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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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!).

Albuquerque-International-Balloon-Fiesta-2017-14
Canon carries the American flag for the opening.

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.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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!

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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.

Ballon de 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.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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!

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
The evening event, Glow.

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!

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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
Albuquerque International 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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85 Comments

  1. I can just feel your excitement for the event, Andi! What a fantastic experience it must have been! Definitely one for the bucket list! I’ve been to a balloon festival in the past, but it was NOTHING like this one! Must add it to my list! Thanks! And great pics, too!

  2. Hi! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your pictures and your post! Aiden and I so enjoyed meeting you and the Mr at the fiesta. I felt the same way about trying to describe the whole thing. The pictures really say it all!

  3. So beautiful! There was a balloon festival in Reno recently, and a bunch of people I knew were talking about it. I wanted to go but couldn’t make it. Now I can see why they were so excited. I love the addition of the gallery–I am a sucker for beautiful photos 🙂

  4. I picked up a hitch hiker last year and she was raving about sleeping outside and waking up to these balloons above her. She may have been transient but she was having a good time! I was glad for her. Yes I bought her lunch.

  5. I lived in Albuquerque in 1972 when the Fiesta started. I remember watching from the roof of an apartment building and then in later years I would watch the balloons as I drove to work on the interstate. Memories!

    1. @Janet, that must have been incredible! We we drove through a residential area on Sunday morning where some of the balloons landed, you could see them right from your backyard!

  6. I would love to go there with my family! It’s really colorful and enjoyable! Extra-ordinary experience for sure!

  7. Awesome tips. While I have never been to NM let alone the balloon fest I can try to imagine it as we have one at our airport. If ever traveling out that way this would definitely be something I would want to check out. Beautiful balloons, love your pictures!

  8. This is such a cool celebration! It would be awesome to go and see everyone displaying and launching their balloons!

  9. That is so colorful! We have a balloon festival here in NJ too but never had the chance to go. You just inspired me to make it a priority next summer.

  10. That sounds like such an amazing site! I have seen the balloons on the news, but one day I want to see it in person!

  11. We went to a balloon festival last summer and it was amazing but omgosh this one looks like it’s much larger. What an experience! I am in awe of Hot air balloons. They really are magical.

  12. I have always been a bit obsessed with hot air balloons. What a magical experience to float up in the sky. I didn’t realize that this festival was the largest in the world! I would love to watch the mass ascensions.

  13. I’ve wanted to see this festival forever, and reading your post makes me want to go even more. I appreciate all the tips you’ve included, and its good to know how early to get there and what to bring. I’m not much of a morning person, but I would be for this event!

  14. You know as a kid growing up I always wanted to do a hot air balloon ride, now as an adult, somebody who on my travels has done two sky dives I’m yet to do a hot air balloon ride, maybe I should do my first at Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This reminds me of a similar event they have in Australia (which I missed) I bet you had an amazing time 😀

  15. I went to the balloon fiesta probably 15 years ago when I was new to the Southwest. It was amazing. My son broke his arm walking in the parking lot but the trip was still incredible. Do the still have the shaped balloons? I thought the shaped balloons, mass ascension, and night glow were all beautiful. During the day we visited the Navajo market, which was a lot of fun.

  16. We got to see it years and years ago, but every year I look at all the new photos and long to go back. I didn’t realise that hot air ballooning only started in 1783. It feels like it should have started a lot before then. I’m glad you had such a great time. It really is something you must experience for yourself.

  17. The photos look incredibly stunning! I love balloon festivals although no luck yet to have attended somewhere abroad, only in my country in the Philippines but not close enough to take nice photos as yours! I would love to attend this one in the future, will tell my boyfriend now! haha could be our next stop!

  18. I am yet to experience this. When I was in Bagan, Myanmar I wanted to do this but due to rains it was cancelled. Albuquerque looks so colorful with these giants in the sky. I am sure, it must have been awe inspiring experience for you and it is evident from the post. 25 million photos are huge and it is making me go for this. Info on Montgolfier was new to me. Your tips are good and will certainly help anyone planning to be there.

  19. Wow, stunning photos! Have never been to a balloon festival but it would be amazing to visit. I think I’m a bit scared of hot air balloons, but I’d give it a try!

