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Tracing the mission trail in the Sierra Gorda
From LAX, Aeromexico, Mexicana, Delta and United offer nonstop flights to Mexico City. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $298. (It is possible to fly from Los Angeles to the León-Guanajuato airport, but the bus ride to Querétaro takes as long as the trip there from Mexico City.)
By car: The most practical way to visit the missions is by rental car, or by hiring a car and driver. Negotiate for a car and a driver in Mexico City; the price should be about $100 per day. The toll fees round trip are about $30. We also paid for a room in Concá for the driver for two nights.
By bus: Luxury buses leave regularly for Querétaro from the Terminal del Norte in Mexico City. The buses have reserved seats, air conditioning and a restroom. After leaving the station, Mexican passengers close the black curtains to watch television movies; someone may frown if you open a curtain, but smile politely and go ahead: It is a fine three-hour ride, and you don't want to miss the scenery. When you reach Querétaro, you should be able to book a taxi for the three-day trip to the Sierra Gorda missions for about $100 per day.
To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 52 (country code for Mexico) and the local number.
Where to stay and eat
La Casa de la Marquesa, Madero 41, Querétaro, QRO 76000; 442-212-00-92, http://www.slh.com/marquesa. If you want to splurge a little, this luxury hotel, built in 1756 as a private residence, is a wonder of carved stone, iron grillwork and Talavera tile in the historic center of the city. Its 25 suites have been decorated individually. Doubles from $120, with continental breakfast. Comedor de la Marquesa, the elegant restaurant, is a culinary highlight with exotic dishes such as boar and venison.
Mesón Santa Rosa, Pasteur Sur 17, Colonia Centro, Querétaro, QRO, 76000; 442-224-27-81. A stable in the 18th century, this residence was beautifully restored and opened as a hotel in the 1980s. It is on the corner of Plaza de la Independencia, a charming square. Rooms are large and the baths luxurious. Excellent dining room. Doubles start at $105. The restaurant is one of the best in the city, featuring seating in a dining room or in the atrium courtyard with vine-covered walls and a flower-filled fountain. The menu offers a mixture of native and foreign dishes. Three-course meals about $24.
Holiday Inn Querétaro, Av. 5 de Febrero 110, Querétaro, QRO, 76000; 442-216-0202, fax 442-216-8902, http://www.holidayinn.com.mx/principal. This large hotel is out of the historic district on Highway 57 on the way to San Luis Potosí. The building is contemporary but has colonial touches and rustic Mexican furnishings. The drawback is that it is crowded and noisy on weekends when folks from Mexico City flock here to escape the metropolis. Doubles start at $118.
Hotel Hacienda Misión Concá, Carretera Jalpan-Río Verde 57, Arroyo Seco, QRO; 555-5209-1700. This restored hacienda has a spa and is in the Sierra Gorda near the missions. It is delightful. Doubles from $108, including breakfast and dinner. We ate dinner in a tranquil garden, enjoying flavorful pork, chicken and Mexican specialties. No entree was more than $10.
Fonda del Refugio, Jardín de la Corregidora 26, Querétaro, QRO, 442-212-0755. Typical Mexican food and lots of appetizers at this restaurant in the historic district. Entrees from $10.
To learn more
Mexican Government Tourism Office, Mexican Consulate, 2401 W. 6th St., 5th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90057; (800) 44-MEXICO (446-3942) for brochures or (213) 351-2069, fax (213) 351-2074, http://www.visitmexico.com.