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5 Reasons to Avoid the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

You might’ve heard of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and thought it sounded like a fun event.

Hundreds of colorful hot air balloons take to the sky over this picturesque high desert city at the annual festival. It’s truly a sight to behold. But before you book your trip to New Mexico, we have a few things for you to consider about attending the Balloon Fiesta.

Join us as we discover some reasons people may want to avoid this yearly spectacle.

Let’s check it out!

Balloons at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is a popular event for RVers.

What Is the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta?

Hot air balloon pilots from around the globe flock to Albuquerque, New Mexico, every October for the Balloon Fiesta. This festival, which began in 1972, features at least 500 vessels every year. It’s considered the world’s largest hot air balloon event and one of the most photographed. 

Albuquerque has unique airflow currents that allow hot air balloons to travel in a square area around the town. This makes the location perfect for the festival.

Tourists and locals head to the park to get up close and personal with the pilots and their aircraft. We love the uniquely shaped vessels like Darth Vader and flying pigs. You’ll want to head to an early morning mass ascension to see the most balloons at one time.

History of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Only thirteen aircraft flew in the inaugural Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in 1972. Over 10,000 spectators came to watch the pilots launch from a mall parking lot. In 1973, the city held the first-ever Hot Air Balloon World Championships on the state fairgrounds. 

Today, the city has an entire 350-acre park dedicated to this event. Balloon Fiesta Park opened north of Albuquerque in 1986, providing room for more vessels to take off.

In 2000, over 1,000 balloons celebrated the new millennium by attending the festival. The number of aircraft has shrunk in recent years due to safety concerns, but visitors can still gaze at over 500 hot air balloons. 

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is just one of these 10 Best RV Events you should add to your calendar.

What Are the Dates for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta?

Each year this festival takes place over nine days in October. Typically it starts the first Saturday of the month and ends the following Sunday. Different events, like Dawn Patrol and Balloon Glows, occur each day during the week. 

Most balloon events happen in the mornings and evenings, but the park stays open all day. If you visit midday, you might even catch some non-ballooning events like chainsaw carving. Visitors can purchase tickets ahead of time to skip the lines or just grab one at the gate upon arriving.

5 Reasons to Reconsider Attending the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

This dreamlike trip can very quickly turn into a nightmare. You may be unable to enjoy the festival due to things outside your control, like the weather. We want you to be prepared for all the ups and downs of this event if you decide to travel to Albuquerque.

#1 Crowds

The Balloon Fiesta is the largest event of its kind in the world and the only one where visitors can walk right up to the balloons as they blow up and take off. Because the festival boasts such a unique experience, many people want to check it out. In fact, over 800,000 attendees showed up to the 2022 event. 

Due to the massive crowd size, the concession stands and bathrooms tend to have long lines. If you’d like a souvenir, be prepared to wait in a snaking line for at least ten minutes before you can even get into the shop.

Once on the launch field, you’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow balloon enthusiasts. Walking around the giant park feels like squeezing through a packed crowd at a concert.

Explore northern New Mexico while you’re in the area: Frommer’s EasyGuide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque.

#2 Unpredictable Weather

Perhaps the biggest disappointment one can experience at the festival would be the weather canceling the event. Even the slightest amount of wind will prevent vessels from taking flight. 

Imagine waking up at 4 a.m. and fighting through crowds of people just for the balloons to be grounded. Some years the aircraft only take flight once or twice during the nine-day event.

In 2022, a surprise thunderstorm rolled through during the Special Shapes Glodeo, causing an emergency evacuation of the park. The pilots quickly deflated their crafts, but because the balloons got wet, they couldn’t participate in the remainder of the Balloon Fiesta events. 

#3 Cost

Expenses add up quickly if you want to travel to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Nearly everything has an upcharge at this time of year due to the high demand. If you’d like to ride in a hot air balloon, you should expect to pay $500 or more per person. In comparison, catching a ride in one of these vessels costs around $150 per person during other times of the year. 

A campsite for your RV will run about $100 per night, and they can sell out quickly. In fact, sites sold out in January 2023 for October’s event.

Tickets to the festival cost about $15. You’ll probably want to attend more than one day to account for the unpredictability of the weather. And we haven’t even talked about parking yet! In 2023, it’ll cost $20 to park your car for the event each day you attend. 

#4 Traffic

You can take a paid shuttle bus from town to the park and avoid the traffic. It’ll cost nearly the same as parking your car at the event, but with much less hassle. Alternatively, you can ride your bike and utilize the free bike valet. However, most people find driving to the park most convenient. 

Increased traffic leads to hours-long wait times just to get to the gates. Locals describe it as “pure chaos.” The sheer number of cars also fills up parking lots quickly, meaning you’ll probably have quite a walk to get into the park after paying the parking fee. 

On the way out of the park, the thousands of people you shared the road with on the way in will join you on the roads once again. Your ten-mile drive to and from Albuquerque will likely take three hours. 

In hot air balloon at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
Beware, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta gets crowded quickly.

#5 Safety

Staying safe in crowds can be tricky. It’s easy to become separated from your group and get lost, especially if you travel with kids. Make sure your little ones have some identification on them, and consider selecting an emergency meeting spot. 

Unpredictable weather can also lead to unsafe conditions, as showcased in 2022. An emergency evacuation that changed to a shelter-in-place situation created a chaotic and dangerous environment for attendees. 

Festival officials suggest dressing in layers and bringing a flashlight to be prepared for anything. Medical professionals are available on-site should you need assistance during your visit.

Spend the night at one of these 7 Best RV Parks in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Is the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Worth It?

Swarms of people crowd into a park fighting through hours of traffic and unpredictable weather just to watch hot air balloons. Even with all that said, we still think it’s worth it.

If you plan ahead, you can make the most out of your trip. For instance, to avoid traffic, take the park-and-ride shuttle or ride your bike on the North Channel Trail. While you can’t control the crowds, if you keep moving toward the far edges of the park, you’ll find open spaces.

You’ll have to decide if a trip to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is right for you, but we think it makes for quite the adventure.

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