Road Trip Rundown

posted in: Querétaro Road Trip 2024 | 4

Here’s my report on the ten-day road trip Luis and I took to the states of Guanajuato, Querétaro, and San Luis Potosí. In December I shared the itinerary, and you might find it interesting to open that post alongside this one and compare the expectations with the outcomes.

I’m illustrating this post with a few photos, but you should check out my Google photo album for the complete illustrated tour.

Los Pueblos Mágicos

I previously lamented the fact that they’ve added many new Pueblos Mágicos since I moved to Mexico. In 2023 they added 45 new ones, bringing the total to 177.

On this road trip I discovered that there are too many. And we visited several where the magic was nowhere to be found.

But here’s the rundown on each one we visited. Luis and I devised a 5‑star rating system. To get 5 stars, the town had to be truly magical. The fewer the stars, the less magic is evident. A 1‑star town is pretty much a pit. And each of the three Pueblos Mágicos we visited that were designated in 2023 earned just 1 star.

Sadly, the dilution of magic in the program has soured me on taking any future trips to discover more Pueblos Mágicos.

Jiquilpan, Michoacán


Our first stop was our only stop in Michoacán. The parks and churches were very pretty. We had a good lunch. There was some interesting public art. And one of the highlights was the public library, with murals by José Clemente Orozco. We didn’t make it to the birthplace of Lazaro Cárdenas or to the stone house in Bosque Cuauhtémoc.

Orozco murals in the public library

Salvatierra, Guanajuato


The central plaza is very pretty, and the church overlooking the plaza is lovely. While we were inside the church, a woman entered and walked on her knees all the way up the aisle. It must have taken her ten minutes. I asked Luis about this. Apparently it’s a thing. A way of showing submission I guess. 

Santuario de Nustra Señora de la Luz

After dinner we walked through a narrow street where all the houses had murals of birds.

Then we went back to the plaza, which was lit up and even prettier than in the daylight. People were lined up to receive free Rosca de Reyes, as it was the eve of Three Kings Day.

The next morning we visited the historic Batanes Bridge over Río Lerma. It was built in the mid 17th century.

Amealco de Bonfils, Querétaro


This charming town surprised me. I didn’t think we’d spend a lot of time here. I figured we’d head to several nearby locations. We visited the small Museo de la Muñeca Artesenal. And we really enjoyed wandering through the compact center, and checking out the Otomi dolls for sale everywhere. So we didn’t make it to the ruins at San Ildefonso nor to the waterfall at La Piedad.

Parroquia Santa María

Tequisquiapan, Querétaro


Driving into this town, we could tell right away that it would be a winner. And it was one of the nicest Pueblos Mágicos I’ve visited.

Our first stop was an artisan market on the outskirts of town. This was one of the best craft markets I’ve been to in Mexico. We had lunch here and wandered among the booths for a while before heading into the center.

It turns out that there are a lot of artisan markets in Tequisquiapan. We didn’t spend too much more time doing that. We really enjoyed wandering the streets and lingering in the main plaza. Luis found a place offering chair massage, so he indulged in that while I indulged in an ice cream cone.

Plaza Miguel Hidalgo and Templo Parroquial Santa Maria de la Asunción
The wide pedestrian streets made it feel not too crowded, but there were actually a lot of tourists in the center of Tequisquiapan.

Bernal, Querétaro


The highlight of our next town (and next overnight stop) is the huge monolith, Peña de Bernal, that towers over it. The biggest surprise was that we could see it as soon as we drove out of Tequisquiapan, 30 kilometers away.

Bernal was jumping with activity. Lots of tourists! And the town had all the things a tourist town should have: lots of hotels and restaurants, gift shops, street performers, street food, and just a celebratory vibe.

We stayed in a hotel about 15 minutes walk from the center. 

Cadereyta de Montes, Querétaro


There are two attractive churches in the center of this town, but the plaza they face out on and the surrounding town were kind of nondescript and sullen on a chilly, grey morning.

We visited La Quinta Fernando Schmoll, a greenhouse dedicated to the conservation, knowledge, and reproduction of cacti and succulents. This was the highlight of our time here. The woman who showed us around provided lots of interesting information about the work they do, and the gardens were beautiful.

We also visited the Jardin Botánico. This was the opposite. The guides spoke from a memorized script. It was dull and monotonous (and I didn’t understand much of what they were saying). And the grounds were not pretty at all. We left as soon as the tour ended.

San Joaquin, Querétaro


This town is colorful and hilly. There wasn’t much to see here, but the drive over twisting mountain roads was dramatic. It was enjoyable to wander around the town for a short while.

Pinal de Amoles, Querétaro

This was the one stop we planned on spending two nights. I already wrote about how those plans went awry.

This town is a pit. Even the church was ugly. And there wasn’t a single restaurant in town where we were allowed to bring Taco. We had dinner at a place where they let us take a table right by the entrance, and Taco sat outside.

Pinal happens to be in the heart of some of the most beautiful scenery in Mexico. The drive to get there was spectacular, and the views we enjoyed while visiting nearby sights were breathtaking.

But the town is a pit.

