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Santa Fe (New Mexico)

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Travel Guide North America USA Western United States New Mexico Santa Fe



St Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe

St Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe

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Santa Fe is the capital of the state of New Mexico. It is located in the central north of the state and has about 74,000 inhabitants (city, metropolitan area about 184,000 people). It is New Mexico's principal tourist destination, renowned for its confluence of scenic beauty, long history (at least by American standards), cultural diversity, and extraordinary concentration of arts, music and fine dining. With an elevation of 7000 feet, it is not only the United States' oldest state capital but its highest, sitting at the foot of the spectacular Sangre de Cristo Mountains.



Sights and Activities

  • The New Mexico History Museum, located in the historic Santa Fe Plaza, consists of the newly opened museum, the Palace of the Governors, and the Portal Native American Artisans Program, where New Mexico Native Americans sell authentic arts and crafts. The Palace of Governors, built in 1610, is the oldest government building in the United States.
  • Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian is one of several located on "Museum Hill," a few kilometres or so from the central Plaza of Santa Fe. Built in the shape of a traditional Navajo shelter, called a hogan, its one high-ceilinged main room is the perfect size for a show concentrating on a single artist or theme. Downstairs is a re-creation of an early 20th century trading post selling jewelry, pots, rugs and other crafts by Navajo, Hopi and other tribal artists.
  • Loretto Line Tour Company offers 90-minute tours of the important sites in Santa Fe in a motorized open-air tram (shaded from the direct sun, and generally suitable for 9 or 10 months of the year). The drivers are experts in history, archaeology, architecture and the multiple cultures of Santa Fe. It's a great way to get oriented and decide what you want to explore in greater depth on your own.
  • No one who has been to Santa Fe will be surprised if you decide to get married there. It's a romantic, beautiful town with enough diverse activities for all the guests from both sides of the aisle. A favorite spot is Loretto Chapel which has its own romantic and mysterious story. It was designed to resemble a famous French chapel, but the builders forgot to design in a staircase to the choir loft. Do you know the story? If not, see the TV movie, or visit the web site. Better yet, come see for yourself!



Events and Festivals




Summers are from June to mid-September when the average temperatures during the day mostly in the 26-30 °C range while nights drop to 10-13 °C during this time. Winters from December to February see average highs of 6-9 °C while nights are in the -10 to -7 °C range. Alltime highs and lows are 38 °F and -27 °C! Average annual precipitation is around 14 inches, with most of it falling during the wetter summers. Though winters see regular snow with around 10 to 18 centimetres a month from December to March.



Getting There

By Plane

American Eagle operates flights out of Santa Fe Municpal Airport (SAF) to and from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and to and from Los Angeles (LAX). The Albuquerque International Sunport is only an hour's drive from Santa Fe, and offers additional flight options.

By Train

A commuter rail line, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, connects Santa Fe to Albuquerque and surrounding communities (from downtown Albuquerque you can catch a shuttle to the airport, ABQ). There are currently three stations open in Santa Fe: the 2 Santa Fe Depot at the Railyards on Guadalupe Street near the Sanbusco Center, the South Capitol station off Cordova Road between Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive, and the NM 599 station at I-25 and NM 599 southwest of town. The Santa Fe Depot is the most useful for sightseeing, as it puts you in the historic downtown area within relatively easy walking distance of the plaza, with a shuttle circulating around the downtown area if you don't want to walk. The South Capitol and NM 599 stations are meant more for commuters and are of little use to sightseers. The Rail Runner runs daily, although service can be limited outside the weekday rush hour periods. Fares are based on how far you ride; a day pass will usually be in the range of $5–$10. Tickets can be purchased online or from ticket agents on the train.

The major Amtrak route across the Southwest, the Southwest Chief, stops at Lamy about 15 miles south of Santa Fe off US Highway 285. The once-daily trains stop in Lamy mid-afternoon, and a shuttle van service can take you to Santa Fe. The station in Lamy has an old cafe car serving lunch, food vendors on the platform, and picnic tables beneath shady cottonwoods. Travelers with bicycles may find the shuttle van to Santa Fe is unable to transport their bicycles unless special arrangements have been made; an alternative is to send any luggage ahead via the shuttle and ride the bicycle - there's a federally designated rail trail along an unused rail line between Lamy and Santa Fe, but between the Amtrak station and US 285 you must travel via the road, then north on US 285 to the trailhead.

By Car

Santa Fe lies along Interstate 25, which skirts the city. Be suspicious of weather conditions if coming to Santa Fe on this road. Santa Fe is nearly 1500' (half a kilometer) above Albuquerque, and on I-25, most of the elevation change is on a single long, steep hill known as "La Bajada." La Bajada hill is hairy to drive during winter snowstorms and is occasionally closed for periods of several hours. East of town, I-25 North goes over a moderate pass along the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains before heading out into the plains; this too can be closed during blizzards.

If conditions are good and you're not in a hurry, consider using back roads as an alternative to I-25 if coming from Albuquerque. State road 14 passes along the east side of the Sandia Mountains and through the quaint little towns of Madrid and Cerrillos before joining the interstate just south of Santa Fe.

