Traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico, on a Budget

If you’ve never considered going to Santa Fe, you might have the wrong impression already. What many think of as a dry, arid town in a desert is actually a vibrant, historic town with relaxing temperatures in every season and attractions all year long. It’s also one of the best places to visit in USA if you’re looking to both go on vacation and not go into massive debt.

From local museums to self-guided tours and tons of nearby outdoor activity, Santa Fe is an affordable way to visit a new place with tons of unique attractions. While not necessarily a hidden gem, it is a popular city in New Mexico that might not initially come to mind when you’re planning your next big trip.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe

Below are our best tips for making the most of your trip on a budget.

What to Do in Santa Fe?

Now let’s get down to the reason for this or any trip: the stuff you’ll see and do while you’re there. From visiting historical sites or museums to hiking to shopping, there is plenty to do no matter what you’re in the mood for. Depending on your budget, you can pick and choose which activities make the most sense for you.

1. San Miguel Chapel

The oldest church in the United States is in Santa Fe, which is pretty cool regardless of your religious affiliation.

2. George O’Keeffe

For museum and art gallery enthusiasts, you’re planning a trip to one of the lesser known but biggest hubs in the nation. With the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, and the George O’Keeffe Museum (and many more), you can get your fill of beautiful, historic art and artists in only a few days (or just one day, if you’re very ambitious).

Museums, of course, cost money, so check for local specials or packages if you’re trying to save money and visit as many as possible. At Museum Hill, you can spend $12 for a pass, good for each of the five museums located there.

In downtown, you can enjoy shops of all kinds, though if you’re on a budget, you’ll want to be careful. While the city is known for some amazing Mexican food, you can also get your lunches and dinners via street food fenders boasting incredible fajitas and burritos in the city square to save some cash.

3. Historic Walks of Santa Fe

Speaking of driving, Santa Fe is an extremely walkable town. You can get through all of the main historic areas in downtown Santa Fe in only thirty minutes to an hour if you’re not stopping to enjoy the scenery and attractions. If you’re flying into town, you can save money not renting a car by paying a little more for your lodging so that you’re right in the middle of the action.

If you are driving into town and you’re a fairly active person, you can get pretty much everywhere by either walking or riding a bike. If you don’t feel like hauling your bike across state lines to ride, you can always rent one on a daily basis at a local shop like Mellow Velo. Basically, there are plenty of options to get around Santa Fe and, unlike many other, larger cities, the city is small enough to enjoy without spending tons of time in the car.

Nearby Attractions in Santa Fe

Finally, if you want to spend the majority of your time in the great outdoors instead, the nearby area is perfect for you. In any season, the Santa Fe National Forest includes a wide variety of trails ranging from amateur to expert, and can be traversed and enjoyed for basically your entire trip if you’re brave and strong enough.

In October, you can drive an hour to nearby Albuquerque for the famous hot air balloon festival, though you’ll have to wait until 2021, as this year’s has been postponed.

Seasons of Santa Fe

One of the many reasons people visit Santa Fe and northern New Mexico in general is that, despite it being a desert, it’s actually a relief from most summer climates. Strangely enough, being in a desert and mountainous region means less humidity (close to none) which leads to lower temperatures during the day, with highs in the 80s even in August, and really cool nights.

In the fall and winter, the temperatures drop dramatically, even leading to snowfall, but it doesn’t get as brutally cold as it does in more northern areas where the wind feels like it’s going to melt your teeth. What we’re saying is, Santa Fe is a great middle ground, as its extremes on both ends are more temperate than in other nearby cities and states.

If you’re asking, “When should I visit Santa Fe?” the answer is, whenever you want! It’s great all year long.

The Layout of Santa Fe

Before visiting any place, it’s good to figure out where everything is so you’re not spending a big chunk of your vacation time lost and confused. Santa Fe is a unique city in that most of its attractions are located in the center of town and they sort of spread outward from there like a spiderweb. The farther you get from the city center, the less there is to see (unless you enjoy seeing residential areas when you vacation, which, no judgment).

Once you get outside the actual city, you’ll find yourself in either gorgeous, rocky desert or forested mountains. In this way, you get to see the best of the great outdoors as well as historical sites and museums and shopping centers. The city has something for everyone.

Where to Sleep in Santa Fe

Now onto our budgetary needs. In almost any case, the hardest pill to swallow when traveling is the cost of wherever you’re staying. Most hotels cost at least $100-150 per night, which means in a 7-day trip, you’re going to end up spending close to $1,000 on lodging alone. While there’s no getting around paying something to sleep somewhere, there are a few more affordable options.

First of all, the rise of rental sites like AirBnB and VRBO have created great options for anyone who absolutely needs a place indoors but doesn’t want to break the bank. While rentals close to the heart of downtown Santa Fe are likely going to lean closer to hotel costs, there are options farther out that will be a bit cheaper.

Going beyond that, it’s easy to forget that Santa Fe is right next to the Santa Fe National Forest, which offers a wide variety of camping areas at a much more reasonable price. However, with this option, you’ll need to drive more to get back into town.

Santa Fe includes something for everyone, and traveling there on a budget means enjoying the sights and sounds without necessarily paying for every single attraction that the city has to offer. There are so many free or low-cost attractions that you can enjoy a busy, active trip without spending a fortune.
Kalyan Panja