New Mexico Travel Guide
This past Christmas, my best friend and former NYC roomie and I decided to skip the gift exchange and instead do a trip together! After almost a year of being locked in our homes, needless to say we were READY and PSYCHED to get out and see the world. Well, at least the US. But where would we go?
As we shot suggestions back and forth, we somehow landed on the idea to let the fates decide, and using this nifty random state generator wheel, we had established our destination completely by chan.
THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT
Hiding out in the Southwest region of the US, New Mexico is totally one of those states that I personally just plain FORGET about. However, between the rich history and sheer remote nature of the location, it perfectly fit the bill for the post-pandemic jolt we were looking for.
Things to know about New Mexico:
Though the state itself doesn't feel THAT large, everything is pretty spread out, so you'll do a lot of driving. We stayed down in Southern New Mexico in a small town called Truth or Consequences, which is pretty far removed from everything (1 hour to Las Cruces, 2 hours to Albuquerque, 3 hours to Santa Fe, 4 hours to Taos). You should definitely do research and make a list of all the things you want to do first, and then choose lodging that's central to all of those locations. I
It should go without saying, but you will absolutely need a car to get around (we got an SUV and were so glad we did). There is absolutely no public transportation or Ubers in most of New Mexico.
Everyone is SO nice. No seriously. Having some small talk before your order is taken at a restaurant or your products are checked out at Target is totally normal.
Drivers are pretty chill as well. I'm from Florida (where everyone speeds and weaves) and New York (where they don't believe in any type of following distance) so I found the lack of anxiety whilst driving to be quite refreshing.
WHERE TO STAY
We really loved our AirBnb we ended up booking down in Truth or Consequences and didn't mind driving to get to our destinations each day. T or C is known for their hot springs, and this Airbnb had a private tub on the property overlooking the Rio Grande, so it was the absolute perfect spot to end each day.
Riverside Hot Springs Private Retreat
Truth or Consequences, NM
Here were other top contenders on our consideration list for AirBnbs:
El Prado, NM
Ojo Caliente, NM
And here are some hotels if you prefer a non-AirBnb stay:
Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe, NM
WHERE TO EAT
In an effort to conserve our cash, we kept breakfast and lunch pretty conservative and usually splurged on dinner. Below I've included both spots we tried and loved, and also some that we would've checked out had we had more time!
^the many phases of a wine tasting
Albuquerque & Santa Fe
Though you can't get more than just a basic cheese plate or tabletop s'mores at this place in terms of food, their wine flights are DELICIOUS. I got the sparkling flight and Dylan got the rosé flight. Whatever you do, make sure you have something to eat beforehand or you'll end up giggling in the very nice tasting room like us.
Las Cruces, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Deming, Alamogordo
Les Combes was by far our favorite dining experience. The staff was so knowledgeable about the wine and how to pair it, and the restaurant was decorated in such a warm and charming way that really made it feel like the family-owned entity it is. The charcuterie board we ordered was MASSIVE and by the time my chicken parm came I was so stuffed I didn't know if I could manage to finish it (spoiler alert: I powered through). They also have their own private label and sell the bottles from the tastings in-house (at incredibly affordable prices I might add. We're talking like $21 for a delicious bottle of champagne). Needless to say, we took home 4 bottles.
Tucked away in the La Fonda hotel in Santa Fe is La Plazuela. The most perfect indoor patio setting serving up some truly delicious New Mexican food. Located right in Santa Fe's downtown area among about a million different artisan shops and souvenir spots, this is the perfect spot to end a day of exploring with some margaritas, queso, and fajitas.
Though we never actually got to eat here, this would have been the perfect halfway point between El Paso (where we flew into) and T or C (where we were staying). If you want something in Las Cruces that's not a chain, this looked like a yummy spot for a familiar bite and bev combo after a day of travel or exploring!
Another restaurant that was on our list that we sadly didn't get to. I heard SUCH amazing things about the food at this place and after scrolling through their Instagram, their cocktails look mighty delish as well.
