Santiago de Querétaro (the full name of the city) has it all. For the visitor, it offers wide variety of sights linked by pleasant pedestrian walkways. For history buffs, it was the scene of many critical events throughout Mexican history. And for Mexicans in general, the outskirts of the city are home to many industries, including large exporting operations, that contribute to the city's financial well-being.

The city that is now Querétaro was founded by the Otomi Indians and became part of the Aztec Empire in the 15th century. After the arrival of the Spanish, however, Querétaro was absorbed into their colonial empire in 1531.

Querétaro was later to play a central role in Mexico's independence from Spain. Doña Josefa (La Corregidora) and her husband (a local magistrate) started clandestine meetings that included Father Hidalgo and Captain Ignacio Allende to plan for independence. When their plans were discovered by the Spanish in 1810, La Corregidora alerted the others and allowed their escape, setting in motion Mexico's War of Independence. Throughout Querétaro today there are many public honors to La Corregidora.

Querétaro also briefly served as the capital of Mexico while U.S. troops occupied Mexico City, prior to the signing (also in Querétaro) of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 that ceded Arizona, California and New Mexico to the U.S. And it was in Querétaro that Emperor Maximilian's three-year reign over Mexico came to an abrupt end in 1867 before a firing squad on the Cerro de las Campañas (Hill of the Bells). In 1901, the government of Austria erected a small chapel at the site of its countryman's death. Years later, the Mexican government trumped the Austrian efforts by building a large statue of Benito Juárez, who defeated Maximilian, that overlooks the chapel and all of Querétaro.

The historic center of Querétaro is one of best laid out and best maintained in Mexico. Pedestrian walkways link the main plazas. Jardin Obregón (Obregón Garden, also called the Zenea Garden), with its bandstand and park benches, is a welcome and shady respite and the city's central plaza. A short distance away, along a shop-lined pedestrian path, lies the Plaza de Armas, which is surrounded by colonial buildings and includes a whimsical fountain featuring four dogs spraying water (from their mouths) and an excellent outdoor eatery, the Restaurant Bar 1810.

Heading west from the Jardin Obregón, one finds the very unusual Church of Santa Rosa of Viterbo, with its blue and white exterior facade and unique curling buttresses. Inside, the church is a sumptuous example Mexican baroque architecture, with gilded altars and ornate statuary throughout. An adjoining Sacristy houses a collection of paintings. Continuing further west (you may want to take a taxi or bus), is the large and beautifully landscaped Cerro de las Campañas. A climb to the top, where Benito Juárez looks over the city, allows visitors the same view.

Strolling east from the Jardin Obregón, past the Plaza de Armas and up Avenida Independencia, brings one to the 16th century Convento de la Santa Cruz (Convent of the Holy Cross), a center for missionaries heading to northern Mexico and what is now the U.S. during colonial times. Behind the church, visitors can enjoy a panorama of some of Querétaro's more modern neighborhoods on the distant hills. The view also includes the 18th century aqueduct that has been carefully maintained.

Our original plans did not include Querétaro and upon arrival I did not know what to expect. After several days in the city, I would easily rank it near the top of my favorite places in Mexico. One of the great joys of travel is finding such an unexpected surprise!