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More than half a million people live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But you’d be hard pressed to notice it, except perhaps at the many Mexican restaurants in the area that are world famous for their hot chili dishes. Considering the metropolitan area’s sprawl, bordered only by the rugged (and stunning) mountains of Sandia-Manzano, there’s plenty of room to breathe. Even better: more than two-thirds of New Mexico’s land is protected, which means that shouldn’t change any time soon.
You do not believe me ? To see by plane. Given Albuquerque’s generally sunny climate (more than 300 days a year are blessed with vitamin D) and gentle breezes, its bright blue skies are regularly dotted with hot air balloons (opens in a new tab) local businesses like Rainbow Ryders (opens in a new tab) and balloon of the world (opens in a new tab). Not that the locals will ever bat an eyelid. Balloons landing in gardens, pastures and even occasionally on highways? It’s just one of the delights this southwestern gem regularly embraces.
Ready to book your trip, or still wondering what a trip to the region might look like? Below is an introduction to some of the city’s most interesting, Instagrammable and downright enjoyable spots.
Attend the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Party
If you are considering planning a trip to Albuquerque, you must do so during the first week of October. Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (opens in a new tab) is a visually stunning seven-day celebration that should be on your to-do list. Get there before sunrise when a legion of balloons light up with an eerie glow. If you’re looking for a specific experience, be sure to check out the calendar of events such as Character Form Day, Mass Ascension, and Skydiving Demonstrations. Even if you don’t like to experience air travel and set yourself on fire (as awesome as it is (opens in a new tab)!), you will always fly high.
Visit ‘Breaking Bad’ filming locations
fans of breaking Bad won’t be disappointed – the hit AMC show used many real, recognizable locations around the city. While the real owner of Walt’s house isn’t too fond of visitors (which the traffic cones and signs make very clear), the place where Walt washed the cars and the money is just 10 minutes by car. If you stop Mister Car Wash (opens in a new tab)be sure to wander inside to take photos and a vending machine with breaking Bad merchandise. (Often understocked, but definitely a nice gesture.)
Hunger? Have a snack at Tornadoes (opens in a new tab), a burrito joint that replaced Los Pollos Hermanos – and still keeps some of the ill-fated chicken shacks brand hanging cheekily around the corner. Finally, indulge your sweet tooth with a trip to The candy lady (opens in a new tab). The delectable store (where a Walt lookalike is sometimes spotted out front), was hired to make all the iconic blue meth seen on the show and now sells rock candies resembling future Heisenbergs looking for a seance photo and legal processing.
The 17 miles National Petroglyph Monument (opens in a new tab) borders the city to the west. Along with offering some serious “wow I’m in the desert” views, the park’s free hiking trails (ranging from short walks to 2.2-mile loops), display 24,000 images, carved by the Pueblo people there. about 400 to 700 years ago. It’s a cool mystery because most historians don’t know what the pictures mean. But more importantly, it’s an important reminder of who was on the earth and what it looked like before it was settled.
Head to the skies via the tram
Albuquerque houses Sandia Peak Tramway (opens in a new tab), the third longest tram in the world. It measures 3,819 feet into the side of the Sandia Mountains, offering year-round breathtaking views and the opportunity to dine at TEN 3 (opens in a new tab), the nearby mountaintop restaurant that offers both fine dining (read: a dress code) and casual options. Stay for the sunset: according to legends, the mountain’s pink watermelon-like (“sandia”) glow is where the area gets its name.
Go surfing the sand dunes
Why not try surfing on something other than water? Located between the towns of Alamogordo and Las Cruces, White Sands National Monument (opens in a new tab) is an aggressive day trip from Albuquerque. However, the 227.8-square-mile park is a beautiful bucket-list sight worth seeing. It’s so supernatural that it even became David Bowie’s alien planet in the 1976 filmThe fallen man. Hiking the many dunes is a fun but glute-blasting exercise. If you’d rather descend the snow-capped mountains, which can stack up to 30 feet high, more quickly, grab a sled and a wax bar from the park’s gift shop, then let your inner daredevil take the wheel.
Toast your trip to wine country
He might not get as much press as, say, Napa (opens in a new tab), but New Mexico has been wine country since grapes were planted along the Rio Grande 400 years ago. While wine experts will remind you that there’s no one style for the region, we’ll remind you that anything tastes good when paired with the state’s spectacular sunsets. To see how it all comes together, stop at Casa Rondena (opens in a new tab), which is regularly considered one of the finest wineries in the city. Established in 1995, Casa Rondeña’s sprawling vineyard and formidable architecture bring a sense of wonder to the occasion, whether you stop by their tasting room or sit down for a cheese platter.
Get your phantom solution
What’s a trip to the desert without a bit of mystery? Take a room at Hotel Parq Central (opens in a new tab) for a ghostly good time. The old hospital (which exhibits ancient surgical instruments on each floor – gulp) is believed to be the site of many unexplained lights, voices and things that bump into each other in the night. But even if you’re not looking for a ghostly surprise, you’ll appreciate the in-room massages and happy hour on the top floor. Apothecary lounge (opens in a new tab)which offers classic cocktail variations like the Lavender Lemon Sour and Matcha Pisco Sour.
If you fell in love with Albuquerque, you can book a trip now. (opens in a new tab)