The Land of Enchantment is a Real Place You Can Actually Visit

May 17, 2015

When we released our Top 10 U.S. Travel Destinations for Summer 2015, some of us were surprised to see Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the list. And we understand why -- at first glance, it's easy to see why this small city isn't at the top of everyone's travel bucket list.

But, we think it should be -- and not just Santa Fe, it's time to embrace the entire state of New Mexico. Between a burgeoning art scene, a wealth of national monuments, stunning landscapes and once-in-a-lifetime activities, you'll never be bored in this Four Corners state.

In case you need more convincing, check out the top 10 things to do in New Mexico listed below -- and start planning your trip to the Land of Enchantment.

White Sands

No, you don't need to travel to Namibia or Egypt to see sprawling sands -- you can find them right here, at the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. About 3.5 hours south of Albuquerque and an hour and a half north of El Paso, Texas, the undisturbed land is surreal in its wind-designed ridges and expansive stretches of white sands. If you're feeling extra adventurous, visitors can camp overnight or sled down the hills.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

One of the most incredibly photogenic events in the U.S. (okay, maybe even the world), is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Held annually in October in New Mexico, the event sends a spattering of colorful hot air balloons into the sky, to the delight of tourists and photographers alike.

But the fiesta isn't the only time to enjoy views (or tours, if you go with the Rainbow Ryders) of hot air balloons -- high-flying balloons can be found yearlong in Albuquerque. Visitors brave enough to get in on the fun themselves can do so with a hot air balloon tour, but don't worry if you're not quite ready to take flight -- the views from the ground aren't half bad either.

Carlsbad Caverns

Tucked into the Guadalupe Mountains, the Carlsbad Caverns National Park draws visitors eager to explore the more than 119 known caves in the area. Whether you choose a ranger or self-guided tour, you're guaranteed to be stunned by the beautiful intricacies of the many caves -- especially the main show cave, Carlsbad Cavern. If you're traveling with family, be advised that there are age restrictions and health screenings to preserve the resident bats' safety and natural habitat.

Blue Hole

Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department

Santa Rosa's Blue Hole is one of the country's most popular diving destinations. The circular, bell-shaped pool is a former fish hatchery, but now one of the best dive training sites in the Southwest. The Blue Hole can be found two hours east of Albuquerque -- not exactly the first destination that comes to mind as a diving haven. But with calm, controlled waters and an 8-foot depth, that's exactly what it is.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

In the Gila Wilderness of southwestern New Mexico, the 533-acre national monument is guaranteed to leave you completely in awe (and likely jaw-dropped) at the power of nature. The natural caves of Cliff Dweller Canyon offer visitors a glimpse into the world of ancient New Mexican inhabitants: ancestors of Puebloan people who lives in the Mogollon area over 700 years ago. This monument will transport you back in time to the ancient villages built into these caves!

Star Parties

Photo courtesy of James Orr (via New Mexico Tourism Department)

With little artificial light and away from the light disruptions from larger cities, Magdalena is the perfect location for star gazing. The small, remote town is home to some of the best star parties, where local astronomers lead visitors in spotting constellations, galaxies and other starry sights.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Photo courtesy of Flickr: Lee Ruk

If you ever thought you'd feel at home in the old frontier, this activity is for you. A narrow gauge heritage railroad between Chama and Antonito, Colorado, the line passes over Cumbres Pass and through Toltec Gorge. The original track was built in 1880, and has since become the country's most authentic steam-operated railroad and a token of the Old West.

Sandia Peak Tramway

An aerial tramway near Albuquerque, the Sandia Peak Tramway offers visitors some of the most breathtaking views in the state. The tram brings tourists up to the Sandia Mountains, where an observation deck upon Sandia Peak overlooks the Cibola National Forest and the Rio Grande Valley.

Santa Fe Opera House

Photo courtesy of Ken Howard (via New Mexico Tourism Department)

To get the full cultural experience of Santa Fe, catch a show at the Santa Fe Opera House. Uniquely designed to be open-air, yet with a roof structure that protects the theater from rain or elemental damage, it's undoubtedly one of the best places to catch an opera. Additionally, the renowned opera house draws high-quality talent and puts on high-caliber productions -- so check out the summer schedule in advance, because these shows often sell out.

Canyon Road

Photo courtesy of Flickr: Steven Depolo

Santa Fe is increasingly becoming known for a vibrant art and cultural scene, including some of the most current art galleries and installations across the country. With more than 100 galleries, boutiques and restaurants, Canyon Road is the center of this cultural hub.

Weekend street festivals, the George O'Keeffe Museum and Native American folk art are some of the must-see highlights.

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