There’s a reason New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment. You’ll find everything from ancient ancestral dwellings to amazing art installations in the must-visit state. With more cows and sheep than people, New Mexico has one of America’s most pristinely diverse landscapes, from white sands and red rocks to soaring mountains and wildflower fields. It’s also home to a unique cultural and culinary quilt of Anglo, Spanish and Native American heritage.
To entice you to book a trip, we’ve gathered 22 incredible reasons why New Mexico should be on your 2022 travel agenda (due to changing COVID closures, please check availability before visiting). Whether you’re a space junkie, a spa seeker, stargazer or snow shredder, the 47th state of the union is ready to cast its enchanting spell on you.
With 23 different Native American tribes in New Mexico, you can experience Indigenous cuisine — such as red chile stew, posole and fry bread “tacos” — in many ways. Prepared by a Pueblo Indian family, a Native American lunch is served after an hourlong rafting trip on the Rio Grande with Native Cultures Feast & Float. To sample traditional Pueblo feast day dishes in Albuquerque, stop in at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s restaurant after watching an incredible live Native American dance. If you’re near New Mexico’s Four Corners, Pioche Food Group, led by Navajo chef Justin Pioche, hosts elaborate pop-up dinners of traditional Navajo classics, like Neeshjjizhii (dried steamed corn) stew with a modern twist.
Soak It In
Home to an abundant supply of geothermal water, New Mexico’s healing hot springs bubble up throughout the state, from rustic soaks in remote forests to swanky spas. Local favorites include San Antonio in Santa Fe National Forest (a high-clearance vehicle and hike are required), Black Rock Springs in Taos overlooking the Rio Grande and Ojo Caliente resort, which draws spa lovers.
New Mexico has some of the clearest, darkest skies in the U.S. In fact, it boasts seven International Dark Sky Parks, lands that possess exceptional starry nights and a nocturnal environment that’s protected for its scientific, natural, educational and cultural heritage, according to the International Dark-Sky Association. The newest dark sky park, designated in 2021, is the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains.
The state also has one Dark Sky Sanctuary — these are remote places that don’t qualify as a park or reserve. Ideal for camping a few nights in a tent or RV, the Cosmic Campground in Gila National Forest offers 360-degree, unobstructed views of the night sky. Get there before sunset for a wildly colorful show.
Well-preserved ancestral sites built by Native Americans as far back as 1500 CE abound throughout the state. One of the best intact kivas is at Aztec Ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern New Mexico. For one-of-a-kind dwellings, check out Silver City’s Gila Cliff Dwellings or the Tsankawi ruins at Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos. For ancient dwellings still inhabited after more than 1,000 years, visit Taos Pueblo (closed due to COVID, check site for reopening dates).
NORTHERN NEW MEXICO
If you’re a fan of fine tequila, this tasting is for you. Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi pulls out all the stops for its luxury tequila class. Paired with a seasonal dish, the tasting is led by a master tequila expert and includes up to four different premium añejo and extra añejo sips, such as Gran Patron Piedra. For the complete epicurean experience, reserve a table at the hotel’s Anasazi Restaurant after the tasting for a magnificent fine-dining Southwestern meal.
Celebrating its centennial in 2022, Santa Fe Indian Market is the world’s oldest Indigenous art market featuring hundreds of Native American artists’ work, from beadwork to bolo ties and more. Held the third weekend of August at Santa Fe’s main plaza, the art market’s festivities include Indigenous fashion shows, Native American dances and silent art auctions.
For more art immersion in Santa Fe, don’t miss the New Mexico Capitol Art Collection featuring more than 600 pieces of artwork by New Mexican and Southwestern artists (the pieces are on display in public spaces at the State Capitol Complex).
At 8,600-foot elevation with views of Mount Wheeler, Angel Fire Resort provides year-round, alpine fun for the whole family. In addition to skiing and boarding, the resort’s winter activities include snowshoe and cross-country ski tours and lessons, horse-drawn sleigh rides, tubing and old-fashioned sledding. To warm up, stop by the new S’Mores and Hot Chocolate Bar. In the summer, try lift-served hiking for wildflower peeping, golf, mountain biking, racket sports and more.
Known as the most important Catholic pilgrimage center in America, Santuario de Chimayo usually receives 30,000 visitors each year to touch the tierra bendita, or holy dirt, accessible to anyone who makes the trek. If you go, don’t miss stopping in at a few local Chimayo weaving shops.
The next best thing to witnessing an opera at the world’s grandest outdoor stage in Verona, Italy, is the Santa Fe Opera. Surrounded by panoramic mountainscapes, the open-air theater is stunning, but it hits a crescendo when you add top-notch performances. Season runs July through August. For an elegant stay to pair with your night at the opera, the Four-Star boutique hotel Inn of the Five Graces is worthy of a standing ovation.
