Known as the Land of Enchantment, the state of New Mexico in the southwestern United States, lives up to its nickname. Home to 23 native tribes, this is an ideal spot to learn about indigenous culture, art and music while also enjoying the food and natural beauty of the American Southwest.
ShanDien Sonwai LaRance shows you how to learn about her culture and ancestral home of New Mexico, USA.
My name is ShanDien Sonwai LaRance and I am a Native American hoop dancer from the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo of the Eight Northern Pueblos of New Mexico. My tribal affiliations are Hopi, Tewa, Navajo and Assiniboine.
I am very proud of the Indigenous land from which my ancestors and I come, and I love sharing my culture through performance art. At one point in my career, I toured with Cirque du Soleil; today, I spend my time teaching the next generation of Indigenous youth Native American hoop dance.
Why you should learn about New Mexico, USA
What I love most about my home of New Mexico are the desert landscapes and the influence of both Indigenous and Spanish cultures. I also love the fresh air, open skies and sunsets.
Nicknamed the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico will surely bewitch you with its unique cuisine, unforgettable sunsets and its Indigenous peoples’ incredible art and history. To me, this is where you can experience what I like to call “true American culture.”
For an ideal New Mexico day, I would start in artsy, historic Santa Fe. Located 7000ft (2134m) above sea level, it is the highest state capital in the USA. In addition to its great museums, its location makes the perfect launching point for outdoor adventures like mountain biking and hiking.
Culture: Bandelier National Monument and pueblos
Explore caves and look for petroglyphs at Bandelier National Monument. © Jack Pearce/Lonely Planet
One important part of our culture is our connection to the earth and to this land, and Bandelier National Monument represents a strong piece of this history. Here, you’ll see caves and alcoves that were home to ancestral Puebloans until the mid-1500s.
Take the High Road between Santa Fe and Taos to visit pueblos that still exist today. The winding route will give you a picturesque tour of a stunning landscape while taking you past many adobe homes, as well as towns with art studios and works for sale by other creators. Just north of Taos you’ll find Taos Pueblo, a 1000-year-old pueblo village and Unesco World Heritage Site.
In Chimayó, you can stop at El Santuario de Chimayó. Since 1813, it has been a Roman Catholic church – but it has long been a place for those seeking spiritual and physical healing, and the church was constructed over a spot of earth said to have miraculous healing properties. The Pueblo people have been coming here for a long time: for generations, pilgrims have come to a small pit inside the church to rub the “tierra bendita” (holy dirt) on their ailments. In exchange, they leave rosaries, photos and other tokens of their thankfulness.
Another healing spot you should check out is the natural hot springs of Ojo Caliente – at more than 140 years old, one of the oldest known health resorts in the country. It is believed the Pueblo people also came to these sacred springs for healing. Today, the resort has 11 unique mineral soaking pools. Check out the meditative soda pool or the mud-bath experience to soothe your tired body and soul.
Art: Immerse yourself in Santa Fe’s galleries and museums
Work by Teri Greeves showcased at the “Here, Now and Always” exhibit at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. © Jack Pearce/Lonely Planet
Wander through the galleries and shops downtown to see the local art scene, one of the best things to do in Santa Fe. In the same place the Puebloans have sold their artisan work for generations, Indigenous creators today sell souvenirs to visitors. You’ll find everything from crafted jewelry to traditionally woven rugs and clay pots.
Take a break to rest your feet with a leisurely lunch. Sample New Mexican cuisine by heading to Del Charro. After lunch, learn more about Indigenous arts from ancient times to the present day at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. Both institutions offer incredible opportunities to learn the stories of Puebloan peoples through the works of Indigenous artists.
One of the hot tickets in town is to the immersive, truly hands-on art space Meow Wolf. You’ll take your art experience to another dimension at this eclectic place, at which you’re encouraged to touch, open and even crawl through the installation to fully appreciate its many multisensory surprises.
Tip: grab breakfast or a midday snack at Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe, a beloved local restaurant that offers breakfast, brunch and lunch. I love coming here for the tasty tarts and handmade biscochitos they have for dessert.
Land: Ghost Ranch and Hot Air Ballooning
Experience New Mexico from above on a hot air balloon ride. © Jack Pearce/Lonely Planet
To really connect with the beauty of the land, take a day trip from Santa Fe to the 21,000 acres of open space at Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiú.
Painter Georgia O’Keeffe had a home and studio here, and the surrounding desert was often the subject of her paintings. This stunning landscape has also been the backdrop to major Hollywood movies like City Slickers and Wyatt Earp.
There’s plenty to do here, from horseback riding to hiking along its eight trails. Rather be indoors? Wander through its two museums, the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology and the Georgia O’Keeffe Home. You can also buy tickets to other tours and activities in the area, so it’s worth planning your visit in advance.
Once you’ve connected with New Mexico from ground level, consider getting a bird’s-eye view as well. New Mexico is well known for its tradition of hot-air ballooning, and one of the best ways to take in the state’s beauty is from the air. A world-famous tradition each October, the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta just celebrated its 50th year. While that’s an unmissable way to see hundreds of beautifully decorated balloons take to the sky, you can go hot-air ballooning anywhere in the state most of the year (weather permitting).