Santa Fe, New Mexico: What To Do by Victoria Ugarte

Literally meaning “Holy Faith” in Spanish, Santa Fe is the capital as well as the fourth largest state of New Mexico. Founded between 1050 and 1150, it is also the oldest capital city in the USA.

Although outsiders imagine that Santa Fe is a sun-blistered, lowland, desert city, the truth is that it has four seasons, and is situated at an altitude of seven thousand feet in the foothills of a mountain range known as Sangre de Cristo. A name given by the Spanish explorers which translates to “Blood of Christ”, the mountain range was so called because of the red glow that emanates from the area as the sun descends.

Santa Fe's high elevation makes for very dry air and intense sun, so it’s important to take it easy on your first day. Drink plenty of water, go easy on the alcohol, and avoid pushing yourself too hard physically. Be sure to bring lots of moisturising products for all part of your body - skin, hair and eyes. Taking two showers a day also helps to keep you from feeling parched.

Santa Fe is a well-known centre for arts.  It has been designated a UNESCO “Creative City”, which is a membership given by UNESCO to cities worldwide that maintain a unique cultural diversity and identity in the midst of growing internationalism. In a nutshell, this compact city has a flavour that is very much its own. It’s easy to see why Santa Fe is a top destination in the Southwest. It’s a city that embraces its natural environment, culture, the arts, and cuisine like no other.

What To Do In Santa Fe:

You won’t need a car for sightseeing around historic downtown Santa Fe as everything is close together and within easy walking distance. Parking around the Plaza area is also scarce and very expensive.

Must See Sites in Downtown Santa Fe:
  • Statue of Peralta
  • The Community Gallery - promotes, sells and exhibits the works of New Mexico artists and artisans, with an emphasis on Santa Fe.
  • Georgia O’Keefe Museum - houses the largest collection of the artist’s works in the world.
  • Museum of Fine Arts - A fine example of Pueblo Revival style architecture, and is home to the renowned St. Francis Auditorium.
  • Santa Fe Plaza - the heart and soul of Santa Fe.
  • New Mexico History Museum
  • Palace of the Governors Museum.
  • Prince Plaza - The former governor’s home.
  • Sena Plaza.
  • Institute of American Indian Arts Museum.
  • St. Francis Cathedral Basilica - Built between 1869 and 1886 in the Romanesque style. It is considered to be Santa Fe’s grandest religious edifice.
  • Loretto Chapel.
  • The Mission of San Miguel - Built around 1612 and ranks as one of the oldest churches in the United States.
  • The Capitol/ Roundhouse Bldg. - The largest gallery in Santa Fe.
  • The Oldest House in the United States
  • Canyon Road  - Santa Fe’s art gallery district.
  • Museum Hill
Santa Fe Day Trips:

Bandelier National Monument is situated about 19.8 miles (32 kms) east along Highway 4, and is home to excavated ruins of a thousand-year-old settlement of ancestral Pueblo people, offering visitors an opportunity to see some of the earliest dwellings in the area. You can see dwelling ruins built along cliff walls and on the canyon floor, some made of blocks of volcanic tuff. We were actually allowed to climb up the ladders and look into these dwellings, which was an amazing experience! Ranger-guided tours explain the sites and their links between ancestral and modern Pueblo people. If you prefer to go alone and at your own pace, you can also buy a brochure from the Visitors Centre that includes a map, a step-by-step guide to the ruins and their history. The area surrounding Bandelier contain 112 kilometres of trails, most in wilderness areas. Day- trippers can opt for shorter hikes.

Valles Caldera National Preserve is a spectacular stop on the Jemez Mountain Trail, and is home to an ancient collapsed volcanic crater. Much of the land within the 89,000-acre crater was a private ranch until 2000, when the preserve was opened to the public for wildlife viewing, seasonal elk hunting, trout fishing, and educational tours. Visitors can explore dozens of miles of hiking and biking trails, attend a fly-fishing clinic, or run the Caldera Marathon in June.

