The International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta happens every year in Albuquerque, New Mexico during the second week in October. The very first hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque was in 1972 when 13 balloons went up at the same time from the Coronado Shopping Center to promote a local radio show. It has now blossomed into the largest hot air balloon festival in the world, with over 600 balloons and 1000 pilots flying each year from all over the globe.
Albuquerque is a prime spot for ballooning due to the “Albuquerque Box” where wind patterns allow pilots to have better control over the balloons. Since ballooning is so popular and a main tourist attraction to the area, it is legal for balloons to land wherever they want.
How To Get There
The first day of the festival, a coworker and I decided to get up very early at 4:30am, and try to drive and park there. We didn’t make it. With this being one of the largest events in Albuquerque, I highly recommend taking the shuttle. It’s $15 and includes your entry ticket. While you can drive there and park, tickets cost $10/person and $15/car to park. If you have a large group, this would be a great option. However, I recommend leaving around 3am or earlier due to traffic and parking spaces filling up.
It was very easy to use the park and ride shuttle and took about 40 minutes from arrival to the parking lot to drive and get into the park. There are two shuttle times in the morning 4am and 5:30am and they don’t run everyday. Be sure to Google the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta website. Also, take note of the weather. If the conditions aren’t congruent with flying, the balloons won’t go up.
Must See Events
There are different balloons on different days, but the days I recommend checking out are the Mass Ascension in the morning and The Glow in the evening. You will have to get separate tickets for both events, but totally worth it!
In the morning of the Mass Ascension, the Dawn Patrol goes up first. These are smaller balloons that lift off into the air at 6am and allows the pilots of the larger balloons to gauge the wind patterns before takeoff. Slowly, hundreds of balloons lift off into the sky over the next 3 hours, a mind-blowing site to see in person.
The Glow is an evening event. The balloons don’t actually take off, but are inflated. After the sunsets the balloons light up all around you in unison and is followed by skydivers that light the sky with fireworks and a complete fireworks show at the end.
Special Shapes is another event where only the shapes balloons are released into the sky. I had to work this day, but I was still available to see some of the special shapes during the Mass Ascension day.
What Should I Bring?
The hot air balloon fiesta is usually sponsored by Canon. They were offering free lease cleanings and software updates. So if you have a camera, you can make an appointment for a cleaning or walk it in. I took mine in for a walk in and got it back within an hour.
While there are a large variety of food and drink vendors available, everything is pretty pricey. You are allowed to bring your own food and non alcoholic beverages into the park.
There are some benches available, but not enough for everyone, I recommend bringing a blanket or chair to sit on. However, it’s fun to walk around in between the balloons too so wear comfy shoes.
Early October the weather is getting cold in the morning. Be sure to wear layers since it does warm up as the sun begins to rise over the Sandias Mountains.
Any Other Place To See The Balloons?
Although I didn’t do this, a coworker told me about how some vineyards have breakfast and wine where you can see the balloons fly over your head. You’ll have to do some research on that and book early since they fill up fast.
I did however paddle board on the Rio Grande River and watch the balloons fly around us. I went with a small local company called MST Adventures. It was only my second time ever paddle boarding and to be honest I had to just sit the whole time because I wasn’t coordinated to stand up. It was still a great time and the guides made me feel safe the whole time. While the balloons didn’t drop down the day I went, depending on the wind patterns and skill of the pilot, some balloons will do a dip and dash where they dip the basket into the Rio Grande and you can paddle up to them! Either way, it was a great experience and I highly recommend it.
The International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta was the main reason I chose to travel to Albuquerque, NM for my 26th Travel Nurse Contract. It’s something I’ve been wanting to go to for years and I’m so glad I was finally able to follow through with this bucket list event.