By John Pint (originally published in Mexico News Daily)
José Ramón Jardón is an avid outdoorsman who has lived in the city of Santiago de Queretaro for over 30 years. “I like hiking, rock climbing, and camping. I spend as much time as I can outdoors.”
So much does he like the outdoors that he started a business taking people to his favorite sites. That was in 2019, and it proved to be wonderfully successful throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. “There was nothing else people could do then,” he says, “the only safe place to go was out into nature."
Listed below are a few of the great sites you can easily reach if you live in Querétaro, or if you are visiting there.
El Cerro del Zamorano
“This is the highest mountain in the state of Queretaro, 3360 meters above sea level, and it is truly my favorite place to escape to,” says Jardón. There’s a very old forest on top of the mountain, filled with hiking and biking trails, and there's a large deer and cougar population in the area. I know a fellow from Eastern Michigan University who spent two years up there taking pictures of the cougars.”
The Cerro del Zamorano is about a two-hour drive from the city of Querétaro. ”Usually, I would leave town at 7:00 a.m,” says Jardón. “It's a scenic route all the way, with some great lookout points where you can admire the massiveness of the mountain you're approaching—which by the way, is an extinct volcano.”
Up on top, says Jardón, you will find yourself among oyameles, pine trees, and madroños. The oyamel is the sacred fir, which grows only above 2100 meters and is the preferred tree of the monarch butterfly. The madroño, or strawberry tree, is covered with very smooth red bark and is also known as the lady's leg tree. “This bark,” says Jardón, “is paper-thin and makes the very best tinder you could ever hope for.”
El Doctor is the name of a small town located about 100 kilometers northeast of Querétaro. “Near El Doctor, there is a great rock climbing area with astonishing views,” says Jardón. “When you look down, you discover that you are actually up above the clouds. This is something you can really appreciate if you go there during the rainy season.”
Every year, during Holy Week, the people of El Doctor do a dance wearing “devil masks,” perhaps representing Judas. At the end of the celebration, the masks are burned.
“The town is cozy and friendly,” comments Jardón, “and there are some good places to eat, but the main reason to go to this area is for rock climbing. However, I don’t recommend it for beginning hikers because it is so steep. This impressive site is located about 1 hour and 40 minutes from Queretaro.”
The Escanela is a beautiful river surrounded by a beautiful forest, located 7.4 kilómeters from Pinal de Amoles in La Sierra Gorda de Querétaro.
“The color of the water,” says Jardón, “is turquoise blue, and when you jump in, you find it's crystal clear and perfectly clean. At one point, the river passes through a short cave with impressive waterfalls called El Puente de Diós, God’s Bridge.
“I should mention that this river is also home to the extremely rare Mexican axolotl. So there are some areas where you should stay out of the water, and all of these are well marked. If you take your time, this might make for a nice two-hour walk, there and back.”
Jardón adds that this place is popular with the tourists and could be packed in the summer or during holidays. Go there on a weekday, and you may have the whole place to yourself and the axolotls. Driving time to Río Escanela is about two and a half hours.
This visit to Bucareli starts out in Querétaro and takes you to Pinar de Amoles (2400 meters), which is one of the highest municipalities of the Sierra Gorda, from which you then descend to one of the lowest (1084 meters), a difference in altitude of 1.3 kilometers.
“It’s hard to get there,” comments Jardón, “but it's worth the trip because you get to experience a lot of different environments. This might be a three-and-a-half-hour drive, and about one hour of that drive is on back roads, so I recommend going in a high-clearance vehicle. I don't suggest doing it in a car.”
Your visit to Bucareli takes you from a high forest to semi-desert. After that, you enter a real desert, and once you get to Bucareli, you find yourself in a semi-tropical environment.
“Here,” says Jardón, “you'll find a monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in the Sierra Gorda. Now transformed into a museum—and its church is still in use. Once you reach Bucareli, you can walk around the town and then go hiking in the river. It's truly scenic, with the high massive mountains all around you.”
This is another of José Ramón Jardón’s favorite sites. It’s located 220 kilometers northeast of Querétaro, but getting there takes close to four hours. The town of Concá is famous for its Árbol Milenario, a Montezuma cypress measuring 22 meters in diameter and said to be 1000 years old.
“Eight kilometers from Concá, there’s a spectacularly beautiful place called Las Adjuntas,” Jardón told me, “where two rivers, the Santa María, and the Ayutla, meet under huge weeping willows. Because one river is cold and the other warm, the waters don’t mix. It’s a great place for swimming, and there are also companies that will take you kayaking. By the way, this is a perfect place for beginning kayakers because you have rapids, but they are not dangerous.”
There are, of course, plenty of touristy outdoor attractions in the state of Querétaro, such as 433-meter-tall Peña de Bernal, said to be the third biggest monolith in the world, but if you yearn for peace and quiet as well as fresh air, you would do well to contact Jardón Outfitters in either Spanish or English at Whatsapp 442 359 3916.