Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta should be on bucket lists

Spongebob Hot Air Balloon

We attended our first International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque in 2010. Since then, I get antsy this time of the year when the Fiesta kicks off. This year’s Fiesta started Saturday and runs through Oct. 13th.

Lisa, our youngest daughter Mallory and I spent five days in Albuquerque during our visit. The festivities kick off early in the morning, so we were up each day by 3:30 a.m. and out the door. The hotel we stayed at had goodie bags for guests to take on the shuttle van to the balloon grounds. We ended up driving a couple of days once we figured out the system.

Our first morning consisted of a morning “glow” and a mass ascension. The Glow is when the pilots inflate their balloons and blast the gas, lighting up their balloons.

Balloon Glow

The mass ascension is amazing to watch. Hundreds of balloons from all over the world fill the New Mexico sky with the Sandia Mountains as a back drop. It’s a beautiful view.

Hot Air Balloon Mass Ascension

The Fiesta schedules launches to keep things fresh. The mass ascension occurs on three days. Separate ascensions occur for international balloons and special shaped balloons. The Fiesta has balloon flying competitions, including hitting targets with sandbags.

Zebra Hot Air Balloon

The Fiesta goes beyond balloon flights.

The even truly is a Fiesta, with music, food and other events taking place before sun rise and well after the sun sets.

We had a night glow canceled on our first day due to threatening weather, but the opening fireworks shot off as people left the field.

We enjoyed watching a mariachi band perform one day.

Albuquerque Balloon Festival

A local weather guy – Steve Stucker – does his morning forecasts from the balloon grounds. Stucker has been with his TV station for more than 25 years. We talked with him for a few minutes. He is from Council Bluffs, Iowa, and once worked in Nebraska.

Albuquerque Balloon Festival

In the end, the Fiesta is about balloons. And more balloons.

Albuquerque Balloon Festival

It started in 1972 with 13 balloons. In 2010, there were 500 balloons. This year, they expect about 550 balloons from more than 30 states and about 20 countries.

Albuquerque Balloon Festival

We were three of about 811,000 people visiting the Fiesta in 2010. They expect more than that this year, as the event continues to grow in popularity. Fiesta organizers believe the balloon event is the most photographed event in the world. I wouldn’t doubt that.

Albuquerque Balloon Festival

The cool thing about the Fiesta is visitors are allowed up-close to the balloons and the crews. You can walk around the grounds, and talk with the crews as they prepare to launch. I even got to meet Darth Vader and some storm troopers one morning.

Albuquerque Balloon Festival - Darth Vader and Storm Trooper

We each found balloons that we liked a lot. Mallory, of course, loved the penguin tourist balloon.

Albuquerque Balloon Festival - Penguin Hot Air Balloon

Mine was the Darth Vader-shaped balloon from Europe.

Albuquerque Balloon Festival - Darth Vader Hot Air Balloon

Another positive about the Fiesta’s balloon schedule is that it allows visitors an opportunity to check out the Albuquerque area, such as Old Town district, Petroglyph Park and other attractions.

For more information on the International Balloon Fiesta, please visit its website at