Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta - What to Know Before You Go
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is a sight to behold. For nine days each October, multicolored balloons light up the early morning sky in a magical display that draws visitors from all over the globe. These enormous hot air balloons soar through the vast New Mexico skies, delighting locals and tourists alike. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the largest hot air ballooning event in the world, with over 500 hot air balloons launched each year. The event also features food, drink, live music, weekday and evening events, and much more!
Balloon Fiesta 2019: What You Need to Know
When: October 5th-13th, 2019
Where: Balloon Fiesta Park, Albuquerque, NM
Cost: $10 per person
Getting There: Park in one of the lots surrounding the park for $15, or book tickets in advance for the Park & Ride Shuttle Bus, which is $15 and includes admission to the Fiesta.
What to Bring: Cash for parking and food, layers for chilly morning weather, lawn chairs and blankets, and a camera to capture the magical sights!
October in New Mexico: Fall days are crisp and clear in Albuquerque, with generally sunny skies. Mild temperatures range from forty degrees in the early morning to seventy degrees at midday.
Our Tips for Making the Most of Balloon Fiesta
Read on for our insider tips on when to go, what to do, and much more!
1. Attend the Morning Mass Ascension
While the Balloon Fiesta has events throughout the week, including smaller balloon launches and competitions, the Mass Ascension is what most people mean when they’re talking about the Balloon Fiesta. This event is the largest and most popular ascension of hot air balloons during the Fiesta, with hundreds of balloons lighting up the morning sky. While it’s definitely more crowded than other Balloon Fiesta events, we think it’s worth the extra effort! The Mass Ascension takes place on the 5th, 6th, 9th, 12th, and 13th, including both weekends of Balloon Fiesta, as well as on Wednesday morning mid-week.
2. Get There Early
Balloon Fiesta draws thousands of people each year, often resulting in long lines and a wait to get into the park. Parking can also be challenging, especially on the busier weekend days. The park opens at 4:30 am, and we recommend arriving between 4:30 and 5:00 am for best results. Getting there early ensures that you beat the lines, and gives you plenty of time to explore and enjoy the festive atmosphere of the park itself. Be sure to print out your tickets if you’ve bought them ahead of time, and bring cash for the $15 parking fee if you decide to drive.
If you get there early, you’ll also be able to witness the Dawn Patrol Show at around 6:00 am. During this show, a small fraction of the balloons ascend into the sky before sunrise, both to ring in another day at the Fiesta, as well as to check the weather conditions to make sure that everything is safe for the Mass Ascension later in the morning. The Mass Ascension generally starts around an hour later at 7:00 am, and lasts for about two hours.
3. Book a Balloon Ride in Advance
Just the sight of the hot air balloons themselves is magical, but the Balloon Fiesta has even more spectacular sights in store for those who book early. While balloon rides are normally limited to the balloonists themselves, along with friends and family, a limited number of balloon ride tickets are for sale to the general public through the Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon Company. These tickets go on sale in early January starting at $395 per person, and are typically snapped up pretty quickly by fans of the Fiesta. There are a very small number of first come, first serve spots the morning of the Fiesta that are available if anyone who has booked tickets is unable to make it.
4. Be Prepared for Weather Cancellations
While weather is generally mild in October in New Mexico, the balloons require precise weather conditions in order to launch safely and successfully. Balloon Fiesta events, particularly the Mass Ascensions and other balloon launches, can be canceled on short notice if the weather is windy, rainy, or otherwise unfavorable. Since officials often don’t decide to cancel the event until just before the balloons are scheduled to launch, visitors to the Balloon Fiesta may be disappointed if they attend on a day where balloon ascensions end up being canceled.
If you’re traveling to New Mexico specifically for the Fiesta, we recommend planning to attend several Mass Ascensions, in case any of them end up being canceled. If you have the good luck of attending a successful ascension on your first try, you can happily attend other days of the Balloon Fiesta, or plan to spend the rest of your visit exploring New Mexico. If you do end up going on a day when the ascension is canceled, however, there are still plenty of food trucks, art stalls, and other entertainment that’s worth the visit.
