Our Mexican Adventure Part 1: Queretaro, Mexico (again!)

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

Everyone already knows how much I love Mexico. I travel there whenever I get a chance and it is always an adventure. There is so much to see and do there and I am feel fortunate that I have avoided the all-inclusives and have seen a lot of real, true Mexico. At this point, I have traveled to about thirteen states here which is only a third of the country. I have been wanting Josh to visit here for a while. It was kind of a test for him as he had never been before. If he didn’t love it there as much as I do, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. A piece of my heart lives there. We began planning this adventure a couple of months prior, just after I returned from my last adventure to New Zealand and Australia. The plan was to take two weeks and see as much as we possibly could within that time. We would include family time, booze time (Josh is a bartender after all!) and beach time. Throughout it all, we would eat awesome food, drink great drinks and see new things. We would visit four different states in these two weeks. I was pumped.

First stop was family time in Querétaro. Here we would spend four nights: two near El Pueblito where my sister lives and two in El Centro. My niece Vannya was celebrating her third birthday and my nephew Owen was being baptised so we thought this was a great place to begin our adventure. For this trip, we flew into Mexico City via Houston and flew out of Puerto Vallarta via San Francisco (this was a long day that had us arriving at 6:30am the next morning but it was totally worth it). Our flights cost about $1100 CAD for both of us. Incredible. We arrived in Mexico City on a Thursday morning, collected our luggage, bought some water and a couple of snacks and within a half hour, we were on a Primera Plus bus on our way to Querétaro. Riding first-class buses in Mexico is the way to travel around this beautiful country. They are safe, efficient and allow you to see some pretty awesome landscapes (hello mountains!). Our one way tickets cost 350 pesos each (that’s less than $30 CAD!) and took about 2 1/2 hours to get to Querétaro. When you buy a ticket for one of these first-class buses, you choose your assigned seat and they give you food – a small ham & cheese sandwich, a drink and a snack. The buses are air conditioned and there are tv’s. Hello luxury!

The first hotel – the Hilton Garden Inn – that we were staying at was chosen because of it’s proximity to El Pueblito where my sister lives plus we could walk to the church from there. To get to the Hilton, we took a taxi from the bus station in Querétaro. Taxis are awesome in this city as they work on a zone system. From the bus station, you purchase a chit for your taxi ride. You tell them where you are going and they charge you according to the zone that you are traveling to. I love this system because then you know that you are paying the right fee and not getting ripped off. To get to the hotel, we paid only 55 pesos (that’s only $4.60 in Canadian. In Toronto, it costs you that much the second you step into a taxi). The Hilton Garden Inn is a brand new hotel so it is gorgeous. So gorgeous, that I forgot to take any photos of the room. Basically, what you see on their website is what you see in real life. I did take a photo of the view from our room which you can see above. Everyone that worked here was super friendly and their English was great. We paid  1,813.05 pesos ($150 CDN) for two nights stay here. The hotel was situated beside a plaza that had some bars and restaurants (we may have had beers and snacks at the Wing Factory on the first night, maybe). Our favourite spot that we hit when staying here was down the street called Cafe Amadeus. Mexican breakfast is basically one of my most favourite things and my sister had told us that Cafe Amadeus was where it’s at. Amadeus is a bakery as well as a cafe. It’s a little German and a lot Mexican. Josh had his favourite breakfast on our trip here: Huevos Oaxaqueños. (Again, no photos because it was that good!)

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

After two nights at the Hilton, we headed to a new hotel in El Centro. I wanted Josh to experience this gorgeous part of the city which is designated at a UNESCO heritage site. I wanted a place that was within walking distance to spots that were familiar to me. There are tons of options for places to stay in the historic district. I chose based on price and free wifi and ended up booking a room at Meson de la Merced ($2,062 pesos for two nights or $170 CDN). This hotel looked super cool as it said that each room had three floors plus it was old so it had character, I was sold.
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

Once you are checked in at the concierge  you walk down the stairs to this beautiful courtyard. It was filled with potted plants, lemon and orange trees and umbrellaed tables. Each room opens onto this courtyard and each room has it’s own table and chairs.

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

The room was, by far, one of the coolest hotel rooms that I have stayed in. Because of it’s layout, it was hard to capture in the photos. When you walk in, there is a seating area and bar, complete with a mini fridge. You walk up a flight of stairs to another seating area that overlooks the first floor. We opted to keep our suitcases on this floor, rather than lugging them up another flight of stairs.

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

The third floor had the bed, seating area, sink and bathroom, as well as a little balcony that looked into the courtyard. There was a tv with all of the channels that you would want plus wifi was accessible in every room. I loved the character of the place and all of the little details in the decor. It was a much different vibe than the Hilton Garden Inn and I felt it was a much more Mexican one.

