With world-class art and cuisine, Santa Fe draws international travelers to wander its intimate adobe-lined lanes. Here, in the oldest capital city in the United States, politicos rub elbows with contemporary artists, literary figures, and yoga teachers.
In the gentle foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, these lands have been home to Native peoples for millennia. Native American Pueblos stretch north from the city toward Taos, south toward Albuquerque, and are sprinkled across the state today. The first Europeans arrived in what is now Santa Fe the late 1500s. Anglo settlers poured in during the 1800s. Today, the blend of Native American, Spanish, and Anglo influences pour into every aspect of the city, from the piquant cuisine to the architecture. The city boasts a dynamic state museum system, which includes the New Mexico History Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art, and others.
Art overflows here, spilling down historic Canyon Road, a mile-long stretch of traditional and contemporary galleries and an iconic Santa Fe destination. Traditional Native American and Hispanic art floods the Plaza, the historic town center. This is especially true during bustling festivals like Santa Fe Indian Market, the largest and most prestigious Native American art market in the country. At the Railyard and on the southside, boundary-pushing art is springing up at galleries and family-friendly attractions, such as Meow Wolf Art Complex. The curtain rises on world-premiere librettos on the town’s outskirts during Santa Fe Opera’s summer season.
The culinary arts are also world class. Chefs celebrate the city’s distinct regional cuisine with Native American ingredients—like corn, beans, and squash—and Spanish influences. At many meals, servers ask “Red or green?”, querying the diner’s chile preference. Fine dining restaurants cluster around the plaza and Canyon Road, with several James Beard Award–winning and nominated chefs at the cooktop. There’s a buzzing liquid tourism scene to match. The state’s first craft brewery sits on Santa Fe’s outskirts. Several others are on tap in town. The city’s Margarita Trail guides guests to 30 tequila-fueled stops across the city.
The outdoors are integral to local culture, too. Residents hit the slopes at Ski Santa Fe at dawn. They also slip out of work early for mountain bike rides and hikes in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Those athletic attitudes temper in spas, where locals and visitors can soak in Japanese-style pools and receive holistic treatments that tap into the city’s new age–leanings.
You could easily spend a week here gallery hopping, following one of the city’s several food trails, including, most recently, the margarita trail.
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. If you’re planning to visit between Christmas and New Year’s Day or during Santa Fe’s popular festivals book your accommodations six months in advance.
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 year—some places rack up as many as 360 sunny days annually.
Summer temperatures can exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Santa Fe. In winter, highs for the day only reach the mid-40s, with lows dipping into the single digits. Blustery spring winds can make that season feel colder than the thermostat observes.
Local Events include:
January 12: Statehood Day
July–August: Santa Fe Opera (Santa Fe)
Mid-July: International Folk Art Market
Last Week of July: Traditional and Contemporary Spanish Markets
Third Week of August: Santa Fe Indian Market (in Santa Fe)
First Week of September: Fiesta de Santa Fe
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, Santa Fe is a casual place 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 and the Santa Fe Opera.
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). 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 Santa Fe). 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.
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.
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.
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 — 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. 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.
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 Belén (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 Santa Fe, taxis are available for hire.
Although Native peoples have lived in the Santa Fe area for thousands of years, the city’s European history dates to 1609 when La Villa Real de Santa Fe (The Royal City of the Holy Faith) was established as the capital of Spain’s northernmost territory in the New World. The villa flourished thanks to El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, which brought soldiers, Franciscan friars, and settlers to the territory. The government set up shop in the Palace of the Governors, which is still in use today, making it the longest continually used public building in the United States.
When the native peoples rose up in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Spanish retreated to El Paso, Texas. They returned, under the leadership of Don Diego de Vargas, reconquering the city in 1693. Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821, which marked a notable shift in the city’s demographics and identity. The territory opened to Anglo/American settlers who followed the Santa Fe Trail west to homestead and trade with the new territory. The Americans cemented their control when the Mexican American War ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Santa Fe felt another boom with the arrival of the railroad in the 1880s. Easterners and foreign immigrants (including Jewish settlers who played an integral role in the city’s development) arrived, bringing bricks and timber with them, forever changing the city’s aesthetics. However, downtown building codes have helped keep the plaza area in the adobe-style that typified the region before the East Coast influx. The notable exception, of course, is the Romanesque-style Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, built by Bishop Lamy, a formative fixture in the city’s religious and political life in the late 1800s.
When New Mexico became a state in 1912, Santa Fe became the state’s capital. The town also cemented its artistic roots early, with the founding of Los Cincos Pintores (the five painters) in 1919, with Will Shuster, Fremont Ellis, Walter Mruk, Jozef Bakos, and Willard Nash. Today, Santa Fe remains as one of the top markets in the United States.
In 1943, an unassuming building at 109 East Palace Avenue became the front office—and first arrival point—for the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, where the top physicists and engineers created the “gadget” that brought the world into the Atomic Age.
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 is the state’s forerunner in that regarding, leading the way with fine-dining restaurants and James Beard Award–winning chefs. Food trucks, another national trend, have also sprung up in Santa Fe. Healthy, organic, local food is also prevalent here, too.
The craft-brewery craze has also caught on, with more than 40 microbreweries dotting the state. 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