Albuquerque

Albuquerque is a vibrant, sprawling desert city near the center of New Mexico. Lying in the Rio Grande Valley at the foot of the Sandia Mountains, it is by far the largest city in the state, acting as the economic and educational center of New Mexico, as well as the home of the state's only major airport. Despite this, Albuquerque is often overshadowed as a tourist destination by Santa Fe, 60 mi (97 km) to the north. But any visit to New Mexico would be incomplete without taking in what Albuquerque has to offer, as New Mexico's only major city has a number of great attractions in its own right, with pleasant scenery, colorful history, and a spectacular hot-air balloon fiesta in the fall.

Understand

History

Albuquerque was founded in 1706 as a small Spanish settlement on the banks of the Rio Grande and was named for the Duke of Alburquerque (hence Albuquerque's nickname, "The Duke City"). In the 1880s the railroad came to town, and almost overnight a new city grew up around the train tracks a couple of miles away from the original settlement. This "New Town" became the hub of commerce for the state, and the city grew exponentially (eventually the "New Town", which today is Downtown, and the original "Old Town" settlement were joined to become part of the same city).

In the 1920s the federal government officially recognized a series of highways that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles as Route 66, and Albuquerque was one of the towns "The Mother Road" passed through. Starting in the 1950s, Albuquerque grew exponentially given federal investment in the local military bases and a massive influx of visitors and new residents, and for the most part it hasn't slowed down. Today, Albuquerque is still the hub of commerce and transportation in the state. While Santa Fe is the state capital and the principal tourist destination of New Mexico, Albuquerque is the state's only truly urban area, with a city population of over 500,000 and a metropolitan population of nearly a million people. This is where you'll find the headquarters of the state's businesses, the University of New Mexico, and the Albuquerque International Sunport, the only major airport in the state.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°F) 47 53 61 69 79 88 90 87 81 69 56 46
Nightly lows (°F) 26 30 36 43 53 62 66 65 58 46 34 27
Precipitation (in) 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.7 1.5 1.6 1.1 1.0 0.6 0.5

   Data from NOAA (1981-2010)

Albuquerque is in the high desert [35.11N −106.64W (Elev. 4989 ft/1521 m)] and has a generally warm, dry climate with four distinct seasons. Spring is sunny and windy, although temperatures at night can be unexpectedly cool. Summers are hot (highs average 90–95°F/34°C, and temperatures near 100°F/38°C are not rare) and still mainly dry, but monsoonal conditions develop in July or August and produce furious if short-lived thunderstorms. Have rainwear available in the summer, although you won't use it most days. Fall is delightful, with comfortable temperatures and a return to generally dry conditions. Winter can be blustery, with overnight lows below freezing, but subzero temperatures are rare. One winter-weather issue for the traveler: snow, while infrequent and short-lived, does occur, and its relative rarity means that local drivers don't deal with it well. If you happen to be in town for a snowstorm, expect road chaos far out of proportion to the amount of snow that falls.

People

Albuquerque is a casual town—expect shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals to be entirely acceptable almost everywhere. While Albuquerque does have a large non-native population, it is predominantly white, Hispanic, and American Indian. Albuquerque is also something of a self-deprecating town; long-time natives here may often remark on how backward, dusty, and small it is, which is something that is frequently rebuked with a passion from many newcomers. However, the wonderful upside of this self-deprecation is that Albuquerque is generally a rather humble city, where people tend to be very friendly.

Visitor information

Get in

"The Big I", the busiest intersection in the state

By car

Two interstate highways pass through: I-40 goes east–west and I-25 goes north–south. Where they meet is a large intersection called "The Big I". Albuquerque's Central Ave. is part of old Route 66. A minor note of caution: I-25 south of the city is a "safety corridor" in which state law mandates higher fines for traffic violations. Enforcement is spotty, but take the speed limits seriously anyway.

By plane

The   Albuquerque International Sunport (IATA: ABQ) is the major air hub for all of New Mexico. Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United serve the Sunport with limited service to their respective major hubs, but it's Southwest Airlines that operates most traffic into ABQ, with direct service to most western cities as well as some of Southwest's hubs in the Midwest and eastern United States.

