The Instagram Guide to Albuquerque, New Mexico

This Southwest gem is home to white sands, hot air balloons, and even wine country.

(Image credit: Joshua Mellin )

Editor's note: We encourage our readers to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (opens in new tab) for up-to-date information on how to safely travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than half a million people call Albuquerque, New Mexico, home. But you’d be hard-pressed to notice—except maybe in the region’s numerous Mexican restaurants that are world-famous for their fiery chile-based dishes. Given the metropolitan area’s sprawl, bordered only by the rugged (and stunning) Sandia–Manzano Mountains, there’s plenty of breathing room. Even better: More than two-thirds of New Mexico’s land is protected, which means this isn’t likely to change any time soon. 

Don’t believe me? See it by air. Given Albuquerque’s generally sunny climate (300+ days every year are blessed with Vitamin D) and gentle breezes, its bright blue skies are regularly dotted with hot air balloons (opens in new tab) from local companies like Rainbow Ryders (opens in new tab) and World Balloon (opens in new tab). Not that locals will ever bat an eye. Balloons landing in backyards, pastures, and even occasionally on highways? It’s just one of the delights this Southwestern gem regularly embraces. 

Ready to book your trip, or still wondering what a trip to the region might be like? Below, an introduction to some of the city’s most interesting, Instagrammable, and just straight-up enjoyable locations. 

Watch the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Albuquerque, you need to do it during the first week of October. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (opens in new tab) is a visually stunning seven-day celebration that should be on your bucket list. Get there before sunrise when a legion of balloons light up with an eerie glow. If you’re after a specific experience, be sure to check the schedule for events like character shapes day, mass ascension, and skydiving demonstrations. Even if you’re not keen on experiencing transportation via air and fire yourself (as awesome as it is (opens in new tab)!), you’ll still be flying high. 

Visit 'Breaking Bad' Filming Locations

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Fans of Breaking Bad will not be disappointed—the hit AMC show used many real-life, easy-to-recognize locations around the city. While the real-life owner of Walt’s house isn’t too keen on visitors (which the traffic cones and signs make very clear), the location where Walt washed both cars and money is only a 10-minute drive away. If you stop by Mister Car Wash (opens in new tab), be sure to wander inside for set photos and a vending machine with Breaking Bad merch. (Often understocked, but certainly a nice gesture.) 

Hungry? Grab a snack at Twisters (opens in new tab), a burrito joint that stood in for Los Pollos Hermanos—and still keeps some of the ill-fated chicken shacks’ branding hanging cheekily in the corner. Finally, indulge your sweet tooth with a trip to The Candy Lady (opens in new tab). The delectable store (where a Walt look-alike is sometimes spotted out front), was hired to make all the iconic blue meth seen on the show and now sells look-alike rock candy to would-be Heisenbergs looking for a photo-op and a legal treat. 

Travel Back in Time 

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The 17-mile Petroglyph National Monument (opens in new tab) lines the city to the west. In addition to offering some serious “wow I’m in the desert” views, the park’s free hiking trails (ranging from short walks to 2.2-mile loops), display 24,000 images, carved by the Pueblo people around 400 to 700 years ago. It’s a cool mystery as most historians are unsure what the images mean. But more importantly, it’s an important reminder of who was on the land, and what it looked like before it was colonized. 

Head to the Heavens via Tramway

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Albuquerque is home to Sandia Peak Tramway (opens in new tab), the third longest tramway in the world. It scales 3,819 feet up the side of Sandia Mountains, providing breathtaking year-round views and an opportunity to dine at TEN 3 (opens in new tab), the nearby mountain top restaurant that offers both fine dining (read: a dress code) and casual options. Stay for sunset: according to legends, the pink, watermelon-like ("sandia") glow from the mountain is how the local area got its name. 

Go Surfing on Sand Dunes

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Why not try surfing on something other than water? Located between the cities of   Alamogordo and Las Cruces, White Sands National Monument (opens in new tab) is an aggressive day trip from Albuquerque. However, the 227.8-square-mile park is a stunning bucket list sight worth the trek. It’s so otherworldly that it even stood in as David Bowie’s alien planet in the 1976 film, Man Who Fell to Earth. Hiking the numerous dunes is a fun albeit glute-busting exercise. If you prefer a faster way down the snow-white mountains, which can pile up to 30 feet tall, grab a sled and bar of wax at the park gift shop, then let your inner daredevil take the wheel.  

Toast to Your Trip in Wine Country

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It might not get as much press as, say, Napa (opens in new tab), but New Mexico has been wine country since grapes were planted along the Rio Grande 400 years ago. While wine experts will remind you that there’s no singular style for the region, we’ll remind you that it all tastes good when paired with the state’s spectacular sunsets. To see how it all comes together, stop at Casa Rondeña (opens in new tab), which is regularly considered to be one of the most beautiful wineries in the city. Established in 1995, Casa Rondeña’s sprawling vineyard and formidable architecture brings a sense of wonder to the occasion, whether you’re stopping into their tasting room, or sitting down for a cheese plate. 

Get Your Ghost Fix

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What is a trip to the desert without a little bit of mystery? Grab a room at Hotel Parq Central (opens in new tab) for a ghostly good time. The former hospital (which displays antique surgical instruments on every floor—gulp) is claimed to be the site of plenty of unexplained lights, voices, and things that go bump in the night. But even if you’re not in the market for a spectral surprise, you’ll appreciate the in-room massages and happy hour at the top floor Apothecary Lounge (opens in new tab), which features twists on cocktail classics like the Lavender Lemon Sour and Matcha Pisco Sour.

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Laura Studarus is a Los Angeles-based travel writer. Sometimes she can go several hours without a cup of tea. Follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram