Albuquerque is a city of contrasts. It’s a place where ancient cultures thrive next to high-tech industry, a place both cosmopolitan and quaint. Travelers often pass through New Mexico’s largest city on the way to other environs such as Santa Fe, Taos, and other New Mexico locales. However, Albuquerque is more compelling than the view from the Interstates would have you believe. And it’s certainly not true (well, not entirely at least) to the depictions in Breaking Bad, the Emmy-winning TV drama that was filmed here, and still draws tourists to visit the main characters’ haunts.
The wide and wandering Río Grande cuts a swath through the city, between the volcanic mesas on the west side and the Sandia Mountains to the east. The first Spanish village erected here nestled in the fertile grounds along the river. Today, Old Town exudes historic charm, with low-slung adobe buildings surrounding a central plaza.
The black basalt boulders on the western edge bear the etchings of ancestral peoples who lived here a millennia ago. Their indigenous decedents continue to dwell in earthen villages (and modern homes) at Isleta, Sandia, and Santa Ana Pueblos around the city. Visitors seeking to learn more about these traditions can dive in at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
The Sandia Mountains boast the Sandia Peak Tramway, a marquee attraction for first-time visitors and families. The tram cable cars rise from the foothills to the more than 10,000-foot crest. The peaks draw hikers and skiers who hit the slopes on the backside. Indeed, the whole city is prime for outdoor recreation. It has more parkland per capita than any city of its size in the United States and more than 450 miles of bike paths. Albuquerque’s most famous sport is hot-air ballooning. The annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest festival in the world, makes it a capital for the high-flying pastime.
In the heart of the city, downtown skyscrapers attest to the city’s business verve, while, just up Central Avenue (formerly Route 66) the Nob Hill neighborhood reflects the city’s eclectic, artsy side. Both neighborhoods are draws for dining and nightlife. In between the two lies the University of New Mexico, which along with Sandia National Laboratory, gives the city it’s academic sophistication and R&D air.
Albuquerque’s culinary scene taps into the state’s distinctive fare, with chile-centric dishes on many menus. Even restaurants that don’t specialize in New Mexican food often incorporate chile.
Art is everywhere you look in the Duke City. Not only does it cultivate the same artistic sensibilities in galleries and museums as Santa Fe and Taos to the north, it boasts one of the oldest public art programs in the country. The National Hispanic Cultural Center nods to the city’s Spanish cultural roots, with a visual arts museum and a vibrant performing arts scene that includes flamenco dance, global music, and more.
There’s beauty everywhere in Albuquerque. All you have to do is look.
Albuquerque for Breaking Bad Fans … A tour of Freaking Bad’s Duke City locations
Albuquerque for Families: Where to Let ’em Loose … Must-see destinations for multi-generational travel in Albuquerque
Albuquerque for First Timers: Seeing the Big Picture … An orientation of the most popular attractions in Albuquerque
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta: An Insider’s Guide … How to fly high in Albuquerque at the world’s largest hot-air balloon event
To get the most out of your travels, plan at least a long weekend here. The best time to visit depends on your interests: Summer is prime season for hiking, mountain biking, and paddling the Rio Grande. Winter brings skiing, snowshoeing, and Christmas festivities unlike any other destination. If your interests vary, fall, and September in particular, is the most glorious time of year in the state. As high summer dips into Indian Summer, the weather is temperate statewide. Around nearly every corner, you can smell the enticing aroma green chile roasting at farm stands.
Many visitors time their trips to coincide with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the first and second weekends of October. It’s a must-see festival, but if attending the festival isn’t your aim, avoid that week as prices are higher and attractions busier.
Summer and winter are high seasons. Late May through September, the city’s adjacent Sandia and Manzano Mountains become peak territory for outdoor adventures including hiking and mountain biking. In town, your calendar will fill quickly with outdoor concert series at Old Town Plaza, Civic Plaza, the ABQ BioPark Zoo, and Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, and visits to local growers markets.
