Each fall, pilots, crews and spectators from all over the world come to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta®, the world's largest hot air ballooning event. For nine days during the first full week of October, hundreds of colorful balloons float above the city each morning as dawn breaks over the Sandia Mountains. It's no wonder this visual feast is said to be the world's most photographed event.
Mass ascensions, when many hundreds of balloons lift off into the morning sky, are held on all four weekend mornings and one day mid-week. Mass ascensions begin after "dawn patrol" carefully examines the morning's weather conditions. When the dawn patrol gives the green light, balloons from all over the world rise together in a harmonious lift-off. The sight of 500 balloons in the sky is as breathtaking for first-time visitors as it continues to be for veteran Albuquerque hot air balloon festival attendees.
Balloon Glow® and other events are held in the evenings of the balloon fiesta in Albuquerque. Balloon enthusiasts fill the launch field and walk among the tethered balloons of every color, shape and size. As the propane burners inflate the balloons against a dark sky, they seem to flicker like giant psychedelic light bulbs. Special shapes balloons come alive during magical evening Balloon "Glowdeos"™. Dinosaurs, bumble bees, flowers, a stage coach and a cow jumping over the moon can all be seen up close during a glowdeo, and they all launch together during their own mass ascensions, called "special shape rodeos."
Balloon pilots particularly enjoy the competition of the Albuquerque hot air balloon festival's precision flying events. Every weekday morning, pilots compete in events that are much harder than they look. In the key grab event, pilots must launch at least one mile away from the field, then fly back, avoiding collisions with hundreds of other balloons, and navigate to the precise location of an envelope attached to a tall pole. The envelope holds the keys to a new car and the first one to grab it wins.
Gas ballooning is the ultimate challenge for balloonists: they fly higher and farther than hot air balloons, often exposing pilots to violent weather conditions. Each year, the Balloon Fiesta hosts the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race, which began in 1995. This competition, based entirely on the distance traveled by a balloon, is the premier gas ballooning event in the United States. Over the years, Albuquerque has hosted additional hot air balloon festivals including two gas balloon World Championships and two editions of the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett, the world's oldest and most prestigious gas balloon competition.
The most unusual and exciting feature of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is that spectators are allowed to walk amongst the balloons as they inflate on the launch field each morning. Visitors are welcome to ask questions and meet the pilots--they may even be asked to help out a crew member with the inflation process! When it is time for a balloon to launch, "zebras" (the traffic directors dressed in black and white outfits) will clear a path in the crowd for each balloon to take off.
A number of Albuquerque hot air balloon ride companies offer piloted balloon rides all year long, providing an unparalleled chance to enjoy a bird's eye view of magnificent New Mexico terrain. Albuquerque's fabulous weather offers the perfect opportunity to take to the skies, either with an Albuquerque hot air balloon ride or from the gondola of the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway.
Nearly 750,000 visitors attend the Albuquerque, New Mexico hot air balloon festival each year, so make plans early to join the fun. Be sure to book a hotel far in advance, or arrange to bring an RV and camp at the grounds. Don't miss the chance to experience this one-of-a-kind event — there really aren’t any hot air balloon festivals like it.