Many places entrance, charm, and captivate. Nowhere does this pull seem so genuine as in New Mexico, aka the Land of Enchantment. Perhaps it’s the dramatic landscape. It stretches from the depths of Carlsbad Caverns National Park to the Gila Wilderness Area, the nation’s first lands protected for untouched beauty. Perhaps it’s the light. It’s a rosey-hued temptress that has called artists from Ansel Adams to Georgia O’Keeffe here. Or perhaps it’s the culture. Far before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Native peoples and Spanish settlers inhabited these lands. Though these rugged, wild lands may seem as prickly as cactus, New Mexico exudes an authenticity that’s increasingly rare to find—and all the more precious when you do.
Cultural centers Santa Fe and Taos, and the state’s largest city Albuquerque (also home to its largest airport) are the largest draws. However, mining-towns-turned-artist colonies, such as Silver City; mountain villages, like Ruidoso and Red River; and agricultural hamlets, like Hatch, are all worth exploring. Las Cruces, in southern New Mexico near the Texas state line, is the state’s second largest city.
Outdoorsy types will have no shortage of thrills. The southern Rocky Mountains etch New Mexico with peaks begging to be bagged and nine downhill ski areas (yes, there’s snow in New Mexico and plenty of it.) The Rio Grande cuts a sinuous path through the heart of the state. At times, the river coursing with whitewater. At other times it streams past cottonwood-shaded banks. Albuquerque is considered a hot-air ballooning capital in the world. More than 500 balloons taking flight each fall during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
In New Mexico, adventure comes with a hearty helping of culture. At Chaco Culture National Historical Park, you can hike the backcountry and explore the remains of magnificent, multi-storied dwellings where the ancestors of today’s Puebloan people lived. At White Sands National Monument, gypsum dunes create one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, and sift into the Trinity Site, where, in 1945, the first nuclear weapon was tested ushering in the Atomic Age.
The cuisine—not Tex Mex, not Mexican, but New Mexican—is a great source of local pride. Spicy green and red chile smothers, sauces, or otherwise tops many favorite dishes from breakfast burritos to green-chile cheeseburgers, both of which have trails devoted to the best versions in the state.
Art lovers will also find a deep well for viewing, shopping, and creating. Santa Fe and Taos are long-standing art colonies; however, in this state, there are artists and artist studios around every turn. Check out artist studio tours in locals such as Abiquiu and Silver City. Renowned art festival, Santa Fe Indian Market, draws hundreds of thousands of artists and collectors to the City Different each August. The International Folk Art Market and Traditional Spanish Market are also draws in that city, where Native American and Hispanic culture run deep.
To get the most out of your travels, plan at least a week here. Frequently, New Mexico’s entrancing spirit captures visitors, beckoning them year after year to explore new corners of the state or return to favorite haunts. The best time to visit depends on your interests: Summer is prime season for hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and other water sports. It’s also host to most of the state’s top festivals, art markets, and outdoor concert series. 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. In the mountains, the leaves of aspen trees shimmer golden, and 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 state’s largest events and festivals, including the Santa Fe Opera, held July through August; Santa Fe Indian Market, held the third week of August; and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, held the first and second weekends of October.
New Mexico is big, really big. As the fifth largest state in the U.S., road trippers could drive a dozen hours and still be within its boundaries. As large as its lands are, the state’s culture runs just as deep. You could easily spend a week or longer here hiking the backcountry, following the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail (voted the nation’s top food trail), and exploring the remains of ancient Pueblo villages. While Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos are often top of travelers’ lists, travelers looking for off-beat destinations should venture father afield to locales such as Las Cruces, Silver City, Truth or Consequences, Ruidoso, Carlsbad, and others.
