Albuquerque Travel Questions Vol. 1

Your Albuquerque, New Mexico travel questions are answered by [email protected]

I am looking for the best hotel that I can find with a shuttle bus to and from the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. I would also love to go to Santa Fe but don’t know if that is possible in one 5-day trip. I would appreciate advise on how I should handle this.

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Balloon Fiesta Shuttle Bus Service

Tour New Mexico, Inc. runs tour buses for a number of top hotels in Albuquerque.  This is an excellent shuttle service and uses an express route just for buses that bypasses most of the traffic headed into the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Don’t bother looking for a cab. Most do not go to the Balloon Fiesta because of the heavy traffic delays. However, Uber is another great way to travel to the Balloon Fiesta. Like the buses, they have express routes into the Fiesta

Take the Metro Rail Runner to Santa Fe

Rail Runner to Santa Fe
Rail Runner: Albuquerque to Santa Fe

There is a wonderful commuter train named the Metro Rail Runner at the Alvarado Transportation Center in downtown Albuquerque that will put you at the Santa Fe Depot in Santa Fe, about 5 blocks from the Plaza – the heart of the tourist area in Santa Fe (see my day trip tips for Santa Fe, New Mexico). This is the best way to see Santa Fe and gives you a nice sampling of the landscape between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. However, if you take any of the evening trains back to Albuquerque, they arrive after the public buses stop running in Albuquerque (generally around 9 PM). The two hotels that are served by the Tour New Mexico shuttle bus that is within walking distance of the Alvarado Transportation Center are the Hotel Andaluz and Hyatt Regency. In fact, the Hotel Andaluz is only a block away.

Hotel Andaluz
Hotel Andaluz

You can take a shuttle from Santa Fe that allows you to see Taos for about $10 roundtrip. Both are wonderful cities to visit with very walkable downtowns.

We will be arriving in Albuquerque midweek and driving to Santa Fe via I-25. I am looking for a really good New Mexican lunch – any recommendations?

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Great New Mexican Dining Values

There are a number of choices for excellent lunchtime dining that comes to mind. The Frontier Restaurant gives you a great New Mexican lunch and a true cross-section of Albuquerque culture and people watching. If you want more of the Route 66 culture that Albuquerque is known for, try the 66 Diner. It immerses you in the Route 66 experience in a way no other restaurant does quite as well in Albuquerque – fantastic burgers and shakes. Browse through our Albuquerque Restaurant Listings for a great selection of “good and cheap” places to dine for lunch. We list Albuquerque’s best eateries.

66 Diner
Get Your Kicks at the 66 Diner in Albuquerque!

Hi, this is my first ever trip to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. I am wondering if there are enough activities happening in the Festival ground between the morning session and evening session to stay on for the whole day?

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Generally, things die down pretty quickly after Mass Ascension completes at about 9:00 AM. Unless there is another event specifically planned such as a classic car show or concert, there is no reason to remain at the Balloon Fiesta. It is better to return in the evening if you plan to see evening concerts or the Balloon Glows. Most folks eat light at the Balloon Fiesta and use the mid-morning for a good breakfast. Weck’s is known for its big breakfast portions, and Blakes Lotaburger has a tasty breakfast burrito. Really you have lots of great options. The Grove Cafe is known for classic breakfasts with an artisanal twist.

Grove Cafe,Albuquerque Restaurant Guide, Food
Breakfast at The Grove Cafe

Spending the month of November in Taos, New Mexico. Trying to avoid tourist traps. What Are some good local day trips?

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Recommended Day Trips

In New Mexico, it’s safe to say that there are few tourist traps. If you see tourists flocking to a New Mexico travel destination or attraction, check it out! Santa Fe deserves to be high on your list of day trips. It offers stunning Adobe architecture and picture-perfect southwestern settings. Here are a few more places worth exploring if you have time:

Santa Fe, New Mexico
Canyon Road Art Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Madrid, New Mexico. This is an old ghost town with a gold mining past that has been resurrected as an artists commune. This is where hippies never die. It has a quirky, offbeat vibe that looks like a mix of Appalachia and New Mexico. Great place to stroll, shop for art and simply enjoy the vibe.