One tip: If you're prone to airsickness, try to get flights into this airport that arrive either before noon or after sundown, particularly during late spring and early summer. The high elevation, hot sun, and spring winds combine to produce thermals that can make afternoon arrivals an extremely bumpy proposition. There are no major safety issues (the airport's runways are long, owing to the adjacent Air Force base, with no nearby obstacles to run into), but try telling your stomach that! The rough ride is less of a problem with outbound flights.

Incidentally, this airport contains a number of attractive displays of New Mexican arts and crafts, and is a more pleasant place than most airports to kill time while waiting for a flight. The Sunport also has charging stations for electronics and free wireless internet access. The major car rental companies are nearby, with a shuttle from the airport to the large rental center. The airport is served by a number of shuttle services as well as local bus #50, located on the lower level at the west end of the shuttle island.

By train

Albuquerque is a layover stop along Amtrak's Southwest Chief daily train route. The depot is at the   Alvarado Transportation Center, in downtown at 320 First St SW (in the same building as the Greyhound depot). The westbound train to Los Angeles is scheduled to arrive at 3:55PM and departs at 4:45PM. The eastbound train to Chicago arrives at 12:12PM and departs at 12:55PM. The station has a small cafeteria.

A commuter rail line, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, connects Albuquerque to Santa Fe and to the smaller communities north and south along the Rio Grande, including Belen, Los Lunas, and Bernalillo. The main station is at the Alvarado Transportation Center in Downtown, which has regular bus connections along Central Avenue and to the airport. 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 $4–10. Tickets can be purchased online or from ticket agents on the train.

By bus

Albuquerque has a fine bus depot at the Alvarado Transportation Center in downtown, 320 First St SW, which is served by Greyhound +1 505 243-4435, and Autobuses Americanos which provides bus service to many points in Mexico. The depot has a small cafeteria.

Get around

Albuquerque is a heavily planned city. In much of the city, the major roads are lined primarily with businesses with residential mazes on the insides. The city is divided into four quadrants, with street addresses taking the form "12345 Main St. (NE/NW/SE/SW)" in which the NE/NW/SE/SW suffix denotes the quadrant of the city containing the address. The railroad tracks, which run parallel to I-25, are the east–west dividing line, and Central Ave. is the north–south dividing line. Thus, the street address 3600 Menaul NE would be north of Central and east of the railroad tracks. This nomenclature, while useful in helping you with maps and directions, has the drawback that you can't tell whether a street runs north–south or east–west simply by looking at the address.

By and large it's difficult to get truly lost in Albuquerque, thanks in large part to the looming presence of the Sandia Mountains to the east. If you can also remember that I-25 runs north–south, I-40 runs east–west, and the Rio Grande runs along the bottom of the valley in the western part of the city, you should be able to make your way around the city without too many problems. Here are some basic terms that will come in handy when asking for directions or looking at a map:

By car

If you're driving, be prepared for frequent road construction. The city government web site gives information on major construction projects, but there are always minor ones going on. Several radio stations try to give traffic reports during morning and afternoon rush hours, but the service tends to come and go, and it's best to inquire locally as to which stations are currently offering it. KKOB-AM, 770 on the dial, seems to be fairly reliable for these reports. The interchange of I-40 and I-25 is commonly called "The Big I", and you will hear it referred to as such in traffic reports. Traffic congestion, while not nearly as horrible as some of the other cities in the Western U.S., can still get bad during the rush hour and on Saturdays. The two interstates and the river crossings usually have the worst congestion.

Many Albuquerqueans seem to consider I-40 and 25, which run through the city, to be their own personal expressways. The lack of turn signal usage is a running joke for most Albuquerque drivers, so watch for cars changing lanes without warning. However, Interstate traffic usually flows around the pace of the speed limit.

Keep in mind that driving while talking on your cell phone is illegal in Albuquerque unless you use a hands-free system.

By bus

ABQ RIDE, +1 505 243-RIDE, is Albuquerque's public transit system. Despite some recent strides in the development of its public transit system, Albuquerque is still primarily a driving city, so with the exception of Central Avenue public transit is still for the most part very underdeveloped. Most of ABQ Ride's routes spur out of the Alvarado Transportation Center in Downtown at Central Avenue & First Street, which also serves as Albuquerque's Amtrak station and Greyhound depot as well as a Rail Runner station. Bus service is reduced during the weekend.

