With a nickname like the “Land of Enchantment,” you just might get the idea that you’re about to be dazzled by so many amazing things to do in New Mexico — and you’d be right.
In this post, we narrowed our must-experience list of what you should try to fit into your vacation time in this unique state.
New Mexico is a place that blends its many distinct cultural and geographic influences into one unmistakable identity. From sizzling summers, surprising blooms of spring, stunning gold foliage of the aspens in fall, or the spare and peaceful winters, each season has its own reasons to visit.
Best Things to Do in New Mexico
Spend Time in Santa Fe
It would be remiss not to mention New Mexico’s art scene. This Southwestern state is teeming with galleries and museums, both proudly displaying the legacy of art legends like Georgia O’Keeffe while also supporting emerging artists.
Travelers quickly lean into the things that make Santa Fe a “City Different,” whether it’s through the New Mexican architecture, cuisine, or hospitality.
Incidentally, “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin is a current Santa Fe resident and patron of the local arts.
Within days, you’ll be sipping the local coffee made with pine nuts and ordering burritos “Christmas style.” However, we recommend at least two weeks to check off every item on the list.
For a broad but comprehensive introduction to New Mexico, check out these dozen handpicked recommendations for the best things to do in New Mexico.
Take a Taos Pueblo Tour
The Northern New Mexico town of Taos, a short drive from Santa Fe, is well known for its former artists’ communes. Over the decades, these communes have transformed into upscale art galleries and artisan shops.
But long before free spirits came to Taos to pursue art, the Taos people inhabited the land — as they still do today.
Make a point to visit the Taos Pueblo, the continuous home of the Taos for 1,000 years and an active Native American village.
A small admission fee gains access to the grounds, where visitors can view the church, buildings, and even homes of the Taos. All structures are made entirely of adobe, or earth mixed with water and straw, then sun-dried into bricks.
You should sign up for the guided tour that’s about 30 minutes and gratuity-based. It gives a richer context to the history and way of life of the Taos Indians, which includes coexisting with the Spanish.
Afterward, don’t miss out on native eats like fry bread, served sweet or savory. There are ancestral lands covering nearly every corner of New Mexico, so be sure to visit pueblos in other regions to appreciate the different customs and traditions of the land’s native people.
Hike the Cliff Dwellings of Bandelier National Monument
The opportunity to take in the rugged natural beauty of the Southwest and learn about native history is well combined at Bandelier near Los Alamos.
Most striking are the dwellings carved into the rockface (some of which allow you to climb right into them). There are also petroglyphs that provide evidence of human occupation here approximately 11,000 years ago.
Bandelier National Monument protects the ancestral lands of at least 23 tribal nations. Bandelier offers a substantial museum in its visitors’ center, along with a good variety of trails for various abilities across its 33,000 acres.
The relatively short Pueblo Loop Trail brings you past at least two dwellings, petroglyphs, and plenty of nature viewing. An uphill path continues to Alcove House, accessible by wooden ladders 140 feet above Frijoles Canyon and formerly the home of above 25 ancestral pueblo people.
It’s important to note that due to preservation efforts, the Alcove House trail and others might be temporarily closed. If Bandelier blows your mind, be sure to also check out the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument within the Gila National Forest outside Silver City.
Witness the Bats of Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns National Park comprises 100 caves in the Chihuahuan Desert. With a timed entry reservation, visitors can enjoy a large portion of the Carlsbad Cave on their own, including the “Big Room” and surrounding trails.
Ranger-led tours are occasionally offered. But the unique draw to this incredible geological formation in the south of the state are the tens of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats that emerge each evening in season.
If you are visiting between late May through October, the park’s Bat Flight Program is a free nightly event that includes a ranger talk prior to sunset at the Bat Flight Amphitheater.
Once the sun goes down, the show begins — weather permitting — as an estimated 40,000 bats take flight to hunt for insects (not for humans, no worries there).
Early risers can also take advantage of the pre-dawn return to the caves, which takes place between 4 and 6 a.m. Check the park’s site prior to planning a visit. In recent years, certain roads surrounding the caves have experienced damage from heavy rains and flooding and may not be open.
Spend the Day in Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu
Anyone who has seen one of O’Keeffe’s paintings can appreciate her fondness for flowers, animal bones, and other implements of natural beauty. Much of it was developed in the desert of New Mexico, where the artist made a permanent home in 1949.
Most visitors to Santa Fe make a stop at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, but more intimate and exclusive is a tour of her home and studio about an hour northwest in Abiquiu.
