Albuquerque, New Mexico Travel Information
A Brief Look into Albuquerque's History
Although inhabited for millenia prior to Spanish settlement in 1706, Albuquerque didn't gain its modern name until just over 300 years ago. It is an amalgamation of wide, various, and disparate cultures, and cannot be described in just a few words.
As a former Albuquerque resident for over 6 years, I tend to describe Albuquerque's history through acknowledging its ancient history, describing its status as a garrison for Spain, and the subsequent influx of federal agencies and programs stemming from the late 1940s. It's in the Chihuahuan Desert, is about six hours from any other major cities (i.e. Phoenix and Denver), and is a distinctly beautiful gem in the Southwest.
The Sandia Mountains
All in the Name: Multiple Stories behind "Albuquerque"
The story behind Albuquerque's name is pretty confusing and to this point, I do not believe a consensus has been reached.
Many people support the idea that it was named after the Duke of Alburquerque (Spain; note the extra r). He was a freaky looking man, as you can see in the picture below!
Others think it could be named in honor of the Galician word for apricot ("albaricoque"), as the city was founded near an apricot tree.
Either way, the name refers to the city's strong Spanish lineage.
Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, "Duke of Alburquerque"
The people of Albuquerque are pretty unusual. Here are some of the cultural groups evident throughout the Duke City:
- Native Americans (many Pueblos and Navajos as well as people from around the country)
- Traditional New Mexicans with Spanish blood
- Hispanic people from across the world, often of Mexican origin due to proximity
- "Anglos" from traditional New Mexican families
- "Anglos" from out of the area who moved for work, health, etc.
- Vietnamese people who moved after the war
- African Americans, either from military service or former Buffalo Soldiers
These are nowhere near complete lists of people from Albuquerque, but these are some of the major groups you'll see out and about around the city. Plus, all of these groups tend to blend and morph at the edges. You'll meet absolutely fascinating people in ABQ with histories you'd never believe!
Geography & Weather
New Mexico is located in the Southwest, directly north of the Texas Panhandle and Mexico. To the West, it is met by Arizona (and the entirety of the Navajo Nation) and southeastern Utah. Just north is Colorado, and it touches both Oklahoma and Texas to the east.
Albuquerque is in central New Mexico and straddles the Rio Grande Rift (noted by the presence of the Rio Grande). To the east, the city is sheltered by the gorgeous Sandia Mountains. To the west are the "Three Sisters," a sequence of inactive volcanic peaks. Also on the westside of the city is a large mesa, in which historical petroglyphs are located.
It's an ideal location as it is close to Santa Fe and northern New Mexico, but is also accessible to the cities in the southern portion of the state.
What I enjoyed most about the city's geography is that you can experience a wide variety of geographies in one spot. If you want to hike in a gorgeous area, you can find hike after hike throughout the stunning Sandia Mountains. You can also enjoy a calming troll along the river's coast (the forests called the "bosques"). It's extremely convenient!
Regarding weather, Albuquerque is an easy place to live. Although the winters can be a little chilly and yes, there is snow (not often, but we have had blizzards), but there are always nice, sunny days. The spring is often very windy and can be rather chilly. The summers are hot, but all it takes is a bit of shade to beat the heat. Do be advised, however, that monsoon season does come every year around July and August, and we get regular rainfall almost everyday! Of course, the fall is gorgeous with changing leaves, crisp air, and spots of white along the mountaintops.
For more specific information regarding Albuquerque's weather patterns, please visit this link.
Viewing the Sandias from the Rio Grande
A View of the Sandias
UNM's Duck Pond
Driving to Sandia Crest
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Things to Do
As noted above, you're spoiled for choice in Albuquerque. There are so many different types of things to do, ranging from appreciating art, history, geography, geology, culture, fashion, and more.
For a few popular places to visit and things to do, read more below!
The Sandia Mountains that brace the eastern portion of Albuquerque are jam-packed with amazing trails for hiking, biking, walking, running, jogging, and dog walking. They are easy to access, are mostly free (sometimes there are parking fees for park maintenance), and are always gorgeous areas to enjoy nature.
Along the West Mesa near the Taylor Ranch neighborhood, you can walk miles of basalt paths covered with thousands of year old petroglyphs! It's definitely a great place to visit, although it can be hot and tiring it the heat of summer. Bring water, sunscreen, and a hat, or go during cooler times of year!
I always recommend that new visitors to Albuquerque stop in Old Town. It's been inhabited for continuously for the past 300 years, and takes up about 10 blocks of prime city real estate. This is the perfect place to take sight of historic adobe buildings and seeing the wares sold on the sidewalks.
The biggest feature is the San Felipe de Neri church, which makes you feel like you're "back in the old country." The plaza is a lovely place, and is often full of wedding parties, community events, parades, and more.
This is one of my favorite parts of the city, which is why I lived within walking distance of the area for about 5 years. It's situated along historic Route 66, which you can see from all of the old buildings and establishments (although many have been removed in the past few years). Plus, Nob Hill itself is full of absolutely amazing restaurants, shops, bars, cafes, and more. There's nothing nicer than strolling through a beautiful neighborhood, grabbing a beer or two, then walking back home!
