The Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Festival (aka Balloon Fiesta!) occurs every October for 9 days. This spectacular event is coined the "Most Photographed Event in the World" year after year for good reason! Almost 600 balloons ascent each day, creating a stunning assortment in the sky for over 90,000 daily visitors.
Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque is the largest Hot Air Balloon event in the world - an experience you don't want to miss!
This spectacular event includes a morning session (5:30am - 10:00am) and an evening session (5:00pm - 9:00pm) of Hot Air Balloons. You can even purchase tickets to ride one of the balloons! Other activities within this event include chainsaw carving contests, live music, and late night fireworks. For more information, you can look at their daily schedule!
Unfortunately, the Balloon Fiesta has been cancelled for 2020 due to COVID. To read their official statement, click here. Time to start planning your visit for 2021!
I was lucky enough to travel to Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta in 2019 - read more to find out my tips for your first visit!
1. Book Far in Advance
The Balloon Festival in Albuquerque is the largest in the World, so you can imagine how important it is to make reservations for accommodations as early as possible. Zach and I booked very last minute and we got incredibly lucky with finding an Airbnb, but every hotel was completely booked a month before the event.
I recommend booking at least 6 months in advance! You'll have the best options and you won't be paying a fortune for last minute openings.
As for the actual event, you can typically purchase tickets online right up until the Festival. To purchase tickets, click here.
Tickets are $10 per person, and only include one session per day. For example, there is a morning balloon session and an evening balloon session, so you'd need two tickets to enjoy both.
2. Stay for Multiple Days
Hot Air Balloons are extremely weather dependent, so it's important you plan on staying in Albuquerque for multiple days in case the balloons don't go up on a certain day!
I recommend spending at least 3 days in Albuquerque so if needed, you have multiple opportunities to enjoy the festival. Zach and I visited Albuquerque as one of our stops on a long road trip, so we only had 1 ideal day to visit Balloon Fiesta. Unfortunately, only some of the balloons made their ascent before it was announced that there was too much wind to continue.
We still had an incredible time, but I would just make sure that next time we have a few more days to enjoy it!
If a certain day of events is cancelled due to inclement weather, you'll be able to use your ticket on any other day.
3. Find Accommodations Within Walking Distance of the Event
This isn't a deal breaker, but I highly recommend staying somewhere that is within walking distance of the Park! The Festival is located at Balloon Fiesta Park in Northern Albuquerque.
Even though it'll be close to pitch dark when you leave, there are so many people that walk to the Park so it feels extremely safe. Zach and I lucked out and found an Airbnb only a mile or 2 from the Park, and we are so happy we didn't have to drive and pay the extra parking cost.
Although this is mostly on the weekends, traffic can get backed up for HOURS! Every year, some people end up missing Mass Ascension (when all the Balloons rise!) because they are either stuck in traffic or there were no parking spots left.
If you found accommodations that are not within walking distance, try to use the Park & Ride system, which consists of buses that take you straight to the Park. This will be your next fastest bet, as they have access to special lanes on the roads leading to the event.
If you must drive, you'll want to try to arrive by 5am so you get a parking spot. If you're able to walk, you can have a much more leisurely morning since you won't have to worry about traffic.
4. Arrive Early
See above! The first event of the day, Dawn Patrol, begins at 6am. This is when a few balloons will rise while it's still dark before the sun comes up. Mass Ascension begins at 7am!
If you're walking, I'd arrive around 5:45am or 6am, but just make sure you make it into the Park before 7am.
The evening sessions are usually a little less crowded than the mornings, but you'll still want to make sure you're inside the park before the Balloons ascent.
If you're taking the Park & Ride or driving, you'll have to get up much earlier. The Park and Ride has pick ups in four locations and time slots of 4am and 5:30am. (The buses will return you to the pick up location, too).
If you must drive, be prepared for traffic on the weekends. Depending on where you are staying, you should try to arrive at the Park by 5am. You can probably leave a bit later on weekdays!
5. Bring Layers & A Blanket or Chairs
The weather changes quickly as the sun rises! The mornings can be extremely cold, but it definitely heats up later in the day. Bring layers!
You'll also want to bring a blanket or chairs to sit on as you watch the Balloons. Zach and I brought 2 blankets since it was a cold morning and that was perfect for us!
6. All Spots Inside the Park Are Great for Photos
If you're like me, you're worried about where to go once you're inside the Park!
Luckily, all spots around Balloon Fiesta Park are great for photos, so don't worry! It's also really fun to walk around in between the Hot Air Balloons for closer shots.
7. Spend Some Time in Old Town Albuquerque
If you're staying for a few days (or even if you're not!) make sure you check out Old Town Albuquerque. It's a quaint little area with great shops, New Mexican eateries, live music and more.
If you want to split up your accommodations, I'd also recommend staying one night near Old Town in a historic, Southwestern adobe home - there are so many options on Airbnb!
8. Make Reservations for Dinner or Plan on a Long Wait
The 9 days of the Balloon Festival are the most crowded days in Albuquerque - be sure to make reservations if you have dinner preferences or arrive early.
Zach and I ended up eating at a little pizza place one night that I don't remember the name of, but we waited quite a long time! I think we did fast food on our second night...
Albuquerque was an unexpectedly delightful city, even aside from the International Balloon Festival! I can't wait to go back, and I hope you love it as much as I did.
Let me know if you're considering visiting the Balloon Fiesta. Please feel free to reach out if you have any specific questions - I'd love to help!