Reserve early, as slots are limited to just six people per tour group. Across the street from the immaculately intact house museum is the visitor’s center.
Once you meet your guide, you’ll spend a little time reading through the displays, and admiring a small collection of O’Keeffe’s belongings. These include a tent she would use to camp out underneath the desert night sky.
After the tour, don’t miss lunch at the Abiquiu Inn next to the visitor’s center. Then, just 15 minutes past the Abiquiu Reservoir is Ghost Ranch, another home and studio of the artist set on a jaw-dropping landscape of 21,000 acres.
Beyond its obvious ties to O’Keeffe, the stunning grounds here have been the setting for dozens of films. This site also hosts real-life archaeological digs and discoveries plus it’s a spectacular place to hike, unwind, or spend the night.
A day pass is required to wander the grounds, but a day at Ghost Ranch — and Abiquiu — is nothing short of magic.
Have a Photo Shoot at White Sands National Park
Of course you can visit this national park, awash in 275 square miles of crystalline gypsum sand, and not take photos — but why would you?
This sparkling natural marvel in Southern New Mexico is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, becoming an otherworldly backdrop of blinding white sand.
White Sands is arguably one of the most iconic stops on any New Mexico trip, and its Tularosa Basin enjoys clear and sunny skies for about 330 days of the year.
Leashed pets are welcome, so get your dog in on the selfie action and then reward them with a well-deserved walk (just remember to both stay hydrated).
The entrance fee to the park is $25 per vehicle but is valid for up to a week after purchase. This means you can come back for a second look or a sled ride. That’s right — sleds are available for purchase at the gift shop for a memorable desert “snow” day on the sandy white dunes.
Book a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Albuquerque hosts the world’s largest hot air balloon festival each October, and that’s why it’s so well known for these whimsical flights of fancy. From the moment you enter Albuquerque’s airport to the gift shop on every corner, colorful balloons are synonymous with the state’s largest city.
But you don’t need to be one of the 750,000 in attendance at the International Balloon Fiesta to appreciate the majesty and mystery of hovering above the earth in a basket.
Several tour operators offer hot air balloon rides year-round, though this bucket-list experience does not come cheaply. A sunrise balloon ride lasting up to an hour during a weekday might cost about $160 per adult ($320 for a couple).
The price increases for private rides and sunset rides, which are typically offered November through February, weather permitting.
If a balloon ride isn’t in the budget, or you’re not feeling brave, the early morning hours around Albuquerque are the best time to spot these cheery, floating balloons as they pepper the brightening sky.
Unwind in Jemez Springs
It’s not a well-known resort town to those outside of New Mexico. Tucked into the Jemez Mountains, Jemez Springs and its surroundings have a lot to offer.
Heading from Santa Fe, road trippers will be near all the area’s attractions within 90 minutes. Following a scenic drive, that includes vibrant yellow aspens in autumn, arrive at the Soda Dam, a natural spring and unusual rock formation found along NM-4.
Further down the highway, the Jemez Historic Site highlights the archeological remains of a 16th century pueblo and the 17th-century Spanish colonial mission that arrived there.
A half-mile from the state-preserved ruins is the hot springs for which Jemez Springs is named. Interested parties can spend a spa day in its healing waters.
A small downtown surrounds the hot spring bath houses, which includes a brewhouse, a bakery, a fine arts gallery, and overnight accommodations. Next to the Los Ojos Restaurant and Saloon is a chapel that’s been standing for well over 100 years.
Before leaving Sandoval County, head to the Gilman Tunnels, a historic landmark with tunnel formations forged in rock that you can drive through in your car.
Go Museum Crazy
New Mexico has no less than eight state-run museums overseen by the Department of Cultural Affairs, with topics spanning folk art to space history.
But beyond the major institutions of art, history, and culture that can primarily be found in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, there are hundreds of smaller art galleries and museums spread across the state that cater to nearly every niche and aesthetic.
Consider Roswell and its International UFO Museum and Research Center, where visitors can unleash all their wildest “X-Files” conspiracy theories.
Or learn something explosive at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, which charts the Atomic Age of the United States and New Mexico’s role as the location of the world’s first nuclear explosion in 1945.
From rattlesnakes to tinker toys, a delve into the state’s many quirky collections is worth some time.
Shop the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market
Every Tuesday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., residents gather at the Santa Fe Railyard to pick over local produce. If that doesn’t sound all that exciting, wait until your senses are taken on a ride.
