Every October since 1972, thousands of balloonists and spectators convene in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the International Balloon Fiesta. This year, over 580 hot air balloons floated up into the desert skies. This is the largest hot air balloon gathering in the world.
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Event Details
The festival spans 9 days – from one weekend to the next – with daily mass ascensions at dawn, daily night glow after sunset, and a full program of events in between. On the weekends, there are chainsaw carving contests, live music, performances, artisans, and all sorts of entertainment to add to the food trucks and festive atmosphere.
Of course, everything is weather permitting, so if you buy a ticket to an event that cannot take place, it’s good for another day or year. Prepare to deal with traffic (especially on the weekends), long walks from the parking lot to the festival, and crowds. However, it is all worth it for the spectacular display of colored silks that will fill up the sky.
Balloon Fiesta Tips
Book your accommodations well in advance. You can stay a within a few miles of the fairgrounds, and walk to the event to avoid all the traffic and parking congestion. Alternatively, avoid traffic and the parking fiasco by purchasing a Park & Ride ticket and parking at one of the multiple off-site shuttle locations.
Be sure to have cash on hand if you choose to park at the event ($15 each time you enter, no in and out).
In the morning, I recommend the breakfast burritos. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers – since the prime times of dusk and dawn also bring fluctuations in temperature.
We camped at Turquoise Trail campground about 20-30min east of the fiesta. In addition to tent sites, they also have small cabins and RV hook-ups, all of which are more affordable than the surrounding hotels. Check out AirBnB and VRBO for deals as well, but keep in mind that things will book up early.
The desert geography of Albuquerque fairgrounds is such that the balloons go in a sort of quadrilateral, which makes it the perfect location for the mass convention.
Below is a diagram of this box effect when conditions are optimal. As you can see, balloonists can ascend to higher elevations to go north, and descend to lower elevations to go south.
This box effect coupled with the cold October mornings provides ideal conditions for ballooning.
How Hot Air Balloons Fly
Flying a balloon is a bit of an art. While you cannot control the direction you go, you can increase or decrease your altitude using your hot air (and hundreds of gallons of propane) to catch another wind current.
The flaps on the side allow you to spin around, and are primarily used for landing in the right direction. A parachute at the top of the balloon is pulled to the side to let the hot air out for your descent.
The pros compete in target races – where you take off from one location and have to land on a specified target. There all all sorts of competitions where balloonists try to grab a set of keys off the top of a flagpole or play grab and go Texas Hold Em on a large playing field.