Our best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips

There’s something magical about looking at hot air balloons flying overhead. People love it! The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest event of its kind in the entire world. Almost a million spectators attend the popular annual event during the first two weekends of October (and the week in-between) each year. It began humbly in 1972 with 13 balloons in a field. It now attracts over 500 balloonists each year. The most popular events are the mass ascensions held early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but there are activities all week at both the morning and afternoon/evening sessions. It always takes place over nine days from the first Saturday in October through the second Sunday. (The dates for the 2017 Fiesta are from Saturday, October 7,,2017 through Sunday, October 15th. Here are seven of our best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips for a great time.

Booking a flight, room and rental car

best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - The tops of these colorful balloons like a bit like flowers, photo Steve Collins

The tops of these colorful balloons like a bit like flowers, photo/Steve Collins

Tip: Book early, this is a hugely popular event and things book up early.

People often book their hotel rooms a year in advance. If want the hotel of your choice, book early, you can always cancel (subject to the hotel’s cancellation policies). Prices for hotels and car rentals are at their peak during Balloon Fiesta so  shop around for deals.

When to go

best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - A sky full of balloons, photo Steve Collins

A sky full of balloons, photo Steve Collins

Tip: For the mass ascensions go on Saturday.

The event takes place over nine days. There are two sessions each day; morning and evening. The best and most attended events are the weekend mass ascensions held early Saturday and Sunday mornings with more than 500 hot air balloons taking to the sky en masse. It’s a visually stunning experience! The catch? Balloons can only ascend in certain air and wind conditions. One of the reasons Albuquerque is ideal for ballooning are the wind patterns that create The Albuquerque Box.”These perfect conditions often occur on early October mornings. If the weather conditions aren’t just right, the balloons won’t launch.

We went on a rainy, cloudy, windy Sunday. The launch, which is supposed to be a 7am, was delayed. Just when the it was about to be cancelled. a bit after 8am, there was a window and balloons started to launch. It was a short window so not all the balloons got off the ground, but, none the less, it was a splendid spectacle. Had they not launched, we would have been back the following Saturday. The lesson we took away from this is to make sure you get to see a mass ascension, go the first day of the Fiesta. If the balloons aren’t able to take off, you can try again the next day. If you’re local and there’s no ascension, you can come back the next weekend. Coming from out of town? Morning sessions end at noon.

Evening sessions are less crowded which means less traffic. The gates open at 3:30 and everything winds down by 9pm.

The longer your stay in Albuquerque, the better your chances for catching the weather-dependent events such as launches and balloon glows.

Getting there

best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - A pre-dawn souvenir balloon vendor on Main Street, photo Steve Collins

A pre-dawn souvenir balloon vendor on Main Street, photo Steve Collins

Tip 1: Arrive early!

It took us 13 years to get to Balloon Fiesta. Why? The mass ascensions take place at 7am. To beatd the worst of the traffic, you have to leave Santa Fe by 4:30am so you can arrive at Balloon Fiesta Park, get parked and on be on the field in time for the 7am launch. Traffic headed to the Fiesta is massive and waits are long. We finally bit the bullet when I got a writing assignment that included the event. I needed first-hand experience. (Because I was on assignment, we got press passes to the Fiesta.) We made great time getting to the Tramway Boulevard exit on I-25, arriving at 5:30am. That’s when we encountered the bumper to bumper traffic and then the slow crawl began. It took us about an hour in the cold, pre-dawn to get to the parking lot. But we made it.

Bring cash (the only thing accepted) for parking fees. Current parking rate is $15.

Tip 2: Take the Fiesta Express Park & Ride.

The Fiesta Express Park & Ride, sponsored by Visit Albuquerque, is a great way to avoid driving in traffic. Bring your morning drink and a snack and enjoy the ride. You can even catch a few winks. Currently there’s pick-up at six locations around the city. Buses start running at 4:30am. The bus ticket price includes Balloon Fiesta admission. Advance online purchase tickets are less expensive than ones bought onsite day of; you can purchase them online before midnight on the day before you want to attend a morning session and up to noon day of for the evening sessions. While children 12 and under get free admission to the Fiesta, children over five must pay to ride the bus.

