Five Places to Experience Arizona’s Indigenous Culture

Learn the history and traditions of these desert lands  

Photo: Flickr/Gilliamhome

Home to 22 recognized Native American tribes, it’s no wonder Arizona is a hub for Native American tourism. If you’re trekking south to this sunny state, there are a slew of indigenous cultural experiences right at your feet.

Haute Hotel

Check in to the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa in Chandler, a luxurious hotel that’s owned by the Gila River Indian Community and overlooks a beautiful tract of desert where wild horses still roam free. Every aspect of the hotel is designed to celebrate the heritage and cultural teachings of the Pima (Akimel O'otham) and Maricopa (Pee-Posh) tribes. Savour exquisite indigenous-inspired dishes at Ko’Sin (Pima for “kitchen”) or Kai (Pima for “seed”), the hotel’s signature restaurants.

Holistic Healing at Aji Spa & Salon

Get pampered at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa’s Aji Spa & Salon—Arizona’s only Native American-owned spa. Meaning “sanctuary” in the Pima language, the spa offers soothing treatments inspired by ancient legends and sacred healing traditions.

Feast on Fry Bread

Follow your nose (and rumbling belly) to Phoenix’s Fry Bread House, a no-frills eatery serving warm, doughy fry bread topped with red chili, beans, chocolate and butter, or whatever is on special. This spot looks ordinary, but it’s the first Native American restaurant to ever receive the James Beard American Classics Award.

An Indigenous Art Crawl

Phoenix’s Heard Museum is one of the country’s leading museums showcasing the arts, heritage and living cultures of indigenous peoples. Dedicate a full day to absorb the museum’s impressive collections, including a Hopi kachina doll gallery, Navajo and Zuni jewelry, and 4,000 works of fine art.

To appreciate some ancient art, take a thrilling Jeep ride through the desert with Pink Jeep Tours to Sedona’s Honanki Heritage Site—a pre-historic cliff dwelling and rock art site once home to the Sinagua and Hopi tribes. The stone ruins and petroglyphs—some dating back to 2000 BC—are gobsmacking.

Kayak or Horseback Across Tribal Territory

Near Mesa, ride on horseback across the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation with Fort McDowell Adventures. You’ll encounter the Sonoran Desert’s wildlife and lush vegetation, as well as the Verde River. For centuries, these tranquil waters served as the life-blood of the desert and the tribe.

Or go for a guided paddle with Arizona Outback Adventures along the Lower Salt River, straddling the border of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. From your kayak, marvel at the majestic red cliffs (including the sacred Red Mountain) and, if you’re lucky, bald eagles and wild horses.