Travelers following the Route 66 itinerary should note that Santa Fe was on the "original" Route 66, although it was bypassed during the 1930s as a result of some curious political shenanigans and the much shorter, "modern" Route 66 didn't go anywhere near here. See the "Original alignment in New Mexico" section of the Route 66 article for tips on how to get here "authentically." Coming from points east, you might also consider entering town via the Santa Fe Trail itinerary, which shares roads with the Route 66 itinerary near Santa Fe.

By Bus

There is no long-distance scheduled bus service into Santa Fe. The nearest Greyhound stop is in Albuquerque, at the Alvarado Transportation Center in downtown. From there, the most convenient option to Santa Fe is to take the Rail Runner train, which stops right next to the bus depot.

Both New Mexico Park and Ride and the NCRTD provide commuter bus service on weekdays with routes that connect Santa Fe to surrounding communities. Additionally, the NCRTD operates the Taos Express weekend service to Taos and the daily Mountain Trail route up Hyde Park Road between Santa Fe and Ski Santa Fe.



Getting Around

By Car

Outside of the downtown area (consisting roughly of the blocks surrounding the Plaza as well as the adjacent Railyards district and Canyon Road), a car is definitely your best bet and will be all but necessary for visiting any of the more far-flung attractions (e.g. the Opera, the mountains, any of the nearby pueblos). However, if you're only staying for a couple of days, you can certainly get by without a car with what the small but vibrant downtown has to offer; it is very pedestrian-friendly and walked, often, by many people late into the evening, particularly in summertime when the tourists flood in.

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

By Public Transport

Limited, but improving, public transportation is available via Santa Fe Trails, the city's bus service. Phone: +1 505 955-2001. Bus fare is $1, a day pass costs $2, and a 31-day pass costs $20; youth under 18 ride free, half-fare for seniors/disabled. Buy fare or passes from the bus driver (cash only, exact change required).

By Foot

Many of the hotels, restaurants, shops and boutiques, and historic sites are located in and around the Santa Fe Plaza, providing the opportunity for leisurely explorations on foot. The Santa Fe visitor's website offers guides to several free walking tours.




Santa Fe, and the rest of New Mexico, is known for its huge and spicy plates full of Southwestern food. Restaurants in Santa Fe run from expensive haute Southwestern to down-home fast-food style plates, where you will be asked "red or green" (chile). You can try a mix of both red and green chile peppers by asking for your dish "Christmas". However, Santa Fe also has a number of excellent restaurants offering other cuisines—possibly too many of them, in fact, as the highly competitive marketplace forces even some very good ones out of business before their time. It is almost impossible to overstate the dining possibilities here; they far outstrip those in most American cities ten times Santa Fe's size. As with several other New Mexico towns, restaurants in this description are broken into the sub-categories "New Mexican" (which, note, is not the same as "Mexican" by any means) and "Other." Meals (exclusive of drinks and tips) will usually cost $10/person or less at the "Budget" places, $10 to $25 at the "Mid-range" ones.

There are so many good New Mexican restaurants in town that a description here can barely scratch the surface. A note on red and green chile: half of the writers on New Mexican food claim that green chile is hotter than red, while half claim it's the other way around. In reality, the best authority on the spiciness of the chile at the particular restaurant you eat at is the restaurant itself, so if you're concerned about the chile being too hot, simply ask; you'll get a straight answer far more often than not. One thing that's definitely true, however, is that green tends to be fleshier than red, and adds a bit more substance to the dish, independent of the heat level.




Two of the ubiquitous alcoholic beverages in Santa Fe are the familiar margarita and the possibly-less-familiar sangria, a wine-based concoction incorporating fruit, more commonly associated with Spain and Central America. Most of the better New Mexican restaurants in town have their own house sangria; it goes well with New Mexican cuisine, and is claimed by some to be a useful antidote if the spicy food gets the better of you. It's considered much more of a day-to-day beverage here than in many other places. Visitors should note that the high altitude may increase sensitivity to alcohol.

Much of the beer consumed in the community is imported from Mexico, and there are also a few microbreweries. If you're sticking with non-alcoholic beverages, a tip: Many locals advise against having soft drinks with New Mexican food, instead preferring iced tea. This preference is based on the belief that carbonation in drinks (including beer) tends to accentuate the spiciness of the chile peppers and cause the spicy component to hang around in the throat, while iced tea mutes it.




Most Santa Fe hotels, motels and B&Bs are in one of two areas: downtown (near the Palace of the Governors and Plaza) or on Cerrillos Road, the commercial main drag. The distance of the Cerrillos Road hotels from the downtown attractions isn't significant from a purely physical point of view; the most distant ones (near Villa Linda Mall) are still within a couple miles of the downtown area, which can be reached quickly by car or shuttle bus. However, the atmospheric distance is enormous. Downtown has the fabled Santa Fe ambience of a sleepy old Western village frozen in time and transported to the 21st century (with, of course, a few modern amenities and nuisances added, like cars), while Cerrillos Road has the "ambience" of a shopping district in a suburb of a major city. In compensation, hotels on Cerrillos Road tend to be less expensive on an amenity-for-amenity basis.


View our map of accommodation in Santa Fe or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)



Keep Connected


There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.


See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.


The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.



  1. 1 Mid-2008 estimate, U.S. Census Bureau

Quick Facts



Accommodation in Santa Fe (New Mexico)

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