Tip 3: Ride your bike

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta makes it easy to ride your bike and avoid traffic jams and bus lines. They offer a free Bike Valet service. It’s open mornings from 5:30 to 10:30am and evenings (when there’s an event) from 5 to 9pm. As you’ll be riding in the dark, either arriving in the morning or departing at night, make sure your bike is equipped with safety gear including headlamps, reflectors and tail lights.

Tip 4: Take your RV.

If you want to be onsite and not hassle with traffic and you own (or decide to rent an RV) it’s a great way to experience Balloon Fiesta. Here’s a post with tips written by people who shared their experience RVing at the Fiesta. Reservations for spots for the next year’s Fiesta, which currently run from $35 to $175 per night, depending on location and amenities. You can reserve a space starting a week after this year’s Fiesta. This is a popular option and sells out. Reserve early!

Ticketing

best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - More inflating balloons, ones ready to ascend and one in the air photo Steve Collins

More inflating balloons, ones ready to ascend and one in the air photo Steve Collins

Tip: Buy your tickets in advance online.

Anyone 12 or older needs a ticket to get into the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. If you want to avoid possible lines on the day you go, buy your tickets online in advance. If you’re buying at the gate, bring cash; they don’t accept credit cards. Current admission price is $10. You can purchase a book of five tickets for $45. Tickets are non-refundable. If events are cancelled, your ticket will act as a rain check; hang onto it!

If you want to go in-style, check out the Gondola Club. Admission (currently $100 per person, per session (group discounts available), has a lot of perks including: admission to the Fiesta, parking pass to private Gondola Club parking (as well as shuttle service), buffet meal (breakfast or dinner buffet, depending on session attended), free alcoholic beverages (except Sunday’s before noon when no liquor, per state law, can be served, prime location to view balloon launch and my favorite: real bathrooms.

The Chasers’ Club (tickets currently $45 per person, per session) includes park admission, private patio seating and a drink and food item.

What to wear

best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - Special shape balloons such as the bear are big crowd pleasers at the Fiesta, photo Steve Collins

Special shape balloons such as the bear are big crowd pleasers at the Fiesta, photo/Steve Collins

Tip: Dress in layers.

Dress in layers; the weather will change throughout the day. At 5am it can be mighty chilly! You want a jacket. I HATE having cold feet; I actually wore UGGS and carried shoes. I also brought gloves and a hat, in case. Wear closed-toe shoes as the grass could be damp. The day we went it was wet. By 10am, it could warm up; in early October it can get pretty warm during the day.

For evening sessions, it’s the reverse. even on a warm evening it can chill before the event ends.  Be prepared!

Other things to bring

best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - A mounted patrol at the launch site photo Steve Collins

A mounted patrol at the launch site photo Steve Collins

Also, at almost a mile above sea level, you’re closer to the sun. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a hot. Also, New Mexico is very dry. Carry (and drink) a lot of water. Also, as you will be arriving in the dark in the morning and leaving in the dark at night, bring a small flashlight. If you want to sit while at Balloon Fiesta, bring your own chair.

Plan your Balloon Fiesta time

best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - }Balloon glow at thje Albuquerque International Balloon Fiests, photo Angelina Peace, courtesy of the Albuquerque Internationa wBalloon Fiesta

Balloon glow at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, photo Angelina Peace, courtesy of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Tip: Make sure to attend a mass ascension

Mornings

There’s a lot going on each day at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. If you’re not planning to go more than one day, plan to attend on days that offer scheduled events that interest you. Weekends are prime time. The mass ascensions are the most coveted events. There’s nothing like seeing hundreds of balloons in the sky! Mornings start with a laser light show at 5:45 followed at about 6am (weather permitting) by the Dawn Patrol, a choreographed inflation and launch. The show, set to music, has been part of the Fiesta since 1996. Another morning event open to the public is the Pilot Briefing starting around 6:15am. Pilots learn of any delays or event cancellations here. Be one of the first to know!

Don’t just watch from afar. Get out onto the field in the middle of the inflating and launching balloons. Hearing the loud whoosh of the flame that powers the balloon is like hearing a giant Darth Vader breathe, it’s memorable. And watching these huge balloons go from flat on the ground to fully inflated and ready to go is another experience you’ll long remember. You also get to interact with the crews going up in the balloons.