Jalpan de Serra, Querétaro


We originally didn’t plan to spend a night here, but at the last minute we found a cabin that was fantastic. Whereas the place we stayed in Pinal was rustic and shabby, this was rustic and charming.

When we arrived the owner, a lovely woman named Blanca, told us the room wasn’t ready yet because they weren’t expecting any guests. She gave us a recommendation of somewhere we could go for dinner, and she called ahead to verify that Taco would be welcome. We had one of our favorite meals of the trip here, sharing a molcajete while enjoying a view of the entire town.

The town has one of the five missions in the Sierra Gorda that are recognized by UNESCO. Unfortunately, it was under renovation. Otherwise, the town was pleasant, and the principal plaza was pretty. 

Mission Santiago de Jalpan, dating from the 18th century
Though we couldn’t go into the mission, this lovely, peaceful cloister was open.

Xilitla, San Luis Potosí


The main thing I was looking forward to in Xilitla was Las Pozas, a garden of natural waterfalls and pools interlaced with surrealistic sculptures. Sadly, we were there on a Tuesday, when Las Pozas is closed.

Otherwise, there was one street filled with shops and food stands that was nice to walk through. But the surprising highlight was the Leonora Carrington Museum. Carrington’s surrealist sculpture was fun and evocative.

I didn’t get the title of this one, but I think it’s my favorite piece from the collection.
The Ship of Cranes

Except for that one street and the museum, this isn’t much of a town.

Ex Convento de San Agustín (mid-16th century)

Aquismón, San Luis Potosí

Another ugly town without any redeeming qualities. Though we did have a halfway decent pizza for dinner.

Interior of Templo de San Miguel Arcángel. One of the ugliest churches we visited on the trip.

Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit the nearby attractions of the Huasteca Potosina. There are some waterfalls and caves that we would have liked to be able to check out.

We stayed in a drab “resort” hotel with a swimming pool and some on-sight recreational activities, but none of that was relevant in chilly January. It was a half-hour drive from Aquismón on a crappy road.

Ciudad del Maíz, San Luis Potosí


Nice plaza principal, and very friendly people. Pretty church. But I think the town’s main claim to fame is Guiso Borracho, a local dish that was not being served at any restaurants.

Templo de la Purisima Concepción

Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí


We had to drive a long way to get to Real de Catorce, about 4 hours from Ciudad del Maíz. And the last 45 minutes or so were on a cobblestone road. Finally we arrived at the entrance to town: a 3‑km tunnel.

Driving through the tunnel

The long drive was worth it. This is one of the most interesting and beautiful towns I’ve been to in Mexico. A former mining community, the entire town is mostly built of stone. I would love to go back and spend a week just having a retreat.

Some of the streets had embedded designs. This one celebrates the town’s mining past.
Parroquia de la Purisima Concepción
The gorgeous interior of the church

Santa María del Río, San Luis Potosí


The plaza was nice and the church was especially beautiful on the inside. In a nearby plaza was a colorful clock, erected in 2010 to celebrate the bicentennial of Mexican independence. 

And there was a museum dedicated to the art of the rebozo, a traditional shawl that the Santa María del Río is known for.

The stunning interior of the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

Tierra Nueva, San Luis Potosí

Ugh! Another ugly town. It’s supposedly well-known for handcrafts. But we didn’t find any.

The municipal market didn’t have anything of interest.
We drove past this church on our way out of town. We stopped to take a photo because it was the prettiest thing we saw in Tierra Nueva.

Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato


While this was not the prettiest of towns, it had some interesting buildings. The best stuff around here was on the outskirts of town. Several old, abandoned mines and haciendas provided a lot of photographic interest.

A long-abandoned hacienda
Hornos Jesuitos, kilns remaining from an old mine

Comonfort, Guanajuato


Beautiful church, pretty Jardin Principal, some nice markets. It’s known as the molcajete capital of Mexico, and there were some shops selling them.

Parroquia de San Francisco de Asís
Church interior
Jardin Principal

Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato


The history, the beautiful parish church where Hidalgo delivered El Grito de la Independencia on September 16, 1810, and a few other beautiful buildings earn this otherwise dull town high marks.

Parroquia e Nuestra Señora de los Dolores
Monument to Miguel Hidalgo, with the church in the background
I also visited the Museo de la Independencia Nacional, where I learned a little something about Mexican history. Here is Hidalgo signing the decree abolishing slavery in Mexico, December 6, 1810.

Jalpa de Cánovas, Guanajuato


A very pretty but tiny town. Not a lot to see, but pretty. And an impressive church with a very tall steeple atypical of Mexican churches. Apparently it was built by German immigrants to resemble the churches back home.

Templo del Señor de la Misericordia
There were very few people around.

Temacapulín, Jalisco

How the hell did this town get to be a Pueblo Mágico???

The church is ugly, the plaza is ugly, there’s no internet, there’s no nothing.

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato

Aside from the 20 Pueblos Mágicos we visited we spent one night in SMA. This was my second time visiting San Miguel; last year I went to a bridge tournament there. Luis had never been there before.

