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A Guide to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Favorites in New Mexico

By June 17, 2018 14 Comments

For 2018, The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

in New Mexico is October 6-14th!

New Mexico has tons of art, food and culture that appeals to everyone. Museums are just about everywhere you turn and a new experience is likely around the next turn. Albuquerque, in particular, has lots to offer visitors, but nothing is quite as fun as the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta that happens there every year in October.

balloons taking off in the morning at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

For about a week, countless hot air balloons take to the skies, day and night. There’s something incredibly magical about hundreds of hot air balloons rising as the sun rushes up over the horizon to meet them. Air pumps and each humongous flyer takes shape. The fires roar and the crowds cheer. It’s a fabulous festival, and while everyone should check it out at least once—if not several times—in their lives, there are some tricks and tips you should know from us!

Pro Tip: Book accommodations early (like now!) to get ready. Some of the top choices in Albuquerque can be found on Booking.com and Expedia. We liked Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque (here’s our review of the restaurant) and The Drury Plaza Hotel in Santa Fe (our review), still close to the Balloon Fiesta.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico is the biggest hot air balloon festival in the world, and it isn’t hard to see why visitors show up en masse to watch the spectacle. I loved the show and have such fond memories of the experience!

(like to know what’s best for kids at the Balloon Fiesta? Have a look at this article all about the little ones!)

Tip #1: Go As Early to the Abq Balloon Fiesta As Possible

The festivities begin super early there, and you are likely to miss out if you don’t get there on time. The problem with arriving early is that everyone else is trying to arrive early as well. Mass ascension of the hot air balloons begins at 7AM, but there are some fun light shows that start as early as six, and everyone wants to be there to see it.

Check out Google Maps to see how long it will take you to get from the hotel to the festival grounds, and plan on spending at least one hour waiting in traffic to park. Add an extra ten minutes to your departure time to account for the walk from the parking lot to the launch site. Bottom line: leave early, really early.

Driving is the best way to get in an out of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We opted to drive from Colorado to New Mexico, but you can fly into Albuquerque if you’d like and then rent a car. Here’s how to set up some flight price alerts with Skyscanner.

The balloons are obviously the biggest hit, but there’s a whole itinerary of events at the fiesta to see. There’s often a guest guide posted by the organizers outlining the timelines for all shows and activities. We thought the chainsaw wood carving was wild, as was the live stage music and balloon ‘rodeos’.

Tip #2: Bundle up – It Gets Cold in New Mexico!

While temperatures in the southwest can get quite warm during the day, these desert destinations tend to be quite chilly at night, and you’ll be arriving long before the sun comes up. Be sure to wear a jacket or a heavy sweatshirt, hats, gloves and boots or shoes that don’t have toes sticking out. If you’ve got some room in a stroller or a backpack, bring a blanket along.

If you forget something, don’t stress. The vendors at this New Mexico Balloon Fiesta will have everything you need, but it will come with a high price tag.

I’m a fan of the Mossbud Women’s lightweight jacket from Northface, and the fleece version from Columbia for the guys. Stay toasty my friends!

Tip #3: Don’t be Shy – Get in with the Crowd

boy watching balloon being put away at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

It may seem counterproductive to jam yourself and your family members in with the crowd like sardines, but some of the best parts of the event can only be experienced at close range. You truly can’t understand how enormous these balloons are unless you are next to them as they blow up.

If you are safely on the walkway instead of up close and personal with the people in the baskets, you won’t be able to hear the roar of the burners as they prepare the balloons to ascend.

Tip #4: Stay Moving for Optimal Balloon Scoping

Lots and lots and lots of visitors bring lawn chairs and blankets and sit and watch as the hot air balloons take to the skies. In theory, this is a great way to watch the show. In reality, it’s tough to sit that long, and it will take hours for all the balloons to go up. Not only will being on the move give everyone a chance to stay active, but it also gives the entire group the opportunity to discover new hot air balloons, which are continuously being readied to launch all over the site.

Tip #5: Hot Air Balloon Rides – Albuquerque’s Best Views of the Fiesta

Attending the event and watching it all happen from the ground is amazing—and inexpensive. (That is unless you get suckered into buying all the food and souvenirs, which is a distinct possibility.) If you are able, save up for hot air balloon rides while in Albuquerque at the fiesta. I won’t lie to you, it will be pricey, but it’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences that will make for incredible memories.

Anytime of year, you can book hot air balloon rides, Albuquerque style. Here’s a sunrise tour to check out. If you’re just jonesing to get up in the air, anywhere, Groupon is a great place to find hot air balloon experiences. Just search your city and go!

Tip #6: Plan to Stay in New Mexico for a Few Days

Especially if you are able to ride in a hot air balloon, you’ll want to spend at least one morning on the ground watching the spectacle as hundreds of colorful balloons in unique shapes and unimaginable sizes float away. Furthermore, there are bands and fireworks and other good stuff on the fairgrounds at night. Since you are here already, it would be a shame not to spend a few days exploring all that Albuquerque has to offer as well. Museums are a huge draw, but you’re unlikely to be disappointed by the food or shopping or historic sites either.

Regardless of how long you stay, be sure to book your accommodations early.

rooftop pool at the Drury Plaza Hotel Santa Fe

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the biggest hot air balloon festival in the world for a reason. Rooms go fast, and you certainly don’t want to miss out. Don’t forget to look up flights on the early side too, as costs may rise closer to the date. The best way to find flights is via Skyscanner, which scans all available booking sites and direct bookings with airlines to find the lowest rates. Skyscanner has has an easy-to-navigate app as well for searching and booking on the go.

