20 Things To Do at Balloon Fiesta (That Aren't Hot Air Balloons)

Updated for 2023

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a 9-day hot air balloon festival that takes places every October in the state of New Mexico, has become our family's permanent annual vacation. After attending 12 of the past 13, years we've learned some tips and tricks and also figured out how to make the most of the multi-day event.

The obvious #1 activity at Balloon Fiesta is watching hot air balloons day and night. They even have remote control balloons on the field now. But there is so much more! Let's focus here on all the many other ways to keep the family entertained on and around the Balloon Fiesta Park...

Booking an Authentic Vacation in Mexico

 Discover Mexico Through the Eyes of Her People

Have you scrolled through social media recently looking for Mexico vacation ideas? Post after post sharing pristine beaches and all-inclusive resorts make it look like the coasts have all Mexico has to offer. The good news is that more authentic opportunities to experience Mexican culture do exist. Rutopia and their partners in rural Mexico are on a mission to bring you to them!

Evening hike in rural Mexico (Rutopía, 2021) 

Based out of Mexico City, Rutopia is a travel booking platform that has changed the way travelers and locals come together. Their mission is to work directly with rural villages to develop tourism in a fair and sustainable way. When you book a vacation through them, you can know it’ll be a true Mexican culture experience (Rutopia Impact Report, 2019). So why is booking your authentic vacation this way a good idea? They are 100% focused on helping you take the “real life” experience of your dreams by focusing on these three things:

Does the community benefit from what I’m going to be doing?

Many times an authentic tour is coordinated and operated by a tour company with no personal connection to the area. They might hire some locals to provide entertainment, but at the end of the day the tour profits leave the community. To combat this trend, Rutopia asks community members what they want to offer, assists them in developing tours that share their traditional activities, and returns 80% of the profits from your tour to your hosts and their families(RUTOPÍA, the Mexican Airbnb at the service of indigenous communities, 2020). This helps the village you visit provide for themselves and renew pride for the place they are living.

Local hosts for your Mexico vacation (Rutopía, 2021)

Is this experience going to be safe?

The reality is that no matter how adventurous you think you are, going off the beaten path in Mexico can be scary. Crime rates are high, communication technology can be sparse, and language is a barrier. This can pose a problem for foreign travelers and for tour operators who aren’t familiar with the area. To overcome this hurdle, Rutopia works closely with their hosts to ensure your visit will be a safe one. They:

  •  spend time in the area reviewing safety measures. 

  • provide a guide and transportation 

  • require insurance for the unlikely event something unforeseen happens during your stay (Rutopía, 2021). 

Will I be okay out of my comfort zone?

This is the big question you have to answer before booking an authentic Mexico vacation. A day hike with a guide who shows you how his family uses the local plants for medicine will probably also be hot and humid with hosts of bugs. Are you excited to learn about them as well? Your handcrafts tour with the women of a rural village may teach new techniques to show everyone at home. Are you equally interested in helping prepare your meals using bricks on the kitchen floor? Or carrying water in from the well? These are experiences to remember, but it’s important to ask yourself if you will be able to enjoy this level of “living like a local.”

Preparing an authentic Mexican meal (Rutopía, 2021)

Isn’t it more authentic to book independently?

The fact of the matter is, Mexican villages are in remote locations. The infrastructure to get to them is still lacking and the amenities when you arrive can be minimal. Most villages are small and new to doing business. While it may seem like traveling independently is the most authentic way to experience Mexican culture, there are considerable risks in doing so. Booking, instead, with a company who knows your destination allows you to quickly be accepted into the community like family with little to worry about while you are there. 

Most people’s idea of a dream Mexico vacation keeps them from experiencing authentic Mexican culture. While you’re planning your next trip, look beyond the beaches to the people who are creating fair and sustainable relationships with Mexico’s people. You’ll have an experience you’ll never regret!


