the city, we drove into the much calmer Mexican countryside.

How to get to Pena de Bernal Queretaro

The closest city is Queretaro. Visitors can fly into the QRO airport and arrange transportation to Bernal from there. There are busses available. Car rental is another option (it’s actually a  fairly easy drive from the airport).

What is Bernal?

San Sebastian Bernal is a village located in the state of Queretaro, Mexico. Why this particular place is on the map is due to the monolithic rock that graces its skyline. The Peña de Bernal is the third highest on the planet. Apparently, you can trek to the chapel on the rock and many people do this hike on Sundays. The town itself is a touristy place, but it seems like it isn’t well known outside of Mexico.

Peña de Bernal dominates the views in Bernal, which is really saying something, since the town is surrounded by mountains. Fun fact, central Mexico is beautiful, especially in the tail end of the rainy season (July and August). In July, that means the mountains surrounding the valleys are brilliant green.

Templo de San Sebastian in Bernal San ebastian.

Templo de San Sebastian in Bernal.

The Reality (with Kids)

We should’ve planned to leave for Bernal earlier in the day. It was quite hot when we arrived and the first thing we did was stop for food. The place we stopped was basically a large food stall. We sat at a neat little table, but it was next to the back where they clearly dumped their food refuse. Every once in awhile, a nauseating smell wafted past our noses. The food was okay. We’ll stop somewhere else next time. As usual, one child refused to eat (and yes, this child was also understandably grumpy for the majority of this visit).

On our walk up, we stopped by an ice cream place. I also bought some earrings for my mom in one of the little shops. We never did find the path you can hike to get to the church at the highest point (you have to keep going up and then up some more). We did meander up the city streets and through all the wonderful tourist-y shops. I found my awesome flower shirt and belt there and for much less dinero than they were charging in Guadalajara.

Isn’t poor planning the story of my life? A little bit, yes (though, it doesn’t always matter if I plan well or not nowadays). Sometimes, we just have to get into the car and go or we may not see things. We’ve been in a bit of a travel/exploring slump for the past 6 weeks. Consequently, I’ve been having writer’s block for close to the same amount of time. But great planning or not, I always am prepared for at least one family member to be feeling overwhelmed. Even when amusement parks are involved, sometimes we have a grumpy family member.

Can You Climb the Peña de Bernal with Kids?

My husband took a second trip to Bernal to attempt to climb it. He made it to the highest point you can get to without using mountain climbing equipment. This was his view at the top:

At the top of the Peña de Bernal. The view of Bernal San Sebastian is obscured by fog. Peña bernal.

It rained while he was climbing and the view was shrouded in fog.

“I’m at the top. It rained, so it was slippery. And it’s foggy, so I can’t see a thing,” he said. “Nat, I don’t think the kids will be able to do this yet.” At this point, our kids were 4 and 5 years old. We did determine that during the dry season, we’d take them and see how high they could/wanted to climb.

Even with the rain and fog, he did take this fantastic picture:

A Peña de Bernal shrouded in fog on a rainy Saturday.

It makes me think “Peña de Bernal, International Mountain of Mystery.”

This is a tough climb and the path looks like this:

The path isn’t really a path. It’s more of a climb. My husband decided to bring gloves, which he said was really helpful. Our kids are 4 and 5. Older kids may be able to do this without an issue. He did see young children climbing with their families. We may try it all together someday. Even if we don’t, I want to visit Bernal again!

A picture of a sheer mountain face (the Pena de Bernal), with climbers (using gear).

You can also climb to the top, using mountain climbing gear. I don’t expect to do this in my lifetime.

Reasons to visit San Sebastian de Bernal

San Sebastian de Bernal is a Puebla Magico town. Pueblo Magico towns are towns with significant cultural riches, natural beauty, or historical relevance. Bernal was my first visit to a town with this designation (San Miguel de Allende was removed from the list in 2009). It definitely meets the criteria for natural beauty!

It’s touristy, but not overrun with people. Sundays are likely to be busier, given that people do the pilgrimage to reach the church at the highest point. It also isn’t polished like the Puerta Vallarta waterfront. It feels almost undiscovered.

There are shops, more shops, restaurants, and at a certain point, you get to start climbing the monolith. Lesser known towns are awesome places to grab souvenirs, because they are less expensive. There were so many things to choose from! Yes, I like souvenirs. When I am back there, I would like to get something that says “Puebla Magico” on it.

Have you ever been to either the Peña de Bernal or Bernal San Sebastian? Have you climbed a monolith or a mountain?


14 thoughts on “What is the Peña de Bernal and Why Should You Visit?

  1. Lois Alter Mark says:

    Ha ha! I had no idea what this was either but I loved reading all about it! And I really loved looking at your photos. I hope you get to go back and climb when your kids are a little older – and it’s not raining!

    • Natalie says:

      Thanks! I hope we can do it. I’m even okay with not making it to the highest accessible point. We definitely wouldn’t attempt it as a family in the rain.

  2. shere says:

    It seems like an interesting place, but I’ve never heard about it before. We do hike quite a lot with the kids (3 year and 18 months) and I know as well that you can plan as much as you want, but there’s always something unexpected.
    I’m sure th ice-cream helped out 🙂

    • Natalie says:

      Yep, that’s the nature of traveling with kids! We do a lot of outdoor activities, but hiking up mountains hasn’t yet been in our repertoire. I’d like to try it soon and see how they do, even if it’s hard. Kids sometimes love the challenge.

  3. Vlad says:

    I’ve never heard of it before either. Sad to hear you didn’t find the path (I can relate), but I’m sure the ice cream and wandering on the town streets wasn’t bad either. I know how disappointing it is to go to the top of a mountain and not be able to see a thing due to fog, the same happened to me in Gibraltar.

  4. knycx.journeying says:

    Thanks for introducing Bernal San Sebstian and the Peña de Bernal which I never heard about. Is there any iconic sites or landmark that must not be missed? Besides it’ s tough to hike in the rain and hopefully, if you would return the weather would better. @ knycx.journeying

    • Natalie says:

      If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, I think the Peña de Bernal is a really cool, lesser known thing to see. Apparently, you can get to the top if you are into mountain climbing. I’ll only ever get to the highest point one can hike, if that!

  5. Victoria @TheBritishBerliner says:

    I’ve never been to either the Peña de Bernal or Bernal San Sebastian. I’ve climbed many a mountain and even a live volcano, but that was a disaster, and I won’t be doing that in a hurry!

    We do like the outdoors though and in a few weeks, will spend some time in the National Parks of Northern England. In the cold and rain. I’m quite looking forward to it!

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