Summer and winter are high season in Northern New Mexico. Late May through September, the state’s mountain terrain becomes peak territory for outdoor adventures from backpacking to hiking with llamas. In town, your social calendar will fill quickly with world-renowned festivals and open-air markets, including Santa Fe Indian Market and the International Folk Art Market (also in the City Different). With the southern Rocky Mountains towering over much of the state’s terrain, New Mexico boasts—perhaps unexpectedly—nine downhill ski areas and several cross-country skiing locales. So come winter, its mountain villages and ski towns are packed with powder hounds. The shoulder seasons (March, April, May, and early November) are the best times to find budget-friendly accommodations and fewer visitors. However, take note, many tourist-oriented towns practically shutter in April and early November. If you’re planning to visit between Christmas and New Year’s Day, during Santa Fe’s popular festivals, or the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, book your accommodations six months in advance.
When Northern New Mexico is enjoying its summer high season, Southern New Mexico is baking under more than 100 degree Fahrenheit temps. It makes it a budget friendly time to visit, however. In winter tourist towns such as Truth or Consequences, Silver City, and Carlsbad are balmy escapes; prices here are more immune to seasonality as well.
Visitors often mistakenly believe New Mexico has a perennially warm climate. Instead, all corners of the state experience four seasons, with the higher elevations being coated in snow (and the cold temps that accompany it) in winter. 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 yearâsome places rack up as many as 360 sunny days annually.
Summer temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the lower elevations; high elevations reach the upper 70s. In winter, lower elevations average temperatures in the 50s; higher elevations only reach the 30s. Blustery spring winds can make that season feel colder than the thermostat notes.
Local Events include:
January 12: Statehood Day
Last Week of April: Gathering of Nations Powwow (in Albuquerque)
JulyâAugust: Santa Fe Opera (Santa Fe)
Third Week of August: Santa Fe Indian Market (in Santa Fe)
First Week of September: Fiesta de Santa Fe
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, New Mexico is a casual place both in mannerisms and dress. Youâll find locals and visitors wearing jeans or broomstick skirts with boots in even the most sophisticated fine-dining restaurants and the Santa Fe Opera.
The stateâs desert surrounds and high elevations mean temperatures can vary widely. Even for summer excursions, pack layers so youâre 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 donât 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, itâs high. And when prices dip, what happens? You canât 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 thereâs a deal, youâll 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 airlineâs site. Why? Because some of their really great deals donât 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 âfriendâ 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 âem 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 donât need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You canât go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. Youâd 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. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. Itâs convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and itâs 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 â About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical â 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 â 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 â Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage â 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.
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), itâs probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If youâre traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, youâll probably want some coverage âjust in caseâ â¦ 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.
Do your homework â 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 â 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, itâs best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance â If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit cardâs issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly whatâs covered, as many have âstripped downâ coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As âshared spaceâ 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.
If you get money from an ATM machine, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, U.S. banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of âcash backâ when paying for your goods â this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.
Donât forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state. If you donât do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card â which doesnât make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where youâll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that donât offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:
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 â New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco â 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. If you wish to wing your way to other towns, there are a few options. American Airlines offers daily direct flights from Dallas Fort Worth to Santa Fe Municipal Airport, and United Airlines offers flights to/from Denver.
Travelers visiting southern New Mexico generally arrive at El Paso International Airport, in Texas. You can fly direct on United Airlines to/from Houston/Hobbs, arriving at the Lea County Regional Airport. Via American Airlines, Roswell International Air Center currently offers three flights daily to/from Dallas. By late fall 2015, officials expect to offer flights daily to/from Phoenix.
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. For transport between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, there are two alternates: First, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, a commuter train, travels from BelÃ©n (south of Albuquerque) to Santa Fe. Air travelers can transfer to rail service via a shuttle to and from the Albuquerque International Sunport to the Downtown Albuquerque train station. Second, Sandia Shuttle Express offers passenger van service between the Sunport and major Santa Fe hotels.
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. It has several walkable districts, including Old Town, downtown, and Nob Hill. In most citiesâ downtowns, including Santa Fe, Taos, Silver City, Truth or Consequences, Mesilla (in Las Cruces), itâs also best to park your car and stroll.
