Whether you are visiting for a short city break or exploring the desert, discover how best to reach your destination and travel like a pro.
Phoenix and Las Vegas are served by a number of direct international flights. For other Southwest destinations, international visitors and many domestic travelers will have to connect via one of the country’s major hubs, such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver, or Chicago.
Each state in the Southwest has at least one major airport; these include Phoenix Sky Harbor and Tucson International (Arizona), Albuquerque International Sunport (New Mexico), Salt Lake City International Airport (Utah), Denver International Airport (Colorado), and Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport (Nevada). There are regional airports at many locations.
The major airports offer car rental, taxi and private shuttle services such as SuperShuttle and the Arizona Shuttle.
Three Amtrak routes running east to west across the USA make stops in the Southwest. The Southwest Chief runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, stopping at Lamy (with a bus link to Santa Fe) and at Albuquerque, before heading west, via Navajo and Hopi country at Gallup and Winslow, to Flagstaff and Kingman. Running between Chicago and San Francisco, the California Zephyr stops at Green River in southern Utah, about 40 miles (65 km) northwest of Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The Sunset Limited travels from New Orleans through Texas and along the southern sections of New Mexico and Arizona. Stops include Tucson, Maricopa (which has a connecting bus service to Tempe and Phoenix), and Yuma. All three trains are Amtrak Superliners, with two-tier cars, full-length domed windows for viewing the scenery, as well as lounge, restaurant, and snack cars.
Scenic Train Trips
Three historic railroads are a great way to enjoy some of the region’s most delightful scenery. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad runs between Chama in New Mexico and Antonito in Colorado through 64 miles (103 km) of peaks, tunnels, and gorges on a narrow gauge steam locomotive during the summer months. Colorado’s Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad travels through beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery, while the Grand Canyon Railway offers scenic diesel and steam rail trips from Williams to the Grand Canyon.
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Grand Canyon Railway
Greyhound, and a few affiliated companies, links most of the major and many of the smaller towns and cities across the Southwest. Greyhound buses also provide essential links with the major airports and Amtrak services. The Amtrak Thruway is a van and bus service connecting train stops with the major cities. Other useful routes run from Albuquerque and Phoenix airports to places throughout New Mexico and Arizona. Greyhound and other specialist companies, including Gray Line Tucson, also offer package tours, which can provide a more leisurely way of sightseeing in the area without the need to drive long distances.
Gray Line Tucson
Albuquerque’s metropolitan bus system, ABQ Ride, covers most parts of the city, including the airport, Old Town, and University District. New Mexico’s Rail Runner Express runs between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with connections to Sunport International Airport in Albuquerque. In Phoenix, the Valley Metro light rail system passes through the heart of downtown as part of its 26-mile (42-km) run from Camelback Road to the outlying areas of Tempe and Mesa, while downtown Phoenix also has the convenient and free Downtown Dash, which travels between the State Capitol, Arizona Center, and the Civic Plaza from Monday to Friday. Phoenix, Scottsdale, and the rest of the Valley of the Sun are covered by the Valley Metro bus system. In Tucson, the Sun Link Streetcar light rail connects five downtown districts, while the Sun Tran bus system runs through the rest of the city. The Las Vegas Monorail connects to several casinos, shopping centers, and the convention center, while The Deuce bus runs along the Strip and to downtown.
Las Vegas Monorail
Rail Runner Express
Sun Link and Sun Tran
Valley Metro and Downtown Dash
Check the public transportation websites above for each city for fare options and ticket information. Some, such as the Sun Link streetcar in Tucson, do not accept cash on board and tickets must be bought in advance from ticket machines at the stops. Buying pre-paid cards can also give you a reduced fare.
Taxi fares can quickly mount up in large metro-politan areas like Phoenix, especially when there is traffic congestion, and are best confined to a short distance. The main companies are ABQ and zTrip in Albuquerque, Yellow Cab in Arizona, and Desert Cab in Las Vegas. Pickup fees range from $2.50 to $4.50, and fares from $2 per mile and up. Über and Lyft operate in most cities.
Driving is a pleasure in this visually spectacular region. It’s often the only means of reaching remote backcountry areas where you’ll find some of the most interesting archaeological sites and natural geological formations. The entire region is served by a network of well-maintained roads, from multilane highways to winding, scenic routes.
Visitors from abroad must have a full driver’s license that has been issued for at least two years before the date of travel. International Driving Licenses are not required for many countries if your current driver’s license is in Roman script. Contact the rental company before arriving to check current regulations. Some rental companies charge extra to those under 25 years and limit the type of vehicle that can be rented. It is essential to have a credit card to pay the rental deposit.
