Are rainbows the only multi-coloured phenomena in the sky above Albuquerque? No, they’re definitely not.
When this American city in the state of New Mexico hosts the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, from the 3rd to the 11th of October, 2020, the skies come alive with an incredible kaleidoscope of enormous hot air balloons.
If you thought a balloon did nothing more than float, think again. Balloon rodeos, glow flights and mass ascensions are just some of the things which make the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta a spectacular of light and color.
Though you might get a crick in your neck from staring upwards for the nine days Albuquerque celebrates the unusual sport of hot air ballooning, it’ll be well worth it.
From dawn to dusk and beyond, the talented balloon pilots put themselves and their equipment through its paces. If you fancy seeing the ground from a different angle too, you can do.
Image by: Eric Ward
Though you might need to crack open the piggy bank to take a hot air balloon flight at the fiesta itself as they average around three hundred dollars per person.
Don’t worry if you’re not a high flier or the thought of your feet leaving tierra firma makes you dizzy. Down at ground level there’s also plenty of other activities which will keep you busy and entertained.
You’ll want to check out the amazing 7-Eleven Balloon Discovery Centre where you can find out lots of interesting facts about balloons, how they’re made, how the weather conditions affects flying and if you’re at the Balloon Fiesta with children, they’ll have a chance to light up a balloon burner for real.
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There’s also a fascinating exhibition of NASA aeronautics and scientific ballooning which you won’t want to miss. The great thing is there’s no extra charge for visiting the Discovery Centre. It’s all included in the general session admission charge of $10.
What else happens at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta? Lots!
Special Shape Rodeo
Don’t be mislead into thinking the Special Shape Rodeo at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has anything to do with riding bucking broncos, it doesn’t.
What it is to do with is any balloon which isn’t exactly balloon shaped. You’ll be completely awe-struck by gigantic bumble bees, seahorses, Cinderella carriages and even Darth Vader-shaped balloons as they float up into the big blue.
You’ll have great fun trying to spot the strangest shape and the most imaginative design. And no, you won’t be hallucinating when you see a balloon that looks like a pair of men’s underwear flying overhead.
Image by: Jeremy
Laser Light Show
Albuquerque doesn’t believe in waiting for dawn to dispel the dark from the night skies. They just get up and do it themselves. Every morning of the Balloon Fiesta, at precisely 05.45am, you’ll be able to watch a fantastic Laser Light Show.
When the exhibition gets under way, piercing beams of light strobe across the heavens in a rhythmic dance set to music. Yes, you’ll need to get up early to see it, but it’s a great way to kick off the day and definitely better than a bowl of cornflakes.
Somebody has to check the weather conditions are right for flying at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and that job belongs to the Dawn Patrol. It’s an exciting moment when the pilots light up their burners, inflate their balloons and hit the air long before the sun has even come up for the inaugural flight of the day.
Image by: Britt Reints
They really do like to do things differently in Albuquerque. Give a man a chainsaw and normally he’d use it for cutting down a tree. Not at the Balloon Fiesta. Give a man a chainsaw and he’ll create a work of art.
Professional chainsaw carvers from all over the States and Canada convene to compete in the major charity event, the Chainsaw Challenge. It might be noisy to watch, but that’s forgivable as all the money raised from the sale of the pieces they produce goes to a good cause.
The skills displayed by the carvers is incredible when you consider the tool they are using. You’ll be truly astounded as a trunk of wood turns into a delicately featured flying eagle, a wild mustang with flowing mane or a life-size Grizzly bear. Unbelievable.
If you were impressed by the flights of the Special Shapes, you’ll be flabbergasted when you watch your first mass ascension. It really is hot air ballooning on a grand scale.
Wave after wave of balloons rise into the sky in simultaneous flight. Numbering in their hundreds, and impossible to keep count of as they go up, it’s an absolutely magnificent display of hot air ballooning that is completely unrivalled anywhere else in the world.
