Every October, hundreds of colorful balloons dot the sky over Albuquerque, New Mexico. Starting with just 13 balloons in the early 1970s, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is now the largest balloon event in the world.
Attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is truly a bucket-list item. Here are a few ways to ensure you get the most out of this spectacular experience.
1. Familiarize Yourself With The Schedule Beforehand
The festival lasts nine days during the first week of October and consists of 14 sessions. On weekdays, there is only one session in the morning. On busier days, there are two sessions -- a morning session and an evening session. Each session costs $15 (it’s free for those 12 and under), and you must pay for each session you attend.
Since each day is different, be sure to download the event schedule beforehand to plan out your time. Typically the weekends -- which host the most popular mass ascension, balloon glow, and dawn patrol events -- are the busiest.
One weekend during the festival is the Music Fiesta -- a concert with several performances running from early afternoon into the evening. This is a separate ticketed event that costs $10 for general admission all the way up to $499 for the Ultimate Music Fiesta Package.
2. Plan On Spending More Than One Day There
You should definitely plan on attending the festival for more than one day. This is because some of the events may be canceled or delayed due to weather. While your tickets are nonrefundable, they can be used for another session, so make sure to keep all your tickets!
If you plan on going for three days, and you get great weather each day, consider yourself lucky! With nearly 500 balloons participating, there is no way you can walk around and see them all during one session.
3. Understand The Parking Situation
Knowing how to get to the park is a key factor in getting the most out of your experience. There is a parking lot at the field, but spots are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Spots here cost $20 (cash only).
There are four off-site parking lots around the city that offer shuttle service to the park. The Park & Ride tickets cost $22 for adults and $20 for seniors and include round-trip transportation, as well as admission to the session. You must buy these tickets in advance online; there are no in-person sales.
The shuttles begin running at 4 a.m. for morning sessions and 3 p.m. for evening sessions. When you leave the park after each session, you will go to a designated stand to board the bus back to the parking lot. The buses do run regularly after each session ends, but it’s important to know that the last half hour the buses run (12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. for morning sessions and 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for evening sessions), there are fewer buses, so your bus will stop at all the parking lots. This can take some time, so I’d recommend getting on a bus earlier rather than later.
If weather cancels any of the sessions, you will not be able to reuse your bus ticket. You will need to go online and buy a bus-only ticket for the next session you want to attend. (As discussed earlier, you can reuse your festival admission ticket for entrance into the park.)
The balloon festival does partner with a few area hotels to offer discounted balloon festival packages. Some of the hotels offer discounted rates, while others also offer transportation. The deals change yearly -- this page has the most updated hotel information.
Perhaps the best way to avoid the traffic and parking hassle altogether is to bike to the event! There is a free bike valet located just north of the Balloon Museum. Refer to the city’s bike maps to plan your route to the festival.
4. Get A Very Early Start
Trust me on this one -- getting up and out early is key to experiencing the morning sessions. Getting to the park around 4 a.m., so you’re there for the opening at 4:30 a.m., is your best bet. This is especially true if you want to park at the field. You don’t want to get stuck in a huge traffic jam either trying to get in or trying to get out if the lot is full. If you are parking at an off-site lot, the shuttles start running at 4 a.m., and you will see people already in line for the shuttle earlier than that!
Pro Tip: Consider using your (early) time inside the park to grab the highly recommended breakfast burrito and local coffee.
5. Choose Your Accommodations With Parking In Mind
Because you will need to get such an early start, it’s best to plan your hotel stay with your parking choice in mind. If you really want to get a spot at the field, then you’ll probably want to stay as close as you can to the festival grounds. If you’d prefer to park at one of the off-site lots, then take a look at the balloon festival lodging link to see what hotels are nearby. The last thing you want is to book a hotel on one side of town and a parking lot on the other side -- that would be a waste of your time.
6. Consider Alternative Lodging
There are a variety of RV sites available next to the festival grounds. RV sites range from $40 for standard, dry camping to $95 for premium spots with water hookups. There are VIP spots for $100 that include two general admission passes. For $250, you’ll get a spot at the President’s Compound overlooking the field plus water and electrical hookups and four passes.
Why not try glamping at the festival? These specialty tents are within walking distance of the launch field (no traffic!) and have access to bathroom and shower trailers. The glamping tents will run you $1,500 for three nights, but they include passes to all the sessions during your stay, plus a heater, fridge, electric blanket, lamp, lantern, and welcome gift.
7. Reserve Your Accommodations Early
Since this is such a big event for Albuquerque, all the lodging will fill up quickly. It’s best to map out your parking and lodging plan as early as possible. If you are planning to stay at a hotel, be prepared to pay a premium, and be sure to check the cancellation policy should your plans change.
If you plan to use one of the RV sites, you must make your reservation early. The RV reservations open every year nine days after the festival ends, so set a calendar reminder. These spots fill up fast, and the waiting list does cap out. The glamping tents are limited in number, so they will also get snatched up early.
8. Consider Upgrading
These tickets cost extra money, but the extra perks (including private bathrooms!) they come with may be worth it to you. As you read this, keep in mind that these prices are per session.
The least expensive option is the Chasers Club. This $60 ticket will get you guaranteed seating with a view of the launch field, a catered meal, access to those private bathrooms, and access to a cash bar. It does not include parking.
Next up is the Gondola Club for $125 per session. This ticket includes parking in the nearby gondola lot, as well as a shuttle to your private viewing area. It also includes a catered meal and an open bar, plus a lapel pin, souvenir gift, and live entertainment during the evening sessions.
The top-of-the-line VIP experience is the Concierge Program, running $350 per session. That price covers two people, you can add up to two more people for $50 each. This service gets you premium parking, a golf cart with a driver to take you all around the park, and a personal concierge. This would be the package to splurge on if you have mobility issues or if you want to pack in a ton during one session.
9. Prepare For The Weather
The weather in New Mexico in early October is typically perfect for being outdoors, but dress in layers. Keep in mind that for morning sessions, you will be getting to the park before sunrise, so it will be chilly. The afternoons are warmer but will cool off as soon as the sun goes down.
Also know that the field is grassy, but manageable. The area around the concession stands is packed down, but can be uneven. Sturdy shoes are advisable.
Planning a visit to Albuquerque? Consider these day trips.