Sorry so late and continued from Mexico City Trip Report II…
Santiago de Queretaro
Rented a car in Mexico City and left for Santiago de Queretaro, two and a half hours away in the central mountains of Mexico. Founded in 1531, the city proper has a population of ~ 800,000, the metro area ~1.5 million and has the second highest GDP per capita among Mexico’s metro areas at ~$20,000.
Its economy is based on IT and data centers, logistics services, aircraft manufacturing and maintenance, call centers, the automotive and machinery industries, and the production of chemicals and food products. The region of Querétaro has a growing vineyards agriculture and hosts the famous wine producer from Spain Freixenet. Wine production in Querétaro is now the second largest in Mexico after that of the Baja California region.
Renting a mid sized car is about $20/day and the quality of the car isn’t any different from what you’d typically find in the US. Gas prices seem to be 20% lower than what you’d find in Seattle metro area. Rate of traffic accidents in Mexico is comparable to that of the US, though it feels lower because in 20 hours of driving cross country and in major cities, I only saw one minor accident on a mountain pass that likely involved the sun. In Seattle metro area, I encounter an accident every 5 hours of driving, it seems. Still, don’t drive in Mexico unless you’re comfortable driving in New York City. Turn signals are optional, cutting people off is normal, and pedestrians are everywhere, even in the smaller cities like Guanajuato (pop. 80,000). Most American drivers give pedestrians feets of space. In Mexico, cars come inches from pedestrians. In any case, I think Mexicans are the best drivers in the world. They’re not anxious about getting into an accident the way American drivers are, so they’re more efficient. For instance, jaywalkers don’t phase Mexican drivers, whereas Americans drivers will stop and freak out. Mexican drivers know how to weave through a crowd. American drivers break down in such situations because most of them are used to low density suburban streetscapes and they’ve been schooled to be a skittish bunch. And finally, you can ruin an American’s day by cutting them off, Mexicans don’t think anything of it.
Mexican drivers are more polite and less aggressive than, say, those angry French drivers. If you step in front of a car in Mexico, it’ll stop. In France (I’ve heard that’s changed in last few years, haven’t been in 16 years) and many other parts of the world, they’ll speed up and dare you to not jump out of the way. Put simply, drive in Mexico only if you’re accustomed to driving in high density areas where traffic rules aren’t followed but there’s still common courtesy and sense.
Stay here! Room was $200/night and it would’ve been $1000/night if it were in Mexico City. It’s a well renovated 17th century hacienda in the city center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Room — 800 sf? — has two floors and two bathrooms, one of which has a sauna and a six person hot tub. Check these out:
Not many foreign tourists in Queretaro so I was the only customer at the hotel (I stayed during the week, they have Mexican guests during weekends). The place is like a museum, I spent an hour exploring it.
Typically there’s a full-service restaurant in the hotel, but it’s been closed since the pandemic. Still, they offer complimentary breakfast — eggs and toast, tea, coffee, and juice.
Warm, sunny, and dry during the day, chilly (40s) in the early morning. Comfortable for me, I hate humid weather.
Vibe and Culture
Festive, even on a Wednesday evening, and they take Christmas seriously. Lots of Christmas and other decorations and they were working on more. Lots of families walking around or hanging out in one of several plazas near my hotel. Unlike Condesa in Mexico City, I didn’t hear much English, so be prepared to communicate in Spanish at hotels and restaurants. Check out these plazas, of which there aren’t many in Mexico City.
The trees are well manicured, not much litter, no unsightly graffiti that you’d find in, say, Guadalajara. Feels safe, stores stay open till 11pm or midnight, seven days a week, people are chill and the noise loud. Didn’t see a homeless person, street whores, or drunks (Mexico has strict drinking laws). I’d live here and it’s a good place to raise a family.
Didn’t see many White people or Natives, nearly everyone is Mestizo. So I suspect race relations here are different from that in Mexico City, where class is closely aligned with race. I also didn’t see significant disparities of wealth that you’d see in Mexico City, Queretaro looks and feels like a middle-class manufacturing town.
Within a mile of my hotel, there are multiple restaurants on every block, from standard American pub grub (pizza and burgers) to upscale Italian to taquerias. The selection in the historic district could be better — too many touristy restaurants that serve the same food and experience — but the offerings throughout the city cover a lot of cuisines. There are a few interesting looking French restaurants, a bunch of Mexican style sushi and ramen shops, noticeably more Chinese restaurants than in Mexico City, though they don’t serve Chinese food, it’s more like American Chinese food with a Mexican twist. Pho, and cuisine from most of Latin and South America and Europe (even from Balkan states) are available.
My most interesting experience was at a casual upscale Oaxacan restaurant that specializes in bugs. Videos:
I asked for ants with my guacamole, I got jumile bug instead? Anyway, it’s important to take the insect eating movement seriously, it isn’t a plot by overlords to force people to eat insects instead of beef and seafood. Insects have been a normal part of people’s diets for a long time. Oh, and the drink is a mango smoothie. Video of the restaurant, the most amazing looking restaurants I’ve seen have been in Mexico (Mexico City, San Miguel Allende, Queretaro, Guanajuato). Mexicans in central Mexico are the artsiest people I’ve met, they take street art and interior design seriously.
There are lots of museums nearby, I only had time to go to one (not counting the hotel), the museum of art of Querétaro, which is located in what once was a convent. Beautiful space:
There’s so much more I want to see: museums, restaurants outside of the historic district, and Costco. The aqueduct, meh, don’t see why it’s a big deal. In any case, next time, I’ll spend five days and four nights there. Don’t think I’d drive there from Mexico City, I’d take a flight to and rent a car at the airport to drive to the hotel (hotel provides valet parking) because the road trip isn’t visually interesting (mostly dryish mountain terrain and highway tolls are frequent and cost a lot ($65 one way from Mexico City) . From there, I’d drive to Guanajuato — the most beautiful city I’ve seen — which is what I did. Next travel report: Guanajuato, my favorite city.