WHAT TO DO
In terms of bang for your buck, the Sandia Peak Tramway is a MUST-DO. For just $29, you board a tram that rides on a cable 10,000 feet up to the tallest point in all of New Mexico. The ride takes about 15 minutes each way and the further up you go, the more insane the views get. Once at the top, riders are free to explore (or even hike down if you're insane and brought the right equipment), and there's even a restaurant to get a bite to eat or a drink! The more we explored, the more incredible the views became. We are not hikers by any stretch, so it was awesome to be able to have views as if we had just done a 10-mile hike without actually having to endure a 10-mile hike. One thing I will say is that if you are still feeling weary about re-entering the world post-COVID, I would approach this attraction with a little bit of caution. Though masks were enforced and there were signs encouraging social distancing, they crammed about 30 of us onto the tram, which - COVID times or not - it's never fun to be shoulder to shoulder in a confined space 10,000 feet up dangling over mountains, ya know?
You've got to see it to believe it. More than 200 square miles of white sand dunes right next to the US Missile Launch Testing site free to roam! Though there is ZERO cell service anywhere out here at all, we did find it pretty populated with visitors! We quickly roamed around a bit and snapped some photos thanks to the rapidly-approaching storm (as you can see behind me), but many people bring a whole little camp setup and actually lay out as if it were a beach without water! People also hike this, but be very careful as the wind will blow the sand over your tracks and apparently it's very easy to get lost this way. Bring your compass!
Adding to our list of "cool views with minimal effort" is Historic Fort Marcy Park in Santa Fe. A steep ascent up a few dozen stairs and waiting at the top are fantastic views of the city. As you climb, there are plaques on the sides of the walkways with little blurbs about the history of the area. It was a really quick and cool way to get some fresh air & steps in, and see some incredible angles of beautiful Santa Fe!
Chloride, NM gives a whole new meaning to the term "small town." With a population of a whopping 14 people, this forgotten corner of New Mexico is a true testament to just how REMOTE remote can get. After driving about an hour northwest of Truth or Consequences, losing service halfway through, and driving through the windiest and most deserted roads in the mountains (some of which had cows blocking them), we finally arrived at the historic museum and gift shop of Chloride - a town that was once thriving during the Silver boom of the late 1800s, but then became almost instantly deserted once the value of silver went down just before the twentieth century. The building above was completely abandoned - remaining untouched for over 70 years (if you can even imagine that) and then was found and restored by a family in the 1970s. That same family is continuing to restore a lot of the other old buildings in the area as well. They were all SO kind and SO knowledgable about every single little piece of history - loved answering our questions and showing us around! If you're in New Mexico, this HAS to be on your list.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
One other thing that that we would have done had we been closer to it or had an extra day is explore the Carlsbad Caverns. Located in the Chihuahuan Desert of the South-East corner of New Mexico, Carlsbad is home to more than 100 caves including the above pictured "big room." It's definitely on my list for next time.
We chickened out, but if we were braver, the horseback riding tours throughout all of NM look absolutely stunning!
If we had more time we would have loved to check out the remains of the Indian pueblos at Pecos National Park. You can read all about the history of the Pecos Valley here!
Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
We had trekked all the way out to the Kasha Katuwe reservation site only to be greeted with a sign that said it was closed to visitors due to COVID! There's no word yet on when this attraction will again open up, but it is absolutely on my list for next time!
If you're looking for something fun to do in Santa Fe (and something that would be kid-friendly too), Meow Wolf looks like it'd be a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening! Meow Wolf is an interactive, immersive art exhibit that features the work of over 200 artists. You can bet on getting some sick Instagram shots in this place and they even have a cafe/bar called Float!
And there you have it! Our favorite places and recommendations in the Land of Enchantment. I hope you found this travel guide helpful! I truly enjoyed our time in New Mexico so much and would absolutely love to return again someday!
See you on the next adventure!