Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The Land of Enchantment
The light is different here. The air is different here. The colors are different here. And the aura is different here. –Ouray Meyers
Meeting attendees and others who have been to New Mexico know what this means. There’s a spirituality, landscape, history and mix of cultures that’s unlike any other place in America.
Fortunately for meeting planners, New Mexico also has an excellent meetings infrastructure, especially in the two main cities, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and in the state’s most noted resorts. As a bonus, meetings can be immersive experiences in this fascinating backdrop of history and cultures.
You can hold them amid highly sophisticated cities, world-renowned art towns and fascinating Native American pueblos. (Many New Mexicans, including Native Americans, still use the word “Indians.”) Meetings also can be set in forests, mountains and high desert that seemingly stretches into endless horizons.
It’s easy to see why New Mexico is often called the Land of Enchantment.
Here are some of the top resorts and hotels in Albuquerque and Santa Fe where meetings and conventions can be especially memorable.
1,000-year-old rock painting at Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque
Albuquerque is a thriving city of nearly 840,000, backed by the multihued peaks of the Sandia Mountains. The city has a surprising number of museums, from classic to funky; interesting restaurants; trendy neighborhoods and entertainment districts; and world-class events such as Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. You can find 1,000-year-old rock paintings right in town, at Petroglyph National Monument.
“Albuquerque is a Southwestern gem, with a culture rooted in centuries of history, and influences from its Spanish heritage and the Native American surroundings,” says Richard Berry, mayor of Albuquerque.
He adds that meeting planners and attendees love Albuquerque because it’s so different from any other city in America—and because of the quality and diversity of its meeting facilities.
“The city also has a multiethnic culture that’s reflected in our arts and in our foods, [in places] ranging from the traditional Old Town to our urban Downtown District,” Berry says. “There’s so much for attendees to experience, and the great outdoors is literally right outside your door, with the beauty of the Sandia Mountains to our east and the high desert to the west.”
Old Town is the site of the original 1706 Albuquerque settlement, named in honor of Francisco, Duke of Albuquerque, who was viceroy of New Spain. It doesn’t look much different now. Groups can wander among interesting shops and restaurants, and historic sites such as the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, built in 1793. Attendees can also visit art galleries and if they’re lucky, Native American craftspeople displaying their beautiful jewelry, blankets and weavings at Old Town Plaza.
At Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, planners can take advantage of some interesting meeting spaces. For example, La Capilla de San Ysidro wedding chapel, featuring early New Mexico-style architecture, is used for presentations and breakout sessions, as is Franciscan Ballroom, a recently renovated, Pueblo-style meeting room.
The property, which boasts 188 guest rooms and 62,000 sq. ft. of event space, is also proud of its Garduno’s at Old Town Restaurant & Cantina, known for excellent cuisine and a patio-dining option. The hotel is owned by Albuquerque-based Heritage Hotels & Resorts, which has nine upscale hotels around the state, all of which feature New Mexico art, handicrafts and design accents.
Laura Teasdale, senior meeting planner with St. Louis-based American Optometric Association, held a President’s Council meeting for 180 attendees at Hotel Albuquerque in January.
“Albuquerque is a compact city that’s easy to get around and very economical,” Teasdale says. “And Hotel Albuquerque was a great place to hold our meeting. I can’t say enough about the professionalism of the staff.
“There’s so much to see and do in Albuquerque…interesting history and cuisine, and the beauty of the mountains right outside of town. In fact, many of our attendees came early or stayed late.”
Hotel Chaco rendering, Albuquerque
Heritage Hotels & Resorts is about to add another jewel to its collection. Hotel Chaco will be the company’s 10th New Mexico property. Like the other Heritage resorts, the Chaco, opening next May, will provide a distinctly New Mexican experience with first-class amenities.
Designed in the calming motif of the ancient Chaco settlements, it will feature a spa and fitness center along with a penthouse/rooftop restaurant offering spectacular mountain and city views. The Chaco will offer 118 guest rooms and 41,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and its location, next to Hotel Albuquerque, will afford planners the option of using both.
Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, with a distinctive pyramid top lighting up the skyline at night, is the second-tallest building—and the tallest hotel—in New Mexico. It has a list of amenities just as long, among them award-winning Forque Kitchen & Bar, a rooftop pool with stunning views of city and mountains, a 24-hour fitness center and spa services.
With 395 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, the hotel is within walking distance of Albuquerque Convention Center, and close to attractions such as Old Town, The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History and Petroglyphs National Monument.
Isleta Resort & Casino is one of several resorts owned and operated by New Mexico’s 19 Native American pueblos, in this case Pueblo of Isleta. Located a few miles south of downtown, with some 5,000 residents, it’s one of the largest pueblos in eastern New Mexico, and guarantees a colorful dose of native culture.