UNESCO designated San Miguel as a World Heritage Site in 2008; prior to that, it was a Pueblo Mágico. It truly is magical, but perhaps overly so. The best comparison I can come up with is Bruges, Belgium, though I think it’s even prettier. But it doesn’t feel real somehow. It feels like it’s putting on a show for visitors.

While we were walking around the Jardin Allende, I struck up a conversation with three expats from the US who live there. One of them said it feels “Disneyfied.”

Here’s an example: in the evening we were there, three separate mariachi bands were assembled in the Jardin. For a price, each would take a request and start playing. Most of the time at least one group was playing and the other two were standing around. But on several occasions, you could hear two or even all three playing different songs at the same time.

Still, it’s such a pretty town, filled with excellent restaurants and expensive shops. The center is pedestrian-only, making it a pleasant area for a stroll. 

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Luz de Tancoyol

Because we went to Jalpan a day early, and because the mission in Jalpan was under renovation, we decided to take a detour to Tancoyol, to see another of the UNESCO missions.

It actually looks very similar to the one in Jalpan.
The interior is very simple and lacking in much ornamentation.


Other than visiting all the Pueblos Mágicos, this road trip was a chance to see some beautiful scenery. And it didn’t disappoint.

One thing I noticed was that there wasn’t a time on the road where there weren’t mountains. Either we were driving in mountainous areas, or there were mountains ahead or behind. This led me to wonder if there’s anywhere in Mexico where you can’t see any mountains. Luis suggested that the far north, near the Texas border, would be pretty flat.

The other thing I thought of is that Mexico has some similar terrain to the US and Canada: prairie and desert in the middle bordered to the east and west by mountain ranges that subside to coastal areas. The difference, though, is that Mexico is much narrower. So you can drive through these different regions relatively quickly. And we did. It seemed to take little time to experience multiple transitions in topography.

The most spectacular scenery on this trip was in the Sierra Gorda of Querétaro. The drive from Cadereyta to San Joaquin and then to Pinal de Amoles was filled with beautiful vistas. 

We enjoyed a fabulous hike not far from Pinal to a viewpoint called Mirador Cuatro Palos (View of the Four Sticks).

We ran into lots more great scenery on many of the days we were driving. I made a special album just with the scenery pictures. There are 73 photos in the album.


As is to be expected, food was hit and miss. We had three excellent dinners:

In Bernal we ate at a French gastropub called Folk. We wanted to get away from the main touristy area, and this was just a few blocks away but quiet and relaxed. In fact, there was just one other table. 

I had a quinoa salad with goat cheese and pita. Luis had a pizza. And we drank wine.

I already mentioned the fabulous molcajete we had at La Casita de Alex in Jalpan.

Chicken, beef, shrimp, and chorizo plus veggies.

In Real de Catorce we had a wonderful dinner at Mesón de la Abundancia.

We shared this taco appetizer.
I had beef stroganoff.
Luis contemplates his fettucine ragú.
And for dessert: pear and chocolate pie

We also had an excellent lunch in Dolores Hidalgo. Normally we’d try to avoid eating right by the touristy area, but El Fruty had a very inviting garden and good reviews. It was a winner.

We had a nice lunch at Café de la Parroquia and a nice dinner at Mama Mia in San Miguel de Allende. And we enjoyed gorditos we got at a mercado in San Joaquín

After taking them off the grill, they were stuffed with either pork or chicken. ¡Muy rico!

We only had one meal I would say was really bad. That was in Pinal de Amoles. The rest ranged from good to okay. 


We stayed at some Airbnbs and some hotels. Most were satisfactory. A couple were pretty awful. But one was positively delightful: the Airbnb in Real de Catorce. Based on the description, I thought this was a boutique hotel. But it turned out to be a casita adjacent to a house at the top of a hill overlooking the town. It was the kind of place I’d go back to Real de Catorce just to stay there again.

View of the town from our Airbnb

I would just as soon forget the fiasco with the cabin in Pinal. And waking up in our hotel on the last night to discover there was no water. But I’ll never forget the weird adobe house where we stayed in Mineral de Pozos.

One lesson I learned on this trip: you’re lucky if you get two bath towels and one hand towel. In several cases, we got just the bath towels, and they weren’t exactly big and plush. Next time I’ll bring extra towels.

But as I said, next time I won’t string together a bunch of Pueblos Mágicos. Though it was a great trip, we spent a lot of time getting to places that were entirely unworthy of a visit.

¡Vive y aprende!

4 Responses

  1. Tammy Vig

    Hi Lane, I am in Guanajuato, Guanajuato now. We are here for one more night. I highly recommend it if you have not been. Like the Amalfi coast without the coast or the crowds! We are loving our Road Scholar trip through central Mexico!

  2. Lisa Lang

    Hi Lane. I enjoyed your blog. What time of day did you go to Mirador Cuatro Palos. I want to get some good pics when it’s not cloudy.

    • Lane

      Hi Lisa, thanks for reading! 

      The timestamps on my photos start from around noon and end around 1:30. I think, though, that a lot depends on the time of year.

      There are definitely some clouds in my photos, but I don’t think they detract. They’re not low enough to interfere with the views.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.