7. Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos, New Mexico
Why go: Experiencing an authentic New Mexico means learning more about its native history. Fortunately, there are many possibilities to do so. The state is home to 19 Pueblo tribes, each a sovereign nation whose reach once stretched as far as Colorado and Arizona. Today, their influence lives on not only in the old villages away from everyday life, but on every street corner.
Santa Fe, like many cities in the state, is filled with beautiful adobe buildings built in the Puebloan style, which was copied by Spanish settlers. Even the city governors palace, which dates back to the founding of Santa Fe in 1610, was built this way. It has been modified over the years, but remains the oldest European-built public building in the United States and in continuous use. Elsewhere in the city, you’ll see plenty of adobe-style (“faux-dobe”) reconstructions, but the past is everywhere in this small capital of 80,000 people where cultures – Spanish, Mexican, Puebloan – mingle through the food , art, festivals and religion.
This is not to give the impression that Santa Fe exists in a historic bubble. It has a thriving foodie scene (chillies are a culinary genre in their own right here) and an outdoor vibe, with skiing, hiking and rock climbing on offer in the surrounding Sangre de Cristo range. Indeed, at 2,195 m above sea level, the city is the highest state capital in the United States. It was these landscapes that captivated artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived here in her later years. A downtown museum dedicated to his work is to relocate and triple in size, with some chance of opening in 2025. Santa Fe is also a hotbed of Puebloan art, and its 250 galleries have become a mecca for collectors, while the Museum of New Mexico oversees a number of institutions in a city where Native history and folk art often take center stage.
Puebloan influence extends throughout the state. Pueblos (villages) surround the cities of Santa Fe and also Albuquerque, a city whose annual Hot Air Balloon Festival (October) sees hundreds of balloons decorate the sky above the Sandia Mountains. Albuquerque’s Indian Pueblo Cultural Center offers a good introduction to local history, but it’s in Taos, further north, that you’ll find the oldest native community. The five-story adobe complexes here, thought to have been completed between AD 1000 and 1450, still look much as they did when the Spaniards first encountered them.
In the 20th century, Taos became a bohemian escape for artists and thinkers. There are some excellent Hispanic art museums in town, while the alien-like Earthships nod to the more ideological aspects of alien life. A fitting end to any visit.
Also see: Ride the Sandia Peak Tramway from Albuquerque, which offers sweeping views of the valley below from a height of 3,165m.