Your Next Bucket List Adventure – Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
Each year during the first full week of October the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico hosts the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. About 750,000 people come to this fiesta each year to see hundreds of different balloons float above the city. When our friends told us about this event and that it was extremely RV friendly we knew we had to go!
We attend the 45th Annual Balloon Fiesta that was held October 1 – 9th, 2016 with the Xscapers Group for their Balloon Fiesta Convergence. This trip was a lot of firsts for us …
- The first time ‘dry-camping’ at a festival – meaning camping without water, sewer or electric hookups. While at the Balloon Festival we paired up with our fellow vloggers, Mark and Julie from RVLove and Glen & Julia from The Great Escape. Stayed Tuned for additional Videos & How-Tos. (Subscribe to receive future updates)
- The first time joining the Xscapers group – If you haven’t heard of Xscapers or Escapees we strongly recommend checking them out. They are a RV support network that also offers club benefits like a mail service, campground discounts, work opportunities and more.
- The first time attending a Convergence – I’m happy to say we are hooked, not only for dry camping at more festivals/events but with attending Convergences, especially those hosted by Xscapers. Travis and Melanie Carr, the Xscapers Founders are extremely hands on and really made us feel so welcome. They arranged group parking for all members at the event, hosted evening get-togethers and facilitated balloon crewing activities. Being part of the Xscapers Convergence saved us a tremendous amount of time and hassle by putting us with a group of amazing people who had already been to the event before.
Campground(s) we stayed
RV parking for the Balloon Festival is booked through the Balloon Fiesta webpage within the RV Information section. Regardless of whether you are with a group, you generally need to book your spots directly through this page. There are a few parking options to choose that vary in price, amenities and location. Prices may vary from year to year but for 2016 they offered the following:
- Standard Sites – $35 per night, which is dry camping in the South Lot (this is where we parked with the Xscapers Group). They offer clean water fill up and pump services for your gray and black water – $25 for fresh fill up and $25 to dump both tanks- cash only.
- Premium Sites- $75 per night includes 30-amp service and water hook-up also in South Lot
- President’s Compound – $175 per night includes city water hook-up, 30-amp service, 4 entry passes to the Launch Field during your stay (admission into the Fiesta is $10 per person) and the sites are on a bluff overlooking the Launch Field.
All sites book up quick so make sure to reserve your spot early.
We arrived on the Wednesday before the festival started (on Saturday). This allowed us to avoid huge crowds of RV’ers that were stuck in 2+ hour lines to get into the festival. We also left 24 hours after the festival ended, again missing the lines. Arriving early is an absolute must and will give you more time to enjoy the area, neighbors and a few cocktails.
Things to do
Watch the Balloons Fly!! – Get up early and watch the Balloon launch. If you park in the South Lot, free bus shuttles continually take passengers back and forth from the Balloon Fiesta grounds (you can also walk – it’s about a mile from the South Lot). Watching the balloons inflate and take off the from the field is quite the sight. You can also watch from your RV in the South Lot as the balloon’s flight path will (likely) go over your head. A few mornings we watch from the front window of our RV and many people sat on the roof of their RV’s to get an even better view.
The balloons will land anywhere the wind takes them; watching the pilots land these massive balloons all around the city, is also a fun thing to witness. The pilots will find a ‘safe’ landing stop where their balloon chase crew will follow in cars to help bring the balloon safely to the ground for its next flight.
- Mass Ascensions Launch(s) – Weekends are when the Mass Ascension Launches are scheduled. The Mass Ascensions are impressive since all of the balloons are scheduled to fly and twice as many balloon will be in the air at one time. The balloons and pilots come from all over the world. Each balloon has a unique color pattern, some are even shaped like characters or different things. A few of my personal favorites where: puddle and splash the boy and girl penguins, Nelly-B the pink elephant, Betty Jean the Butterfly and Scorch the dragon – check out our video and pictures and let us know which ones you like the best!
- Balloon Competition Flying – on weekdays, Balloon Competition Flying begins. This is where pilots will try to steer the balloons to a target and drop a marker as close to the target as possible. There is also a ring toss competition where the pilots try to fly to a pole to win big prizes.