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

My brother-in-law and his sister took Josh and I on a bar run on our second night in Querétaro. Wanting to impress bartender Josh, he had asked his coworkers what places we should visit and what exactly we should drink while there. Our first stop was a mezcal place called Maria y su Bici. There we had a drink called Chaman (translation: Shaman) which was a fruity number served in a coconut shell topped with a grapefruit slice and some crickets. Yes, I said bugs. The bartender came out wearing a mask, did a ritual and made you sip mezcal from a glass in his hands before dumping it in your drink. Besides mezcal, this bar seemed to also specialise in insects. Bencar and Liz ordered us the Botana Alebrijes which included chapulines (grasshoppers), chicatanas (ants), sal de gusano (worm salt) and gusano de maguey (Maguey worms, as in, the ones you find in the bottom of the mezcal bottle). I have not had meat since I was sixteen and only started eating fish about five years ago. Josh has been vegan for twelve years and only started eating meat a couple of weeks before we left in preparation for the trip. But we thought, why not and we ended up making bug tacos. They were crunchy and didn’t really taste like much. About halfway through a taco, Josh and I looked at each other with a look that said it all and politely finished what was in our hands. He later said that at that moment all he could think about was the movie Beetlejuice and all I could imagine was bug legs stuck in my teeth (the first thing that I did back at the hotel was floss!).

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

The second bar that we visited on this run was Don Amado – a cantina that was exactly as Josh imagined a proper Mexican one being. A paper sign on the door with the name written on it was barely visible. Inside, it was a bright white room with a tv playing soccer and a bunch of men sitting at the bar. Here we were told that we had to have the Hernandez Amargo. I had no idea what it was but we were given it in a shot glass with a glass of water. I took a sip and nearly choked. Amargo is a very herby liquor, like Jaggermister but way stronger in taste. After that first sip, I actually liked it, I swear.

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

Our last stop for the night had just drinking Derrame Cerebrals (Brain Hemorrhage – Peach Schnapps, Bailey’s Irish Cream and grenadine) at Bar de Cortes. After that, we decided that it was safe to call it a night.

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

The following night was our first one staying downtown. One of the things that I have always wanted to do when in Querétaro was to sit at one of the cafes in a square and people-watch. On this trip, we finally got to do it! We chose a place with an outdoor patio that had optimal people viewing potential. There we had 1 litre Micheladas (see above cheesy photo that we asked the waiter to take in full tourist fashion) and guacamole. I love Micheladas (30 pesos) and drank them at every opportunity that I got on this trip. A Michelada is made with beer, spices, lime juice and ideally tomato or Clamato juice. Delicious.

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

After the Micheladas, we ordered some tequila – our first for this trip. When you order a shot of tequila in Mexico, they often ask if you want it as a flag. Throughout the trip, we were served this Mexican flag in various formats. Sometimes you will receive a shot of tequila, a shot of lime juice and a shot of sangrita (sometimes a tomato-y liquid, sometimes a more fruity one).  On this night, the tequila came in a nice glass and the lime was served in slices. Yes, Josh brought his hilarious awesome coasters along on this trip and we used (and left!) them everywhere.

When sitting outside basically anywhere in Mexico, you will have a constant flow of people coming up to you trying to sell something. They will sell anything from gum (Chiclets) to flowers to jewellery to performing a song or two. On this night we were approached by an adorable girl in her Girl’s Guide uniform, accompanied by her GG leader. She was about ten years old and asked us in Spanish if we spoke Spanish, English or French. We told her English and she then proceeded to tell us who she was and that she was selling us cookies for ten pesos and that the money would go to the Girl Guides. We then asked her to say it in French and she said it all again, perfectly in what would be her third language. Naturally we bought two – and look how cute they were all wrapped up!

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

We spent the last morning in Querétaro walking around the historic district. We were about to travel on a bus for four and a half hours so I thought that a little exercise was probably wise. I could not resist the awesome morning light. I wish the light in Toronto was like this all year long.
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

Our Lonely Planet Guide told us about a church called Templo y Convento de la Santa Cruz which was built between 1654 and 1815 that we decided to walk to it. What made this place significant is that Emperor Maximilian had his headquarters here in 1867 while under siege in Querétaro and after his surrender, he was jailed here until the firing squad was ready for him. There is so much history here!

Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith
Queretaro, Mexico | Jessica Blaine Smith

Sometimes, my timing is not the best. While wandering around in our last few hours in Querétaro, we stumbled upon the opening ceremonies for Photofest Querétaro. There, a public figure was speaking and I realised that there was photo displays being hung everywhere. Above is the work in progress for the National Geographic display on a cobble-stoned pedestrian-only street. I wish that we had of had another day to explore it all but alas, we had a bus to catch – Guadalajara and Tequila were calling!

Read more about our Mexican Adventure!
Part 2: Guadalajara & Tequila
Part 3: Sayulita, Nayarit
Part 4: Puerto Vallarata, Jalisco

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