This past weekend we flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Not only is the fiesta the largest balloon event in the world, it’s also the most photographed event in the world–and once you go, you’ll understand why!
So, what is there to do at the Fiesta? There are activities in the morning and at night, with a break in the day when the thermals make it challenging for the balloons to fly. Our favorite events were:
First thing in the morning, before the sun has risen, a handful of hot air balloon inflate and take to the skies to check weather conditions. It’s beautiful to watch as they lift into the air and you can still spot them in the dark as they light their burners, often in synchronicity.
The mass ascension is not to be missed! During the mass ascension, all balloon participating in the fiesta launch with dozens of balloons taking flight simultaneously. Balloons start to launch at 7 a.m. (weather permitting), led by a balloon flying the American flag. Over the next couple of hours, roughly 600 balloons will fly over the event space. It’s an incredible sight to see!
Once the sun sets, balloonists begin inflating their hot air balloons to participate in the Evening Glow. After all of the participating balloons have been inflated, “all burn” is called where all balloons fire their burners at once creating a truly magical moment–photos don’t do this one justice.
Having never been New Mexico or the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta before, Drew and I had a lot of learning to do to ensure we maximized our time there. Here are a few tips and tricks that we hope will help make your Balloon Fiesta an awesome experience:
- Get there early. The first morning we left our hotel at 5 a.m. to make the 20 minute drive to the balloon park. On the way, we hit insane traffic and didn’t roll into the parking lot until 7:30 a.m. We learned our lesson and on the second morning we set our alarm for 3:30 a.m., departed the hotel at 4:00 a.m., and rolled into our parking spot at the balloon park at 4:35 a.m. Gates opened at 4:30 a.m., so we got in early, grabbed a hot chocolate, and go to really soak in all the festivities before the 6:00 a.m. dawn patrol and mass ascension at 7:00 a.m.
- Use the Park and Ride. Parking at the balloon park isn’t for the feint of heart–you will endure tons of traffic and pay $15 to do so. I recommend looking into the Balloon Fiesta Park and Ride service, which is $15 including the price of admission to the fiesta (typically $10).
- Dress warmly. It’s chilly at night during the glows after the sun sets, but it’s even colder in the morning. Dress in layers and be sure to wear warm, closed-toe shoes with good socks as the balloon park grass is damp and covered in frost early in the morning.
- Plan to attend a few days. If you have the time, I recommend planning to attend at least two mornings and one night. Since flight is dependent on weather, there are days when the mass ascension doesn’t take place due to wind. Give yourself a couple days as a contingency plan so you don’t miss out!
- Bring snacks. Our hotel was awesome and provided to-go breakfasts in paper bags every morning. Having granola bars, muffins, an apple, and a bottle of water was super clutch as we had something to nibble on throughout the morning, but were able to go get a real breakfast outside the park after the mass ascension around 9 a.m.