The 201-room Isleta Resort boasts myriad modern activities for attendees, as well. There’s gaming, of course, along with outstanding entertainers. The property also features an excellent spa, 27 holes at Isleta Golf Club, six eateries and lounges, and games such as bowling, billiards and laser tag at the Fun Connection. Isleta also provides 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Just outside the city, at the base of the dramatic Sandia range, sits Sandia Resort & Casino. Operated by Pueblo of Sandia, this resort mixes the spirituality and tradition of the Sandia people with every amenity a planner could want.
Along with 228 guest rooms and 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, Sandia offers seven dining options (including private dining), a pool and hot tubs, fire pits, championship golf, the full-service Green Reed Spa, a Las Vegas-style casino, a parade of well-known entertainers and drop-dead views of mountains or city skyline.
Alex Shelton, vice president of convention sales, services and sports at Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, boasts about Albuquerque’s uniqueness.
“Albuquerque is a desirable destination for meetings because it’s an authentic Southwest experience rich in architecture, culture and cuisine,” Shelton says. “We offer 310 days of sunshine a year, and a truly unique history. Planners have an opportunity to stage their meetings in a place with immersive, memorable experiences and breathtaking scenery.
Downtown Albuquerque offers planners many options to hold an event. The convention center recently completed a $23 million renovation. Next year, new entertainment areas will open downtown, along with an upscale hotel in Old Town.
“Meeting attendees want experiences at their meetings these days…and there’s no city in America that can offer experiences quite like Albuquerque’s,” Shelton says.
Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, Santa Fe
With a population of about 75,000, Santa Fe is one of the smaller state capitals in the United States. But it has the cultural and artistic panache of a much larger city, as well as a history going back further than any other state capital (it was founded in 1607).
In Santa Fe, you’ll find some of the finest art galleries in the West, some of the most unique shops, distinctive cultural offerings (such as The Santa Fe Opera), Colonial-style hotels, authentic Southwest restaurants, vibrant street life and great festivals. It all surrounds centuries-old Santa Fe Plaza, which is still the heart of the city, holding the nation’s largest native arts market every August and featuring plenty of native craftspeople all year long.
Santa Fe is an adobe city; in fact, it’s hard to find a street here without adobe structures. The city has another distinction, as well—it features the only round state capitol building in America.
“For centuries, Santa Fe has been the trading hub of the West, a legacy that continues to this day,” says Mayor Javier M. Gonzales. “And the plaza is a Southwestern icon, with lodging, dining, cultural and spiritual [offerings], all just two blocks from Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
“We receive all kinds of media awards for our city as a destination—for its art, cuisine, culture, hotels, wellness, shopping and access to the great outdoors. We’re a cosmopolitan city, but we’re also still a small town at the end of three famous trails, where you can walk to renowned landmarks, discover our highly distinct cultures…and find all the inspiration you need for your attendees.”
AAA Four Diamond Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder features plenty of options for meeting planners. Just outside of town, the pueblo-style resort sits amid high desert and sandy hills. The 396 guest rooms and 66,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space are designed in a luxurious Southwest style.
Attendees can tee ’em up and hit ’em out at 27 holes of great golf. They can enjoy sports events and big-time entertainers. The four restaurants range from upscale and Southwestern to casual buffet. The Wo’ P’in Spa can help attendees work out post-meeting kinks. There are also several nice shops, along with a resort-wide collection of authentic Southwestern art.
Adobe-style Eldorado Hotel & Spa is one of four Santa Fe properties owned by Heritage Hotels & Resorts. It has all the luxuries you would expect from an AAA Four Diamond hotel.
Your group can energize at the rooftop pool or the fitness center, indulge in award-winning cuisine at Old House Restaurant and then listen to live entertainment at Cava Santa Fe Lounge. If you’re looking to stage a special event, you can stage it on the rooftop, with breathtaking views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
At Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, the views of the mountains and the deep-green forests seem to roll on forever. So does the list of amenities at this 65-room resort with 13,658 sq. ft. of meeting space. The luxurious spa features a variety of Native American treatments. Terra is one of the most renowned restaurants in New Mexico, specializing in locally sourced specialties.
The Aspen Ballroom leads to a private terrace under desert stars. There, the scent of the ubiquitous pinon tree fills the air, and the mountain sunsets look like Impressionist paintings. Travel & Leisure named Four Seasons one of the Top 50 U.S. Destination Resorts.
Hotel Santa Fe The Hacienda & Spa has been offering an immersive experience for 25 years. This authentic pueblo structure is in the exciting Railyard District, surrounded by shops, galleries, restaurants and nightspots. There are 163 guest rooms, including 35 extra-lavish rooms at The Hacienda. Its 8,627 sq. ft. of meeting space combines New Mexico ambience with advanced technology. There are outstanding native art and cultural touches everywhere you look.
“We find Hotel Santa Fe to be the perfect place for training,” says Donna Deardorff, CRA, administrator for the Center for Child & Human Development at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC. She’s been bringing groups of 30 to 50 attendees to this hotel for 15 years, including a meeting in June.