5. Check Out the Fairgrounds for Food, Beer, and More
In addition to the stunning sight of colorful balloons soaring in the New Mexico sky, the festive atmosphere of the Balloon Fiesta is a draw in and of itself! There are a variety of food trucks, stalls, and tents serving up fairground food including breakfast burritos, fried dough, doughnuts, New Mexican food, and much more. There’s also a beer garden near the main concession area, along with coffee, juice, and other drinks to wet your whistle and boost your spirits while the balloons fly. If you’re interested in shopping for local art, art and craft vendors are interspersed throughout the park, selling a wide variety of artwork, balloon-themed merchandise, and much more.
More Balloon Fiesta Info
Read on for other Balloon Fiesta events, lodging, excursions, and more!
In addition to the Mass Ascension, the Balloon Fiesta includes a variety of other events throughout the week. These include smaller balloon launches, balloon competitions, a Special Shape Rodeo where unique balloons take to the skies, chainsaw carving competitions, and Balloon Glows and fireworks in the evening. If you’re in town for several days during the Balloon Fiesta, these events are fun for the whole family and definitely worth checking out. They also often have smaller crowds than the Mass Ascensions, making them a great alternative if you’re looking for a smaller and more intimate event.
If you’re looking for a VIP viewing experience during the Mass Ascension, check out the Gondola Club and Chasers’ Club. These tickets cost between $45-$100 per person, and include catered food, an open bar, guaranteed seating, and more. While you can definitely have plenty of fun with a simple $10 Balloon Fiesta ticket, these pricier venues offer a more exclusive experience.
RV and Glamping
If you’re visiting from out of town and looking for a place to stay conveniently located near the Balloon Park, consider the Fiesta’s RV and Glamping options. RV rates start at $40 per night, and Glamping rates start at $1,500 for three nights for one to two people. All reservations can be purchased online, and often sell out well in advance of the event. Both the RV and Glamping areas are just a short walk away from the Balloon Fiesta fairgrounds.
View Balloons from the Rio Grande
If you’re interested in a unique, one-of-a-kind experience, if you’ve attended the Balloon Fiesta before and want to try something new, or if you just love the great outdoors, a variety of local companies offer guided kayak, canoe, and paddleboard tours on the Rio Grande during the Balloon Fiesta. Balloons often float directly over the Rio Grande, sometimes even skimming the water! These tours start at $84 a person, and are a great way to experience a unique version of the Balloon Fiesta.
After Balloon Fiesta
If you’re planning to visit Albuquerque for several days, there’s plenty to do once you’ve had your fill of hot air balloons!
Located on the grounds of Balloon Park at the edge of the fairgrounds, the Balloon Museum is dedicated to the history and science beyond hot air balloon aviation. The museum is fun for the whole family, and has a variety of special events during Balloon Fiesta week.
Albuquerque Old Town
If you’re staying in Albuquerque, be sure to check out Old Town, the historic district of the city. Old Town features historic architecture, delicious food and drink, and a variety of entertainment options. No matter what you’re interested in, Old Town is definitely worth an afternoon’s visit.
Santa Fe and Taos
After Balloon Fiesta, consider exploring some of the nearby sites and cities in New Mexico! Just an hour away, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States, and boasts a rich history and culture influenced by Spanish, American, and native traditions. Two hours north from Albuquerque, the small town of Taos is another worthwhile destination, and is an art mecca that draws thousands from all over the world. If you’re interested in further exploring the Land of Enchantment, check out our guides to Santa Fe, Taos, and beyond!
About the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta began in 1972, with just a few balloons participating, but has grown over the years into one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in existence. The event is also one of the most photographed scenes in the world, with photographers from around the globe drawn to the Land of Enchantment each October in order to capture the surreal and magical sights of the Balloon Fiesta.
The conditions in Albuquerque are ideal for hot air balloon expeditions, thanks to a phenomenon known as the “Albuquerque Box.” Because of both the low elevation of the Rio Grande river valley and the high elevation of the nearby mountain ranges, the winds surrounding the Balloon Park form a rectangular pattern that allows balloonists to launch, fly, and eventually land very near to where they started, making it an ideal location for hot air balloon flights.
Whether you’re traveling from near or far, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the experience of a lifetime that you won’t want to miss!