Image by: a4gpa
Not to be out done by the Chainsaw Challenge, the ballooners have several competitions in which they pit their aviation skills not only against each other, but against the elements as well.
Can they hit a target set by the Balloon Meister after a one mile flight or even drop two markers close together within a specified boundary? You’ll have to be there to find out.
AfterGlow Fireworks Show
Albuquerque doesn’t believe in being deflated even when the ballooning is over for the day. They finish the day the same way they started it, by illuminating the heavens.
But instead of laser lights, at dusk, the skies are lit by massive fireworks displays. Yes that really happens, every single day of the event. It’s another part of the amazing visual spectacular, which is the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, you just can’t miss. It’s fantastic.
Image by: John Fowler
5 Practical Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Tips
#1 Folding Chair and Sun Lounger
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is an outdoor event in an area of open fields known as the Balloon Fiesta Park. To be able to enjoy the displays comfortably. take a folding chair or even a sun lounger. You’ll be able to lay back and watch the balloons go up. It’ll save you a lot of neck strain.
#2 Strictly No Smoking Area
If you’re a smoker, you may want to take some nicotine chewing gum with you. Smoking is strictly prohibited for safety reasons.
#3 Get an Alarm Clock
Many of the events at the Balloon Fiesta are in the early morning. Gates to the events open at around 04.30am so you might want to make sure you set your alarm the night before.
#4 Wear Comfy Shoes
The Balloon Fiesta Park is an enormous 360 acres so forget the high heels and wear comfortable shoes.
#5 Use Ear Plugs
If you’re going to watch the Chainsaw Challenge, take some ear plugs with you.
So Why The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta?
There’s nothing more graceful or serene than a hot air balloon ascending into the skies. When there’s almost a thousand of them rising together, it turns a simple aerial navigation into an unbelievably colourful spectacular.
There really isn’t any other event quite like this one or one which will float your boat, or balloon gondola, quite like the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
Albuquerque is a city which was founded by Spanish settlers over three hundred years ago. Today Albuquerque is a massive sprawl of modern skyscrapers, but the original Old Town of adobe houses still exists at its core.
Backed by mountains, edged by deserts and intersected by the famous Rio Grande River, it’s not surprising that several Native Indian tribes also found it a great place to set up camp.
Sandia Peak Tramway
If all the hot air balloons have given you a taste for the high life, you might like to take a ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway. You’ll certainly see Albuquerque and the surrounding areas from a different viewpoint.
You’ll be in a tram car, dangling over a thousand metres above the ground. It’s a mind-boggling, fifteen minute journey from the base to the lookout point at the top which is a breath taking three kilometres high.
American International Rattlesnake Museum
You’ll want to shake, rattle and roll around the American International Rattlesnake Museum. Dedicated to all things snake, the museum also houses the largest collection of living rattlesnakes anywhere in the States.
Get all the inside information on the most dreaded venomous creature who ever slithered over the earth, then see if you can get the answers right in a game of rattlesnake trivia.
Dirty Bourbon Dance Hall and Salon
Stomp it out like a real cow poke at the Dirty Bourbon Dance Hall and Salon.
Grab a beer and sit in one of the corral-style seating areas then, when you’re all warmed up, learn how to line dance to top live country and western bands. You’ll be doing the Cowboy Shuffle in no time.
Where To Stay?
The infamous Route 66 ran through Albuquerque, so when it comes to staying there, you’ll find there’s a plethora of hotels, motels and guest houses to choose from:
As the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is visited by just under a million people, the best thing to do is to book your rooms well in advance.
La Quinta Inn is a hacienda-style building with contemporary furnished rooms which come complete with all mod cons. Falling into the mid-price range, it’s great for couples who want comfort but not over expenditure.
They’ll also provide you with an alarm clock and a coffee machine in your room so you don’t miss the early ballooning events.
While there are a multitude of food stands catering for all tastes at the Balloon Fiesta, you might want to treat yourself to a good dinner after being out in the fresh air all day.