There are rainbows of local vegetables and bundles of sage wrapped in vibrant wildflowers. Smell the roasted pinons (pine nuts) as you peruse artisan stalls to the backdrop of friendly chatter.
Saturday is bustling, which can be fun for people-watching, but Tuesday largely offers the same products in a much calmer setting. If you’re looking to focus on the market itself, consider visiting on Tuesday for fewer crowds.
Affiliated markets are held throughout the week as well, including the Railyard Artisan Market on Sundays. Stalls can be found indoors and out, and the vendors are top quality.
We found so many authentic items — from local textiles to hand-fired clay pottery designed with horsehair and even a children’s book author doing signings — that we cleared our souvenir and gift lists in a single afternoon at the Santa Fe Railyard.
Break Bread or Burritos in Albuquerque
Despite the somewhat intentionally depressing settings of strip malls, rundown suburbs, and parking lots, “Breaking Bad” has spawned its own tourism machine in Albuquerque where it was filmed.
Fans of the series can take organized bus tours that cruise past many of the series’ most iconic filming locations. Don’t fly home without your Los Pollos Hermanos shirt.
Shops in town have wasted no amount of effort capitalizing on the show’s popularity with every kind of “Breaking Bad”-themed merchandise you can imagine.
If you don’t follow the show and would rather break bread than break bad, Albuquerque is a tremendous place to participate in the culture of New Mexican cuisine. It’s a mélange of Mexican dishes, native influences, and Southwestern flavors for foods that are unique to the state.
A breakfast burrito is probably at the top of that list, and while there are many to choose from, come prepared to order your burrito green or red, meaning the type of chili.
Green hatch chilis are ubiquitous with New Mexico, but if you can’t choose, give yourself a gift by ordering “Christmas,” which is local slang for both (green and red).
Tia Betty Blue’s serves a serious burrito — breakfast or otherwise — for cheap. While in Albuquerque also be sure to stop in at Celina’s for biscochitos, or small anise-flavored cookies popular in the region.
Experience Meow Wolf
If you talk to anyone who’s visited Santa Fe in the past decade, they’ll tell you to head to Meow Wolf. The hard-to-explain immersive art experience opened its doors in 2008 but has gained a cult following since opening two other locations — in Vegas and Denver — in 2021.
Visual social media platforms like Instagram feed the frenzy of curiosity, and serves as instant bait for those inquisitive about Meow Wolf’s surreal eye candy.
Beyond being a feast for the senses and appropriate for all ages, Meow Wolf does have a story hidden within its labyrinthine rooms. The fictional family that once lived inside has gone missing, and there are cryptic clues throughout the experience, as well as online, to help decode why.
But even without trying to find rhyme or reason to Meow Wolf’s eccentric beauty, one can still enjoy their time inside — however short or long that becomes.
Author George R.R. Martin is involved in the independent arts scene around Santa Fe and owns the former bowling alley that houses Meow Wolf. He also owns the Jean Cocteau Cinema and Sky Railway, a restored train that hosts scenic rides and murder mysteries aboard.
We strongly recommend checking out all three.
Sunset at the Sandia Peak Tramway
Ascend to 10,400 feet above Albuquerque within 15 minutes on the Sandia Peak Tramway. This impressive vantage point allows a panoramic view of 11,000 square miles. When the sun goes down, the views become even more dramatic.
Hiking trails and ski lifts can also be found upon arrival (skiing only in season). If you’re looking for romance or simply a memorable meal, book reservations at TEN 3, the fine dining restaurant at the top of Sandia Peak (just outside the tramway exit).
Tram tickets must be purchased online in advance. Keep in mind that the peak can be about 30 degrees cooler than ground temperature, on average, so bring a warm jacket, gloves, and a hat to combat the wind — especially at night. The last return tram typically leaves around 9 p.m. and sunset of course varies, depending on the time of year.
While you can spend many more days exploring all this “Land of Enchantment” has to offer, we’ve listed what we feel are the best things to do in New Mexico in a week.
Brittany Chrusciel has covered the cruise industry for many years, formerly as Cruise Critic’s Destinations Editor, and has been quoted in publications such as Skift, USA Today, and the LA Times. She is a proud alumnus of Semester at Sea, where she circumnavigated the globe while studying writing, Spanish, and political science. Her favorite river cruise experiences so far have been visiting the Christmas markets with her German grandmother, and Portugal’s Douro River.