My personal list of things to do in New Mexico is actually “Hang out with my BFF on her sofa, drinking pomegranate mimosas, browsing Mexican Airbnb listings, eating cookie dough for dinner.”
But that doesn’t make for a particularly good travel guide, does it?
9 Somewhat Off-The-Beaten-Path Things to do in New Mexico
My BFF of 22 years recently moved to The Land Of Enchantment and I’ve visited enough times to be suitably jealous of her life choices. Here are nine things you should do when you go there!
Visit pueblos in New Mexico
The Southwest has a large and diverse Native American population; ‘pueblo’ refers to both old and new Native American communities, though the term was first used to describe the adobe homes we usually see in these communities. There are 21 federally recognized communities, many of which are open to the public.
It’s most fun to visit on ‘feast days’ for amazing food, songs, and dancing. Of course, make sure to follow pueblo etiquette – don’t bring alcohol, ask before you take photos, remain silent during dances and ceremonies.
Go to awesome/weird New Mexican museums
Do you love weird stuff? Good. Me, too! This is the place for us.
There’s an exhibit on radioactive waste management. Just sayin’.
See New Mexican wild horses
This is less of a “let’s schedule that into our itinerary” activity and more of a “let’s be aware that this cool thing might happen” adventure. There are about 50,000 wild horses and burros in New Mexico, enough that some Craigslist posts for rentals worn of “wild horse problems”!
Eat pinon or prickly pears or beef jerky (preferably that you buy from a truck on the side of the road)
In every part of the America, we buy food from farm stands or out of pickup trucks. In Minnesota, it’s sweet corn, tomatoes, and zucchini. In New Mexico, it’s pinon (pine nuts), prickly pears, and beef jerky. Pine nuts are usually incredibly expensive so it’s really fun to buy them just a few miles from where they were picked for a fraction of the price!
Check out tiny, ghost-town-y New Mexican villages
Guys, let’s all quit our jobs and buy old houses in Cerillos. Or Madrid. These fascinating, pretty, sort-of-off-the-grid villages are lovely to poke around. How do people earn money there? What’s up with the empty store fronts? Does this house having running water? No? Where’s the sidewalk? What time does the petting zoo close? How’d you buy that turquoise mine?
These are all valid questions to ask in these cool, weird little towns.
Really and truly, hand-feeding a pack of cuddly, snorting alpacas was one of the highlights of 2014. It might have been the 7,000 feet of altitude but I swear I was lightheaded with joy.
Blue Mesa Alpaca owners Bob and Louise are incredibly sweet and were very patient with my one million alpaca-related questions. Important stuff like “How much is a baby alpaca? Would it make a good pet? Will it learn to cuddle?”
I know, you’re probably all “Tram? Who cares, Sarah?” Dude, you should do it. This actually qualifies as a flight (!) because it’s 20 minutes long and at times you’re 2.7 miles (!!) above the ground! At the top, you should obviously take a million photos and drink overpriced coffee in the ubiquitous, mountain-top restaurant.
There are some lovely hot springs in New Mexico; Riverbend has public and private pools with mountain views and Faywood is rustic and nicely priced. Darcie and I splashed out on the fancy, zen, not naturally occurring pools at Ten Thousand Waves spa.
You can be exactly as clothed or unclothed as you like, drink your weight in tea, slather on pine-scented lotion, and then fall asleep in your robe in the “Relax Room,” listening to piped-in rain sounds.
Not that I did that or anything.
Visit an ‘intentional community’ (aka commune)
I’m fascinated by the concept of intentional communities. What would life be like if you were only surrounded by people who’d made an active decision to be there, with you, living a specific type of life? There are tons of intentional communities in New Mexico, many of them open to visitors! Of course, read ahead and be respectful when you visit. Worth checking out: Hummingbird, City of the Sun, Deva.
Of course, there are also a million obvious things to do in New Mexico: go to art galleries and farmers’ markets, drink all the margaritas, try white water rafting and fishing, go skiing and snow shoeing. But I bet you already thought of those!
New Mexico residents, I’d love to hear from you! What did I miss?
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Last time I was in New Mexico, I went to the Georgia O'Keefe museum. She embodies the spirit of the land with her paintings, and if you're in the Santa Fe area, I don't think it's something anyone should miss.
I love NM! I have done some of those things, but not all of them. NM is so beautiful.
One of my favorite things while I was there was touring Los Alamos. The tour guide was the wife of someone who had worked on the Manhattan Project – it was really first hand knowledge. So cool.
I went with a group, and we talked our van driver to stop along the road so we could "explore the ghost town." So we were all cheerfully poking around, taking photos and imagining the history of the town (I mean there was a church, a school building, the works), when a grumpy old man appeared from one of the buildings in the back. He stomped up to us, asked us what we were doing, and then declared, "This is not a ghost town! I still live here! GET OUT!!!!" We skedaddled fast.
Ha! What an awesome experience!