Human history on these lands dates back some 11,000 years to the Clovis culture (hunter-gathers known for their arrow points), through Pre-Puebloan peoples who shaped cliff dwellings near today’s Silver City, Los Alamos, and Santa Ana Pueblo. Later, Pueblo peoples constructed permanent villages across the state—19 of which are still vital today. Perhaps the most iconic remnant of Puebloan architecture, Chaco Culture National Historic Site, outside Grants, stands as a testament to these ancient and living cultures.
Modern New Mexico history is often tracked to the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors. In 1598, before the founding of Jamestown, Juan de Oñate established a settlement outside today’s Santa Fe. Santa Fe’s official founding dates to 1610, making Santa Fe the oldest capital city in the U.S. In the early 1800s, these lands flew under the Mexican flag. Pioneers traveling the Santa Fe Trail began arriving in Santa Fe beginning in 1821, bringing in more Anglo settlers. The area became a New Mexico territory in 1848, opening the region to further settlement.
While a territory, a Wild West atmosphere of land barons and outlaws prevailed—the territory was home to Billy the Kid. Governor Lew Wallace (author of Ben Hur) remarked that “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” New Mexico ultimately found U.S. statehood in 1912, though Wallace’s assessment still seems apt today.
Shortly after statehood, in 1915, the Taos Art Society, organized in that northern city, and in 1921 Los Cincos Pintores (The Five Painters) founded an artist collective in Santa Fe; these groups secured both towns as hotbeds for the arts.
The Atomic Age dawned in 1945, when the Manhattan Project developed in Los Alamos and tested outside Alamogordo the world’s first atomic bomb. The state’s residents made another significant contribution to World War II: Navajo Code Talkers, who hailed from the northwest New Mexico reservation, crafted a cipher the Axis was unable to break, ensuring the security of U.S. intelligence.
The state’s open-minded atmosphere made it a hotbed of counter culture in the 1960s, with communes popping up in the Taos area; the movement’s skeptical and community-oriented stance continues to influence the state today.
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). 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.
As with any food-centric locale, New Mexico is part of broad trends as well. Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos, and, somewhat surprisingly, Silver City, are hubs for fine-dining restaurants and James Beard Award–winning chefs. Food trucks, another national trend, have also sprung up in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
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. The state’s winemaking culture dates to the 1600s, predating even that of California. Today, some 40 wineries now produce award-winning labels.
This list represents titles written by New Mexican authors about New Mexico’s lands, culture, and history.
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
The Milagro Beanfield War By John Nichols
House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford
Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez
Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
Since Thomas Edison visited the New Mexico territory in 1898 to shoot the 50-second documentary Indian Day School, the state has been flush with filmmakers. In the past hundred years, more than 600 films have been shot within state lines—and the list grows every month. In the past two decades, government incentives have made the setting particularly enticing. Too, this place has the ability to be a chameleon, transforming from an Ohio suburb in buddy movie Wild Hogs to a post-apocalyptic wasteland in films such as Terminator: Salvation.
Recently, AMC television drama Breaking Bad captured the zeitgeist, becoming a multiple Emmy-award winning show and driving fans to Albuquerque to visit where the show was filmed and set. Blockbusters, such as The Avengers and the forthcoming Independence Day: Resurgence, and indie-hits such as the Academy Award–winning Crazy Heart, will ensure the state’s pop culture influence for years to come.
New Mexico has a deep musical history—if a somewhat unexpected one. This playlist features tunes recorded here or by New Mexico residents:
“That’ll Be The Day” by Buddy Holly and the Crickets
“Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs
“Trying to Get to You” by Roy Orbison
“Land of Enchantment” by Michael Martin Murphey
“Three Wooden Crosses” by Randy Travis
“The Beauty Way” by Eliza Gilkyson
“Que Se Va” by Manzanares Y Sol
“Aqui y Alla” by Nosotros
“The Dance” by Robert Mirabal
“Santa Fe” by Beirut
“New Slang” by The Shins