The fragile nature of the windswept village accounts in part for the particularly stringent tourism policies. All visitors must stop at the Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum (Indian Rte. 23, 800/747-0181, www.skycity.com , 8 a.m.–7 p.m. daily May–Oct., 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Nov.–Apr.) on the main road, which houses a small café and shop stocked with local crafts, along with beautiful rotating exhibits on Acoma art and tradition. From here, they must join a guided tour ($10), which transports groups by bus to the village.
The one concession to modernity has been the carving of this road to the top; previously, all goods had to be hauled up the near-vertical cliff faces. The tour lasts one hour, after which visitors must return by bus, or they may hike down one of the old trails, using hand- and footholds dug into the rock centuries ago.
The centerpiece of the village is the Church of San Esteban del Rey, one of the most iconic of the Spanish missions in New Mexico. Built between 1629 and 1640, the graceful, simple structure has been inspiring New Mexican architects ever since. (Visitors are not allowed inside, however, nor into the adjoining cemetery.)
As much as it represents the pinnacle of Hispano-Indian architecture in the 17th century, it’s also a symbol of the Spanish brutality exercised in the early colonial period, as it rose in the typical way: forced labor. The men of Acoma felled and carried the tree trunks for the ceiling beams from the forest on Mt. Taylor, more than 25 miles across the valley, and up the cliff face to the village.
Acoma is well known for its pottery, easily distinguished by the fine black lines that sweep around the curves of the creamy-white vessel; on the best works, the lines are so fine and densely painted they appear almost like a moiré. Additionally, the clay particular to this area can be made extremely thin to create a pot that will hum or ring when you tap it.
Throughout the village, you have opportunities to buy samples. Given the constraints of the tour, this can feel a bit high pressure, but in many cases, you have the privilege of buying a piece directly from the artisan who created it.