WHY VISIT NEW MEXICO
Sensational sunsets, expansive deserts, and wide-open plains; imposing mountain ranges, lush forests, and gargantuan caverns; historic cities and a reputation for the extraterrestrial: welcome to New Mexico.
Nicknamed “the land of enchantment,” the state somehow manages to live up to that lofty billing with its spectacular topography and fascinating heritage. The Pueblo and Navajo Native American cultures are very much alive and well here, and a strong Hispanic lineage also helps determine its distinctive character.
New Mexico’s historic national parks include the equally overwhelming and enchanting Carlsbad Caverns (where you can watch Mexican free-tailed bats emerge at sunset), the beguiling beauty of White Sands, the awe-inspiring sight of Shiprock mountain in Navajo country, and the striking cliff dwellings and Pueblo settlements of Bandelier National Monument.
The state’s largest city, Albuquerque, is a colorful metropolis made famous by the hit television series, Breaking Bad. A hip city with vibrant art and music scene, the city’s charming Old Town and bountiful cultural attractions, coupled with its attractive setting on the Rio Grande, make it a popular destination.
Santa Fe, with its earthy adobe architecture, is the USA’s oldest state capital, known for its sophisticated artistic community. You can catch a glimpse of the oldest church in the country, procure local art and Navajo weavings at Indian markets, or merely take in the city’s pleasant ambiance.
In the southeastern quarter of the state lies Roswell, a relatively unexceptional city until 1947 when a UFO reportedly crashed nearby. To this day visitors flock to this corner of New Mexico to imbibe the extraterrestrial ambiance and walk around a museum dedicated to the infamous incident.
WHAT TO SEE IN NEW MEXICO
- Santa Fe: New Mexico’s capital has been around for more than 400 years and oozes a heady mix of Spanish, Native American, and Anglo heritage. The entire city is made of low-rise adobe buildings that seem fused with the high desert landscape. Browse for jewelry around the Plaza, wander Canyon Road and its world-class art galleries and eat as much Southwest cuisine as you can. There are downtown museums to educate you and the majestic Sangre de Cristo mountains looming overhead for outdoor recreation in every season.
- Taos Pueblo: the beautiful artistic town of Taos is home to one of America’s coolest Native American settlements, the Taos Pueblo. Anchoring the heart and soul of this unique town, around 200 native Tiwa people still live in stunning adobe structures that have been continually inhabited for over 1,000 years. It looks much as it did in 1540 when the first Spanish explorers made their way north. Try to visit on a ceremony day, when dancers spin and twirl around the plaza. Visitors are allowed to see many parts of the pueblo, except the sacred kivas, enjoy tasty Indian food like fry bread, and shop for locally-made crafts.
- Albuquerque: New Mexico’s largest city pales in comparison to Santa Fe, an hour’s drive north, but it certainly has its notable attractions which are worth seeing. At the top of that list are Albuquerque’s Old Town, a 300-year-old maze of cobblestone lanes, adobe buildings, artist’s shops, and restaurants. Experience the riverside environment of the mighty Rio Grande at the Albuquerque Biological Park or hop in the Sandia Peak Tramway for a ride to the summit that overlooks the city. The views from the top are sublime, especially at sunset. Visit in early October for the world’s biggest hot air balloon festival.
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park: this spectacular network of 117 caves creates one of the world’s largest cavern systems, although only two are open to the public, Carlsbad Cavern and Slaughter Canyon Cave. The easiest way to see the caves is to take the elevator 750 feet down to the 14-acre Big Room for a self-guided tour. More rewarding though is to enter the cavern at ground level and take the traditional explorer route down. Special ranger tours are also available to take you to the deepest accessible trenches for an extra fee. Guided tours of other caves are available from the visitor center, and the mass bat exodus at sunset nightly in the summer is a marvel of nature.
- Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument: they have been abandoned for more than 700 years, but you wouldn’t know it looking at this ancient Native American city built into the side of a massive cliff outside of Silver City. A reasonable one-mile walk takes you back in time through a canyon where six caves are punched into the cliff wall. Climb the ladders to explore the 42 tiny rooms where hundreds of people once lived, worked, and cooked for a period in the late 1200s.
- Roswell: if you have any interest or belief in UFOs, extraterrestrial beings, or conspiracies, you may want to consider taking the town of Roswell onto your itinerary. This is the site of the infamous US Air Force base where a UFO supposedly crashed in the 1940s, covered up by the US government. Today, Roswell is a pilgrimage site for space enthusiasts and a real quirky town overall. In the right frame of mind, this place is a lot of fun, and the surrounding region has some excellent sites like Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge for birding and Fort Sumner, where Billy the Kid was shot.
- High Road to Taos: driving is the only way to really get out and experience the timeless quality of New Mexico, and the High Road to Taos packs a lot of highlights into a one-day drive. Starting at Sante Fe, this incredibly scenic, rural drive passes through old towns like Chimayo with its amazing Santuario de Chimayo and Cordova with its famous wood carvers. The drive ends in Taos, a gem of a town in itself, passing through orchards, red rock desert, and the foothills of 13,000-foot mountains along the way.