Rutopia Impact Report. (2019). https://rutopia.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/RutopiaImpactReport2019.pdf

RUTOPÍA, the Mexican Airbnb at the service of indigenous communities. (2020, August). BipiZ. https://www.bipiz.org/en/csr-best-practices/rutopia-the-mexican-airbnb-at-the-service-of-indigenous-communities.html

Rutopía. (2021, April 6). Rutopía: viajes personalizados de naturaleza con locales. Rutopia. https://rutopia.com/

Keywords/Phrase: Mexico vacation, Rural Mexico, Mexican culture

First Foray Into Postcards

I did a crazy thing and decided it was time for me to go back to school to finish a Bachelor's Degree in Sustainable Tourism. Don't ask what I want to do with, I have no idea...but I am learning Photoshop as part of it. Here's my first (definitely not last) attempt at making a postcard...

Do I dare ask what you think...?

100 Favorite Things To Do In Utah (Summer Edition)

I have asked several groups of people recently about their favorite things to do in Utah. The answers were beautifully varied. In my family the answers included riding bikes on the cobblestone sidewalk outside the Lehi Legacy Center, paragliding at the Point of the Mountain, and swimming at Sand Hollow State Park. Followers on the A Local Wander Facebook page were reflective in their answers, sharing how getting up into the mountains or out to wander in the desert brings peace and reminds them that they are home.

As for me, I could not possible narrow my favorite activity in Utah down to just one thing. I am a transplant here and from Day 1 have been running from one unbelievable activity to the next with wild abandon and complete awe. Those of us lucky enough to call Utah home are beyond fortunate to have hundreds of bucket list worthy adventures right outside our front door. (Indeed, the inspiration behind "A Local Wander")

To help plan your next weekend excursion, fill the summer calendar, or give you ideas for an epic western vacation, here is a beginning list of 100 favorite things to do in Utah...

It's time for Summer Soccer Camp (Again)

This is a sponsored post with US Family Guide.

As I've mentioned in years past, soccer is the only organized sport our kids ever play. We've tried baseball-it was a disaster. And everything else takes too much time away from our much preferred outdoor adventures. But soccer has burrowed it's way into our lives somehow and we're looking forward to another upcoming Challenger International Soccer Camp.

As a refresher for you, these camps are offered all across the United States so you're bound to be able to find one very near you. Ours is offered directly through the city rec center. Search the locations to find a camp near you....

This year's camp is brand new and will combine the best elements of British soccer with new and exciting elements from TetraBrazil. Just as before, the camps will still use games, stories, and fun to teach kids their soccer skills.

Register now and you'll receive a camp t-shirt, ball, poster, skills evaluation, and downloadable coaches app with soccer skills videos. Register during the month of February and you'll also get a free camp jersey!

Want to learn more about Challenger Soccer Camps? Check out the post from our first year participating, and the post sharing my nieces experience a couple years later...

Will we see you there?

Utah Summer Bucket Lists

This post contains affiliate links. Shopping after clicking one may result in small compensation for my family.

Temperatures are rising and the kids will soon be out of school. Summer has arrived-now what are you going to do? After recently being asked to share my favorite Utah bucketlist ideas, I've put together my best tips and created 14 lists to give you PLENTY of ways to keep busy in Salt Lake & Utah Counties.

Why Not Walk to Arizona?

There is a place called "The Wave" just over the Utah border into Arizona that I read about in Reader's Digest a long time ago. Only 20 people are admitted into the entirety of the parks listed above per day with only two options for getting permits: Gamble on a 4-month advanced purchase lottery OR drive all the way down to Kanab to camp out at the BLM office and elbow your way past two smelly hikers to get the last available day-of, walk-up slots.  The first time I went there the lottery system was just a dream.  Instead the option was to glue yourself to the park website three months in advance and not blink at midnight when the open slots were posted. After three months of lost sleep and clicking "refresh" on the millisecond, an available slot appeared and I grabbed up the five remaining permits for the far-off month of February.

Coyote Butte