213km (132 miles) NW of Mexico City; 96km (60 miles) SE of San Miguel Allende; 200km (124 miles) S of San Luis Potosí
Querétaro is the most historic city in the region. During the Colonial Era, it was the point of departure for all the expeditions headed into the northern frontier. Later it played a central role in the three wars that forged the Mexican nation: La Independencia, La Reforma, and La Revolución. Downtown Querétaro is lively, pedestrian-friendly, and filled with eye-opening colonial architecture. The local government has spruced up the city, keeps it neat with round-the-clock cleaning crews, and provides street vendors with attractive stands, regulating them so that they don't obstruct public streets and walkways. In the evenings, the downtown area fills with people who stroll about the plazas and andadores (pedestrian walkways), and eat at one of the restaurants, outdoor cafes, or food stands. The city is only an hour by bus from San Miguel, so it makes an easy day trip. But once you come, you'll be tempted to stay longer and get better acquainted with this lovely city.
The Spanish founded Querétaro in 1531 during their first large-scale expedition into the northern stretches of their new territory. During a skirmish with the Chichimeca, Santiago (St. James) appeared in the clouds. Santiago is the patron saint of Spain and of La Reconquista, the 7-century struggle to recapture all of Spain from the Moors, which had ended barely 40 years earlier. It is no wonder that the Spanish hoped he would again lend a hand in this new struggle for territory. For his appearance, Santiago also became the patron saint of Querétaro. (When you visit the Jardín Zenea at the center of town, look up at the facade of the church of San Francisco, and you will see a depiction of Santiago in battle, lopping off the turbaned head of a Moor.)
While the conquistadors were setting out to conquer lands for the crown, the religious orders were setting out to win souls for Christ. The Franciscans established a large community in Querétaro and eventually a college for the propagation of the faith, the first such institution in the New World. From here, the missionaries set out (always on foot, as the Franciscan Rule forbade riding on horseback or in carriages) to evangelize and establish missions as far away as Texas and California. Among them was Junípero Sierra, who went all the way to California, establishing missions there.
Centuries later, Mexican independence began in Querétaro with the conspiracy of 1810 (of which Father Hidalgo was a member). A little more than 50 years after that, Querétaro was again in the thick of things when Emperor Maximilian made his last stand here and was captured and executed. Another 50 years passed, and the city became the site of the laborious constitutional convention. The document that it produced, the Constitution of 1917, remains the law of the land.