Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta: An Insider’s Guide

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Photo by David Herrera

How to fly high in Albuquerque at the world's largest hot-air balloon event

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More than 500 candy color balloons soar in Duke City skies each October during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The event draws nearly a million visitors—here’s how to navigate your long weekend at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta like a pro.

Day One at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Instead of driving to Balloon Fiesta Park or taking the park-and-ride buses, opt to join a tour with Routes Bicycle Tours. Don a headlamp, as the tours depart before sunup and involve a breezy ride down the city’s cottonwood bosque. At the field, you’ll get prime bike parking and be there in time for the morning mass ascension. Wander the field to see the balloons inflate and be on the lookout for special shapes like Airabella, a dairy cow, and Darth Vader. With the balloons aloft, you’ll pedal back along—the better lit—path along the bosque.

With an early wake up call, you may want a mid-morning nap. If you want to keep the pep in your step for other activities, head to one of downtown’s many coffee shops. The Brew by Villa Myriam is a local favorite, serving single-origin beans from its family’s coffee plantation.

During the afternoon, take a flight of a different source, up the Sandia Peak Tramway, up 2.7 miles to the crest of the Sandia Mountains. At the more than 10,000-foot crest stretch your legs with a hike before returning to the city.

Head to an early dinner at a local favorite for classic New Mexican food, Sadie’s, where the chile is hot and the portions are generous.

Come evening, hop on board a Balloon Glow tour with Albuquerque Trolley Company. The tour will cruise past several top attractions before dropping you at the park to watch tethered balloons fire their burners, alighting the field in a warm “glow.”

Albuquerque Trolley Company departs from Hotel Albuquerque, so this is a great place to spend the night. Ask for a room facing the Sandias for epic mountain views.

Day Two at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

After a day on the field, experience the Balloon Fiesta a different way by joining a kayak tour with Quiet Waters Paddling Adventures. Guides will help you put in north of the city, then take a leisurely paddle down river as the sun bathes the valley in rosey hues. The balloons take flight at the same time, and will hover over the river during your relaxing float. If you’re lucky, you’ll see pilots doing a “splash and dash”—a tricky maneuver in which they dip the balloon down to touch the basket in the Río Grande’s waters then rise quickly.

For brunch, hit up another New Mexican food joint: Casa de Benavidez, where you can enjoy a savory breakfast burrito on the patio. Casa de Benavidez is known for its sopaipillas, so if you feel like ordering off-menu, as for your breakfast burrito fillings to be served in one of these fluffy treats.

With the field (and traffic) clear for much of the day, check out the yearround Anderson-Abruzzo Balloon Museum to discover more about ballooning history and the Albuquerque locals who have set records in the sport.

Come afternoon, head to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, where you can watch exhibitions of traditional Native American dances (offered daily during Balloon Fiesta) from one of the state’s 19 Pueblos.

Day Three at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Cap off this ultimate balloon weekend in Albuquerque with a flight of your own. Book ahead to join a flight with Rainbow Ryders. Flights are tranquil, hovering there in the clouds, with only the occasional firing of the burners to interrupt the serenity aloft.

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