5 Days 1095 Miles
Explore the Beauty of New Mexico’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are many reasons why New Mexico is considered the Land of Enchantment. And its abundance of UNESCO World Heritage sites—home to more than any other state—is definitely one of them. This five-day road trip itinerary explores Santa Fe, the very first UNESCO Creative City in the United States. Along the way, we’ll also visit three other incredible sites rich with beauty, culture, and wonder. World Heritage Sites are internationally recognized and protected for their cultural value to people across the world! Ready to learn more?
While many towns lull into hibernation during the winter months, Santa Fe vibrates with life. Stone walls are blanketed in beautiful snowdrifts. Laughter and conversation surround crackling kiva fireplaces. The spicy aromas of piñon and cedar permeate the air. Pots of fragrant posole and green chile stew transport you to your childhood days at grandma’s. This traditional Mexican dish can take hours to make and is a must-try if you see it on the menu.
Where to Stay in Santa Fe
Locals will tell you that Santa Fe is a wonderful place to visit all year round, but during the winter months, there’s something indescribably magical in the air. The charming town will be your home base throughout your winter getaway, and there are many gorgeous and unique accommodations to choose from. Consider staying at Hotel Santa Fe which is owned by the Picuris Tribe. This is also the only Native American owned hotel in the city. An on-site spa and restaurant will ensure you have everything you need for a relaxing escape.
If you’re flying in, nearby airports including the Santa Fe Regional Airport or the Albuquerque International Sunport. The drive from Albuquerque is only an hour away from Santa Fe and offers additional flight options to and from major cities.
Day 1 – Ski Santa Fe
Skiing & Snowboarding
When you think of New Mexico, you probably don’t imagine it as a ski destination. However, there are plenty of places to find some fresh powder, including Ski Santa Fe. Begin the first day of your Southwest adventure at this large ski resort featuring seven chairlifts and more than 80 trails, predominantly blue and black-rated. Starting at 10,350 feet and rising to an impressive 12,075, the view from the summit is breathtaking. Albuquerque can be seen to the south, the Sangres de Cristo peaks can be enjoyed to the north, and the mysterious Los Alamos (place of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s) comes into view to the west. For those who need gear, a variety of rental options are available at the resort.
Ski Santa Fe is just over a 30-minute drive from downtown Santa Fe along a winding route. Leave the winter driving to a pro by catching the $5 shuttle from downtown, which also gets you a token for $5 off anything at the ski lodge. Be sure to stop by the base lodge cafe, where the marinara sauce is a staple on the pizza and pasta menu.
Spa & Hot Springs
Make sure to pack your swimsuit because Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese spa and hot spring, is located on the way to and from Ski Santa Fe (the return shuttle stops here). The facility, which is modeled after a traditional Japanese Onsen, has a grand outdoor bath with a waterfall, foot baths, gender-exclusive pools, saunas and meditation area. Relax with a treatment from the spa’s comprehensive list of massage and skin care services.
Enjoy a bite to eat at the on-site restaurant, Izanami which specializes in charcoal-grilled wagyu beef, Japanese fried chicken and daily sashimi.
Day 2 – Taos Pueblo
Get an early start to your day two which takes us to Taos Pueblo, located an hour and a half northeast of Santa Fe. Along the way, make a stop at El Santuario de Chimayo, a must-see in Chimayo and the most visited chapel in New Mexico. Unlike the state’s more popular Spanish-style cathedrals, which have massive, elaborate and gilded interiors, this humble shrine built in 1816 is made of adobe and exudes a peaceful spirituality. El Posito, a pit filled with an endless supply of “healing soil,” lies hidden behind the altar and its miraculous crucifix.
Continue on to Truchas, a village perched high in the hills, for some wonderful mountain views. After snapping a photo or two, drive past Taos to Taos Pueblo, which has been continuously inhabited by a Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people for over 1,000 years.
The residents of Taos Pueblo produce unique and highly polished pottery, as well as exquisite silver jewelry, moccasins, boots and drums. Stroll around the plaza and explore some of our favorite galleries on Ledoux Street. Rane Gallery and Inger Jirby Gallery showcase several lively impressionist Taos landscapes.
