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Is the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Worth the Trouble?

For nine days every October, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta draws folks from near and far. It’s a popular destination with over 500 aircraft, concerts, and a festival atmosphere. 

While some people love the hustle and bustle of the crowds, it’s not for everyone. All that traffic and noise can put the brakes on a quiet family vacation. 

We’re peeking behind the curtain of the world’s largest gathering of hot air balloons to determine if it’s worth all the hype. 

Let’s fly!  

Dozens of hot air balloons lift off during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
You’ll see hundreds of hot air balloons at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

About the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

In 1972, a local Duke City radio station decided to throw an unforgettable bash for their 50th birthday celebration. Station manager Dick McKee partnered with Sid Cutter, who owned the first blimp in New Mexico. Together, they decided that one wasn’t enough. 

Cutter called all over the region and brought other pilots together. At that point, the largest gathering in the world was 19. Despite their best efforts, the most Cutter could gather was 13 due to inclement weather.

Nonetheless, a tradition was born in the parking lot of Albuquerque’s Coronado Center Shopping Mall. 

Since its founding, the fiesta has grown to be the largest in the world. At its peak in the year 2000, over 1,000 balloon pilots registered to participate. However, to keep everything more manageable, organizers now cap the total number of participants to 750. 

With over 100,000 visitors per day, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has a significant economic impact on the region. Alongside the races, the schedule includes dawn and dusk glows, a mass ascension, music, and cultural events. 

Where Is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta?

Nestled in the valley between the Sandia Mountains and the San Mateo range, Albuquerque dominates central New Mexico. As the largest city in the state, it hosts the annual gathering at Balloon Fiesta Park on the north side of town. 

During the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, Indigenous craftspeople showcase the region’s culture and history. You’ll also experience music and dance exhibitions alongside market stalls throughout the event.

Recently, the festival added a more bizarre feature with chainsaw carving. Popular in the Mountain West, the art form is a raw expression of creativity. You’ll have opportunities to watch world-class carvers compete for glory and also buy one of their creations to bring home.

And you won’t want to miss out on edible fair favorites with a twist. Among the food vendors are Blake’s Lotaburger, Funnel Cake of New Mexico, and the Hatch Chile Shack. If you show up in time for brunch, you’ll have the chance to try the city’s take on breakfast burritos.  

Does the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Sell Out?

The massive festival grounds can hold tens of thousands of visitors at a time. So, while it doesn’t sell out, you will experience huge crowds. 

If you want to attend in your RV, it’s a good idea to plan far in advance. According to KRQE, the local CBS affiliate, in 2023, the spots for motorhomes sold out in a little over an hour. 

For the 1,785 sites already booked, there’s a 3,000-person long waiting list. You’ll want to check the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta website in January when reservations open. Plenty of alternative camping spots are available in the region, but they also tend to fill up early.

Read more about the 2023 sellout: Famous RV Event Sells Out in 70 Minutes with Over 2.5 Million Requests to Book a Campsite.

What to Expect At the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta has a dazzling array of experiences for visitors. From long before sunrise to late in the evening, the fun never stops. 

A crowd favorite is also the earliest event, the mass ascension. Gates to the park open early, around 4:00 AM, to allow attendees access. Even at that hour, vendors are ready to sell breakfast burritos and souvenirs. From 6:00 AM until 8:00 AM, pilots launch in waves, filling the air. 

Then, to light up the evening, as many as 600 aircraft participate in a “Glodeo.” You’ll love the differently-shaped airbags tethered to the ground. By firing their burners together, operators make the later hours feel as bright as day. 

Beyond these popular attractions, plenty of other reasons exist to experience this unique annual happening.

Pros of Attending the Balloon Fiesta

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest gathering of inflatable aircraft and is a must for enthusiasts. Walking through the grounds, you’ll get up close and personal with these impressive vehicles.

Also, plenty of local and regional craftspeople use this as a chance to showcase their best products. You’ll find items like handmade jewelry, art, and hats available to purchase during the event. In a screen-bound world, seeing these crafts lovingly created might spark your imagination.

The nearby city is also worth exploring if you’ve got extra time. From food and hiking to an aquarium and art museum, boredom isn’t a problem in these parts. 

Cons of Attending the Balloon Fiesta

Partly because of how popular the festival is, overcrowding is certainly an issue. With over 100,000 people attending each day, you’ll constantly be surrounded by throngs of people. 

Lines to enter the grounds are long, and the wait times can stretch into hours. Everyone must go through security lines, which prolongs the process. 

And, once you get in, there’s no guarantee all the events will happen as scheduled. Some may not even occur if there’s bad weather. We don’t want to see anyone hurt by poor judgment. But if you’re up at 3:00 AM for the ascension and it’s canceled, you’re bound to be disappointed.

Additionally, to avoid missing some of the top events, you’ll likely lose sleep. So be ready to feel a bit like a zombie while walking around. 

Staying at the grounds is delightful if you can snag one of the RV sites. But if you’re counting on camping at the park, it sells out quickly each year.

Stay a while longer and explore these 5 Amazing Day Trips Around Albuquerque.

Flying Pig at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque.
Dawn Patrol and Shapes are two popular flights at the Fiesta

Best Places To Stay Near the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

While the Fiesta grounds sell out faster than Taylor Swift tickets, you won’t have a lack of alternative lodging in the area. Whether you arrive in your RV or plan to stay in one of the quaint BnBs, you’ll have several options to choose from.

Coronado Campground

Just outside Fiesta Park, Coronado Campground is central to all the town offers. Within view of the Rio Grande River and the Santa Ana Golf Club, you’ll love the old-world charm found here. 

Sites for tents and RVs are available with minimal amenities. But you’ll also have access to a playground, bathroom, dump station, and showers. With a total of 75 spots, 35 are suitable for motorhomes. 

Nightly rates range from about $18 to $40, depending on the site reserved.

Sarabande Bed and Breakfast

This adorable bed and breakfast along the Rio Grande River is one of the most sought-after stays in town. With only five rooms available, you’ll want to plan far in advance to stay here. Packed with Southwestern charm, each room offers unique views and amenities. 

While the decor is beautiful, it’s the breakfast that people rave about. Freshly pressed fruit juices and chef-prepared meals are what’s on order. Specialties include huevos Motuleños and a mouthwatering BLT sandwich.

Check their website for booking availability during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

Sandia Resort and Casino

Staying at the immaculate Sandia Resort and Casino might be why you skip the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. At first glance, you might mistake this Adobe masterpiece for a castle. Built in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains, it’s the perfect adult playground. 

Gaming, dining, and golf are all available to you during your visit. Other amenities include a spa, concert venue, and outdoor excursions. It’s a gorgeous hotel, but RVers can also stay in a lot designated for overnight use.

Over 200 rooms make the Sandia Resort a safe bet for a luxury stay in Albuquerque.

Didn’t get in this year? Relieve your FOMO with this: Balloon Reflections 1500-Piece Puzzle.

Is a Road Trip to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Worth It?

Driving in to attend the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the best way to see all the region has to offer. Ridiculous views and delightful shops and restaurants beckon visitors from around the world. Whether in an RV or car, you’ll find plenty of places to stay and explore. 

There’s something for everyone to enjoy in the Rio Grande River valley. If the large crowds aren’t a turnoff to you, put the Fiesta on your New Mexico bucket list. Just be sure to jump on reservations well in advance!

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