New Mexico Holiday Planning Guide
New Mexico is a land of distinctive regional cuisine and a thriving art scene, centered around the state's cosmopolitan urban centers. Once a Spanish colony claimed by 16th-century conquistadores, New Mexico remains the home of a large Spanish-speaking population and plenty of historical places to visit. The state also contains many Native American communities, sheltering a traditional way of life irretrievably lost in most other places in the country. With large tracts of sparsely inhabited land, a New Mexico vacation is great for those who want to discover one of the world's last truly untamed regions, interspersed by only a few ancient pueblos and centuries-old missionary churches.
Places to Visit in New MexicoAlbuquerque
: This city boasts a friendly atmosphere, picturesque hiking trails alongside the Rio Grande River, and outstanding restaurants, where you can meet the locals and enjoy their knack for storytelling.Santa Fe
: Ranked as one of the world's top destinations, Santa Fe is a highly recommended New Mexico tourist attraction known for its scenic beauty, cultural diversity, performing arts scene, and fascinating history as the United States' oldest state capital.Taos
: In contrast to sky-scraping cities, tourists visit Taos to retreat into the town's mellow atmosphere conducive to a thriving arts scene; a traditional Native American village exists on the outskirts among the surrounding mountains and rivers.Los Alamos
: Explore the multi-faceted town of Los Alamos, a friendly destination teeming with fantastic natural scenery and outdoor recreation opportunities, as well as lands and villages owned by Native American tribes.Carlsbad Caverns National Park
: Delve beneath canyons and desert to see this underground wonder of 119 limestone caves naturally decorated with massive stalactites and stalagmites, accessible by elevator and trails.Alamogordo
: In addition to the world's largest gypsum sand dune field, Alamogordo hosts exciting New Mexico attractions like a popular museum dedicated to space exploration, noted for displaying a piece of a genuine moon rock. Carlsbad
: Carlsbad is mostly known for its national parks and spectacular underground caverns, as well as some zoos and gardens.Ruidoso
: This New Mexico destination is popular for its racetrack, resorts, world-class performance hall, and quality ski slopes.Roswell
: The supernatural instantly springs to mind with any mention of Roswell, where visitors find a museum dedicated to UFO research, a quirky yet interesting attraction.
Things to Do in New Mexico
Popular New Mexico Tourist Attractions
Sandia Peak Tramway: Get the best views of the Sandia Mountains from the top of this tramway line, which ascends the western face of the mountain and rewards you with fantastic views of the city and countryside.Old Town Albuquerque
: Albuquerque's historical district dating back to the 18th century, this area offers a fun shopping experience at old-time store selling everything from ice cream to traditional Southwest crafts.Loretto Chapel
: This 19th-century New Mexico attraction features a spiral staircase named "the Miraculous Staircase," a mysterious creation with no visible means of support and an unknown designer. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
: Browse the world's largest collection of Georgia O'Keeffe artwork in this museum, where over 1,000 pieces are displayed among other materials about the artist's life and work.Canyon Road
: In the historic district of art-loving Santa Fe, over 100 art galleries, shops, studios, and restaurants offer tourists the perfect location to buy handcrafted souvenirs and grab lunch among traditional Pueblo-style adobe architecture.White Sands National Monument
: Equipped with informational exhibits and a handful of hiking trails, the world's largest dune field of rare gypsum is an amazing sight of rolling white sand that stretches into the horizon.Taos Pueblo
: Visit one of the nation's oldest continuously inhabited sites and a World Heritage Site at this ancient Taos village, constructed with multi-level residential pueblos and souvenir shops for visitors.Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
: Dating back to the early 1600s, this grand church is recognized for its stunning Romanesque architecture and Corinthian columns, rose windows depicting the 12 apostles, and striking bronze doors.Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
: New Mexico tourism improved after this steel bridge spanning the Rio Grande Gorge appeared in multiple blockbusters--including Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers." Visitors can capture excellent photos of the gorge from this vantage point.The Plaza
: This early 17th-century square, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been a popular gathering place since its creation and today hosts a plethora of restaurants, shops, galleries, and an attractive adobe basilica.