The cuisine in Albuquerque has a distinct Mexican influence, so be ready to get nice and spicy. At the Cocina Azul you’ll be able to fend off your fresh air appetite with a bowl of green chile stew or why not try a traditional New Mexico broth made from diced pork, corn and red chile pods.
Or Seafood Admirer?
For a seriously tasty seafood, there’s nowhere better than Pappadeaux’s Seafood Kitchen. They serve an amazing variety of fish dishes such as crispy Texas Redfish with lump crab butter and collard greens.
For something wholly satisfy after a day outside go for the baked crab mac and cheese, it’ll really hit the spot. For a sweet finish to the day, tuck in to a chocolate fondue at the Melting Pot. There you can choose from nine different chocolate based fondues which come with treats and fruit for dipping.
Or Perhaps Vegan?
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll have some beautiful eating places to choose from in Albuquerque.
At the Vibrance vegan restaurant, why not try the Italian mushroom pocket or the curried lentil and sweet potato stew.
Or pop in to Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe for a Yogi bowl or a tridoshic kitchari followed by one of their decadent and completely vegan desserts.
How To Get There?
You can board a flight to the Albuquerque International Sunport which is just three miles outside of the city. The Sunport receives flights from all over the USA as well as from other countries.
There are public transport connections from the Sunport into Albuquerque provided by ABQ Ride. During the week take the ABQ Ride 250 or 50 bus shuttle service.
Either one takes around twenty minutes to reach the Alvarado Transportation Centre which is the central transit point for all other services. The fare is $1 for adults and children ride for free.
No trains or metro from airport
There are no train or metro service from the Sunport to Albuquerque or any ABQ Ride services on Sundays, but taxi and Uber services are available.
If you’re arriving by train to Albuquerque from Santa Fe, Belen, Bernalillo or Los Ranchos, you’ll disembark at the Alvarado Transportation Centre where you’ll be able to take a bus to the area where you’re staying.
The train journey from Santa Fe to Albuquerque takes around an hour and a half for a ticket cost of $9. From Belen it will take you just 45 minutes to arrive in Albuquerque, from Bernalillo and Los Ranchos it’s a half hour journey and both cost $3.
Albuquerque’s inner-city bus service is also provided by ABQ Ride and has three different routes. The Red, Blue and Green line Rapid Ride service which all serve different parts of the city. Fares are standardised at $1 per journey and various passes offering unlimited travel are available. For example, a pass with unlimited travel for a whole day costs $2 or for three consecutive days unlimited travel costs just $6.
Park & Ride
If you’re arriving by car for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta there is good parking available at the Balloon Fiesta Park. General parking costs $15 per car, motorcycle or handicapped vehicle which doesn’t include the session admission price.
Because of the enormous public attendance to the event, a Park and Ride shuttle service is available from the outer lying parking areas. The shuttle services start at 04.30am to 07.00am for early sessions and from 15.30 to 18.30 for evening sessions. Last buses back to the parking lots are at 12.30 and 22.00 hours respectively.
The session admission price is included with the shuttle service ticket which can be purchased in advance online for $15 per adult, $12 for seniors and $7 for children from 6 to 12 years. 5’s and unders are free. To pay on the day costs a little more. $22 per adult, $20 for seniors and $10 for children from 6 to 12 years.
Planning on taking your RV? Costs range from $35 a night to $90 for VIP and upto $175 per night in the President’s Compound. You’ll need to book over a year in advance to get a space so might be best to get a hotel and leave the RV at home.
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is now celebrating its forty sixth year of floating globes among the cloudless skies of New Mexico.
From its humble origins, which began with just thirteen balloons being airborne from a shopping mall car park, it has become the world’s biggest hot air ballooning event.
From its small beginnings, and further inspired by the smidgen of an idea from a television station’s anniversary celebration to hold a balloon race, it’s ballooned, excuse the pun, into the event its become today.