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 this on our bucket list for years, we finally made the leap 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:
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!
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!
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 cellphones. But even if you aren’t a pro, make sure to bring to bring a decent camera. You’ll thank us for it.
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 back 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.
Other interesting stops in New Mexico include: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, White Sands National Monument, Santa Fe, Taos, Bandelier, Los Alamos and so much more!
Have you been to Albuquerque? Tell us about your own unforgettable experience in the comments!