How to do Albuquerque Balloon Festival in a Weekend

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the largest hot air ballooning event in the world and is said to be the most photographed event on earth! Each October, hundreds of balloonists and thousands of tourists from around the world flock to the Land of Enchantment in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a chance to witness spectacular hot air ballooning events. What started back in 1972 with just 13 balloons now draws hundreds of thousands of guests who watch the nearly 600 vibrantly-colored balloons take over the sky (and ground below)!

Photo by Meagan Biggs Photography

Interested in attending the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta yourself? Here are my top tips for a top-notch quick weekend… to ensure your mind is inflated with all the right info when fiesta time comes rolling around!

Mesmerized during Mass Ascension

–Mornings start with a laser light show at 5:45am 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.

Tip 1: The Mass Ascension that is pictured above is a launch of ALL the participating 500+ balloons. Weather permitting, the balloons begin to launch at about 7:00am on Saturday and Sunday mornings, led by a balloon flying the American flag to the strains of The Star Spangled Banner. They all fill the sky at the same time and it’s a really spectacular sight. People start arriving as early as 4:30am, so bring a blanket and get breakfast tacos and hot chocolate from vendors inside and cuddle up in the Balloon Field while you watch all the pilots start unpacking.

Night Magic Glow as the sun sets

–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 also a laser light show every night, which is super cool. There are no evening sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tip 2: The two most popular events that you don’t want to miss are the Mass Ascension and the Night Magic Glow. If you’re wanting to go for just a weekend, I recommend going the second weekend so you can catch the Night Magic Glow on Saturday night and the mass ascension on either Saturday or Sunday morning.

Photo Oct 12, 7 11 38 PM      LRM_EXPORT_454518220096077_20191015_070155476.jpeg

–The cool thing is you don’t just watch from afar. You get to go out onto the field in the middle of the inflating and launching balloons. They are so much bigger on the ground than they look up in the sky. And watching these huge balloons go from flat on the ground to fully inflated and ready to go is another unforgettable experience. You also get to interact with the crews going up in the balloons.

–If you want to go in-style, check out the Gondola Club. Admission is approximately $100 per person but has a lot of perks, including admission to the Fiesta, parking pass to private Gondola Club parking (as well as shuttle service), a buffet meal, free alcoholic beverages, prime location to view balloon launch and my favorite: real bathrooms.

The Night Magic Glow on the last night is when all the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time

Tip 3: Arrive early! Not because it’s hard to get a good spot (there’s plenty of room on the field for everyone), but because the parking and walking in can take a bit. There’s a designated Uber lot that’s about a 10 minute walk and parking (cash only) that’s a 5-10 minute walk. You can also take the Fiesta Express Park & Ride, which are buses that pick up from a handful of locations around Albuquerque and drop you off right out front of the Fiesta. Tickets are approximately $20, but considering Uber can break the bank when there’s traffic, it could be your best option if you’re trying to keep costs low.

Tip 4: Buy your tickets in advance online. The line is usually long to buy tickets and after that long walk in, you’ll be ready to get in. You can print them out for free or have them scan from your phone. Definitely a better idea to purchase that and the Park & Ride Ticket ahead of time.

Balloon Fiesta Park with Sandia Mountains in the background

Tip 5: At almost a mile above sea level, you’re closer to the sun. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses and possibly a hat. New Mexico is very dry, so carry (and drink) a lot of water. Also, as you’ll probably be arriving in the dark in the morning and/or leaving in the dark at night, so dress in layers as the weather fluctuates a lot this time of year. If you want to sit and lounge in the field while you’re waiting, bring your own chair or blanket. You can also bring snacks and drinks (no glass) and have your own little picnic. There are tons of local vendors serving excellent food and drink of all kinds, so that’s an option too.

PRO TIP 6: Use the bathrooms BEHIND the vendors. They’re less popular since they’re off the main strip, but there’s rarely ever a line, meaning they’re quicker and probably cleaner.

Tip 7: When there aren’t ballooning events going on, you can check out the cool local vendors selling all kinds of authentic and unique items. I got this handmade wire balloon to display in my travel room and a few other things to give as Christmas gifts. There’s also the Balloon Museum you can check out, and most days there are live music and live wood carving by professionals. Super cool.


Tip 8: In between morning and night sessions, for some authentic New Mexican food you should head to El Pinto, where everything is topped with green and red peppers Christmas-style, so yummy. 

Tip 9: If you have any free time, 1) Santa Fe is gorgeous and only an hour away; or you can 2) ride the gondola-style tram that takes you up the famous Sandia Mountains where you can dine or sip at the top and take in the majestic New Mexican views. 


TRAVEL BONUS! I’ve been to 15+ countries and have my personal tips for each location to share with you! Paris * Amsterdam * Northern Lights in Norway * My Fav Travel Items * Rio de Janeiro * Iceland * Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany * Airbnb TipsSummer Olympics I Can Fly * Harry Potter Studio in London * Auschwitz * Cheap Flights 101Ireland * Ultimate Bucket List * Albuquerque Balloon Festival * Luxury Travel Items * Disney World for Adults (coming soon… Train through Switzerland, Sound of Music in Salzburg and Havana, Cuba!)

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