Have you been to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta already? Share your favorite moments with us!

Although there were THOUSANDS of hot air balloons to see in the New Mexico sky, here are some of our favorites!


The Creamland Cow

The morning glow had just finished and the sun was slowly starting to rise. We had seen plenty of colorful balloons in the traditional style ascend already when we can across the cow. Airabelle, the Creamland Cow, was the first truly unique shape we saw, and the sheer size of her was spectacular, which we only truly understood because we stood near her on the ground before she took off.

The Stagecoach

Another massive balloon that easily caught our eye was the Wells Fargo stagecoach balloon. Appropriately named “¢ent’r Stage” because it really is a show stealer, this balloon is easily distinguishable among its counterparts in the sky. As a lover of all things in the past, I was immediately drawn to the sight of a flying piece of history—and let’s be honest, that cute balloon name is perfect.

Stagecoach Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2015

Spyder Pig

We saw a bright pink pig take off during the morning glow, but my child’s excitement at that moment couldn’t even touch his reaction when he saw Spyder Pig. Seriously, who comes up with these things? Spiderman and a pig. It’s brilliant.

TriBirds

We saw a few balloons in the shape of birds at the 2015 Fiesta, but this one takes the cake. Three of your favorite Amazonian birds (like the ones your kids have seen from the movie Rio) all in one hot air balloon is truly a fantastic sight to see. The bright colors and unique shape made this one an instant family favorite.

Mama & Baby Whale

Officially titled “Baby Blue” the rather large whale balloon has her baby at her side. The colors are vibrant and the sentiment quite sweet. I held my babies tight and enjoyed the spectacle when this one flew by.

Darth Vader

darth vader balloon albuquerque balloon fiesta

You don’t have to be a Star Wars super fan to love the characters. My family, however, is super nerdy over Star Wars and every one of us got extremely excited when seeing Darth’s head flying over head. It’s not the biggest, most spectacular balloon at the festival, but it’s certainly fun and memorable. My only regret is that we didn’t see the Master Yoda balloon in person. Le sigh.

Squirt the Fire Hydrant

It’s the attention to detail on these hot air balloons that really gets your attention when you are standing on the ground watching them all float above you. Squirt is clearly distinguishable from all the other balloons that join him in the heavens. Every part of him from his nuts to his bolts aren’t just painted on, they are inflated, and he’s got fire in his eyes.

The Pirate Ship

New to the festival this year is the pirate ship balloon, and simply put, it’s amazing. For anyone who grew up on a healthy stream of Disney, it immediately brings to mind Peter Pan soaring through the London skies on Captain Hook’s ship to bring Wendy, Michael and John Darling safely home.

Let us know how we can help you plan your trip to the Albuquerque international Balloon Fiesta! We’ve been there, tired and tested. Comment below with any of your questions. Have a blast!

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Shauna Armitage

Author Shauna Armitage

Shauna Armitage is an editor by day and a social media addict by night. She's also the co-founder of Pure Wander, a passionate traveler and mother of two little nuggets. She loves hiking with the family, staying in hotels that deliver cheeseburgers to your room at midnight, and all the red wine. Pinot Noir please. Connect with her on Twitter @CarpeCalamus

More posts by Shauna Armitage

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • […] couple of years ago, Shauna had the pleasure of attending the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Pure Wander. She brought her whole family and was able to have […]

  • Ade Young says:

    I would love to experience this hot air balloon festival, Ive never seen so many hot air balloons in one place. I like your tips and I agree that if you want to make the most of your experience, you should prepare money to ride on one of the hot air balloons. Also my favorite would be seeing the Darth Vader balloon since i am a fan of star wars, glad that you captured it.

  • I loved the hot air balloon ride i took in Sri Lanka. I think next stop: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!

  • Kiley says:

    Such a great blog post! I’ve never been to this festival before but I’d love to now after seeing the photos! Those balloons all look so cool!

  • Nina says:

    thank you for sharing a great post 🙂 I love the hot air balloon ride. I have never been to Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, maybe one day

  • Annemarie LeBlanc says:

    I’ve been to a hot air balloon festival before, but not in Albuquerque. This one looks way more awesome than the one I’ve been to. We’ll have to plan for a trip down there next year.

  • This sounds like an amazing event . To see all these wonderful balloons close up and savour the experience must be incredible. Your post is very informative and very detailed and helpful.

  • Simerbir Singh says:

    This is so wonderful. Sory to say but I didn’t read the post to the end as your pics attracted me the most.

  • Dogvills says:

    Wow. What an exciting experience. I am awed by the colorful balloons. I am not sure though if I would have enough courage to ride a hot air balloon, but anyway, with other activities available, I would still be happy being in Albuquerque to witness the International Balloon Fiesta!

  • Ashley Ryan says:

    I absolutely love hot air balloons!!! We have a mini festival out here in California at the beginning of June…I couldn’t go this year but it’s a lot of fun because it’s a wine festival too 🙂 Best of both worlds!

  • Ruth I. says:

    This event looks fun! I would love to visit and see all the hot air balloons. I am sure that I won’t ride any though because I have a fear of heights.

  • Jeanne Harran says:

    Great Tip about dressing warm, those temperatures really drop at night and you will be a bit chilly in the morning until the sun rises! Hoping to make it to the festival this October!

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