- Balloon Glow – Right when it gets dark, or early in the morning before the sun rises is the Balloon Glow. At night they call it the “Twilight Twinkle Glow” where all of the hot air balloons will be inflated and tethered to the ground, firing their burners to create an amazing light show. While this is happening festival attendees are allowed to walk amongst all the balloons, marveling at the size, colors and intensity of the propane heat and sound. Following the glow, a firework shows will light up the night sky ending that day’s festivities.
- Live Music /Chainsaw Carving / Car Show – Throughout the week other events and activities are planned for your enjoyment. In 2016 they had bands come and play live on the stage; some included Chris Young, Parmalee and Sim Balkey. They also had a large wood chainsaw carving tent where beautiful statues and pieces of work were created out of wood right in front of you. One day they had a car show where old cars were driven onto the field to be showed off and admired.
Volunteer to Crew a Balloon– Ever wonder what it would be like to crew a hot air balloon? At the fiesta you can volunteer to crew for the week. On the website you can fill out the Chase Crew Application and the Chase Crew Coordinator will get back in contact with you. If you join the Xscapers Group like us, we signed up as a group. This allowed us to crew on a rotating basis, instead of having to committee to the entire week. Another big thank you to Melanie and Travis from Xscapers for organizing this. Our chase crew included fellow bloggers Marc & Julie from RVLOVE who’ve you’ve already met and newbies to the blogosphere, Gary & Stacy from Pau Hana Travels. Make sure you check out their Youtube Channel, it’s a riot! The day it was our turn to crew it was unfortunately too windy and we didn’t get the chance to experience crewing but checkout RVLove’s post here for more information—maybe next time!
Hot Air Balloon Rides – There are two ways to get yourself a ride on a balloon. The cheapest way is to volunteer to crew a balloon. This doesn’t guarantee you a spot but if you work hard and show up for multiple days of crewing you’re likely to get a spot amongst the sky of balloon riders. Your second option is to pay to ride. Rainbow Ryders will take up paid customers. Be forewarned that if you want to pay to ride a balloon at the festival it is much pricier than going at other times. We wanted to be sure we shared the experience with our followers (and I wanted to go!) so we booked a ride and paid almost $350.00 per spot. I booked us on Rainbow Ryders for the Tuesday morning flight – one of their cheaper days. The price varies per day, weekends are more expensive. In all the balloon ride experience was amazing so if you want to plan for an early Christmas present this might be the one. The slow rise into the air being surrounded by tons of balloons was unreal. Our pilot and crew were also excellent! The pilot has about 30 years of experience and this was his 34th Balloon Fest. We felt safe and it was fun, an experience we won’t forget.
Places we ate
Fair Vendors… There are tons of fair food options to choose from. There were hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, indian tacos, Greek food, pizza, turkey legs, ice cream, fried dough and more. While these are not the healthiest options, you’re sure to find something you will like. My personal favorite was the breakfast burritos with green chilies – hit the spot after our early morning balloon ride.
El Pinto… we went to El Pinto one night for dinner, it’s about a 5-minute drive from the fairgrounds. The ambience was good, huge restaurant with a great outdoor patio and their Grand Gold Margarita was delicious. We weren’t thrilled about the food. Our tacos were on the dry side and everything was a bit bland overall. Maybe they had an off night or they were so busy because of the Balloon Fiesta but I suggest going for the Margarita’s if nothing else!
A few of our suggestions for the event –
- Download the Balloon Festival App “ABQ Int’l Balloon Fiesta” – It will give you updates and important announcement for the event, along with a calendar or events, park map, balloon and pilots information, plus more.
- Follow the Balloon Festival Twitter – we found it was the first to provide updates if anything is cancelled.
- Go for the entire event – hot air balloon launches are all dependent on the weather if you have a rainy day or weekend the balloons may not fly – if you go for the whole event you will have a greater chance to see the balloons in flight.
- Bring warm clothes and dress in layers – the early mornings and late nights get chilly in the desert. Bring a blanket or chair to sit on during morning launches and night light shows as it takes quite a while for things to get going.
- Need more info? Check out their website – it is filled with tons of great information about the event and so much more. You can also ask questions below and we will reply to the best of our knowledge.
This was one of those experience where I found myself keep repeating the words – “This is so amazing!” Seeing so many balloons inflating, rising and floating in the air at the same time is truly a bucket list item for any world traveler. We strongly recommend adding the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta to your destination list. We know we are glad we did. Thanks for reading and watching and if you enjoy our content please be sure to subscribe which helps us support continued content.