While you could conceivably explore Santa Fe , Taos , and Albuquerque  for several weeks, seeking out ever more obscure hiking trails and sweeping vistas, 12 days gives just enough time to appreciate the distinct character of each community and enjoy the surrounding rural areas and bumpy back roads. This itinerary involves a lot of driving to cover all of the area’s most scenic routes, but you’ll still have plenty of opportunities for leisurely lunches and other out-of-car activities.
Arrive at Albuquerque’s Sunport airport; transfer directly to Santa Fe . If you want old-school style, stay at La Fonda —it’s that much easier to get to bed after dinner at The Shed  nearby and a margarita in the hotel lobby bar.
Around happy hour, wander down to the Dragon Room Lounge  on Old Santa Fe Trail, and then have a casual dinner at Upper Crust Pizza  across the street while you watch the sun glow on San Miguel Chapel .
Take in Santa Fe’s more contemporary culture, with shopping, gallery hopping, or a visit to the Museum of International Folk Art . End up on Canyon Road , with drinks and tapas, and maybe even dancing at El Farol .
Drive to Bandelier National Monument  to see the ancestral Puebloan ruins. Have a late lunch on “the hill” in Los Alamos  or down in the valley in Española . If you’re up to more driving, head for Abiquiu , where the cliffs glow red in the sunset. Return to Santa Fe to sleep.
Drive to Taos  via the high road, stopping at the pilgrimage site of Chimayó  and in the villages of Truchas  and Las Trampas . In Taos, head to the Stakeout Grill & Bar  for an early dinner and a view of the sunset, and then settle into your hotel after a de rigueur margarita at the Adobe Bar .
Start with breakfast at Gutiz  or a pastry from Loka , and then stop by San Francisco de Asis Church , followed by a tour of La Hacienda de los Martinez . Stop for lunch in Arroyo Seco , at Maverick County Food Co. , and then head up the mountain for a hike.
Visit Taos Pueblo . Then check out some other indigenous architecture: Tour an Earthship on the Solar Survival Tour at Greater World Earthship Development , pausing to peer down into the Rio Grande Gorge  on the way. Have dinner at Lambert’s , Taos’s favorite white-tablecloth spot.
Pack a picnic lunch and take a leisurely drive around the Enchanted Circle , stopping for a hike along the back side of Wheeler Peak. Depending on your timing, you can get your green-chile fix in Questa  or back in Taos at Orlando’s .
Fueled with a to-go breakfast burrito from Mante’s Chow Cart , drive down to Albuquerque  via the low road along the Rio Grande, then along the Turquoise Trail , stopping for lunch in Madrid  and at Tinkertown Museum . Stay the night in Albuquerque, either at the Mauger Estate  near downtown or in a rural-feeling Corrales B&B.
Weather permitting, take a hot-air balloon ride first thing in the morning and then have breakfast at Sophia’s Place . Or start with a hearty meal and then take a bike ride along the Paseo del Bosque . In the afternoon, visit the National Hispanic Cultural Center .
Have a big breakfast at The Frontier  before catching your plane out of the Albuquerque airport.