Madrid, New Mexico
Madrid, New Mexico

Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a stunning natural attraction with hoodoos, arroyos, ancient cave dwellings and stunning vistas. Just be sure to bring some good hiking shoes, flip-flops won’t get you far here.

Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, New Mexico
Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Be sure to check our list of Albuquerque Day Trips for more ideas on local attractions worth visiting. There are lots more attractions to see!

Question: I will be in Santa Fe the last weekend in September (2014). Will there be fall color to see in the surrounding forests?

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Aspen Gold in Santa Fe, New Mexico

You should be right on time to witness the glittering gold aspen trees set against a backdrop of evergreen ponderosa pines. The best way to witness this natural extravaganza is by a ride along the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway. It starts in the center of historic Santa Fe, New Mexico, winds through the high valley of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and ends in the Santa Fe Ski Area. There’s gold in them ‘thar hills!

Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway
Santa Fe National Forest

Question: I have a two day weekend to see Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I arrive in Albuquerque late Friday night and depart early Monday morning. What itinerary will allow me to see the best of both cities?

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The Best of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico in Two Days

I recommend booking a hotel in Albuquerque for Friday night and Sunday night, and in Santa Fe for Saturday night. Saturday morning, following a hearty New Mexican breakfast in Albuquerque (see the list of Best Albuquerque Restaurants in our guide), take the Jemez Mountain Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Jemez Mountain Trail is a scenic byway through some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in all of New Mexico. You experience red rock vistas, Native American Pueblos, historic landmarks, and a lushly wooded caldera where elk sightings are common in the fall and winter. Follow this link for the Official Jemez Mountain Trail website.

Jemez Red Rock, New Mexico
Jemez Red Rock. Jemez Pueblo, Jemez Mountain Trail

The Jemez Mountain Trail (Highway 4) ends in Santa Fe, New Mexico (about a 3-hour drive with stops for photos). When you arrive in Santa Fe, head for the Plaza and find parking, This will place you at the heart of all the important tourist attractions in Santa Fe. Spend the afternoon in Santa Fe visiting the Plaza, and strolling along Canyon Road (highly recommended). If you’ve booked a hotel in Santa Fe for Saturday evening, you will have time to catch a live flamenco performance or live music with a relaxing evening dinner (check for live performance and events schedules).

Along Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Along Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico

By the way, having a hotel for the night in Santa Fe eliminates one other problem if you plan to enjoy alcoholic beverages. Because of the high altitude in Santa Fe (Elevation: 7,260 ft), one alcoholic drink has the effect of three on your body, a real concern if you are not acclimated to the altitude. The long drive back to Albuquerque on an unlit highway, after dark, at 75mph could be perilous if you don’t have a designated driver. If you want to enjoy drinks with dinner, park your car at your Santa Fe hotel, and take a short cab ride or pedicab from the restaurant after your fabulous dinner. Problem solved!

In the morning, take the Turquoise Trail (link to official website) back to Albuquerque. This scenic mountain highway route takes you into some of the most interesting and historic ghost towns between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The most fascinating stop (in my opinion) is Madrid, a funky artists commune built on a ghost town once known for gold mining. This is where hippies stay young forever, and they have turned the entire town into a quirky work of art. This is one of the most unusual attractions in New Mexico and not to be missed. It also a good place to have a light lunch.

Madrid, New Mexico
A Sample of Art in Madrid, New Mexico

From Madrid to Albuquerque on the Turquoise Trail is about a 25-minute drive. I recommend heading straight for Old Town, Albuquerque’s most popular historic attraction.

Old Town, Albuquerque
A classic car in the Plaza, Old Town, Albuquerque

 Albuquerque Old Town has charming Adobe buildings and a Plaza dating back to the early 1700’s. It’s full of charming gift shops, restaurants, and galleries, making for a pleasant afternoon of strolling and exploring.

Old Town, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Old Town, Albuquerque, New Mexico

For the evening, select a great Albuquerque restaurant and then settle in for the night to catch an early flight on Monday morning. If you want to splurge for dinner, El Pinto Restaurant is the most elegant New Mexican dining experience in Albuquerque. I also have a list of excellent Albuquerque restaurants that offer world-class meals for less than $15 per person. I think that for a two-day weekend, this will give you a balanced sampling of the best of Albuquerque and Santa Fe (and parts in-between).

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