I live in NM!! I love it here! You should definitely eat some green chile. All of the green chile. Preferably in a breakfast burrito (from Garcia's or Golden Pride or Blakes). And you should eat at Loyola's-everything the have is delicious.
I've lived in New Mexico for eight years, and have done most of the things on your list. I recommend Bandalier National Monument and Petroglyph National Monument. Kids as well as adults love both places.
I lived in NM for two and a half years, and I've been dying to go back and live there again (especially when faced with IL winters. blah.) I loved the Very Large Array, and though White Sands isn't off the beaten path, it's gorgeous, surreal…just amazing.
Meanwhile, if you're near Socorro go to the Quebradas, Water Canyon or Box Canyon, all gorgeous and not super touristy…
Check out Magdalena and its funky little art shops.
Go down NM 4, the "truck route" from Los Alamos down to Albuquerque, as it is gorgeous and full of pueblos and little tiny towns, like Jemez Springs, where you can take a dip in the hot springs.
Eat GREEN CHILE. Eat Carne Adobada. Insist that you get sopaipillas for every meal.
Oh, and drink tons of water because desert. Dehydration is not good.
Ohhh yes and if you go to white sands, go to Valley of Fires, it's on the way back if you go back North. And go to the pistachio farm too!!! I have tons of pics of this from a year or two ago on my flickr and blog. Seriously though, I adore NM. it's gorgeous and never stops amazing me.
Awesome! I've spent a lot of time in Texas and Arizona, but never in New Mexico. It's cool to know there's so much culture there — maybe next time I drive through I will stop and explore.
I lived in New Mexico for a couple of years (the majority of my husband's large family lives there) and there are SO many amazing things to do there! Aside from what others posted: Go sledding down sand dunes at White Sands Missile Range. Check out Carlsbad Caverns. (Particularly watching the bats coming out at dusk!) The Albuquerque balloon fiesta is also an experience that rivals no other balloon fiesta, especially the early-morning balloon glows.
Eat, eat, eat! Sopapillas are New Mexico's contribution to the obesity crisis but oh, they are so divine– fill them with honey (usually watered down with corn syrup) or indulge in a Navajo taco– you seriously can't go wrong.
I also love visiting the old town/historic sections of the cities and towns and popping in and out of the shops. Some are touristy but others have local art and handmade items like yoga blankets, jewelry, pottery, etc.
Awesome job guys! I love this
I grew up in Santa Fe and while I think your tips are great, there are no naturally growing saguaro cactus growing in New Mexico. You might want to use a different lead photo….saguaro are usually associated with southern Arizona.
I just moved to Albuquerque after building our new Express Home, we are so excited to check out some of these places, I am really intrigued by the white sands and visiting the pueblos! So far we have eaten some yummy green chili burgers. I love the food here!
I am a third gen New Mexican living here most of my life. I still love exploring and photographing my beautiful state. All good choices here from comments. I live by White Sands and never tire if watching the sunset over the mountains surrounding the sands. I love taking the sleds/dishes out and playing at the sands. I often share with tourists and so fun to watch them enjoy. I would add Tent Rocks as another favorite place to hike. Also Chaco Canyon and in the Sacramento Mountains.
White sands, Carlsbad, and feeding the Alpacas would put anyone in heaven! I love living in NM and find every summer we find new things to do and see. It really is amazing here. Great post.
Find saguaro cactus in New Mexico! There are no saguaro cactus in New Mexico!! Not even in southern New Mexico!
Some great tips for New Mexico! I spend a lot of time in Northern New Mexico because my Father-in-law lives in Espanola. I would add Ojo Caliente to the list – it’s a fantastic spa with pools of different temps and minerals, Meow Wolf in Santa Fe – interactive art installation that is like nothing else on the planet, Taos is a great little mountain town with one of the oldest continuously occupied Pueblos in the US, there are a few wineries you can do tastings at on the low road to Taos and the high road to Taos has fantastic views, Ghost Ranch where Georgia O’Keefe lived is stunning and has some great hikes, El Rancho de las Golondrinas is a living history ranch/museum a bit out of Santa Fe, Chimayo has the Santuario de Chimayo where the dirt is said to have performed healing miracles and make sure to eat at the Rancho de Chimayo – some of the best food in New Mexico, and lastly Bandelier National Monument has some easily accessible cliff dwellings that are definitely worth checking out as well as a few hiking trails. So much to see in New Mexico!
I’m a native New Mexican and love my state. Just FYI…the saguro cactus on your website does not grow in New Mexico…only in Arizona.
Try going to a natural hot spring as well! There are many in the Jemez Mountains, and some even have caves to soak in.
I’m surprised no one has mentioned tent rocks or Bisti badlands. Both are surreal geological landscapes that will make you think you have landed on another planet. Also on the hiking side Ghost Ranch in Abiqu has incredible hiking. I think fall is the best time to visit NM. If you can come in September for Zozobra it is a unique experience (youtube it. trust me).