Our blog is about unknown, non-touristy destinations. The kind of places where you can really meet the locals and connect with their cultures. This is how I would describe the Sierra Gorda, a place where we met so many great people, amazing food, and all this in an incredible diversity of landscapes. Let us tell you about the Sierra Gorda, a unique and unusual area in Mexico.
Before all, let us explain you what is the Sierra Gorda. This is a huge mountainous area in the state of Queretaro, where you will find several different climates, from the semi-desertic to the high mountain. The zone contains an incredible diversity of species (some of them threatened) and is a refuge for migratory species. The area became an UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 2001. In addition of it, the area is full of natural wonders like caves, pits or waterfalls and hosts 5 Franciscan missions part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Visit Jalpan, in the semi-desertic area of the Sierra Gorda
What to do in Jalpan
Centrally located and in the semi-desertic area of the Sierra Gorda, we started our discovery of the region in Jalpan de Serra, a Pueblo Mágico. This is the biggest town in the Sierra Gorda which contains a treasure in its main place, one of the 5 Franciscan missions. These missions were built during the last phase of the conversion to Christianity of Mexico and possess unique facade style, creativity mix of the missionaries and the Índios.
In addition, you can visit the Museo Histórico de la Sierra Gorda (for free) in the main square.
We also recommend you to visit the Malecón de Jalpan. This is a nice walk that gives on the Presa, a dam that fits very well to observe the birds. The area is very popular with locals.
Where to eat in Jalpan
📍 La placita del sabor: a small square with 5 different stands to experience typical food as a local.
📍 Sierra Bonita: a great place to eat huaraches and burritos. We recommend the version with cecina (local meat), nopal and tuna, absolutely delicious.
📍 Comedor Conchita: a succulent place for a breakfast or lunch. Their gorditas are absolutely amazing.
📍 Panadería Doña Rufi: the oldest bakery of the city with a speciality of Japan, the Mestiza.
📍 Don Chay: amazing ice creams and typical sugar cane juices
What to do in the surroundings of Jalpan
Located in the heart of the Sierra Gorda, Jalpan is a strategic place to explore the Sierra. We will sum up here some of the main activities we tried.
Try an unusual activity, bird watching!
We had the chance to experience this activity we never really considered before. And we have to admit it was a great discovery ! We did it with Erik from Experiencia Túristica, a great local guide proposing high quality activities and with an amazing experience in the birds of the area. We had the chance to observe a lot of birds in their natural environment while having a nice walk in a beautiful place. This is a sustainable activity in limited group, allowing to sensibilize to the protection of the environment while discovering non touristical places. It remains one of our best memories of our trip in the Sierra Gorda.
Visit Concá, a symbolic town in the Sierra Gorda
Located at 1 hour from Jalpan, we visited Concá, a small town that hosts nice surprises. First of all, you will find another Franciscan mission on the main square. This one is the smaller and the first constructed. Here you can see even more the footprint of the indigenous style with many symbols not related to Christianity. Even the Christian symbols like the angels or the devil are very far from their standard representation. This gives an aspect absolutely unique to this mission.
A bit further in town, you will find the Arból milenario, a very old Ahuehuete tree and second largest tree in Mexico. We saw the largest one located in Oaxaca, more info here. This tree is free of access and you will find a Nascimento del agua, meaning a spring of water coming out from the ground around its roots. A bit further, following the water, you will find a place where you can swim. The water is very clean here, there are even small fishes doing a fish pedicure for free!
Discover unique and unusual activities around Jalpan
There are a lot more to do around Jalpan. Here are some other points we visited:
The ex-hacienda la Gata, is an abandoned farm. I personally love to see such examples of old style architecture and the landscape gives even more impact to the place.
Las Adjuntas is a place where two rivers gather. These two rivers have different properties, making them not mix directly. You can also have a swim there.
The ruins of Tancama is a small archeological site near Jalpan. This one is related to the Huasteca civilization and contains many rounded buildings which is pretty uncommon in the other pre-columbian civilizations.
We did all our visit around Jalpan with the local tour operator Corazón de la Sierra, which offers many options to discover the Sierra Gorda off the beaten track. They have a deep knowledge of the area so we definitely recommend them if you want to discover the region.
Pinal de Amoles, “the city that disappears”
After the warm temperatures of Jalpan, we moved to Pinal de Amoles to continue our discovery of the Sierra Gorda, “the city that disappears”.This is how the village is named, as the inhabitants explained to us. Indeed, it can disappear in the clouds when they are low enough, which happens regularly in winter.
Once we arrived, we immediately noticed the change of temperature! We discover a lovely mountain town surrounded by pines with a high mountain climate. The town is historically a mining area but turned to tourism since 10 years. The atmosphere is very pleasant and authentic here, the locals are absolutely lovely and the food really tasty.
What to do in Pinal de Amoles
You can start with the main square of Pinal, a charming place where you will find the church and small shops. Moreover, we visited the museum Tomás Meija, which explains a lot about the town and the Sierra Gorda. They even have some axolots upstairs !
There is also a mirador close to the bus station, which offers a nice view of the village’s roofs.
Where to stay : Try the cabañas, typical chalet around Pinal
We had the chance to stay in small chalets made of wood and stones called cabañas. This is typical of the area but really unique in Mexico. We stayed in the Cabañas Cruz Verde, not far from town but a complete change of scenery. No signal, perfect to disconnect. We had the chance to observe there an incredible phenomenon called the cloud’s sea. Highly recommended, the owner speaks a very good English.
Where to eat in Pinal de Amoles
📍 Restaurante Lucerito: a charming small restaurant, perfect for a breakfast or lunch.
📍 Cantina La Ronda: we didn’t have the opportunity to try it but all the locals recommended it. Open only in the evening.
📍 Food stands in the Hidalgo street: best spot to enjoy Mexican street food at a great price.
📍 Cafe los 3 García : best coffe in town, also good food options.
What to do around Pinal de Amoles? The Sierra Gorda: a unique and unusual area in Mexico
Pinal is famous for having the most touristical natural sites close by. We will share the ones we saw.
Go to the Mirador Campestre
The is the closest Mirador from the city. With an amazing view on the mountains around. They also have a cave that can be visited. From here can be enjoyed this famous cloud’s sea, phenomenon that happens on the sunset from November until February.
Wander in the Cerro el Cedral
At 20 min by foot from the town, you can find this amazing place. El Cedral is a sustainable project to protect the forest and educate on environmental issues in a very didactic way. While visiting it, you can enjoy an amazing view, waterfalls and cherry on the cake, axolots in their natural environment ! A unique project led by passionate and talentuous people. You can also camp on the site.
Admire the sunrise from the Mirador Cuatro Palos
The Mirador Cuatro Palos is the most iconic Mirador of the area. Located at around 45 min from Pinal, this mirador is famous for the stunning view on the Cerro de la Media Luna, its beautiful sunrise and sunset and the possibility to also admire the cloud’s sea.
We went here twice, the first time for the sunset but, unlucky, it was full of mist so we didn’t see anything. We went a second time with Puerta del Cielo, local tour operator, for the sunrise. This time we were much more lucky and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise with even the cloud’s sea in the background. If you want to enjoy the experience, we strongly recommend you to avoid the weekend, the place is very touristical at this time.
We would like to thank CAPTA of the Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de Querétaro, and the Tourist Office of Pinal de Amoles for their help in the elaboration of this article.
This was our guide of the Sierra Gorda, a unique and unusual area in Mexico. We really enjoyed it and strongly recommend it if you want to discover a more authentic and natural Mexico. As usual do not forget to follow our adventures on Instagram.