Updated for 2021
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 9 of the past 10 years we've learned some tips and tricks and also figured out how to make the most of the multi-day event.
1. 7-Eleven Balloon Discovery Center (Not open 2021)
The Balloon Discovery Center should be the place you spend the most time, after watching hot air balloons, of course. It is focused on educating children but is packed full of fascinating information for everyone. Kids can pick up a passport activity booklet that guides them through nearly a dozen stations teaching everything from Albuquerque's unique wind pattern to weaving a balloon basket. The Balloon Discovery Center also includes a free arts and crafts section, and a room devoted to NASA.
2.Collect Balloon Trading Cards
After visiting the Balloon Discovery Center, and before leaving the north end of the field, be sure to poke your head into the AIBF Chainsaw Tent. Throughout the 9-day event you can watch demonstrations and an Invitational, as well as participate in a Q&A.
4.Try Authentic New Mexico Food
October mornings in Albuquerque can be pretty chilly. There is no better way to warm yourself up that eating an authentic green chile breakfast burrito while you wait for the first balloons to inflate. No matter what time of day you are attending, you will find favorite local food vendors ready to give your tastebuds a treat.
5.Play on the Balloon Field
It is true that when hot air balloons are inflating and taking off from the balloon field, or burning for a glow, you will be on the balloon field with tens of thousands of your closest friends. With patience or forethought, though, the balloon field can also be incredibly fun and relaxing. Hang out after most of the balloons have flown away and let the kids run around for awhile on a grassy field the size of 54 football fields. Or come early in the afternoon with a Frisbee, a kite, and a picnic dinner to enjoy some family time before the crowds arrive.
Of course it isn't hard to find a good photo background at Balloon Fiesta. Point your camera in any direction and shoot. But if you get bored of all the colors and nylon, look around the park for special photo opportunities. In the past there has been an oversized photo frame, a crazy television news anchor, and several face cut-out murals provided for snapping extra fun souvenirs.
7.Fireworks & Laser Show
After every balloon glow event, there will be a a fireworks show. This is how they guarantee not having to provide raincheck tickets in case of bad weather. If the fireworks show can go the night's festivities are considered a completed success. The show is always amazing and 100% better from inside the park, so pull up some grass to watch instead of trying to beat the traffic.You won't regret it. Also, in the the morning and evening dark, watch for the laser light show to reflect off the inflating balloons.
Admission to the Balloon Fiesta includes a $1 off coupon to the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum, located immediately south of the balloon park. Inside you'll find interactive exhibits, lots of history, and prime viewing of the field below. You even can purchase tickets for a catered meal that will give you the best view of the main events.
9.Free Entertainment Stage
The main stage is center field and busy throughout Balloon Fiesta with a variety of local entertainment. Stop by to watch dancers, singers, bands, and more.
If you're looking to take something memorable home with you, be sure to stop in one of the many souvenir tents lining the balloon field. My boys always want the flying inflatable balloons. Whether you fancy a magnet, sweatshirt, or something fancier, it's always fun to look around and grab a couple gifts for friends and family who could not attend.
For souvenirs more thoughtful than kitschy trinkets, check out the Artisan Tent located next to the Balloon Discovery Center. Inside you'll find artwork, jewelry, pottery and more waiting to go home with you.
12.Ride a Golf Cart Shuttle
This might actually be my children's favorite part of Balloon Fiesta. But if you end up parked in the southeast corner of the balloon field, you'll be oh so grateful it is there. The hill to the parking lot is STEEP and after logging in a few miles of walking around among hot air balloons, standing in a quick line for a ride to the top will seem perfectly heavenly.
If trading cards for you is child's-play, do not fear. The much more serious business of collecting and trading balloon fiesta pins is scheduled and waiting for you. Over the years our family has waited for the lucky times when one of the cute kids was given a special pin (the year we got a zebra pin was the BEST), but know that there are places you can buy pins from year's past and a time set apart for trading with all the pin-trading experts.
Technically this is directly related to hot air balloons. But, it's something different than the normal inflating, taking off, and glowing activities. Mid-week, after the mass ascension, pilots participate in a number of hot air balloon competitions. Most of them involve trying to drop something small on to something else small and hoping yours drops down the closest. It's fascinating to watch as balloons come in from off the field, dip down low, and then rise again to get off the field. (In 2021 also watch for the remote control hot air balloons!)
15.Spinning Wheels and Free Stuff
I can't think of the technical term to call this, but all along the balloon field businesses lined up in tents are ready to entice you into learning more about what they have to offer. This translates into lots and lots of spinning wheels offering free marketing materials for all. This is where my boys have fallen in love with BIMBO baked treats, where we re-stock our pencil supply, and where my oldest decided Takis are his favorite chip. This row of free stuff should not be just a one-stop shop. Break up all your festivities with a stop back to the booths with the coolest swag.
Admittedly this is the part of Balloon Fiesta I know the least about. We've never stopped there. It's worth a look, though, if your family is into adventure activities. There usually are some trampolines, life-size water orbs to roll around in, and more. Each activity has an additional fee.
17.Join a Chase Crew
This activity absolutely deserves a post of it's own, that I might get around to writing someday. For now, though, know that this should be a must for the older members of your family! The memory and the perks are worth it! What is it? Signing up to help out on a balloon crew for 1 session or more. You help with the blower, unfold the balloon, keep it from alighting too early, and then chase through the streets of Albuquerque waiting for it to land, where you then get to help put it all away. It's super fun AND gets you free admission into Balloon Fiesta the rest of the time that you are there.
Keep your eyes open in the crowds and you might catch one of these street performers sharing their talents to entertain you. Last year we watched a native tribe dancing so eloquently that we completely forgot to turn around and notice the balloons were launching.
19. Scavenger Hunt
If the crowds and the waiting get a little boring for the kids, pull out this Balloon Fiesta Scavenger Hunt and spend some time hunting down all kinds of hot air balloon clues.
20.Music Fiesta (Cxl'd for 2021)
Possibly the newest event added to Balloon Fiesta, Music Fiesta is an outdoor concert presented on the second Saturday. Featuring three great bands, it's a great way to relax on the lawn and reflect and have a good time before the 9-day celebration is over.
Looking for more inspiration and tips on making a trip to the Albquerque Interenational Balloon Fiesta memorable? Check out these other articles we've shared...
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