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The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is one of the most beautiful places in Mexico, hands down. It covers a staggering 1,481 square miles and is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the entire country.
Inside the reserve you’ll find five Franciscan missions (designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003), small towns, hiking trails, viewpoints, waterfalls, and more. It’s also home to jaguars, Mexican black bears, spider monkeys, otters, toucans, crocs, and tons of birds and butterflies.
I strongly recommend a visit if you’re in the area, and this guide will help you plan your trip. It covers:
- Where to hike in Sierra Gorda
- What to see in Sierra Gorda
- Where to stay in Sierra Gorda
- Is Sierra Gorda safe?
- How to drive to Sierra Gorda
- Sierra Gorda Tours
And so much more! After a year of living and hiking in Mexico I can say with certainty that Sierra Gorda is one of the country’s most magical highlights. It deserves a top spot on every Queretaro bucket list, and this guide covers everything you need to know to go!
Hiking to our first stop in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve: the Mirador de Cuatro Pelos viewpoint
Where to hike in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve
Sierra Gorda is definitely up there with the big boys like Izta Popo National Park and Malinche Volcano as a top hiking spot in the country. Since it’s so big, there’s tons to see and you could easily spend a week exploring it all.
Dan and I only had a day, though, so we chose the two highlights: the Mirador de Cuatro Pelos lookout and the Puente de Dios waterfall.
The view from Mirador de Cuatro Pelos, where the canyon drops over 5,500 feet (only 500 less than the Grand Canyon in the US!)
Mirador de Cuatro Pelos
Wow wow wow wow.
The Mirador de Cuatro Pelos viewpoint is exceptional. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive from Queretaro, so leave early to get here as early as you can! Entrance costs 30 mxn / 1.50 usd per person and from the parking lot it’s about a 20-minute hike to reach the viewpoint.
At almost 9,000 feet above sea level, the view of the canyon dropping 5,500 feet below us was pretty humbling. If you beat the smog, you can even see the top of Pena de Bernal wayyyy off in the distance.
Another snap from our short hike to the Mirador
We arrived around 9:30 am to get these awesome pictures and the lighting was changing quickly – a little later, and they definitely wouldn’t have been as good.
There are also campsites at the Mirador de Cuatro Pelos and we saw two groups using them. If you have camping gear, waking up here for the sunrise would be phenomenal.
Despite the campers and a few other hikers, the mirador wasn’t crowded at all which made the view that much more magical, especially because there are swings built into the trees to enjoy it from!
I didn’t want to leave, but eventually it was time to move on to our second stop in Sierra Gorda…
Puente de Dios – the Bridge of God
Puente de Dios
Our next stop was a one-hour drive from the Mirador (I told you the reserve is huge) but it was worth the effort.
Puente de Dios means Bridge of God, and standing below it, it’s pretty easy to see how it got the name. The rock cave has openings on either end and with waterfalls and light flowing in, it feels a little ethereal to stand beneath it.
Visiting Puente de Dios is a little more expensive than the Mirador but still pretty negligible, we paid 70 mxn / 3 usd to park and another 150 mxn / 11 usd ‘guide’ fee (every group has to pay for a guide to hike to the waterfall). Ours gave us some interesting info during the walk, showing us silver veins in the rocks and a 300-year-old tree. He also told us the water is so clean you can drink it!
Hiking up the river to Puente de Dios
The guides speak Spanish so we understood about 30% of it, if you don’t speak any Spanish at all, just consider this more of an entrance fee.
The trail would have been easy to follow alone, but our guide led us on a flat and easy hike up the river. The walk takes about 30 minutes and is really beautiful with crisscrossing boardwalks over the water and suspended along the side of the canyon.
Honestly, the hike alone would make visiting Puente de Dios worth it, but the true gem was at the end when we reached the waterfall itself. It falls through a cave and is just so picture-perfect that it’s painful.
We spent about 15 minutes at the falls before heading back, but if we didn’t have a guide waiting on us I definitely would have spent more.
We finished our hike at Puente de Dios around 2 pm and made the three-hour drive back to Queretaro, arriving around 5 pm. (I wouldn’t want to be driving on the winding mountain roads at night). It was a full but super enjoyable day, and I recommend renting a car and taking a day trip to Sierra Gorda if you’re in the area!
