A Guide to Albuquerque's International Balloon Fiesta

Crowd and hot-air balloons, Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2006.
Ray Laskowitz/Getty Images

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta started in 1972 with a small gathering of balloon enthusiasts. Today, the nine-day extravaganza is a feast for the eyes and a joy to behold. Hot air balloon ascensions take place in both the morning and evening, alongside special events, races, a balloon rodeo, and live music.

In addition to staging sites set up along a concourse, you can also stroll the event and check out the entertainment. The fiesta typically takes place each fall, in October, a perfect time to visit the southwest when temperatures are bearable yet still warm enough for summer clothing.

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Artisans and Food Vendors

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2007
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The balloon fiesta's Main Street marks the spot for over 100 vendors selling juried artwork, food, souvenirs—including balloon pins and other specialty balloon collectibles—and snacks, Performers wander around this space and provide non-stop fun in the form of flamenco and Native American dancing and mariachi performances. Should you prefer to grab a seat in the shade and watch, the balloons are also visible from almost any resting spot. 

Specialty foods like cheese curds and breakfast burritos are celebrated at this fiesta. In fact, rumor has it that the very first breakfast burrito was served here in the 1970s. Food trucks also serve hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, chili, nachos, and donuts. Early morning visitors can enjoy the local piñon coffee and hot chocolate, as well. 

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Morning Mass Ascension

Hot air balloon being set up at the Albuquerque, New Mexico International Hot Air Balloon Festival
Getty Images/Tim McGuire

While watching every aspect of ballooning is fun, the morning mass ascension draws the crowds. Here, balloonists inflate their balloons by positioning the gas so that it expands into the balloon's cavity, producing a colorful display. Once the balloons are inflated, launch directors (known as "zebras" because of their black and white garb) coordinate the launch of hundreds of balloons in a safe manner. It's the perfect time and place to launch a balloon, as the lower altitude of the river valley and the higher altitude of the mountain ranges create prevailing winds that blow in the legendary Albuquerque "box pattern." This allows the balloons to eventually land right back where they started. 

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Balloon Glow

Colorful hot air balloons getting ready for a dawn takeoff in New Mexico.
Getty Images/Dean Fikar

If you haven't experienced a balloon glow, Albuquerque is the place to do so. One night during the festival, balloonist inflate their balloons and the fire inside them (complete with a special gas to make them glow) displays each balloon's unique pattern like a Christmas ornament. And while the balloons don't launch at night during the Balloon Glow event, festival organizers set up fireworks amidst the backdrop of glowing balloons for a special presentation.  

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Special Shapes Rodeo

Special shape balloon called 'Crazy Crab'
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Thirty-five specialty balloons attended the very first Special Shape Rodeo in 1990. And every year, more odd-shaped balloons participate in this traffic-stopping spectacle. At this festival event, you can see the grumpy green monster and the ever-popular "bee couple" brought to the festival by their owners from South America. The special shapes participate in four events, including a balloon glow called the Special Shape Glowdeo. 

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