Los Alamos is referred to as “the Hill” among locals, and it is best known as the home of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The “lab”, which was established in WWII to create the first nuclear weapons, remains active today, employing the best minds in engineering and science. Connected with LANL is the Bradbury Science Museum in downtown Los Alamos. It is comprised of separate galleries related to defense, history and research at LANL, particularly its atomic legacy. Los Alamos sits atop a broad mesa just north of Bandelier on Highway 501.

Abiquiu - Pronounced AB - uh - cue, Abiquiu is a tiny village that lies aproximately 49.7 miles (80 kms) north of Santa Fe on Highway 84, and is best known as the place where Georgia O’Keeffe had her studio and home. The village, which will take you less than 1 hour to navigate, is surrounded by stark and stunning sandstone mesas overlooking the Chama river.

In the middle of Abuquiu, you will find a rustic looking “Tourist Information Office”. Do step inside. It is the home and studio of local artist, Abiquiu elder, and flambuoyant personality, Napoleon Garcia. Napoleon is a dead-ringer for Anthony Quinn (no joke). For a small “donation”, Napoleon will spend time chatting with you about the life and history of his village, and its best known resident, Georgia O’Keeffe, whom he worked for in his youth. Meeting and chatting with Napoleon was a true highlight of our New Mexican journey, and I hope it will be for you too.

Georgia O’Keeffe Studio & Home Tour - The O’Keeffe Studio and Home in Abiquiu became the artist’s primary residence until 1984, when she moved to Santa Fe two years prior to her death at age 98. The O'Keeffe Studio and Home is one of the most important artistic sites in the southwestern United States; the surroundings, views, and magnificent landscape that inspired many of O'Keeffe's works combine to provide an insight into the vision and process of a major figure in 20th century American art. Do book your tours to Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu Studio and Home in advance as only small numbers are catered for, and the tour fills up quickly. There is no coordination between the Georgia O’Keeffe Studio & Home tour with the Ghost Ranch Tour, so you will need to book both tours separately.

To book Georgia O’Keeffe’s Studio and Home Tour go here:

Ghost Ranch Tour - Aside from her studio and home in Abiquiu, Georgia O'Keeffe lived and painted for five decades of her life from a small cottage in Ghost Ranch, a 21,000 acre property that is located close to the village of Abiquiu. Although still standing, visitors are not allowed to enter O’Keeffe’s cottage in Ghost Ranch.

Ghost Ranch has a long history that includes cattle rustlers, ghosts, poker games, atomic scientists, dudes, and dinosaurs. It was here where Triassic dinosaur fossil bones were found as early as 1885. Ghost Ranch is now owned by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The Ghost Ranch Tour showcases the history of the property and the unbelievable landscapes and vistas that inspired O'Keeffe and her paintings.  Do book your Ghost Ranch Tour in advance, as only 15 are able to go on the tour at a time. There is no coordination between the Georgia O’Keeffe Studio & Home Tour and the Ghost Ranch Tour, so do book them separately. Tours are held mid-March to mid-November, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, weather permitting. They depart at 1:30 p.m. The tour is approximately one hour long and costs $25. You must have a reservation. Call 1.877.804.4678, extension 0.

Ojo Caliente Resort and Spa - Ojo Caliente Resort and Spa is located approximately 50 miles (80.4 kms) from Santa Fe and was established as the first natural health spa in the United States. Today, visitors to the resort can soak for hours in the various pools that offer a variety of mineral combinations that benefit different ailments and conditions. After a good soak, cover your body in detoxifying earth from the Mud Pool, let it dry as you bask in the New Mexico sunshine, and finish with a spa treatment or massage. Do not underestimate this experience by giving it a miss -- this experience is pure unadulterated bliss. Voted one of the Top 10 Most Affordable Spa Vacations by Spa Magazine, the Ojo Caliente Resort and Spa is not as expensive as you might think. 50 Los Banos Drive | Ojo Caliente, NM.

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