Travel

Thousands of Farolitos Light Up This New Mexico Town This Christmas Season

In Albuquerque, gaze at this seasonal display of lanterns, see flamenco dancers, hit the bike trails, and more.

Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash
Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash
Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash

Thanks to a certain television series (or two), Albuquerque’s tourism sector draws plenty of curious travelers discovering the area for the first time. But any resident will tell you that ABQ was worth visiting long before anyone wanted to check out Jesse Pinkman’s house. In fact, the city has always been one of the Southwest’s most underrated gems, teeming with culture, exceptional dining, and award-winning bars.

It’s incredibly easy to spend a weekend in ABQ: The drive from Phoenix is very straightforward, and the airport is small and simple to navigate with quick flights from Phoenix. However you do it, get to ABQ and experience it for yourself: You’ll wonder why you’ve never been before.

Travel Time:

6.5 hours from Phoenix, Arizona by car.
6.5 hours from Denver, Colorado by car.

Courtesy of MarbleStreetStudio.com via Visit Albuquerque
Courtesy of MarbleStreetStudio.com via Visit Albuquerque
Courtesy of MarbleStreetStudio.com via Visit Albuquerque

If you don’t do anything else: Celebrate Las Posadas at Christmastime

The strong religious and cultural influences of Mexico and Spain are most prominent during the holiday season, when the Las Posadas celebration is in full swing. The Christmas season event found across Mexico is traditionally celebrated for nine days, from December 16 through December 24, to represent the nine months Jesus was in the womb. In Albuquerque, most locals only celebrate on Christmas Eve, when carolers go door to door acting out the story of Mary and Joseph. Everyone also celebrates with food and more music. Check local parishes, including the historic San Felipe de Neri, for Las Posadas processional events.

All over Old Town, you can find luminaria (also called farolito) displays, which are small paper lanterns commonly used to decorate at Christmas. Old Town, the first neighborhood of Albuquerque, has been the heart of the city for over three centuries, so take some time to stroll around the area and enjoy the glowing lights.

Photo by Kyle Hinkson on Unsplash
Photo by Kyle Hinkson on Unsplash
Photo by Kyle Hinkson on Unsplash

Fill your days:

Outdoors activities in Albuquerque

Albuquerque is the land of the balloon (and host of world’s biggest hot air balloon festival each year). Visitors can set sail in the colorfully topped baskets, with plenty of outlets offering the experience. The largest of those, Rainbow Ryders, has over 40 years of providing hot air balloon experiences under its belt. You can do sunrise or sunset flights, but it is very hard to beat the quiet simplicity of sun rays rising over the Sandia Mountains.

With over 400 miles of paths and trails, it’s also easy to soak up the city on two wheels. Start with the 16-mile-long Paseo del Bosque Trail, popular for its mix of both natural and cultural landmarks to stop and explore. Didn’t bring a bike? There are plenty of rental shops around and if you fancy a guided tour instead of a solo ride most offer those too. Routes Bicycle Tours and Rentals offers a full range of rental bikes plus numerous tour options that even very casual bicyclists can enjoy, including the most delectable ABQ Bike and Taco Tour.

Courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department | Visit Albuquerque
Courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department | Visit Albuquerque
Courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department | Visit Albuquerque

Cultural destinations in Albuquerque

Albuquerque is North America’s flamenco capital-and the University of New Mexico even offers a minor in it. The National Institute of Flamenco offers plenty of opportunities to experience the highly expressive Spanish dance yourself, including Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque shows every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Hotel Albuquerque’s intimate and purposefully built flamenco space. The Friday and Saturday shows include a four-course, prix fixe Spanish dinner.

For a look into Albuquerque’s Native heritage, head to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The center provides a fascinating look into the history of New Mexico’s Pueblo tribes, along with pieces by Pueblo artists and vivid murals around the complex. You can also try some Indigenous dishes at the onsite restaurant, Indian Pueblo Kitchen, or at least take a treat home from the bakery case.

Meanwhile, the National Hispanic Cultural Center is a great way to both enjoy community events and learn about Hispanic influences. The campus is huge, with a performing arts center, art museum, and educational building, but one of the most unique parts is the library. Its impressive historical collection includes a substantial genealogy room, with materials that can help those with Hispanic heritage trace their roots.

Courtesy Sawhill Market
Courtesy Sawhill Market
Courtesy Sawhill Market

Eat, drink, and sleep

Restaurants and bars in Albuquerque

With a cuisine rich in flavors that bring together Spanish, Mexican, and Indigenous influences, it’s virtually impossible to not get amazing food in Albuquerque. Start your day with some seriously delicious and old school New Mexican food at Barelas Coffee House. The small restaurant has been serving the local community for decades, and you can’t miss the huevos rancheros or carne adovada for breakfast.

Head to Campo at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm for one of the most in-demand dinner reservations in town-rightfully so, because the menu is loaded with local ingredients. For something a little more laidback, try Sawmill Market, the state’s first food hall. It houses 27 local merchants hawking cocktails, wine, and beer; Mexican street fare like crispy, chocolate-dipped churros; and the unmatchable red and green chile emblematic of New Mexican cuisine. For a more modern take, try rooftop restaurant Level 5, where executive chef Marc Quinoñes spins a refreshing take on New Mexican ingredients. It’s the perfect place to take in the view of the city alongside sunset cocktails and fried quail coated in blue corn and buttermilk. Plus, there’s a killer chicken wing decked out in a piñon gremolata.

To satisfy a sweet craving, something legendary should do the trick: Try Golden Crown Panaderia for scratch-made biscochitos. New Mexico’s state cookie since 1989, the shortbread-like sweets are rich with flavors of anise, sugar, and cinnamon. The decades-old institution even installed a cookie ATM so customers could get their biscochito fix 24/7. (Don’t pass up the pizza with green chile crust either.)

The bar scene in ABQ is strong. This year, Tales of the Cocktail named the bar team at Happy Accidents. With in-house distillation and a hyper-focus on cocktail perfection, it’s absolutely worth checking out. Plus, its Central Avenue location makes it a great launchpad to check out some of the other bars in town. Stop in at Teddy Roe’s and sip on the seasonally changing That Good Vodka Drink while you check out the historical articles and pictures dotting the small speakeasy. For a good craft beer, head to Bow and Arrow Brewing Co., a German-style beer hall founded by two Native females offering a rotating selection of local brews. And to get a fill of local gin and wine, try Town and Ranch Lounge, which is owned by Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm. The onsite distillery’s two gins are available alongside thoughtfully created cocktails and New Mexican wines.

Courtesy of Los Poblanos
Courtesy of Los Poblanos
Courtesy of Los Poblanos

Where to stay in Albuquerque

To stay near the historic Old Town of Albuquerque, book a room at either Hotel Chaco or Hotel Albuquerque. Sitting next to each other, both luxury hotels are just a 10-minute walk to the shops and restaurants of Old Town, as well as the Sawmill Market. For some peace and quiet outside of town, stay at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm, where the rooms look onto lavender fields and peacocks wake up guests. And to be in the heart of Route 66 and Nob Hill, stay at the very eclectic and fun Hotel Zazz, which features bright colors, retro finishes, a disco ice machine room, a magic giraffe statue that opens a secret bar door, and more to make it unlike anywhere else you’ve ever stayed.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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