You’re up at 4:30 am: it may be dark and freezing, but you’re waiting to see dozens of glowing balloons lift off into the New Mexico sky, each one taller and wider than a 5-story building. Now in its 51st year, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is nine days of hot air balloons, balloon-focused events, including the famous balloon glows (at night the balloons are lit and inflated, but stay tethered to the ground), balloon-flying accuracy competitions and the Special Shape Rodeo (featuring recognizable animal and cartoon character-shaped balloons).
This year’s event takes place at Balloon Fiesta Park, an 86-acre launch field which borders the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum, where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the history and science of ballooning.
It’s already a visually-spectacular event, but this year the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta also coincides with the solar eclipse on Saturday, October 14. Festival goers will be able to view the ring of fire behind more than 70 balloons, with similar colors to the sunset – except more dramatic. If you can’t make it for Saturday, the most popular events are the mass ascensions, which take place on the Saturday and Sunday morning sessions, but also on one of the weekday mornings, too.
Most morning and evening sessions include performances from regional dance and music groups, including Sim Balkey and His Honky Tonk Crew, the Cellicion Traditional Zuni Dance Group, Derryl Perry and Mountain Top Rock. The hot air balloon festival holds a special Music Fiesta in the evening on Saturday, October 14. This year, Brandon Saiz, Runaway June and Lee Bryce will perform. Music Fiesta tickets are sold separately (with extra tiered seating options available), but include all evening balloon events.
There’s a limited amount of seating at the park, so make sure to bring folding chairs and/or picnic blankets. And don’t miss the festival’s inexplicable chainsaw carving competition. Because why not?
- Over 800,000 guests attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta each year.
- GA 1-session tickets are $15 each. Sessions are morning (4:30am – noon) and evening (3pm-9pm the festival’s opening Sunday, plus Thursday, Friday, and Saturday). You can purchase packs of four, and children under 12 can attend for free. Tiered options include Park n’ Ride ($25) and Chaser’s Club ($65, private seating and catered meal). Check out the options here.
- See the Music Fiesta tiered ticket options here.
- Keep track of updates and events on the festival’s app.
- Looking for other things to do in Albuquerque? Check out Fifty Grande’s guide here, and make sure to hit all of the “Better Call Saul” filming spots.
What is the closest airport to Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta?
Fly into the Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ, 15 miles, 20 minutes from Balloon Fiesta Park). Then rent a car or take a rideshare. Some hotels may offer shuttles to the event.
Where does the fiesta take place?
In Balloon Fiesta Park, Albuquerque, NM, USA
How far is it from Albuquerque to Santa Fe?
It’s about 60 miles.
Can I ride in a balloon?
You bet. Rainbow Ryders, a third-party vendor, offers multiple balloon ride options throughout the week. Check out the website to make a reservation.
How can I purchase tickets?
Tickets are available at balloonfiesta.com. General admission tickets can also be purchased at the gate on the days of the event.
Are pets allowed in the park?
No, unless they are service animals.
What is Dawn Patrol?
Dawn Patrol is a group of selected balloons that launch just before sunrise on the days of the mass ascensions. The patrol sessions have been happening since 1996 and they begin around 5:45 am with launch being at 6 am.
What is Mass Ascension?
This is when all the balloons launch from the park.
What is the Glowdeo?
This is a static display of the special shape balloons after sunset. It happens on Thursday and Friday nights. Special shaped balloons can take the form of anything. According to the festival website, some examples include a stagecoach and a piggy bank.
What is the Night Magic Glow?
Like Glowdeo, the Night Magic Glow is a static display of balloons after sunset. Night Magic goes down on the second Saturday night.
What is the Gondola Club?
It’s basically some VIP treatment. It includes beverages, a host bar (except on Sunday mornings), a private parking ticket, a gourmet buffet meal, a collectible pin, courtesy shuttle service, evening entertainment, in/out privileges into the Gondola Club area, and more. There’s more info here.
What is America’s Challenge?
According to the fiesta’s website, America’s Challenge is one of two distance races for gas balloons in the world and it was founded by this festival in 1995. The other gas balloon distance race is the Coupe Aéronatique Gordon Bennett. The America’s Challenge is a qualifer for the Gordon Bennett.
What is Park & Ride?
It’s a ride service to shuttle guests in and out of the park. A Park & Ride ticket includes round-trip transportation to and from Balloon Fiesta Park via an expedited route to bypass heavy traffic and admission to the festival. There’s more info here.
Can I camp?
Yes, there are several different on-site camping options, including tent camping (with gear provided), safari tent glamping, and DIY tent and RV spots (sold out at the time of writing). Check out the available options and pricing here.
Where can I park at the hot air balloon festival?
There are parking lots on the park’s north and south ends. It’s $20 for each session you attend.
What’s the bag policy? What’s prohibited?
Large backpacks and bags are allowed, but will be searched on entry. There are also metal detectors at the entry gates. No dogs. And no drones, for obvious reasons.