Surreal Sandstone Sculptures
Near the hot springs haven Ojo Caliente, the most magical sandstone cave awaits. Created by the subject of the documentary Cave Digger and sculptor Ra Paulette, this cave art is not like any you’ve ever seen. From floor to ceiling, walls have been carved out — over the span of 25 years — into sweeping, elaborate designs. It’s otherworldly, like something out of the 1986 fantasy movie Labyrinth. It’s available only by guided tour; opt for the sound bathing add-on for a next-level spiritual encounter.
Chug along the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad — built in 1880 — to experience late-19th-century train travel while enjoying stunning high-altitude landscapes along the 64-mile route. It runs along the former Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge system. For a posh Victorian-themed car, get a first-class Parlor ticket. Train runs June through October with express, half-day or full-day excursions.
Looking Glass Lake
With an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet, the pristine, aqua-colored Lake Katherine is a hidden gem for a reason: it’s roughly a 13.5-mile hike to reach it. But if you’re into extreme hiking or backpacking overnight, it’s worth the trek for a post-hike dip in some of the state’s purest waters.
CENTRAL NEW MEXICO
Marking its 50th anniversary in 2022, the International Balloon Fiesta is worthy of any bucket list. Witness the magic as hundreds of colorful balloons elegantly rise in the sky, be part of a balloon chase crew, revel in the twinkle as grounded balloons light up the night in unison or book a ride during one of the morning mass ascensions. Any or all of these activities will leave you on a high.
Sandia Peak is the longest aerial tramway in the world. In 15 minutes, the tram drops you off atop Sandia Mountain, roughly at 10,000 feet. A local hot spot for proposals and anniversaries, the fine-dining restaurant at the peak, Ten 3, has floor-to-ceiling windows for stellar sunset vistas paired with elevated eats, like the bone-in pork chop adovada or wasabi-crusted tuna.
A lavender farm, historic boutique hotel, spa and fine-dining restaurant, Los Poblanos is a wonderland for farm-to-table foodies. Peruse the gift shop for locally made lavender gifts, from soap to shortbread; indulge in a brunch of New Mexico favorites, like chilaquiles (fried corn tortillas typically slathered in red sauce) paired with a lavender margarita; or don your most flamboyant hat for high tea. Los Poblanos offers one of the best all-round delights for the tastebuds in the state.
Charles Ross’ land art installation, Star Axis, isn’t slated to open until 2025. But the project is so monumentally mammoth — 11 stories high, a fifth-mile wide and almost 50 years in the making — that it’s worth getting a sneak peek. Star Axis will be another awe-inspiring reason to return to New Mexico when it debuts.
SOUTHERN NEW MEXICO
Truth or Consequences
When Richard Branson launched the first private rocket into space in May 2021, he put the tiny town of Truth or Consequences and its commercial spaceport, Spaceport America, on the global stage. Spaceport America curates tours (when it’s not testing flights) that include experiencing a launch and weightlessness. Book tours directly with Spaceport via email or phone.
From afar, this remote land art doesn’t look like much — just a field with a bunch of pointy, stainless-steel poles sticking out of it. But when Mother Nature’s stormy side shows up, get ready for a natural firework display. Created by sculptor Walter De Maria in 1977, The Lightning Field is made of 400 poles arranged in a grid. These pointed-tipped poles, roughly 20 feet tall, are incredible conductors — like a playground for lightning. But even if you visit during clear blue skies, the sculpture is arresting to walk through, especially at sunrise or sunset. Open during the summer, De Maria’s installation can only be accessed with an overnight stay at the onsite cabin; book with Dia Foundation.
Billy the Kid Was Here
The frozen-in-time Lincoln Historic Site is so well preserved, it feels like a Western movie set. Tucked away in the Lincoln National Forest, the late-1800s town of Lincoln affords a chance to walk the footsteps of Billy the Kid and other infamous figures of Wild West history.
New Mexicans take their chile seriously. In fact, there’s even a school dedicated to studying and cultivating rare varieties, the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. Explore the Hall of Flame, tour the chile gardens and score a hot sauce souvenir in the gift shop. To complete your spicy studies, don’t miss the Hatch Chile Festival in Hatch, also known as the chile capital of the world.
With 119 underground caves to explore, Carlsbad Caverns is the ultimate spelunker adventure. One of the most popular attractions is the trail that leads to the “The Big Room,” the seventh-largest chamber in the world. In the summer, don’t miss the dinner procession where nearly 400,000 Brazilian free-tail bats leave the caves in search of food. Self-guided and ranger-led tours available.
The largest gypsum dune field — approximately 275 square miles — in the world, White Sands National Park is mind-blowing simply to stare at. But if you want to double down on the fun, rent a sled (or bring your own plastic disc) at the park’s gift shop and whoosh down the endless hills of sand. Don’t miss a stunning full moon dune hike, too; reservations are required.