Planning a New Mexico Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in New Mexico with Kids
Plan your next family vacation in New Mexico and you'll be surprised by how many kid-friendly things to do the state offers to its adventurous visitors. Albuquerque
is a hub for shopping, museums, zoos, and more fun activities, so there is always something to keep your youngest travelers interested. Consider the state's smaller towns for attractions off the beaten path. Explore theme parks and wilderness tours in Ruidoso
, or head to Santa Fe
for quality theaters and athletic facilities.
Things to Do in New Mexico with Kids
Start with the state's museums and let your children learn about New Mexico's history, culture, and geology. Explora Science Center and Children's Museum of Albuquerque
is renowned for its fantastic hands-on science, math, and art exhibits, which include a laminar flow mountain and craft station. If you plan on hiking, visit Los Alamos Nature Center
--what the kids pick up there can come in handy later on your trip. This New Mexico attraction features gardens, a nature play area, wildlife educational displays, and up-close looks at native frogs, snakes, lizards, spiders, and ants. You can also explore ABQ BioPark - Zoo
, where you can observe exotic species like gorillas, giraffes, koalas, jaguars, and rhinos. Thrill seekers can try taking the zipline through the zoo's forest.
If heart-pounding fun is what you seek on your New Mexico holiday, check out Cliff's Amusement Park
, boasting 23 rides and a water park for cooling off. A more low-key amusement fun awaits at Pillow's Funtrackers
, where families can play mini golf and ride bumper cars, or work together to escape the mountain maze.
When the weather gets too hot to stay outside and the kids' feet get tired, catch the latest movies at Violet Crown Cinema
. Older children may be interested in the international films offered by The Screen
, known for its nostalgic decor.
Tips for a Family Vacation in New Mexico
If your kids don't fear aliens--and especially if they love them--do not miss International UFO Museum And Research Center
. Along with life-sized alien and UFO models, browse through videos, articles, and photographs, and decide for yourself what the truth really is about extra-terrestrial visitors.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in New Mexico
Cuisine of New Mexico
Although not strictly Mexican cuisine, New Mexico's food is highly influenced by the neighboring country. You will find chile peppers regularly featured in dishes, so if you cannot eat spicy food, ask before ordering your meal. Even the popular bread product called sopaipilla usually comes with the ubiquitous peppers, along with cheese and beans. Traditional foods can be ordered at most restaurants, from street vendors to expensive venues. You'll find wineries dotted across the state--consider stopping by the popular Pecos Flavors Winery + Bistro
for free tastings of the best local beers and wines.
Keep an eye out for specialty stores with great reputation for delicious products during your New Mexico itinerary. Kakawa Chocolate House
specializes in drinking chocolate once favored by the Mayan and Aztec cultures. If you do not care for sweets, check out McGinn's Pistachio Tree Ranch
, where over 12,000 trees provide pistachios for candies and other products. You won't be able to miss this attraction--it's marked by an enormous pistachio monument.
Shopping in New Mexico
Local crafts make great mementos of your New Mexico trip, and there is no shortage of them in places like Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces
. This world-class market offers handmade goods made by local artisans, farmers, bakers, and musicians. You'll find a similar experience at Rail Yards Market
every Sunday, when local artisans, farmers, and musicians come together to promote their products in a historic downtown neighborhood. If you're looking for something a bit more international, Jackalope
is the place to be. Items like folk art, pottery, rugs, and handmade furniture from all over the world are available at this hot tourist stop.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to New Mexico
History of New Mexico
Prior to the arrival of Spaniards, New Mexico was home to the Pueblo peoples, as evident at historical sites like Aztec Ruins National Monument
. These people inhabited the region from about 700 CE and lived in small houses made from mud bricks. They also managed to utilize irrigation and built simple road systems.
Before the Spanish began to colonize New Mexico, Francisco Coronado led his ill-fated expedition through area. He and his men looked for the Seven Cities of Gold from 1540 to 1542. Though unsuccessful at finding gold, he did encounter many Pueblo towns.
