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The city of Santiago de Querétaro was a late addition to my itinerary, but the first stop on my trip. It caught my eye because it's an economically prosperous city, generally considered one of the safest in all of Mexico. It's also easy to get to, a mere hour's flight from Mexico City (I have since been mocked mercilessly by many a Mexican for not taking the much cheaper buses). But convenience and safety aside, there are some very real reasons to visit Queretaro.

In 1996, the historic center of Querétaro was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, thanks to the preservation of its Spanish colonial heritage. The Spanish colonization of Mexico, led by Hernan Cortes, began with his arrival in Mexico in 1519, conquering the Aztecs in what is now Mexico City in about two year's time. Spanish soldiers then marched north from Mexico city to conquer the nomadic Indian tribes of the region, now considered the colonial heartland of Mexico. Further north and west, the Spanish discovered vast reserves of gold and silver, which was transported back to Mexico City with Queretaro serving as a major stopping point. The cities of the region were soon brimming with opulent palaces, churches, and convents.

The Spanish heritage can also be seen in the large plazas punctuated by towering cathedrals, a deliberate aspect of Spanish city planning designed to maximally exert reverence for Catholicism.

The grid of narrow, cobblestone streets are another well preserved feature of the Spanish presence.

Today, the plazas are filled with music and restaurants and make a great place to spend an evening

My host gave me a tour of the city, including several bars and cantinas, insisting I try the mezcal. I know they said Mexico can be a dangerous country, but this isn't exactly what I had in mind.

Queretaro was a great place to start the trip. It's beautiful, safe, easy to navigate, historical, tourist-friendly and fun. Having a generous host show me around made it all the better. Thanks again Dan! Here's a shot of us on a day trip to Mexico City. In the background is an Aztec archaeological site. Above my right arm, you can see the head of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god. What is it with this country and snakes?

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