Five Tips to Enjoying the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is world-renowned as the largest hot air balloon festival in the world. Celebrated annually in the New Mexico desert during early October, this nine-day event has over 500 balloons each year.

According to their official website, the fiesta “brings the smell of roasting chiles and the beautiful, magical moving picture show of hot air balloons sailing silently through the crisp fall air.” Now, how can you resist a write-up like that?! 

So after having Albuquerque on our bucket list for years, we finally made the leap, saved enough money, and arranged a trip to the festival! Here are some tips we learned when we tried our hand at being balloonists for 2 days last year:

Don’t miss: The Dawn Patrol Show which usually starts at 6:00 am (and a Laser Light Show preceeding it at 5:45 am)

1) Be there early

Hot air balloon flying conditions are the best in the morning so best to be there early. And when I say early, I mean REALLY EARLY. You know they aren’t messing around when hotels hand out Red Bulls to their guests the moment they check in (!) 

Thankfully, all of the accommodations in the area are pretty used to the drill, so most places offer breakfasts as early as 4:30 am! Our hotel, the Nativo Lodge, had breakfast burritos with green chile, rolled up in foil. So I was easily able to grab that along with a banana, a muffin and a cup of coffee to go.

We were in the park by 5:00 am, early enough to catch the Dawn Patrol Show, which is a choreographed inflation and launch set to music that has been part of the Balloon Fiesta since 1996–being able to catch this event was a treat in itself!


It was freezing cold…so had no choice but to do some impromptu shopping in the early morning — picked up some alpaca gloves!

2) Brace for the cold

This is the one thing we did not quite prepare for. We flew in from Maryland so naturally, no matter what the weather in New Mexico, it surely must be milder than what we have back home, right? Also, “Mexico” is in the name of their state, which conjures up images of the sun and heat, so how can it possibly be cold?! 

WRONG. It is freeeeezing especially in the morning.

We had our fall jackets, sure. But it was our bad that we didn’t bring gloves, so we were forced to get the cheapest ones onsite — $10 each pair! It warms up to the 50-60s as it comes closer to noon. Still, just play it safe and bring your winter gear with you, you’ll be so glad you did!

A sky full of balloons make for great photo-ops and cheesy touristy shots like this obligatory jump shot 😛

3) Take lots of photos!

Yeah, you know and expect there will be balloons. But if you’re a newcomer, then what you won’t be expecting is how you will be in complete AWE of everything. 

Imagine, a spectacular kaleidoscope of 500+ balloons in the sky all at the same time! Supposedly, the festival even featured more than 1,000+ balloons in the 90’s but had to cut back due to safety regulations.

First-timers absolutely MUST try to make it to at least one of the mass ascensions which occur about five to six times throughout the two week period. You can’t miss it!

Needless to say, the Balloon Fiesta is an absolute photographer’s paradise! We’ll let our photos do the talking. In fact, all of these were just taken only on our cell phones. But even if you aren’t a pro, make sure to bring a camera. You’ll thank us for it.

Quesadillas, yum yum!

4) Try all the local grub

Being the pseudo-foodie that I am, I was on a mission to try all the food that is “authentically New Mexican.” And in case you don’t have time to explore the rest of Albuquerque, the Balloon Fiesta is a great place to start your culinary adventures.

In the two short days I was there, I tried green chile burritos, hot tamales, green chile cheeseburger and biscochitos. Like most fairs, the food is a little more expensive than usual, but not by much. Expect to spend $6-10 per meal.

5) The Fiesta is just the beginning

The Balloon Fiesta alone is already enough reason to pack your bags and go, but I’m happy to tell you that there is sooo much more to Albuquerque and well, New Mexico than just that.

Make sure not to miss Old Town Albuquerque, with its charming shops filled with Native American and Pueblo art. There are also plenty of good restaurants serving mouthwatering traditional cuisine.

Plenty to see, starting with Old Town Albuquerque, its historic buildings and quaint souvenir shops

Other interesting stops in New Mexico include: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, White Sands National Monument, Santa Fe, TaosLos Alamos, Bandelier, and so much more! 


Have you been to Albuquerque? Tell us about your own unforgettable experience in the comments!

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  1. Kyle Wayne

    I appreciate that you talked about playing it safe and bringing extra clothes just in case. My is looking to take his fiance in some hot air balloons but needs tips. I think I will talk to him about hiring a professional and to brace for the cold!

  2. Ami Bhat

    I will admit that I have never been to a Balloon festival and I will be gawking with wide eyes at everything. It looks so beautiful in the pictures and to experience it would be even amazing. I guess, getting up early would not be difficult as I tend to be really excited for these kind of things and can’t really sleep 🙂

  3. Alli

    How fun! I would be all about the local grub as well. The colours of the balloons in the sky are just gorgeous! I’ve never yet been in a hot air balloon yet, but would love to soon!

  4. Medha Verma

    The balloon fiesta looks amazing with all those creatively-shaped balloons. Thanks for all the tips, good to know that it’s usually very cold and it’s better to be prepared for that! I am sure there is a lot more to Albuquerque than just the fiesta, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it. The local grub (quesadillas that you’ve featured) looks yummy!

  5. Lydia Smith

    Ive never attended Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta but I’ve read about it. It’s such a big one that your tips are just too needful. But the cold is my fears, but I’d still love to attend. But padded up in sweaters.

  6. Meg Jerrard

    I would love to take in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta one of these years – I’ve been to smaller scale festivals throughout the US, but this is the crem-del-a-crem of hot air balloon festivals! Good tips on being there early and bracing for the cold. Haha and you totally don’t have to encourage me to take lots of photos – the hardest part is sorting through thousands that look exactly the same when I get home lol!

  7. Marcelle Simone Heller

    I’ve never been in Albuquerque or in any other place of New Mexico. Reading about the Balloon Fiesta though I’m pretty excited! Getting up early with the sunrise coming up and the beautiful coloured balloons truly an amazing opportunity for photos! I love your jump shot 😀

  8. Kate B.

    I’d never heard of this before but it looks beautiful and incredible. I think that the iconic sights that we say of hot air balloons are usually over Turkey or somewhere in Africa, so it surprised me that the largest festival is in USA. I would definitely make the food a priority as well, it all sounds so delicious and more authentic than the “Mexican” food we get in Australia.

  9. Jayce

    Wow! I didn’t know that the world’s biggest hot air balloon festival is in the US! I finally found a reason to go there! Hehe. And with 500 balloons, that’s pretty amazing. They really make for great photos like the ones you took!

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