The Rapid Ride is an express bus service operated by ABQ Ride which runs frequently, utilizing bright red articulated buses. There are three Rapid Ride routes: the #766 (Red Line) and #777 (Green Line) each run very frequently and almost entirely on Central Avenue, serving attractions such as the BioPark, Old Town, Downtown, UNM, Nob Hill, the fairgrounds, and Uptown; the #766 runs between Uptown and Unser/Central on the Westside, while the #777 runs between Downtown and Tramway/Central on the eastern edge of the city. Additionally, the #790 (Blue Line) connects UNM to the Cottonwood Mall area on the Westside, but runs less frequently than the Central Avenue lines and is geared more towards commuters. Local routes that are useful for visitors include the #50, which runs Monday-Saturday between the airport and Downtown; and #40 (the "D-Ride"), a free shuttle which circulates around Downtown on the weekdays.

Standard fares for ABQ Ride routes are $1 per ride, with discounts for seniors and children available (cash only; exact change required). A day pass costs $2. A day pass is included in the price of a Rail Runner Express day pass, so visitors who ride the Rail Runner train to Albuquerque can also ride the bus for free using their train ticket.

By bike

Albuquerque is fairly bikeable, but it's a sprawling Western city and things are spread out. It's hillier than it looks; Old Town and Downtown attractions are several hundred feet lower than things in the heights on the eastern side of the city; plan accordingly. Getting around by bike can be a mixed bag in Albuquerque: street cycling can be risky as drivers may not always be aware and most major streets lack bicycle lanes (and even those that do have lanes may require uncomfortably close proximity to fast traffic). On the other hand, Albuquerque has a very proactive cycling community and a splendid paved trail network which is undergoing an expansion phase.

The crown jewel in this network is the Paseo del Bosque Trail, which runs along the east side of the Rio Grande and offers lovely riverside scenery. Another backbone to the trail network is the North Diversion Channel Trail which runs from UNM north to Balloon Fiesta Park, and while not nearly as scenic as the Bosque trail (it runs along a concrete drainage channel and past some industry) it offers the occasional grand vista of the city. Another fun ride is the paved trail along Tramway Boulevard on the eastern edge of the city, which offers excellent views of the city and access to the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. You can find a complete bike map of all the trails, lanes, and recommended routes on the city's bicycling website.

By horse

A principal corridor for equestrian use is the Paseo del Bosque Trail. Trailhead parking lots are large and one, at the Los Ranchos open space in the North Valley, has a feed store, Miller's Feed.

See

The Sandia Peak Tramway rises above Albuquerque

Old Town

The San Felipe de Neri Church, Old Town

Located east of Rio Grande Boulevard in between Central Ave. and Mountain Rd. (west of downtown).

A nice sightseeing area, Old Town is where the city was founded in 1706 and is a place where centuries of history and modern life merge; 18th century architecture with narrow brick paths is blended with adobe architecture, and there are lots of little nooks and crannies, small restaurants, and specialty shops. At the center of the district is the pleasant   Old Town Plaza, which has a gazebo, historic exhibits, and is bordered on the north by the   San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in Albuquerque. In Christmas time, thousands of luminarias (paper bags filled with sand and illuminated from within by a lit candle) line the streets. Guided tours of Old Town are available from a private operator or from the Albuquerque Museum.

There are several museums located within easy walking distance of the Old Town Plaza. Most of them are on Mountain Rd., just a few blocks northeast of the Plaza.

University of New Mexico

The University of New Mexico

University of New Mexico, between Central Ave., Girard Blvd., Lomas Blvd., and University Blvd (east of I-25).

By far the largest institution of higher education in the state, UNM has a significant presence in the center of the city. The main campus makes a very pleasant diversion, with its Pueblo-Revival adobe buildings and pleasant landscaping. Near the center of the campus is a   Duck Pond, a popular relaxing spot for students where you can rest on the lawns and feed the birds.

