New Mexico Overview
They hit the nail on the head when they named New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. This amazing state of gorgeously raw landscapes and deep cultural heritage offers the best blend of outdoor adventure and ethnic diversity in America. Its star town, Santa Fe, was booming before the pilgrims even arrived to Plymouth Rock and that’s just a taste of how old and intriguing New Mexico is.
There are a lot of attractions centered around the state’s amazing Native American culture. Eleven different tribes have their own land called pueblos, which are largely open to curious visitors. The most impressive is Taos, but Santa Fe is the real gem, an ancient town with unique adobe architecture and loads of dining, shopping and historic sites. New Mexico’s biggest city, Albuquerque, also has its share of noteworthy attractions like its Old Town and the Sandia Peak Tramway.
What makes New Mexico so impressive is its other worldly red rock landscapes. With a car you can see scenery that inspired artist Georgia O’Keefe at Abiquiu or hike among the aspens in the Sangre de Cristos mountains. There is superb skiing at Taos and Santa Fe, and world-class mountain biking and rafting all over the state. Best of all, you can combine the two by hiking into ancient Native American sites like the Gila Cliff Dwellings or Bandolier for a memorable mix of nature and culture.
Without a car, you simply won’t get the full experience. You could get by in Santa Fe for a few days without one, but the best landscapes, cultural attractions and outdoor recreation are well outside the capabilities of New Mexico’s public transportation. Even if you just drive the backcountry between Santa Fe and Taos it will be a revelation.
Must See Places in New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Comprised of nearly 120 known caves, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is hidden mostly underground. Carved from limestone deposited in an ancient sea, the alien underground landscape is one of the most famous New Mexico tourist attractions.
White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument is one of the most stunning landscapes in the state, located a half an hour’s drive southwest of Alamogordo in the south of New Mexico. It lies in the Tularosa Basin, a northern offshoot of the Chihuahua Desert, and is surrounded by rugged mountains. Here, gleaming white gypsum sand has built up into an extraordinary landscape of dunes up to 60 feet high, which are constantly displaced by the wind.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Each autumn, Albuquerque hosts the world’s largest hot air balloon festival, drawing crowds of more than 80,000 people. The tradition, which started in a parking lot in 1973 with only 13 balloons, has grown to occupy a 365-acre park with more than 500 balloons participating. This nine-day festival is kicked off by the breathtaking “Mass Ascension” and continues with unique displays of coordinated ballooning and nighttime presentations. In addition to the brightly colored skies, the festival offers plenty of things to do, from kids’ activities and live musicians to a juried craft show and dozens of street performers among the numerous vendors.
Just outside the city of Taos, the Taos Pueblo has the oldest continuously inhabited dwellings in the United States. These adobe structures have stood for more than 1,000 years, constructed of straw-reinforced mud bricks and timber-supported roofs. These apartment-style homes are up to five stories high, and around 150 people live within the old town full-time. An additional 2,000 reside on the 95,000-acre property in a variety of traditional and modern homes. Residents welcome visitors to take a tour of the community, which has been designated both a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Perhaps one of the most stunning archaeological sites in all of North America, Chaco Canyon was occupied by ancestral Puebloan peoples from about AD 800 to 1200. It was a major center, comprised of 15 massive ruins and hundreds of smaller constructions. Located in a remote area northwest of Albuquerque, the park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
New Mexico Holidays and Festivals
From its legendary chilies and cuisine to its rich Native American heritage, New Mexico hosts some of America’s best festivals every year. Come and witness the largest gathering of Native American tribes on the planet or dress up like an alien and get weird in Roswell. Santa Fe loves food and art events, while Albuquerque is known for its world-class hot air balloon festival. New Mexico holidays also include classic American celebrations like Halloween and Thanksgiving.
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 a great wine and food tasting tent. If you love the 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.
Best Time to Visit New Mexico
From mid-May through October, the weather is fantastic, with bright sunny skies almost every day and pleasant temperatures in the north. The best time to visit New Mexico is in the Autumn, after the hot summer draws to an end. Many of the state’s top annual events and festivals also take place in the late summer to Autumn.
Video Credit: Visit New Mexico