The best times to visit are during feast days, which occur throughout the year. A couple of these include the Deer Dance on December 25 and the Turtle Dance on January 1. From the elderly to toddlers, everyone dresses up in full regalia, performing dances and other tribal ceremonies in the plaza.
Where to Eat Near Taos Pueblo
You might be tempted to go out for a bite to eat after visiting Taos Pueblo. So why not tuck into the famous green chile specialty of New Mexico at Guadalajara Grill. It’s a family-friendly joint offering Mexican meat & seafood specialties with homemade tortillas.
You’ll return to Santa Fe via Highway 68, which follows the Embudo River. Various New Mexico wineries may be found along the winding road, where you can sample and purchase some tasty local wines. And if you’re hungry, try the Embudo Station, which has a beautiful terrace on the banks of the Rio Grande River.
Day 3 – Downtown Santa Fe
Today is all about exploring downtown Santa Fe. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a must-see for every visitor. The museum, which is dedicated to one of the most important and influential painters of the twentieth century, houses a collection of over 3,000 works. Admire a variety of O’Keeffe’s paintings, sketches and sculptures, some of which date back to 1901.
The New Mexico Museum of Art is another modest downtown museum. It includes works by various New Mexican painters, including Gustav Baumann’s woodcuts. Continue your art stroll along Canyon Road. For nearly a century, this arts district has served as a gathering place for artists and art enthusiasts. This historic mile-long route is home to over 100 galleries, studios, and world-class eateries.
After you’ve had your fill of culture, head to the old La Fonda Hotel for a late afternoon cocktail. Hostels have been located on this corner of the plaza since Spanish colonial times, and it is an important aspect of the area’s history.
Where to Eat Near Downtown Santa Fe
For dinner, walk to one of Santa Fe’s most popular restaurants. Cafe Pasqual’s is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Enjoy delicious traditional and modern cuisine in a colorful and inviting atmosphere. Reserve your table in advance, or explore Cafe Pasqual’s Art Gallery next door while you wait.
Day 4 – Carlsbad Caverns
Get ready to explore high ancient sea ledges, deep rocky canyons, flowering cacti and desert wildlife on the fourth day of your trip. Take a drive about 4.5 hours south to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Here, more than 119 caves are hidden beneath the surface—formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes.
Explore underground by taking one of two main trails through the caverns. Both are free to explore with your paid park admission—The Natural Entrance Trail and The Big Room Trail. The more popular route, the Big Room Trail, is North America’s largest single cave chamber by volume. This 1.25-mile trail is reasonably flat and takes around 1.5 hours to walk. You will be rewarded with spectacular views, cave formations of different shapes and sizes, and a rope ladder used by explorers in 1924.
Where to Eat Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park
After your walk or hike, you’ll be sure to have built up an appetite! We have just the place for you. La Patrona is located just 0.1 miles from the entrance of the park, and this delectable food truck eatery serves hearty and tasty generous portions of authentic Mexican food.
Day 5 – Chaco Canyon
The final day of your New Mexico adventure ends with a scenic drive to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, America’s token archaeological site—comparable to Egypt’s pyramids or Peru’s Machu Picchu. The National Park contains an interesting collection of ancient ruins that date back over 1,000 years. Approximately a 3.5-hour drive from Santa Fe, the intricate mazes of interconnected chambers attest to a degree of engineering expertise not seen anywhere else in the Southwest area of the United States. The park is accessible by vehicle, bicycle or foot.
A trip to the park wouldn’t be complete without a night of stargazing. The International Dark-Sky Association has designated Chaco Culture Park as one of only 12 International Dark Sky Parks in the world. It is one of the greatest spots in the world to view constellations. Come for the sunset and stay in the park for evening campfires and night sky programs.
Although the weather can get pretty cold during the winter, this time of year definitely makes for Instagram-worthy photography, especially of beautiful snowy landscapes.
There is no doubt you’ll need a little warmth to pick you up! For one final stop, on a cold winter day, make your way to Kakawa, recently named one of the best places in the world to enjoy hot chocolate, for a warm cup of this traditional elixir.