Half a century after Coronado, Juan de Onate led 500 settlers from Mexico to establish the first Spanish settlement in the colony. The area became known as Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico. The Spanish treatment of the locals was poor, resulting in revolts and raids from the nomadic northern Apache and Navajo tribes. This unrest forced the Spanish to establish their capital at Santa Fe
, which remains the oldest state capital in the U.S.
Continued exploitation of the Native American tribes and the repression of their traditional religions in favor of Christianity led to the Pueblo Revolt. Po-pay, a religious leader of the Pueblo who was arrested and tried for practicing witchcraft, managed to stage a successful uprising and pushed the Spanish out of all but a small portion of southern New Mexico.
The Spanish-free rule did not last long, as the Pueblo peoples fought among themselves and endured raids from other nomadic tribes. The Spanish came back shortly after Po-pay's death in 1688 and called for the surrender of rebellious tribes.
During the Mexican War for Independence in the early 19th century, New Mexico remained largely neutral, its communities focusing on self-protection and defense from the nomadic tribes. After the new Mexican government took control, the people of New Mexico didn't join in with the fervor of the empire's other areas. Despite this, new government helped open the Sante Fe Trail, which connected the area with the U.S. and facilitated the movement of goods and new settlers. Visit at Santa Fe National Historic Trail
on your New Mexico trip to learn more about this historical period.
During the Mexican-American War, Stephen Kearny led an American invasion into New Mexico. This was relatively unopposed and the American occupation remained unchallenged until early 1847 and the so-called the Taos Rebellion. This uprising saw many Pueblo tribes and New Mexicans trying to push the Americans off their land. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, New Mexico was officially sold to the United States and became its territory.
In the early 20th century the territory pushed for statehood. Under President William Howard Taft, New Mexico finally achieved that goal, becoming the 47th state in the Union. By World War II, New Mexico was ushering in the atomic age at Los Alamos
, where the detonation of the world's first atomic bomb took place. The state was not just a scene for atomic studies, but also provided training grounds during the war. This led to the state modernizing rapidly in the 1940s.
Landscape of New Mexico
Thanks to its location in the high desert, New Mexico features environments that range from the blinding-white sand dunes of White Sands National Monument
, to the mountains and pine forests of Sandia Mountains
. Some highlights of New Mexico places to see include Bandelier National Monument
, where forests and caves are home to abundant wildlife and ancestral Pueblo people. If you are drawn to these types of natural attractions, you can also visit Red River Ski & Summer Area
, which provides skiing in the winter and great hiking in the summer.
Experience a different sort of environment at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
, and you will feel as if you stepped onto a different planet. This barren setting features quirky geological formations called hoodoos, cone-shaped rock formations created by erosion. Spend the day hiking through canyons and spotting the largest hoodoos, but take plenty of water and sun protection.
Holidays & Festivals in New Mexico
Try to plan your New Mexico trip with local festivals in mind, and you will be in for a treat. The largest of the state's celebrations is the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque
. This world-famous hot-air balloon festival hosts as many as 800 balloons every October. In the same city you can attend the Gathering of Nations Powwow, North America's largest gathering of Native American tribes. Cultural and traditional aspects like dancing, food, music, and crafts wow visitors from all over the world.
If you are even a little curious about stories of aliens and UFOs, consider Roswell
UFO Festival. The event features music and films, and many visitors dress up as aliens for the occasion, making it a funky and fascinating time.
New Mexico Travel Tips
Climate of New Mexico
Temperatures generally stay pleasant enough for New Mexico tours throughout the year, but the weather is prone to sudden storms. July to September is considered the area's monsoon season and flooding is common, so take caution when camping or hiking. By October, weather conditions stabilize and then take yet another turn in November, when winter storms tend to hit at higher elevations. April to July typically promises good conditions for day trips, but strong winds often kick up dust and make touring desert attractions difficult.
Transportation in New Mexico
Getting around New Mexico can be a hassle if you do not have a car. Major urban centers typically offer local bus service, but if you want to travel between cities, rent a vehicle and drive carefully. Snowstorms can make the roads very dangerous here--always drive defensively and obey posted speed limits.