“We love Santa Fe…the whole place pulses with culture and a very unique ambience, and it’s a wonderful environment for learning,” Deardorff adds. “It has a great location, right in the Railyard District, and the plaza is a short walk away. So much of what makes Santa Fe, Santa Fe is within walking distance.”
Steve Winston is an award-winning writer who has traveled extensively and writes for national and international magazines.
The Turquoise Trail
At one time, the most productive turquoise mines on Earth were strung out along the 50-mile Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Today, the mines are gone, but the trail is still strung with a collection of atmospheric Old West towns and the dramatic towering peaks of the Sandia Range.
Heading north from Albuquerque, the first town—more like a hamlet, really—is Tijeras, gateway to the trail as well as to Cibola National Forest. Next is Cedar Crest, where your group will get a good feel for ancient life along the trail at the Museum of Archaeology & Material Culture.
Groups follow the winding road through Cibola National Forest and come to the town of Sandia Park, where they can stop at Tinkertown Museum. Not only does it have one of the greatest collections of American pop culture in the world, but it probably can also claim the title of Funkiest Museum in America.
Then, attendees will come to the crossroads/village of Golden, site of the first Gold Rush west of the Mississippi, in 1825. They continue rolling through these tiny towns, coming upon one magnificent mountain vista after another.
Next is Madrid (emphasis on the “Ma”), population 400, including many off-beat artists who came here on the way to somewhere else 20 or 30 years ago, but never left. Madrid has a main street with a wood-plank sidewalk dotted with a colorful collection of galleries, wooden-shack artists’ studios, eateries, coffeehouses and even an old-time ice cream parlor called Jezebel Soda Fountain.
North of Madrid, the town of Cerrillos (pictured) looks much as it did in the 1800s, which is probably why Young Guns II was filmed there.
The Turquoise Trail may not have turquoise any longer, but it’s still a precious jewel.
A Superb Venue Off the Beaten Path
Kayaking (Photo by Jeff Dow)
Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino—located in Mescalero, 214 miles south of Albuquerque—is owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, and set amid the mountains, forests and lakes of its reservation, not far from the town of Ruidoso. The majestic natural setting of these tribal lands echoes the tradition and the sacred spots of an ancient culture.
Ancient culture notwithstanding, this resort has dozens of things to do. There’s a stylish casino, championship golf, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, boating and big-game hunting in the spring and summer; skiing and snowboarding in winter; and ziplining all year long. Your attendees can choose from among seven eateries. In the evening, there are lounges, nightclubs and comedy clubs.
Everywhere on property, attendees will be immersed in the art, culture and tradition of the Mescalero tribe. By day, they can meet in 45,000 sq. ft. of space, and at night, they can sleep in 273 guest rooms. Breathtaking views are standard.
Major Meeting Venues
Albuquerque Convention Center
Recently completed a $23 million renovation; technological and design upgrades in event spaces; adjacent to events and entertainment at Civic Plaza; 270,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town
Landmark hotel was first property of Albuquerque-based Heritage Hotels & Resorts; 188 guest rooms; 62,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including recently renovated Franciscan Ballroom and 300-year-old adobe hacienda.
Hyatt Regency Albuquerque
Second-tallest building in New Mexico; anchors Albuquerque skyline; surrounded by Route 66 Entertainment District restaurants and nightlife; Forque Kitchen features Southwestern cuisine; 395 guest rooms; 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Isleta Resort & Casino
Owned by the 5,000-member Pueblo of Isleta; Isleta Showroom has great entertainment; Fun Connection offers bowling, other games; pool, hot tub; spa; 27 holes of golf; 201 guest rooms; 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Sandia Resort & Casino
Operated by the Pueblo of Sandia; close to the city and mountains; gourmet rooftop restaurant; championship golf course, spa and salon services; 228 guest rooms; 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.
Eldorado Hotel & Spa
A Heritage Hotels & Resorts property; near plaza; 2015 updates include new 7,000-square-foot ballroom; Nidah Spa; award-winning Old House Restaurant; 219 guest rooms; 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe
First Four Seasons resort in New Mexico; guest rooms feature wood-burning fireplaces; elegant spa; renowned Terra restaurant, with James Beard-nominated chef, has great views; 65 guest rooms; 13,658 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder
A 15-minute drive from Santa Fe Plaza; AAA Four Diamond property; casino; indoor and outdoor pools; golf; tennis; Wo’ P’in Spa; excellent art throughout resort; four restaurants; 396 guest rooms; 66,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hotel Santa Fe The Hacienda & Spa
Luxurious hotel in Railyard District; near shops, entertainment, dining; 3 acres of lush gardens and trees; Native American art; pool and hot tub; 163 guest rooms; 8,627 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Santa Fe Community Convention Center
Adobe architecture is true to Santa Fe’s soul; LEED certified; Navajo rugs; Spanish Colonial accents; convenient to plaza, shops, galleries and 1,700 hotel rooms; 72,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.