Although I attended UNM and know the area well, it isn't necessarily the best place to explore if you're new to the area. It's busy, so maneuvering traffic can be a pain. Plus, it's full of college students and other young people. That's not necessarily a problem, but that might not be your cup of tea (ornery old people!).
I do recommend taking an afternoon to grab a sweet roll or burrito at Frontier, then wandering throughout the campus to check out the gorgeous, historic buildings, enjoy the Duck Pond, and get a taste of UNM life.
Short for "East Downtown," this area has seen rejuvenation in the past few years. I am always happy to make the short trip from Nob Hill to EDO to get breakfast or lunch at The Grove, or to explore the adorable shops and cafes in the area. It's close enough to Downtown that you can walk that way, but is very pleasant on its own. If you're heading that way, I recommend walking up and down a few of the neighborhood streets to see the gorgeous Victorian architecture!
You know, I'm not a huge fan of Downtown Albuquerque. I really wish this was different, but it's not. I never worked down there, so I only went for special events (like concerts at the Kimo -- awesome venue) or to go drinking. There are many, many sketchy people down there, so I only recommend going with others and getting safe transport home.
There are more places to get a nice bite or beverage now (2012), but it's missing that extra something special it needs to become a hot spot. One great place to get a drink and catch up with friends: Anodyne.
The Albuquerque Tram is one of the top 3 longest trams in the entire world. It takes you over Domingo Baca Canyon (you can see the TWA crash site from here), and gives a full view of the area's beauty. Really, it's a must visit for locals and visitors.
I've written in depth about the Albuquerque Biological Park and its many features. It's a great spot to visit, especially for families or people who'd like a nice day out and about!
Rio Rancho/Santa Fe/Bernalillo
One of the great things about Albuquerque's location is that it is so convenient to other cool places. For those interested in checking out the local area, go ahead and venture up to Rio Rancho or the historic Bernalillo (my recommendation). When you're in Bernalillo, head out to the Range Cafe! You won't be disappointed.
If you have the time, take the RailRunner up to Santa Fe (Bernalillo is on the path, too). It's a beautiful trip through Native lands, and you'll be able to enjoy Santa Fe up close.
Getting Around Albuquerque
When traveling into the city, you will most likely fly into the Albuquerque International SunPort. It's not a very big airport, but is usually very easy to get in and out of. Flights often connect through other, larger hubs in Phoenix, Denver, Houston, or Dallas.
People often ask if it's possible to travel Albuquerque without a rental car. Although it is, the city is pretty spread out. Unless you want to ride the local buses, you're better off getting a car!
Those buses aren't terrible. I especially like the Rapid Ride, as it is fast, easy, and regular. Learn more about the City of Albuquerque Transit System here.
The RailRunner is an ever-growing train system that can be used in Albuquerque to reach cities north and south. I love it for getting to Santa Fe, in particular.
I don't really recommend using taxis in Albuquerque. Because the city is so spread out, you end up having to pay quite a bit. It's still an option, but not one locals use very often. Try to find a hotel near the area you'd like to explore the most instead!
Albuquerque is a great city to walk around, especially if you stay near the area you want to check out the most! Bring walking shoes.
Where to Stay
Depending on your budget, length of stay, and travel preferences, this could range vastly. I recommend staying away from the lower level hotel and motel chains as they tend to be rather scary.
Instead, opt for mid-level chains and higher, and try to get away from the highway a bit if you can.
For the best experience, take advantage of these highest reviewed Albuquerque hotels on Yelp.
"Red or green?"
The New Mexico state question of "red or green" refers to the Hatch chiles roasted and served on almost everything!
They range in heat depending on the particular chiles in the batch, so ask your server for insight on which is which. I find that out-of-state visitors tend to tolerate green chile more than red, but go ahead an ask for "Christmas on the side" to try both!
Where to Eat
Albuquerque is jam-packed with awesome restaurants! There's no shortage of delicious places to eat. Some of my favorite joints are:
- Flying Star Cafe/Satellite Coffee
- The Range Cafe
- 2000 Vietnam
- St. Clair's Winery and Bistro
- Thai Vegan
- The Grove Cafe & Market
To find the absolute best meals for you and your budget, I have a few resources.
2. Yelp Reviews
Awesome ABQ Restaurants
An Interview with the El Pinto "Salsa Twins"
Health & Elevation
I've discussed this elsewhere. Albuquerque isn't like everywhere else. You need to remember that its lowest point sits at about 5,000 feet and the Sandia Crest is over 10,000 feet.
This means that you have less cloud cover, more UV exposure, dehydrate faster, and have less oxygen.
To counteract these differences, take regular breaks, wear a hat and sunscreen, always take a bottle of water with you (and drink it), and don't over-exert yourself. I also recommend avoiding alcohol or drinking less than normal as many people feel much more intoxicated at ABQ elevation than they do at sea level.
If you really want to know how to keep yourself up and running, read my hub on preventing heat exhaustion.