Itineraries

Do

Petroglyph National Monument

Outdoors

The Sandia Mountains, with the Rio Grande in the foreground

Sports and amusements

Performing arts

KiMo Theater

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

  Balloon Fiesta Park, north of Alameda Blvd (one mile (1.6 km) west of I-25, take either Alameda Blvd or Tramway Blvd exit off I-25). $8, children ages 12 and under free (parking $10 per car).

The Fiesta is the world's largest ballooning event and one of the most photographed events in the world. A cultural landmark for Albuquerque (and indeed, all of New Mexico), this festival gives you a first-hand look at the world of ballooning. For nine days in October, you can walk out onto a large field where balloonists from around the world set up, inflate, launch, and possibly land their balloons. Mass ascensions of balloons with hundreds of different colors and shapes create an often stunning and magnificent sight. It's one of the most heavily attended festivals in the entire U.S.

Balloons fly best in cooler conditions, so many of the events take place early in the morning. Traffic is pretty bad around the festival; expect a long, long line of cars (you may want to seriously consider taking park-and-ride to beat the traffic). Get your hotel reservations far in advance, because everyone fills up around this time of year.

A sky full of balloons during a mass ascension

The event begins on the first Saturday of October and ends with a farewell mass ascension on the Sunday of the following weekend, with numerous events in-between, such as concerts and balloon races. Here are a few of the highlights of the fiesta:

And if you want to do more than watch the balloons, there are several local companies which provide balloon rides year-round:

Other annual events

Besides the Balloon Fiesta, there are numerous festivals and celebrations on a yearly basis. Here are some of the major ones:

Buy

Upon first glance, it might seem like your only place to shop are the miles and miles of strip malls that line the major arterials. While that's not entirely the case, everything is really spread out, with the exception of the concentrated Old Town-Downtown-Nob Hill area along Central Ave. So while you can find just about anything you're looking for, you will probably have to drive a ways to get it.

Here are some good places around town to shop:

Shops along an Old Town alleyway

Outside these areas, there are also some specific businesses around town that are worth your time:

Eat

This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget $10 or less
Mid-range $10-20
Splurge $20 or more

Dining out in Albuquerque tends to be relatively inexpensive and very casual. Many places offer outdoor seating. Iced tea is the beverage of choice.

New Mexican dining

New Mexican cuisine is unique. Be ready for the question "Red or green?" or in Spanish "¿Rojo o verde?" which refers to the chile based sauce included in or used to smother various menu items. There are constant arguments as to which is hotter, the ripe and often dried red chile, or the immature green chile; however, spiciness depends much more on the strain of pepper and how the chile is prepared rather than the color, and varies greatly by restaurant, so inquire and experiment. Many meals will include sopaipillas, the characteristic New Mexican fry bread, as a side. The characteristic desserts are flan, a type of custard, or Natillas, closer in texture to pudding.

Budget

Mid-range

Non-New Mexican dining

The best place for hot dogs in town

Budget

The 66 Diner

Mid-range

Splurge

Grocery stores

  •   La Montanita Nob Hill, 3500 Central Ave SE (in the Nob Hill Marketplace at Central and Carlisle),  +1 505 265-4631. M-Sa 7AM-10PM, Su 8AM-10PM. Slightly spaced out till staff.
  •   La Montanita Valley, 2400 Rio Grande NW,  +1 505 242-8800. M-Sa 7AM-10PM, Su 8AM-10PM.
  •   Sprouts on Corrales, 10701 Corrales Rd NW,  +1 505 890-7900. 7:30AM-10PM daily.
  •   Sprouts on Lomas, 5112 Lomas Blvd NE (Lomas and San Mateo),  +1 505 268-5127. 7AM-10PM daily.
  •   Sprouts on Montgomery, 11205 Montgomery Blvd NE (Montgomery and Juan Tabo),  +1 505 298-2447. 7AM-10PM daily.
  •   Sprouts on San Mateo, 6300 San Mateo Blvd (San Mateo and Academy),  +1 505 821-7000. 7AM-10PM daily.
  •   Trader Joe's Far Heights, 8929 Holly Ave NE (at the intersection of Paseo del Norte and Ventura),  +1 505 796-0311. 9AM-9PM daily.
  •   Trader Joe's Uptown, 2200 Uptown Loop NE (next to ABQ Uptown mall),  +1 505 883-3662. 9AM-9PM daily.