Take lots of photos! Steve loved the photo ops and, almost as fun for him: seeing the range of photo equipment and talking to other shutterbugs

On weekend mornings, there are the mass ascensions at 7am, weather permitting.

Evenings

Evening sessions offer a variety of events. Some of the more popular are the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race Launch, held on the first Saturday, the Special Shape Glowdeo™, held on both Thursday and Friday nights and the Night Magic™ Glow on the second Saturday. There is a laser light show every night. There is no evening sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The entire Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta schedule can be found here.

Visit Main Street

best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - Want a bit of breakfast or a hot drink to help warm you up? Hit Mail Street, photo Steve Collins

Want a bit of breakfast or a hot drink to help warm you up? Hit Mail Street, photo Steve Collins

Main Street, is the third of a mile stretch where you’ll find food vendors as well as booths selling Balloon Fiesta souvenirs. There are also public information booths set up. Grab a hand-held New Mexico burrito (our favorite: green chile and bacon) and eat it while browsing Main Street.

Book a balloon ride

best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips - Want to go up, up and away at Balloon Fiesta? Book a ride with Rainbow Ryders, photo Steve Collins

Want to go up, up and away at Balloon Fiesta? Book a ride with Rainbow Ryders, photo Steve Collins

Want to experience balloon flight? You can book a balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders the only commercial balloon company allowed to launch passenger rides from Balloon Fiesta park during the Fiesta. While rides are way more expensive during Balloon Fiesta than they are the rest of the year, flights are popular and book up.

Plan your days

Take a day trip to Santa Fe where you can visit the oldest house in the USA photo Steve Collins

Take a day trip to Santa Fe where you can visit the oldest house in the USA photo/Steve Collins

The morning session, though open until noon, is pretty much over by 10am and evenings don’t start until around 6pm. What will you do during the rest of the day? Albuquerque offers shopping, interesting museums, including the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Balloon Fiesta Park; cultural sites including the Indian Pueblo Cultural and the National Hispanic Cultural Center as well as Acoma Sky City, a thousand-year-old pueblo about an hour away; tours for Breaking Bad fans; a BioPark with a botanical garden, aquarium and zoo; part of Historic Route 66 as well as the Sandia Tramway. Farther afield, you can visit Santa Fe or take a day trip exploring Northern New Mexico; perhaps take the High Road to Taos. (Use the search box near the top of the sidebar on this page to find more day trips.) You can book a Santa Fe walking tour with us or ask us to design a custom itinerary for you.

We hope that our best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips help you plan your time there. And, we’ll say it again: don’t forget to bring your camera. The Fiesta is one of the most photographed events in the world. You’ll see why once you’re there. We came home with hundreds of photos. There’s something about hot air balloons that fascinates people. Seeing hundreds of them in the air at the same time is pure magic. Put the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta on your must-do list. Up, up and away!

If you have any tips to add to Best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tip, leave them in the comment section below. Our readers will appreciate them!

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7 Responses to “Our best Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tips”

  1. Ryan Biddulph
    September 23, 2017 at 7:14 am #

    Hi Billie,

    How neat.

    The biggest balloon event in the world, eh? Inspired.

    I’d definitely dress in layers as I imagine you experience some temperature swings out there. Like you, I despise having cold feet. Like torture to me. I can stand in an icy cold shower for 60 seconds yet a minute of having cold feet agitates me like no end. Strange.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Ryan

    PS…Writing these words from your old neck of the woods as we are doing our NYC house sit again.

  2. Doreen Pendgracs
    September 26, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    Thx for great post, Billie. I’d love to attend the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and your tips will come in very handy.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..Happy 110th Birthday to Purdys ChocolatierMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      September 26, 2017 at 7:00 pm #

      It’s a must- put it on your list – the tips are really handy. We learned the hard way, though we did get some helpful advice before we went.

  3. Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    September 28, 2017 at 6:03 pm #

    I’ve never attended the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta,but your tips seems quite helpful. My favorite of your many very good images is that first one.

  4. Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    September 30, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

    I’ve never attended the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta,but your tips seems quite helpful. My favorite of your many very good images is that first one.
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers recently posted..Sights to See: Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Chengdu, ChinaMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      October 1, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

      I think they are- thanks for the kind words about the photos. The Fiesta is a photographer’s dream! It’s said to be one of the most photographed events in the world.

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