An easy drive on I-40 to just an hour west of Albuquerque will provide you with the opportunity to visit a historic pueblo built on a high mesa. The entire Acoma Pueblo has been proclaimed a National Historical Landmark and the Acoma people have rolled out the welcome mat. Once you exit the highway, you’ll enjoy a beautiful drive with rock formations and great scenery. Area Map Driving Directions
Acoma Pueblo’s Sky City is situated on a 370-foot high mesa. This is the traditional homeland for the Acoma people. There are 300 homes and structures on the mesa. The homes are owned by Acoma women as they are passed down in the family matrilineally. Most are occupied seasonally with the families also living in more modern homes in the surrounding valley.
1.5 hour guided tours take visitors up to this amazing place. You will see the picturesque ancient Pueblo, the mission and have a chance to shop for the famous Acoma pottery. The tours are interesting and the time goes by quickly.
The beautiful Cultural Center has an Acoma pottery museum, cafe with traditional food, gift shop and restrooms. In the courtyard of the Cultural Center there often are Acoma vendors with pottery and jewelry. Acoma Pueblo is the most accessible of the 21 pueblos. They are truly set up to welcome visitors.
Tips for Touring the Pueblo
There are days the pueblo is normally closed and so it is best to check the dates on the website. In addition to annual closures, unannounced cultural events or weather issues may affect tour times. Call 800-747-0181 between 8a.m. to 5p.m. with specific questions prior to your visit.
Be sure and plan your arrival way before closing. Tours run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and can fill fast in the tourist season. You will check in at the admissions counter in the Cultural Center to sign up and pay for your tour. Be sure and do this as soon as you arrive.
Fees are range from $23.00 for an adult to $15.00 for a child. There are various discounts and tour options as outlined on the Sky City website. Note also that there is a fee to carry a camera. In 2015 it was $13.00. Credit cards are accepted. List of charges.
Once you have your ticket and camera pass, an air-conditioned shuttle will take you up the hill and a knowledgeable Acoma guide will take you around the village, through the mission and past many pottery vendors. If you want to linger and take some time to select and purchase pottery, they have special guides for shoppers. Just ask.
Streets are uneven. Wear comfortable, flat shoes, use sunscreen and wear a hat. Modest dress is recommended (no short shorts or tank tops). You’ll be expected to stay with your guide as you walk from section to section. Photos (but not recordings or video) are permitted with a camera permit you purchase at the Cultural Center. More on Visitor Etiquette.
You’ll learn much on the tour. Listen and be respectful of the history and values of the Acoma people. The history of the pueblo has not always been one of peace and you will get a sense of that as the guide narrates the history of the Pueblo. The story of the building of the Mission is an amazing one. The mission church was built by the Acoma men under the supervision of the Spanish friars. The church’s massive pine vigas (roof beams) had to be carried for 30 miles on the shoulders of multiple Acoma men, who were not allowed to let them touch the ground during the entire journey. This was in keeping with their tradition of bringing in poles for constructing Kivas.
It’s a great place to enjoy looking at Acoma pottery and for purchasing some. There are both very fine pots and small tourist items for sale. Be sure and ask the vendors if the pot is ceramic or traditionally made (coil method), the latter are more collectible and, of course, more expensive. It is ok to bargain respectfully. Buying directly from the artist is the way to go.
The vistas from the mesa are stunning. As you look over the side, you’ll not only marvel at the scenic beauty but at the hard life the early people led as they carried water and goods up from the valley floor. There was no access road in the old days! That was built when a movie crew wanted to use the Pueblo for a film location.
After the tour you will have the option to stay and shop awhile with a vendor guide, return on the shuttle, walk back to the Cultural Center via the road, or if you are fairly fit and are wearing sturdy walking shoes, consider taking the ancient steps down from the top of the mesa to the road. These steps and hand-holds carved into the rocks used to be the only way that the Acoma people could get up and down from the Pueblo. I took the stairs one summer and found the descent a special experience. I have to add that my thigh muscles ached a bit the next day! Be careful if you take the stairs.
Before or after the tour, make sure you take time to visit the museum, view video presentations, eat at the cafe and check out the gift shop. The Cultural Center is an attraction in itself. It is a beautiful building.
The Yaak’a Café is an ideal stop for lunch during your visit. You will be pleasantly surprised at their Native American fusion menu. Try the stews… they are amazing!
Hotel and Casino
The Acoma people have built a small hotel and casino just off I-40. The rooms are simple, yet comfortable. Many have been upgraded. There is a buffet restaurant and two bars on premises. The Sky City Hotel is reasonably priced and convenient for those wanting to visit the Pueblo. There is also a RV Park with full hook ups.
We went to Acoma Pueblo as part of a Grand Circle experience with Southwest Adventure Tours. There are also day tours from Albuquerque like Follow The Sun, Inc., which will take you to the Pueblo.
Acoma Sky City Website
New Mexico Tourism
Southwest Adventure Tours
Grand Circle Association
This experience was part of a Grand Circle tour provided by Southwest Adventure Tours and hosted by the members of the Grand Circle Association. While this has not influenced this content, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.