Sprawling at the heart of New Mexico, where the east–west road and rail routes cross both the Rio Grande and the old road south to Mexico, ALBUQUERQUE is, with half a million people, the state’s only major metropolis. The “Duke City” may have grown a bit fast for comfort, but the original Hispanic settlement is still discernible at its core and its diverse population gives it a rare cultural vibrancy. Even if its architecture is often uninspired, the setting is magnificent, sandwiched between the Rio Grande and the glowing Sandia Mountains. Specific highlights include the intact Spanish plaza, the neon-lit Route 66 frontage of Central Avenue and the excellent Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre, while every October Albuquerque hosts the nation’s largest hot-air balloon rally. Although the huge international popularity of TV’s Breaking Bad has certainly boosted tourism, no specific locations from the series are worth visiting – not that that’s stopped local entrepreneurs from offering tours, or indeed selling “blue meth” bath salts and candies.

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