  20. Looks amazing and so colourful against the amazing blue backdrop. I have read many blog posts over the years and this event and everyone makes me want to visit more. New Mexico has such a great history as well as balloons, i love the wild west

  21. You are right some things like this are must enjoy events. The pics are so colorful and fun filled.
    I hope I get an opportunity to attend a festival like this.

  22. This is a seriously impressive hot air balloon festival. I cannot imagine the logistics of getting 600 balloons safely into the air! Your pictures are so colorful and gorgeous, you’ve sold me on the event. 😉

  23. ALL THE COLOURS!!! SO BEAUTIFUL!!! I’ve always been a sucker for hot air balloon rides but being in Asia is way too far away. Do you know any other places nearer to home for me? 🙂

  24. Wow! I’ve never actually seen a hot air balloon in action, let alone riding one. I would travel to Albuquerque JUST to witness this in person! It makes me kinda nervous seeing so many balloons in the air all at the same time though. Amazing how they do it!

  25. I’ve always wanted to experience this. There’s something so magical about these hot air balloons. I’d love to see them all together with all those vibrant colors flying through the sky!

  26. I completely agree, it has to be seen in real life! Your pictures are amazing, so vibrant! And I fell in love with chiles while in New Mexico haha. Would love to go back again! Can’t imagine it ever gets old 🙂

  27. No wonder you want to go back. It would be amazing to see all the balloons going up at the same time! I have been to see the hot air balloons in Park City, Utah. There, they also complete in special stunts, like drifting over a lake and getting low enough to grab something on the end of a pole. It’s so much fun to watch and take photos!

  28. Last month is the first time I heard about this big festival. It is so cool to see so many hot air balloons flying in the sky at the same time. I’m hoping to visit next year – maybe we can meet each other there!

  29. Reading this has me so excited as I am attending the festival this year! Less than 2 weeks away and I get to see all those gorgeous balloons. Great tips and thanks for the perfect timing of this post! 🙂

  30. This looks like a lot of fun. I couldn’t imagine arriving that early for a parking spot. I am scared of heights, but it has always been a dream of mine to go on a hot air balloon. The pictures are amazing.

  31. I am loving all your colorful photos in this post! Sadly, I have never been to a balloon festival. I don’t even believe there is one in my city or even nearby, what a shame. This event looks really awesome. Great post!

  32. Wow, this looks great. Love a good photo opp. And this looks like you could snap thousands of very colourful photos. Perfect. I can see how being amongst all those balloons would be just mind boggling.

  33. Oh my goodness Andi, this balloon festival looks incredible! I’ve been to Santa Fe but never spent any real time in ABQ. Not only did you inspire me to want to go to the festival, your tips were so thoughtful! I would never have brought a headlamp to a balloon festival but now I totally will. Thanks for such a terrific blog post, as usual!

  34. So much beautiful colour in the sky, I love hot air ballooning such a surreal feeling when you float away from the ground so peacefully and quiet. I have had the opportunity to hot air balloon twice, one over Melbourne city and once not far out of Sydney. Sydney was really cloudy and we went through the cloud and popped up above all the clouds and watched the sunrise. It was just beautiful. Canberra has a big festival like this, I’d love to see it.

  35. Wow this looks like an amazing experience for you! I’ve never been to one myself, but it sure looks like fun. Great pics, too!

  36. Your pictures of this event really are stunning, Andi! I would love to see this some day; I’m sure I’d be unable to put my camera down. That’s incredible that it’s the most photographed event in the world, and I love your honest review of the must-see events such as the Mass Ascension and the Balloon Glow and what is okay to skip. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this before, but this is a great reason to go check out New Mexico! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  37. I’ve been to the festival, 3 times, with press passes each time. I’ve been up 2 of those times.
    I highly recommend using a polarizer all the time. Your colors will jump like crazy. Their are many aces to visit and see in and around the area. I was at the first 3 balloon glow events.
    It’s a lot of fun. E joy.

    1. @Walter, thanks for the advice on the polarizing filter! We are hoping to get there again this year – I think it is a festival that one can do over and over again!

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