Everything you need to know about the famous Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta hot air balloon festival. Read on for when to go, what to see and hot air balloon ride information.
Talking about checking one off the bucket list.
Last fall I had the chance to attend the famous Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is one of the largest balloon festivals in the world, with over 500 balloons taking flight. It was epic.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Check out the YouTube video I created about the Balloon Fiesta and about 100,000 photos below. 🙂
Dawn Patrol – Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
Every morning starts with the Dawn Patrol. Before sunrise, Dawn Patrol pilots take off and fly until landing sites become visible, giving other balloonists an idea of wind speeds and directions.
Mass Ascension – Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
The main event is the mass ascension. Hundreds of colorful balloons launch a few at a time. I guarantee it will take your breath away. It doesn’t happen every day so it’s definitely something to plan your trip around.
With so many balloons inflating at the same time, I felt so small. The beauty is almost too much to process.
It begins with one or two hot air balloons filling with air but most of the field is quiet. The balloons are all rolled out and ready and the anticipation is palpable.
Then the first balloon takes flight. If you’re like me, your reaction will be to take a million photos of this balloon as it lifts off drifts away.
Before you know it, the entire sky is filled with hot air balloons. It’s ok if you cry a little. My allergies were really bad that day too.
Balloon Glow – Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
The balloon glow happens at night at the Balloon Fiesta. Just before dusk, balloons are inflated and tethered. They then ignite on the cue of the announcer, filling the sky with brilliant colors.
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta By the Numbers
- The balloon fiesta filed is the size of 56 football fields. It takes 3,000 volunteers to produce the nine-day event. Over 800,000 people attend the balloon festival each year.
- The typical hot air balloon stands around seventy feet tall.
- The average hot air balloon cost is 20 to 40 thousand dollars. The special shape balloons can cost up to 250 thousand! Most of the balloon pilots at the fiesta also run balloon tourism companies that help to cover costs. It’s also common to see branded hot air balloons that are sponsored by large companies.
- This year was the 46th anniversary of the balloon fiesta, which started with 13 hot air balloons in 1972.
- The first hot air balloon flight in the United States was done in 1784 by a 13-year-old boy – flying in a paper hot air balloon! Now balloons are made of rip-stop nylon to keep them lightweight but strong. The lower portion of the balloon is made of that same fire resistant material that fireman and race car drivers wear.
Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival Tips
My best advice for you is to arrive early, dress warm and keep your fingers crossed that the winds are in your favor. I would also go for multiple days and you absolutely can’t miss the mass ascension.
More balloon fiesta tips:
- I’m going to say it again, make sure you get there early! The balloons take off shortly after sunrise, so there won’t be much to see there if you dawdle. I’d get there no later than 7 am or you might miss the mass ascension.
- Parking closes at 10:30 and you can’t enter the park by after that. We learned this the hard way.
- Don’t forget to bring an extra battery for your camera. Actually, make that two extra batteries
- Talk to the hot air balloon pilots. I found all of them very friendly and approachable. Their passion for ballooning is truly inspiring.
Other Things to Watch & Do at the Balloon Fiesta
In addition to a beautiful spectacle, the balloon festival has several competitions for the balloon pilots. One is the Fly in Task where pilots fly to a specific spot and drop a weighted marker trying to hit a target. The other is the Ring Toss. Balloons launch from a mile away from the grounds and try to navigate to one of five tall poles. Each ring is worth a prize if the pilot can place it over one of the poles.
On the balloon grounds is the Balloon Discovery Center. Stop by for interactive exhibits that illustrate the history of ballooning and learn about launching and landing a hot air balloon.
Taking a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Private and group hot air balloon rides are available during the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta through a Rainbow Ryders. Save your pennies though because rides are not cheap!
As a part of our media passes, we had the chance to take a hot air balloon ride. It was such a spectacular adventure and definitely a highlight of the trip. Hot air balloons have always been so mystical to me and the balloon fiesta was the perfect place to take my first ride.
Balloon launches are dependent on the weather and because of winds we almost didn’t make it up into the air. Many balloons chose not to fly, but Koen, our pilot was very skilled and had no problem handling the gusts!
Our pilot came to Albuquerque all the way from Belgium. He had a special shape balloon that looked like a baby! It was a present for his daughter when she was born. I guess that would make her the youngest balloon owner in the world.
The view from the hot air balloon was incredible. To overlook the Fiesta Grounds and see the balloons taking off was just unreal.
I was surprised by how calm the ride was. You’re literally floating on air. It’s like you’re staying still and everything else is moving around you. Other than the intermittent roar of the balloon’s flame, it’s completely peaceful. Time doesn’t matter and a sense of calm falls over you. It’s an incredible feeling.
Landing a Hot Air Balloon
Getting the balloon back to the ground requires a chase crew. With the help of two-way radios, they follow the balloon in a pickup truck. Ideally they are there to help load up the balloon when it lands.
Part of joining the balloon crew is folding up the balloon after the flight and putting it back in it’s sack. You can see more of that in my video.
Special Shape Hot Air Balloons
Have you noticed all the special shape balloons? There was everything from Darth Vader to a flying pig. There were a few events the centered around Special Shape Balloons, like a Special Shape Balloon Glow.
Check out the Yoda and Darth Vader hot air balloons! This was the view from our hot air balloon flight and it really made it obvious what crowd pleasers these hot air balloons are! There are more people watching these balloons lift off than on the rest of the fiesta balloon grounds!
Steering a Hot Air Balloon
There’s no way to steer a hot air balloon. That’s why the pilots are so cautious about the weather – they are literally at the mercy of the wind. The only control they have is to raise and lower the balloon to find different currents of wind to help guide them.
You might be wondering why the balloon launch is so early in the morning! The atmosphere is most stable during the hours just following sunrise making it the best for finding gentle winds. The hot air balloon gets a better lift from the bursts of hot air when it’s cool – this also makes it easier to navigate. You might want to roll over and hit the snooze button when your alarm goes off at 5 AM, but I promise it’s worth it.
I know no video can replace the experience of being surrounded by hundreds of hot air balloons, so I hope I inspired you to add the Albuquerque fiesta to your bucket list too. I hope you enjoyed this look at the Albuquerque balloon fiesta.
All photos by me or the amazing Holly Mathews.