October is a popular—and pricy—time for visit for the city’s biggest event and the largest hot-air balloon festival in the world: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Come winter, the city’s Sandia Peak Ski Area provides downhill skiing on the backside of the Sandia Mountains. With variable snow, however, most skiers head north to Santa Fe or Taos for that single-minded pursuit. Albuquerque is a magical place to spend Christmas, with luminarias (paper bags with candles inside) illuminating Old Town on Christmas Eve.
Visitors often mistakenly believe New Mexico, and Albuquerque, has a perennially warm climate. The city receives several inches of snow each year. Winter temperatures can dip in to the teens during winter evenings and only reach the mid-forties Fahrenheit during the day.
The seasons, however, tend to be mild and arid. The state receives relatively light precipitation, most frequently via summer rainstorms and winter storms. It receives abundant sunshine with most of the state receiving blue skies 300 days of the year—some places rack up as many as 360 sunny days annually.
Summer temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Blustery spring winds can make that season feel colder than the thermostat observes.
Local Events include:
First Week of March: National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show
Mid-April: Fiestas de Albuquerque
Memorial Day Weekend (last Monday of May): Albuquerque Wine Festival
Mid-June: Festival Flamenco Internacional de Alburquerque
Mid-July: Route 66 Summerfest
September (first and second weeks): New Mexico State Fair
Last Weekend of September: Globalquerque world music festival
First Though Second Weekends in October: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
National Holidays include:
January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Day
February (third Monday): Washington’s Birthday
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July (4th): Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day (aka Native American Day)
November (11th): Veteran’s Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December (25th): Christmas
New Mexico is located in the Mountain time zone.
To check the local time in New Mexico, click here.
Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (early March, on a Sunday morning at 2AM). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (late October or early November on a Sunday morning at 2AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’
As with much of the American West, Albuquerque and New Mexico are a casual places both in mannerisms and dress. You’ll find locals and visitors wearing jeans or broomstick skirts with boots in even the most sophisticated fine-dining restaurants.
The state’s desert surrounds and high elevations mean temperatures can vary widely. Even for summer excursions, pack layers so you’re prepared when seasonal monsoons or the evening causes temperatures to fall from the 90s to the 60s. Sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and a water bottle are packing musts. If you’re visiting during the winter, temps in northern New Mexico can dip into the single digits (Fahrenheit) and in southern New Mexico in the 30s. A winter coat, hat, gloves, and boots will help keep you comfortable.
If your itinerary includes visits to traditional areas, such as mission churches and/or Pueblos, women should be prepared to cover their shoulders.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8-10 per hour; gas and insurance are included.
Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities (though not in Albuquerque). Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical — Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
DO I NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.
Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
HOW DO I CHOOSE AN INSURANCE PROVIDER?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.
Coins in wide circulation include pennies (1 cent), nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents), quarters (25 cents). The 50 cent and dollar coins are seen occasionally.
Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so plan to have $20s or smaller bills in hand.
For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.
To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco — are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.
Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill.
Most bell staff receive $1-$2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5-$10.
Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2-$3 per day and about $5 per day in higher end properties.
At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets, or simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Current etiquette calls for $10-$20 per person, per day for concierge help. Car valet staff expect $1-$2 for delivering you your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
New Mexico has a single major airport, the Albuquerque International Sunport. Travelers from New York City can fly directly to/from the Duke City via JetBlue. Most travelers headed to locales in northern New Mexico fly into Albuquerque and rent a car to drive to their final destinations.
In state, Boutique Air offers flights between Albuquerque, Carlsbad, Clovis, Silver City, and Carlsbad.
With far-flung cities and little public transportation infrastructure, the best way to tour New Mexico is by car.
The New Mexico Rail Runner Express, a commuter train, travels from Belén (south of Albuquerque) to Santa Fe, with several points in between. The line is more of a commuter-rail service than inner-town transport, but it could be used as such. Air travelers can transfer to rail service via a shuttle to and from the Albuquerque International Sunport to the Downtown Albuquerque train station.
In Albuquerque, taxis are available for hire, and Uber car service began operating in the Duke City in 2015. Albuquerque is also the most bike-able city with more than 400 miles of bike lanes. A Zagster bike share connects several downtown attractions.