Drink

Downtown

Nob Hill & UNM

North I-25 Corridor & Heights

Westside

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget under $75
Mid-range $75-175
Splurge $176 and over

If you want a nicer—and pricier—hotel, then head east on I-40 to "uptown" (in the northeast side of the city, which is at higher elevation than "downtown" close to the river) or north on I-25. If you don't mind less free stuff, Central Ave. (old Route 66) is cheaper. However, there are some real dives along Central Avenue, many with unsavory reputations and occasional police raids. Hotels around the airport are generally vanilla-flavored, business-traveler places, but at least are somewhat less expensive than airport hotels in many cities. There are a few nice highrise hotels in the Downtown/Old Town area. Lodging Per Diem is $75.

Albuquerque is experiencing a massive wave of hotel building, mainly in the "Mid-range" class. This apparently is driven in part by the infamous lodging shortages during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in October. The result is that during other parts of the year, affordable hotels shouldn't be too hard to find. Even with the growth in the hotel market, lodging can be tight for the Fiesta, so if you're coming then, reserve well in advance—months rather than days.

For some free lodgings try looking for cafes where bands are playing (normally on the weekends) and ask among the punk kids and see if they'll help. Even they, however, may not have much space during the Balloon Fiesta.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Albuquerque has an average crime rate compared to some other American cities, but most of it is property crime of more concern to residents than to visitors.

Central Avenue is home to some of Albuquerque's main attractions, but portions of it can be somewhat dangerous after dark. The section from the train tracks (eastern edge of downtown) to University Blvd. can be a little scary in the evening. Even in Downtown, while Central Avenue is passable, smaller nearby streets such as Copper Street can be scary after dark. The Nob Hill/UNM district (between University and Carlisle) is perfectly safe at night, but Central gets progressively seedier east of Carlisle, and can get quite scary around the Fairgrounds. Consider the bus or a cab through these areas after the sun goes down.

Due to its size and mild climate, the streets of Albuquerque are considered home to many people. While not typically a danger, do expect to meet up with beggars and vagrants, particularly around UNM.

If you're going to be engaging in outdoor recreation (even as laid-back as watching an Isotopes day game), slather on the sun screen. The elevation of the city is 5000 ft or higher, and there is usually not much cloud cover, so one can get a bad sunburn in surprisingly short order.

Also, New Mexico is very arid. That, and its high altitude results in very low humidity in both summer and winter, which can lead to dehydration. Drink plenty of water. A common complaint among visitors from lower altitudes is a persistent headache, which is often mistaken for altitude sickness, but is really a common symptom of dehydration. Consider carrying a water bottle and drinking frequently throughout the day if you don't already.

Be forewarned about New Mexican cuisine; if you're not used to green chile, go easy at first. Many first-timers have tried to eat the hottest chile they could find, only to discover six hours later that it was MUCH hotter than they remembered. Be prepared.

Connect

The area code for the city is 505.

Every branch of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System provides free wifi; they also have computers available but these require that you purchase an internet access card for $3. The   Main Library is Downtown at 501 Copper NW, +1 505 768-5141. There are also a number of free Wi-Fi hot spots provided by the city, mainly around Civic Plaza in Downtown, the Sunport, and the Old Town Plaza. Also, it is free to connect to the guest wifi on the UNM campus. Generally, there aren't very many wireless cafes in the city, but there is a good concentration around the UNM/Nob Hill area. The local Flying Star Cafe and Satellite Coffee locations offer free wireless internet to customers.

Cope

Newspapers

Smoking

New Mexico has a statewide ban on smoking in places of business. This includes bars and restaurants. The only exceptions are casinos and cigar bars. In addition Albuquerque has banned smoking on all public property except the golf courses.

Consulates

Go next

Abo Ruins, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

North of Albuquerque:

South of Albuquerque:

Routes through Albuquerque

Los Angeles Gallup  W  E  Las Vegas Kansas City
Santa Fe Bernalillo  N  S  Los Lunas Las Cruces
Gallup Grants  W  E  Cedar Crest Tucumcari
Gallup Grants  W  E  Cedar Crest Tucumcari


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 10, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.