Dreaming of visiting a hot air balloon festival in New Mexico? Well, if the Albuquerque Balloon Festival isn’t already on your bucket list, now’s the time to go ahead and add it—it’ll wow you. But don’t just take our word for it… we caught up with solo traveler Henry to hear all about his time on our Albuquerque Balloon Festival & U.S. National Parks tour, where he was awed by the scenery of this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Read on for everything you need to know about the fiesta, including tips for attending the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, what it’s like to be there on tour, and more.
^ Traveler Henry was blown away by the Albuquerque Balloon Festival (literally!)
The Albuquerque Balloon Festival, also known as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, is a nine-day event of epic proportions—and that’s putting it lightly. To be exact, it’s the largest hot air balloon festival in the world.
During this renowned festival, people from around the globe make their way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to watch as hundreds of hot air balloons fill the sky. There are local foods to try, and international balloon pilots to meet. There are fireworks shows, skydiving displays, and chainsaw carving demonstrations. Needless to say, there are countless opportunities for some of the best photos ever (it’s the world’s most photographed event, after all!).
Sounds surreal, right? It really is. “I was just totally amazed,” said traveler Henry of his time on our Albuquerque Balloon Festival & U.S. National Parks tour. “This is the only balloon festival where people are allowed to walk on the fields. Nowhere else in the world are you allowed to walk in-between the balloons. That is fabulous because you see them taking the baskets and balloons out of their trucks, setting them up, and blowing them up during the day or at night, or early in the morning when we went.”
The festivities kick off every October, and trust us when we say that autumn is a perfect time to see colorful hot air balloons floating through the sky in New Mexico. Off-season travel is always a good idea, and seeing all those balloons against a backdrop of desert and clear blue sky is really something.
The festival goes all the way back to 1972, when just 13 hot air balloons took flight from a shopping mall parking lot—and it’s come a long way since then. “Thousands of people come here,” said traveler Henry. “The year I went, they had 489 balloons, but usually they advertise something like 500 balloons go up at one time. Can you imagine that? It’s unbelievable.”
“They had all different types of balloons. Wells Fargo was there with the stagecoach. Other balloons show something else, like a flying pig. It was great, very different. When you talk to somebody about a hot air balloon, you think of one of those round things. That was what I was looking for.”
^ Just one of traveler Henry’s many wow-worthy snapshots from tour
The festival is sitting pretty in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but all the magic takes place in Balloon Fiesta Park. “It’s a gigantic field, and it’s only used for the balloon festival,” said traveler Henry.
This custom-designed park is 365 acres in total (so it’s big enough to fit thousands of spectators and hundreds of balloons), and has a 78-acre balloon launch field—that’s the size of 54 football fields! Long story short: This hot air balloon festival in New Mexico is spectacular, indeed.
The event goes on for nine balloon-filled days in early October, and you’ll have the chance to spend a full day there (and then some) on our Albuquerque Balloon Festival & U.S. National Parks tour.
“We went a couple of days, which was perfect,” said traveler Henry. “They had what they call a hospitality tent, and there were doughnuts, coffee and other drinks. You had to show a certain pass to get in.”
Sure, watching hot air balloons take flight is the most alluring part of this festival—be sure to catch a Mass Ascension, which is when all the balloons take to the sky in two waves—but there is so much more that makes this festival shine. You can seek out everything from Dawn Patrol Shows to competitive flying demonstrations to Special Shapes Rodeos, depending on the day. Check out a full event schedule here >
If you’re wondering what to do at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, then look no further than your expert Tour Director. “I haven’t had one Go Ahead Tour where I haven’t really loved the Tour Director,” said traveler Henry. “Our Tour Director was exceptional, and gave us all kinds of insight about where we should go and what we should do. There was enough to keep people busy. There was a small museum that you can go to, which was kind of nice, and they had food vendor booths.”
One of our best tips for attending the Albuquerque Balloon Festival is to arrive with your camera in hand. “Canon was there, and of course I would remember that because I’m into photography,” said Henry. “They had small towers, tall enough to go over the tents that were set up, and you could go up and take pictures form there.”
Yes! Although, you’ll pay a pretty penny for the experience if you choose to do so during your free time. Traveler Henry skipped it, and used his time to meet some of the people at the event instead.
“The people that fly the balloons are called pilots, and some of them were from all over the world,” he said. “You can stroll around and strike up conversation if you want. The people I met were from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe. It’s the largest balloon festival in the world, as a matter of fact. It’s utterly amazing. The balloons that went up there were just unbelievable.”
To put it simply: because there’s nothing else like it in the world. “I had never been to Albuquerque, but I’d been wanting to go to this balloon festival for a long time,” said traveler Henry. “I recommend travelers go on this tour because otherwise, they’ll never see so many balloons at one time, and they’ll never realize that this is something very, very unique.”
“I would say this tour is part of your bucket list. You’d be crazy for not taking it—you will see something that you never imagined existed within the U.S. That’s a big reason why I took this tour.”
The balloon festival may be one of Albuquerque’s highlights, but don’t count the rest of this city out. With its mouthwatering New Mexican cuisine (and breweries!), opportunities galore to get into nature, and fascinating Pueblo history, this destination is an under-the-radar-spot that’s full of charm.
“I’m very partial to the Southwest,” said Henry. “You might say I’m a turquoise nut; I’m very into Native American jewelry. I’ve always been very interested in the Native American culture.”
“I went to the Turquoise Museum in Albuquerque’s Old Town, which is in an old mansion. It was fantastic. I have a few pieces of Native American jewelry that I’ve bought over the years. Looking for some new stuff was another big part of my trip.”
^ Traveler Henry admiring the view at the Grand Canyon
While the Albuquerque Balloon Festival is the cherry on top of this epic adventure, the U.S. national parks that you’ll uncover on our Albuquerque Balloon Festival & U.S. National Parks tour are worth writing home about, too.
“I haven’t seen that much of the country, and I wanted to take a tour to the Southwest because that was something that attracted me even more,” said traveler Henry. “The main reason for taking this tour was for of the balloon festival, of course. But, I definitely wanted to see all the other things with it, like all the national parks.”
“You see the national parks in photos, but photos don’t do them justice. You need to be there. You have to experience it. Bryce and Zion are just unbelievable. The Grand Canyon is just mind boggling. I’d been to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon before, but now that I’m much older, I saw them from a different perspective. Because I’m so interested in Native American culture, these things meant a lot more.”
“I enjoy traveling with other people, and the small things that a Tour Director would bring out,” said traveler Henry. “I’m of the age now that I don’t feel like carrying my own bag. You put your bag out at a certain time, go to breakfast, and get on the bus. That’s a very big thing right there.”
“I met up with a whole bunch of great people. That’s part of it: getting to know people. And every single tour guide we had on this whole trip was very knowledgeable, very patient, and just a very good presenter. I very much enjoyed this tour.”