Human history on these lands dates back some 11,000 years to the Clovis culture (hunter-gathers known for their arrow points) through Ancestral Puebloan peoples whose villages huddled along the Rio Grande some 700 years ago. Their markings at the Petroglyph National Monument, on the west side of today’s Albuquerque, attest to their early cultural influence here.
Spanish explorers, under the domain of General Francisco de Coronado, first arrived in this valley in approximately 1540. Over the next hundred years, additional expeditions brought Hispanic settlers here; however, it wasn’t until 1706 that King Phillip of Spain granted his permission to establish a new city along the Rio Grande. The colony’s Governor, Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, named the newly founded villa in honor of the Spanish Duke of Alburquerque. (The first “r” fell off at some point over the centuries. The first building erected was San Felipe de Neri church in Old Town Plaza, the neighborhood of the city’s first homes and shops.
The Santa Fe Trail brought Anglo/American settlers west, and in 1848, at the end of the Mexican American War, New Mexico became a United States territory. During the Civil War, Albuquerque was temporarily under the domain of the Confederacy. After New Mexico became a state, in 1912, Albuquerque grew as a high-tech and military-defense town, with research facilities like Sandia National Laboratory, and Kirtland Air Force Base. In the mid-1900s, Route 66, the cross-country route romanticized as the Mother Road, struck through the heart of the city.
New Mexico is home to 22 sovereign Native lands, including 19 pueblos, two Apache tribes, and the Navajo Nation (which includes several non-contiguous chapters). Several, including the pueblos of Isleta, Sandia, and Santa Ana, lie close to Albuquerque. Each of these self-governing lands has a set of rules and guidelines that govern visitors. Being respectful is paramount. Here are a few quick guidelines.
Tribal leaders may restrict access because of private ceremonies or other reasons. Call ahead to confirm access and event dates.
Tribal dances are religious ceremonies, not public performances. It is a privilege to witness a ceremony. Remain quiet; don’t applaud; don’t touch the dancers. Do not push for answers to questions, because they might address a sensitive issue or event. Communities do not use the clock to determine when the time is right to conduct ceremonies. Acts of nature, as well as the sequence of events (some not for public viewing), determine start and finish times.
Respect the Pueblos as people’s homes. Don’t peek into windows or enter without invitation. Refrain from climbing on ceremonial buildings (kivas) and ladders, and entering cemeteries.
Photography is a sensitive issue. Follow the guidelines regarding fees and restrictions at each Pueblo and/or activity. It is polite to ask before photographing Native people. Sketching and note taking may also be prohibited. When in doubt, ask.
Do not remove artifacts, pottery shards, or other items.
Do not bring alcohol or drugs onto tribal lands.
With much cuisine in the U.S. skewing all-American modern, New Mexico is a bastion of regional fare. Native American ingredients known as the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash), chile, and Spanish/Mexican flavors have all influenced local tastes. When dining on New Mexican cuisine, you’re sure to be asked the state question, “Red or green?” Referring to your preferred variety of chile, the question has a handshake response: Say, “Christmas.” to receive both. The state’s official state cookie is the biscochito, a cinnamon-laced, anise-flavored number popular during holidays. The most common end to a meal is the sopaipilla, a puffy pillow of fried dough typically drizzled with honey. Hungry New Mexicans voted to create two statewide food trails that can guide your travels: the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail and the Breakfast Burrito Byway, since the humble breakfast offering got its start in the state.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the Rio Grande Valley is a lush growing region—at least for this arid high desert—which has given rise to a strong farm-to-table movement in Albuquerque. Too, the city has several fine-dining destinations, including Jennifer James 101 and Seasons.
The craft-brewery craze has also caught on, with more than 40 microbreweries dotting the state. Many are clustered in Albuquerque, home to the state’s first Brewery District.
Albuquerque’s most famous authors are Rudolfo Anaya, who wrote the New Mexican classic, Bless Me, Ultima, and Tony Hillerman, whose longstanding series featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee has captured many mystery readers’ imaginations.