Hiking the suspended boardwalk through the canyon to Puente de Dios – of you bring a swimsuit, you can swim this section instead.
What else is there to see in Sierra Gorda?
The Mirador de Cuatro Pelos viewpoint and Puente de Dios waterfall are undoubtedly the top sites in Sierra Gorda and should be your priority. But if you have more time, some other places that I wanted to see but we didn’t make it to were:
One of the campsites at Mirador de Cuatro Pelos
Where to Stay in Sierra Gorda
If I’m ever lucky enough to return to the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, I’ll dedicate more than just one day to it.
If you decide to do the same, some of the best places to stay in Sierra Gorda are in the town of Jalpan de Serra or at one of the many campsites in the reserve. There are tons of cute and affordable Airbnbs in Jalpan like this unique mushroom-shaped cabin and the Cabana Mariposas secluded in its own little jungle.
Just a side waterfall at Puente de Dios, nbd
Is Sierra Gorda safe?
I shared a picture of our view from the Mirador online and someone asked me if it was safe to visit Sierra Gorda. I’ve been hiking through Mexico for a year and never felt unsafe, but especially at the Sierra Gorda reserve.
The trails were well-maintained and staffed and there were tons of families and groups on them. We had no issues driving or hiking through Sierra Gorda alone, so my advice is to travel smart but don’t be scared!
The tiny town at the base of the hike to the Mirador
How to get to the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve
While there are technically public buses that go from Queretaro to the towns in the reserve, they’re going to be long and windy and not worth the time for a short trip.
Dan and I only wanted to go for a day and like to start hiking early, so we rented a car to enjoy the hiking on our own. You can also join a one-day Sierra Gorda tour if you don’t feel comfortable driving, and I’ll give you the details for both options below.
Driving into the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve at sunrise – couldn’t resist pulling over to snap a pic here!
How to drive to Sierra Gorda
I recommend driving on your own because renting a car in Queretaro is easy and cheap.
Dan and I rented a car three weekends in a row from the Alamo at Fiesta Inn Queretaro (they also have an office at the airport, but the Fiesta Inn is closer to the city center).
Small and mid-size cars cost about $40 usd per day and we usually had to pay another $20 or so in gas on top of that. I’ve had bad experiences renting cars in foreign countries before, but we had zero issues with Alamo which I appreciated.
I recommend renting a car the night before you go to Sierra Gorda so you can start driving super early and beat the crowds, smog, and sun. We visited the Mirador first and the Puente de Dios waterfall second and then returned to Queretaro all in one day by starting around 6 am and returning around 5 pm.
If you have a car, it’s pretty much as simple as putting the Mirador de Cuatro Pelos into your GPS and following it there. You’ll be on paved roads most of the time but cellular data is spotty at best, so make sure you have the map of the area downloaded to your phone before you head out. (And download some music for the car ride while you’re at it).
The last stretch of about 20-minutes to the Mirador was on a bumpy dirt road but we were fine in a normal two-wheel drive car, just go slow and pass carefully. You can see the highlights of Sierra Gorda in one day by renting a car and spending like $60 usd in total so I definitely recommend this route for a couple or group and even if you’re on your own.
Crowds from the big tour groups at Puente de Dios
Sierra Gorda Tours
However, I get why a lot of people don’t like to drive abroad, and luckily there are also Sierra Gorda tours you can take instead. I personally dislike group tours, especially in nature, but Sierra Gorda is worth it if this is the only way you can see it.
These tours are probably easier to book when you’re in Queretaro rather than trying to do it online. There are little shops in town selling wine and cheese route tours and excursions into Sierra Gorda, and the official Queretaro tourism board also has a little stand at the end of the main pedestrian street with more information about them.
If you want to do a longer tour, there are multi-day Sierra Gorda eco-tours available, but they don’t come cheap. Personally, I recommend renting a car and driving on your own, but no matter what you do, how you get there, or how long you stay, Sierra Gorda is one of Mexico’s most magical highlights and definitely deserves to be on your Queretaro bucket list. Don’t miss it!
Ready to go?
Finally, don’t forget to join our new Sustainable Hiking Collective on Facebook to connect with the international hiking community, discover new hiking destinations, and take part in quarterly virtual trail clean ups!
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