WHEN TO GO TO NEW MEXICO
The best period to visit New Mexico is from June to September.
New Mexico is a land of two climates, though both zones share a high, dry desert environment. Conditions in the southern half of the state are noticeably warmer than in the north. This translates to fairly mild winters in the south where daily highs average around 60°F between December and February, and hot dry summers with temperatures well into the 90s°F from June to August. Most of the precipitation in the south falls during the summer.
From Albuquerque north, the state takes on a noticeably colder climate. This is mainly because the elevation rises steadily from around 5,000 feet to 7,000 feet in Santa Fe and northward. Summers are warm (low 80s°F) and very pleasant, while winters get quite cold (low 40s°F) and see plenty of snow in the mountains. Most of the precipitation falls in the late summer, but overall northern New Mexico is known for its amazing weather. Spring is the only season that is less than ideal. It tends to be windy, dusty, and chilly in March and April. Fall, however, is simply magical.
WHAT TO DO IN NEW MEXICO
Eat green and red chiles surrounded by adobe
If you live in New Mexico, there’s one simple question everyone will ask: green or red? This isn’t an allusion to your favorite Christmas color, but rather the kind of chile you prefer, as the spicy peppers are ubiquitous on menus around the Land of Enchantment. The most New Mexico place to enjoy them is up in Santa Fe. It’s the second-oldest city in America and awash in art galleries and adobe buildings. Start the day at Café Pasqual’s for a breakfast burrito, then try a green chile burger at Santa Fe Bite. Nearly every restaurant in town has some kind of chile special. By the end of the day, you should be able to answer the unofficial state question.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of New Mexico.
- Gathering of Nations Powwow: North America’s largest gathering of Native American tribes takes place at Albuquerque’s University Arena every April. This spectacle showcases all aspects of native culture and tradition, from dancing and music to food and crafts. Representatives from over 500 tribes in North America convene each spring to preserve their magical ancient culture.
- Roswell UFO Festival: whether you truly believe in aliens or not, this funky festival attracts hordes of strange folk to the normally quiet town of Roswell in the south portion of New Mexico. Allegedly the site of the infamous spaceship landing in the 1940s, every June people come to dress up as extraterrestrials, parade around town, play music, and celebrate weirdness.
- Fiestas de Taos: the cultural highlight of the Taos calendar is its annual Fiesta every July. For three days, residents head to the historic Taos Plaza to honor their two patron saints: Santiago and Santa Ana. Music, food, arts, and crafts are in abundance, along with special events like the crowning of the Fiesta Queen and her court.
- Santa Fe Indian Market: the big event each year in Santa Fe is its Indian Market. For a week in August, the town is transformed into a giant, open-air arts and crafts fair. The Plaza is the hub of the action, where renowned Native American craftspeople from around the country come to sell their wares. The talent on display is some of the best in America, and original works go for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta: another highlight on Santa Fe’s calendar is the Wine & Chile Fiesta, bringing together top chefs, freshly harvested ingredients, and hordes of devotees to New Mexican cuisine. For five days every September, local restaurants host special dinners, and the beautiful Opera House sets up great wine and food tasting tent. If you love chili, this is the gala event for you.
- Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta: the planet’s biggest hot air balloon festival is made even better by the sublime early October weather in Albuquerque. For a solid week, the Balloon Fiesta Park on the edge of the city is home to hundreds of brightly colored balloons that dot the sky in mass ascensions, night glows, and other cool activities. Many balloons offer rides during the week, but this is New Mexico’s biggest event so book your hotel well in advance.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH NEW MEXICO
If you plan to limit your New Mexico trip to Santa Fe, it is completely feasible to get by without a car. It’s a confusing town to navigate given the 400 years of road planning involved. But travel anywhere else in the state and you will require your own set of wheels to get around. New Mexico is about as rural and as undeveloped as any state in America, so you will be left largely to your own devices in terms of transportation. A rental car will prove an invaluable asset once you hit the open road and start absorbing the incomparable natural scenery that permeates the state. Albuquerque’s airport has several major car rental firms to choose from, and all the roads are well-marked and fairly easy to navigate.
You can find taxis in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque, but few other cities in New Mexico have cabs.
Although Amtrak operates two train lines that pass through New Mexico, they only stop at a couple of towns convenient for tourists. The Southwest Chief line is the most useful, making a detour in Lamy, from where you can arrange a shuttle to nearby Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The seats are comfortable and the scenery is amazing, although fares are comparable to regional flights into Albuquerque. The only intercity train runs between Albuquerque and downtown Santa Fe, which is a great way to hop between the two main cities if you don’t have a car.
To reach smaller towns in New Mexico, the Greyhound bus company is by far the most convenient and cheapest option. Long-distance buses stop in all the major cities like Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, and Gallup. Unfortunately, Greyhound buses are not very comfortable and their schedule can be constraining.
Main airports is Albuquerque International Sunport
GENERAL INFORMATION ON NEW MEXICO
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-7 (-6)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN NEW MEXICO
Typical food in New Mexico
Souvenirs from New Mexico