The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, with approximately 100,000 visitors a day, is one of the worlds largest and most spectacular hot air balloon events. With so much to do and see at the festival, it can get a little overwhelming for the first time visitor. These ten tips will help you get the most out of your visit and have the time of your life!
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta: Ten Tips
#1 Book Your Hotel Early
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is one of the biggest events in Albuquerque and the entire state of New Mexico, so hotels will sell out quickly, even as far away as Santa Fe. Book your hotel reservation early, at least four months prior to the event to get a preferred rate. The closest hotels are near Rio Rancho, Alameda Rd and I-25, or along Rt 528.
TIP: When you book your hotel be careful to check cancellation policies. Because this is such a popular event and hotels sell out quickly, cancellation policies will be different than a traditional hotel stay, and vary from 48 hours prior to four weeks prior to arrival.
#2 Check the Schedule of Daily Events
While the International fiesta park is open all day, with the exception of a few competition shows and smaller events, the many of the activities occur early in the morning or late at night, so check the schedule of daily events before heading over to the park and plan accordingly. Most days there are morning launch events from 6 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. and evening glow events from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.. If you are visiting from out of town, use the time between morning and evening events to do other fun things in Albuquerque.
Tip: Check out the Visit Albuquerque website to find fun activities to do in Albuquerque and the surrounding areas in New Mexico.
#3 Arrive Early, Leave Early
People come from all over the world to attend the balloon fiesta, including many locals from Albuquerque and the surrounding areas. The roads leading into Fiesta park are two-lane surface roads, so the traffic getting in and out of the park can make driving a challenge. If you want to attend the morning events such as the Dawn Patrol (6 a.m.), Morning Glow (6:30 a.m.), and Mass Ascension (7 a.m.) you need to arrive early to beat the traffic. I recommend getting into the park by 5 a.m. Food vendors will be open, so grab your coffee and breakfast after you arrive at the park. Same applies for evening activities. The evening Twilight Twinkle Glow starts at 5:45 p.m. (with official activities starting about 6:30 p.m.) so make sure you are in the park by 4:30 to avoid traffic.
TIP: The morning balloon festivities end around 10:30 a.m. but the majority of the balloons are in the air by 9:30 a.m., so leave the park by 9:45 a.m. to beat the traffic leaving the park. At night, if you don’t care if you see the fireworks at 8:30 p.m., leave about 8 p.m. to avoid traffic.
#4 Dress for the weather
The weather changes quickly in Albuquerque. Mornings and evenings can be chilly, but daytime temperatures can climb to the 90’s. Dress in layers you can easily peel off and put back on as the weather changes. Carry a hat and mittens for chilly mornings, as well as sunglasses and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. The grass on the balloon field may be wet and muddy in the morning, so wear sturdy close-toed shoes.
TIP: Bring a small backpack to carry extra clothing, but prepare to have your bag inspected by security.
#5 Bring something to sit on
There is limited seating at this event, as most of the action takes place on a wet, grassy field. If you are a local, make sure to bring a few small collapsible lawn chairs to sit on while you wait for the balloons to set up and launch. This is especially helpful for parents of little ones, who may get bored waiting. If you are visiting from out of town, pack a foldable picnic blanket in your suitcase.
Tip for families: There is lots of down time, so bring cards, a small game, or glow sticks to pass the time while you wait for the balloons to get set up.
#6 Download the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta App
The official Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta app has a calendar of events, event location maps, food vendor locations, and more to help you find your way around the park. It even provides weather conditions and balloon pilot information.
TIP: The app has a FIND MY CAR feature. Just hit the FIND YOUR CAR button, click MARK MY CAR and you will have no problem finding your car in the sea of parking areas.
#7 Bring A Camera
Even if you are not a professional photographer, you will want to photograph or video the gorgeous display of colors and unique balloon designs. Sunrise and sunset are especially good times to take photos of the balloons. If you don’t have a digital camera, a phone camera will work. Unless you are a professional, don’t bother bringing a tripod. The balloon action is constantly changing so a hand-held camera is better, plus with so many people around (including lots of children) a camera on a tripod is more likely to get bumped over.
TIP: Upload your photos to Instagram and use the hashtag #balloonfiesta2018 to share photos with family and friends.
#8 Get Out On The Field
Don’t just stand on the sidelines, get out on the field and walk among the balloons as they launch. Visitors are allowed to wander the fields to take photos and get close to the balloon action. If you have little ones, be aware that the crowds can get intense, so keep hold of them at all times so they do not get pushed down or lost. Strollers are okay on the fields but the grass can get muddy and difficult to maneuver. There is a “tag your tots” service near the food vendors, where you can register your little ones and receive a numbered wristband to help identify them should they get separated from parents.
TIP: Be cautious of balloons as they are being inflated. Balloon workers pull ropes to help inflate the balloons and need plenty of room for expansion, so do not get too close, and be careful you do not get in the way of the workers.
#9 Visit The Vendors
With over fifty food and merchandise vendors at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, there is plenty of variety. Visit the funnel cake stand, the Hatch Chile Shack and New Mexico Piñon Coffee booth for some incredible southwestern cuisine, and check out the balloon fiesta official merchandise booth (which sells an official pin), crafts vendors, and more.
TIP: Be sure to bring some healthy snacks and water with you as well, as many of the food choices are fast food.
#10 Stay for more than one day!
Weekends are the busiest times for the fiesta, but the party goes for eight days, so there is plenty to do and see beyond the weekends. Many of the balloon competitions take place during the week, but there are also less crowds, so plan to visit Albuquerque for the weekend but stay a few extra days. You might even be able to get a balloon ride during the week (be sure to reserve your spot in advance).
TIP: Looking for a good place to eat while in Albuquerque? Sadie’s of New Mexico is renowned for their green chile dishes.
Need to Know
- Tickets are $10 per session (A session is divided between morning and evening activities), 12 + under are free.
- The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta takes place October 1-9, 2016 and is a yearly event so if you miss this year, be sure to visit next year.
- Park & Ride services are available to make parking easier and parking rates include admission to the fiesta.
- RV sites are available near the park but book up several months before the event. Check the balloon fiesta website for RV information.
- For more information about the fiesta visit the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta website. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.
Bonus: For incredible authentic New Mexican cuisine, be sure to try Sadie’s of New Mexico.