There are some things in life that just have to be experienced. You can read about it. You can look at photos and watch videos. You can research the heck out of it and think you understand. But in the end, the only way to truly comprehend the complete experience is just to do it.
That is how I feel about the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
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I’m going to do my best to share our weekend during the opening days of this festival, but I know I will fail. Trying to capture and share the awe and wonder, the pure emotion of being amongst 600 balloons in various stages of flight, it is beyond thrilling and the visual overload is mind-boggling.
So let’s start from the top. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest balloon festival. And while they are many other balloon festivals around the world, this is the grand-daddy of them all. During the 9-day event, more than 25 million photos are taken, in fact, it is the most photographed event in the world (probably one of the reasons why Canon [fan girl!] is the sponsor!).
The event takes place in October every year at its own Balloon Fiesta Park which is basically a 78-acre launch field! (Address for GPS: 5000 Balloon Fiesta Pkwy NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113 ) Also, there is a beautiful museum with a perfect-for-watching-the-fiesta terrace that overlooks the field.
One reason the festival grew in such popularity is because of the famous Albuquerque Box phenomenon which I will let a wiser meteorological person explain way better than I can. In layman’s terms, the weather and wind patterns are really good for ballooning!
Of course before going any further as a tried-and-true Francophile I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you that the first manned hot air balloon was in Paris in 1783 (unless you believe the scriptwriters from Matt Damon’s The Great Wall film, in which case the Chinese hopped on hot air balloon to rescue the emperor from vampirish beasts, although the Chinese and Portuguese were the first to experiment with unmanned hot air balloons, but I digress…) The balloon was created by the Montgolfier brothers, which is why term Montgolfier is still used today to refer to any balloon raised in the air by heated fire. Voila!
On our last trip to Paris, we did our own little ballooning at the Ballon de Paris located in the Parc Andre Citroen, it’s the biggest hot air balloon in the world, but it is tethered, although you get GREAT views of Paris.
And there are fantastic balloon rides you can partake in all over the world, but still, nothing compares to what we experienced at Albuquerque.
There are many events going on during the 9 days the fiesta takes place, but if you have to pick one thing to do, it is the Mass Ascension that takes place during the mornings of the first weekend and last Saturday. Do not miss this! Let me tell you, it seems like mass hysteria, but it is actually highly coordinated. There is a balloon master and lots of balloon referees that are managing the balloons to get them all out in 2 waves. 600 balloons, 2 waves. It is truly masterful.
It is an explosion of activity. Everywhere you look there are pilots and crews laying out the magnificent balloons, filling them with hot air, setting the weights, and waiting their turn to take off. Once in the sky, the colors specks of every shape and in every hue. I absolutely envy the people who just plopped themselves on a blanket, laid back, and took it all in.
As for Mr. Misadventures and I, we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, shouting, “look at that” and “look over there”. Waking up at 3:00 the first morning at 3:30 the next did not damper one ounce of our enthusiasm. We were like kids in a candy store!
Now, to be honest, there is not a whole lot that goes on after the mass ascension. If you plan on staying the whole day, you will run out of things to do. My recommendation is to go back to your hotel or campsite and take a nap. That’s what we certainly did! We returned on Saturday evening for the Balloon Glow (all the balloon stay grounded by light up at the direction of the balloon master) which is pretty cool to see in the dark.
But still, for me, it’s all about the mass ascension!
So, I really, really want to go back for next year, and YOU should too!
Here are a few tips (learned the hard way!)
- Bring headlamps – it’s dark in the morning when they are first prepping, there are no lights on the field and a headlamp would have been awesome!
- Portable chair – after 2-3 hours straight of wandering around on the field, it would have been good to sit down and watch the rest of the activities. There is little to no seating.
- I recommend arriving between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. to get a decent parking spot unless you are taking a shuttle. There are lots of shuttles, but the lines to leave are pretty LONG.
- A thermos of coffee – the first morning there were no vendors opened up in the morning until after 6 or so, a thermos full of coffee would have been a godsend, it is quite cold in the morning.
- The middle of the field is the best spot to be in if you want to be engulfed in all the action. If you are more into observing, you can take an end.
- Breakfast burritos are what’s on tap for breakfast, all kinds of vendors with lots of Hatch chilis. The other big breakfast item was donuts. With our low carb diet that wasn’t an option for us, so you may want to pack your own breakfast.
- Also, all the food vendors are Cash Only!
- As I mentioned above, during the day there isn’t much to do, go back to your hotel and take a nap.
- But, if you want a good spot for Glow, be back at 3:30 to get decent parking.
- Because you are at 5000 feet in the desert, it is super dry. There is water available, but when you are out on the field you don’t want to hike over to the concession area to get it, bring your own water bottle.
- That Albuquerque box produces a lot of wind, chaps the lips real quick, so make sure you bring your favorite lip balm.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen, with the wind, you don’t think you are getting burnt. You are.
- There is little to no shade, so also consider a hat.
- Bring hand sanitizer and maybe hand wipes, the toilets are of the port-a-potty variety!
- What to Pack for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
Balloon Fiesta website for event information.
Admission: $10 for 12 years & up, under 12 free, General Parking $15 per car
We have every intention of returning for the 2018 fiesta!
Mr. Misadventures took thousands of photos so I've created this gallery for you to see a sampling.
How about you? Have you been to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta? Have I convinced you that you should? Do tell!
As I truly believe there is just so much going on that it's impossible to capture it all, I've included posts from bloggers I met or bloggers I know who attended the event. Check out their posts for their personal experiences!
From Lauren of The Down Lo: The Most Photographed Event in the World is Not What You Think
From Jen on a Jet Plane: Flying in a Hot Air Balloon at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
From Danta of O Taste and See: Hot Air Balloon Ride
Disclosure: I was invited by the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and provided with a media pass that granted me admission and parking. All other expenses including the 7-hour drive there and back along with hotel accommodations were paid by me!
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