There are rental car companies all over the Southwest. Most of the major businesses, such as Alamo, Avis, Hertz, Budget, Dollar Rent-A-Car, and Thrifty, have outlets at airports and in towns and cities across the region. If you are planning to arrive at one of the major hubs such as Phoenix or Las Vegas, the least expensive option is to arrange a fly-drive deal. Rates vary from state to state. Be aware that the cheapest rates do not always mean the best deal. Check that the price includes unlimited mileage and basic liability insurance, which is a legal requirement and covers any damage to another car. There is also a rental tax of 10 percent or more.
Collision damage waiver (CDW) saves you from being charged for accidents or any visible defects on the car. Note that this is seldom included when booking your car rental in the US, and adding it can easily double the price of your rental. American drivers are usually covered for CDW on their rental car through their personal car insurance. Foreign drivers should consider booking their car rental before they leave home, as CDW is often included in the package.
Return the car with a full tank of gas, if possible. Most rental cars have automatic transmission, although some companies offer a stick shift. Child seats or cars for travelers with special needs must be arranged in advance.
Rules of the Road
Highway speed limits are set by each state. In the Southwest the speed limit on the major highways varies between 55 mph (90 km/h) and 75 mph (120 km/h) for interstate highways (freeways). Anyone caught speeding will be fined. In cities and in small towns especially, watch for speed limit signs as they can vary from 45 mph (70 km/h) to as little as 15 mph (25 km/h) in school zones. It is illegal to pass a stationary school bus. Heed road signs, especially in remote areas where they may issue warnings about local hazards. There are heavy penalties for those who drink and drive, and the alcohol limit is low.
Get information on US traffic rules from your rental company or the AAA (American Automobile Association). Americans drive on the right. Unless signposted otherwise, you can turn right on a red light if there is no oncoming traffic. At a four-way stop sign, the first vehicle to reach the junction has the right of way. The AAA provides maps.
For travel in remote parts of the Southwest, such as southern Utah’s canyon country or the desert regions of Arizona and New Mexico, it is very important to check your route to see if a 4WD-vehicle is required. Although some backcountry areas now have roads able to carry conventional cars, a 4WD is essential in some wild and remote areas. Motoring organizations and tourist centers can provide information to assess your trip.
There are basic safety points to be observed on any trip of this kind. Plan your route and carry up-to-date maps. When traveling between remote destinations, inform the police or park wardens of your departure and expected arrival times. Check road conditions before you start, and be aware of seasonal dangers such as flash floods in Utah’s canyonlands. Carry plenty of food and water, and a cell (mobile) phone as an added precaution. If you run out of gas or break down, stay with your vehicle, since it offers protection from the elements. If you fail to arrive at the expected time, a search party will look for you.
It is forbidden to remove or damage native flora and fauna. Do not drive off-road, unless in a designated area and especially not on reservation land. If driving an RV, you must stop overnight in designated campgrounds. If you are planning a long trip, be aware that gas stations can be less common than you might expect, so fill your tank before driving across remote areas.
In cities, street parking is generally metered and free spaces can be hard to find. Fees vary. Parking meters may be coin-operated only, but many take credit cards. Parking lots and garages are another option, and can range from $1 for 30 minutes to $30 per day.
Read street signs carefully to determine parking limits and days or hours when no parking is allowed. Residential areas may require a permit. Yellow and red lines along the curb means parking is prohibited.
Cycling is popular throughout the Southwest.Bike rentals are widely available. University cities such as Tucson and Tempe are particularly bike-friendly. You’ll find bike trails in most national and state parks and other recreation areas. Be aware that the strong sun and high desert heat can be debilitating, especially in the summer months. A high-factor sunscreen and sun hat are recommended, as well as carrying plenty of water. Mountain biking is popular too – Moab and Durango are the main centers for this sport. Be sure to acclimatize yourself to a higher altitude if coming from a lower elevation.
Need to know Getting Around
Need to know Getting Around
Need to know Getting Around
|Airport||Distance to city||Taxi fare||Public Transport||Journey time|
|Phoenix||4 miles (6 km)||$30||Bus, light rail||10 mins|
|Tucson||9 miles (14 km)||$27||Bus||15 mins|
|Albuquerque||5 miles (8 km)||$15||Bus||15 mins|
|Las Vegas||10 miles (16 km)||$27||Bus, tram||20 mins|
Need to know Getting Around
Plotting the main train routes according to journey time, this map is a handy reference for traveling between the Southwest’s main cities, towns, and sights by rail. The times reflect the fastest and most direct routes available.
|Albuquerque to Santa Fe||1 hr|
|Flagstaff to Albuquerque||4 hrs 75 mins|
|Flagstaff to Grand Canyon||1 hr 30 mins|
|Flagstaff to Las Vegas||3 hrs 75 mins|
|Las Cruces to Albuquerque||3 hrs 25 mins|
|Phoenix to Flagstaff||2 hrs 25 mins|
|Phoenix to Tucson||1 hr 75 mins|
|Tucson to Las Cruces||4 hrs|