7 Ways to Enjoy The International Balloon Fiesta
The International Balloon Fiesta started back in 1972, when 13 balloons were launched into the air for people to spectate. Over 10,000 spectators came to watch the balloons launch into the sky. But that was then. Today, people from around the world come to International Balloon Fiesta to witness hundreds of balloons take off into a clear sky. In 2017, close to 900,000 people drove, flew, walked, or biked to Albuquerque, New Mexico to see it.
After returning home from
Peace Corps, I realized there was a lot I still hadn’t seen in my own home country. And the International Balloon Fiesta was one of them. I made plans with my bestie Sami and we made the 5-hour drive to Albuquerque to first watch the balloon glow.
Below is a short video of our time there PLUS seven extra ways for you to enjoy the Balloon Fiesta and Albuquerque for cheap.
1. Getting to the International Balloon Fiesta
I spent most of my childhood traveling around the country with my family going to band camp, spending summer with relatives in Wisconsin, or doing Christmas trips to Disneyland. And beyond that, I have lived in China and seen a place like Park Guell and the Salvador Dali museum.
You would think that of all the travel I had done as a child and as an adult, I would’ve been to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM. Well, you’d be thinking wrong.
In my desperate attempt to see another beautiful location and event on the US map, I decided to take a 24-hour road trip to Albuquerque with my good friend Sami. And here’s what we learned about the whole trip.
We started out on a Friday night from Colorado Springs, CO. We left around 11:00 pm MT to make the 5 1/2 hour drive to Albuquerque, NM.
We took I-25 South, past Walsenburg, through Trinidad and Raton. 5 1/2 hours later, Sami and I were asleep in the Intel Parking Lot in Albuquerque.
We had arrived early to wait for the shuttle bus that would take us to the Balloon Fiesta.
2. Hassle-Free Transportation with Park and Ride
Prior to our trip, Sami and I purchased our tickets to the International Balloon Fiesta. After looking last minute, I discovered it there would be an admission fee, of course. I also started thinking about what a nightmare parking would be and why wouldn’t it be with over 80,000 people planning to attend.
So, where to you find cheap or free parking for the International Balloon Fiesta?
The answer is Park and Ride shuttle service. For $15, you can purchase an RT shuttle ride from 1 of 5 parking lots. You can get from your parked car to the front gate of the event in 15-20 minutes.
Where Can you Park and Ride in Albuquerque?
Cottonwood Mall (10000 Coors Bypass NW)
Intel (1600 Rio Rancho Blvd. SE)
Coronado Center (6600 Menaul Blvd NE)
Hoffmantown Church (8888 Harper Road NE)
Cliff’s Amusement Park (4800 Osuna Rd. NE)
You can start boarding the bus around 4:30 am and miss most of the rush. Going at 4:30 am means you can find a better place to get situated and you have ample time to get food hot beverages to watch the Balloon Glow.
If you want to get onto the bus faster, print your tickets (their systems aren’t compatible with scanning tickets on a device.
3. Preparing for the Balloon Fiesta
Just because it’s Albuquerque doesn’t mean it’s 100 degrees at 5:00 in the morning. Make sure you are packing good winter-like clothes for so you can enjoy the balloon glow without complaining about the chill in the air. Cups of coffee and hot cocoa won’t be enough to warm up your little fingers.
9 Items You Should Take To the International Balloon Fiesta:
Hat or Earmuffs
Long Sleeve Shirt and/or Hoodie
Boots or Sneakers (Non-Mesh)
Plenty of Snacks and Water
4. Watch the Balloon Glow at 6:00 am
Going at 4:30 am may be a little too early for some of you late risers, but the Balloon Glow is worthy of getting out of bed. By the time you take Park and Ride to the park, it’ll be close to 5:00 am and just an hour away to find the perfect spot to watch the balloons light up.
Make sure you grab some burritos from Chavez’s Famous Burrito Stand or a $10 bucket of donuts and Ghiradelli hot cocoa from the Krispy Kreme vendor. No matter where you get something to warm your belly, the area is filled with tons of little shops or food vendors you can wander into while you’re waiting for the balloon glow to happen.
Closer to 6:00 am will be the best time to go find a seat and watch the balloons glow. They inflate the balloons and fill them up with the light from their torch. And in the darkness of the morning, they’ll launch carrying away like little fireflies in the distance.
It’ll be a cold and dark morning, but trust me, it’ll be a beautiful one.
5. Stick Around for the 7:00 am Balloon Launch
After nearly an hour of watching the Balloon Glow and Launch, you’ll start to see balloons from around the globe fire it up.
The sun will rise and hot air balloon extraordinaires will start unraveling their balloons and gearing up to launch. If you’re feeling a little cold, mosey on over to a basket and warm your tush up by the fire as they demonstrate what happens when you mix fuel and a spark.
From there, balloons of all shapes, sizes, and themes take off into the sky. The balloon launch lasts anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2 hours depending on the weather.
As the field clears of balloons, trucks, and trailers, you’ll have a better view to take snapshots of dozens of hot air balloons hanging in the sky like little holiday ornaments.
6. Stop by Frontier Restaurant for Breakfast
The International Balloon Fiesta usually wraps up to fun around 9 am so they can prepare for the evening session. No worries! This will give you ample time to fill your belly once more with delicious food in the Albuquerque area.
It is a little bit of a drive, but the cost and the quality of food is definitely worth it.
Depending on where you are, it could take up to 30 minutes for your to arrive at the Frontier Restaurant. It is a quaint little place just on the corner, but it is constantly filled with people salivating over their scrumptious breakfast.
You will never have to wait for your breakfast for longer than ten minutes, but you will want to make sure you find a seat before you order. That’s why it’s best to have a buddy with you (thanks, Sami).
Our food of choice for this trip were two of their breakfast burritos at just $5 for a cup of hot cider and a cup of coffee, totaling out to be $17.
Before you leave, make sure you chow down on one of their sweet and famous cinnamon rolls.
7. Spend Less, Because The Total Cost of Your Trip Is…..
With the RT cost of gas and everything else I mentioned above,
you’ll end up spending close to $133 for this entire trip. But that’s if you come from Colorado and if you’re only traveling for one day. This cost covered two people for less than 24 hours.
If you are traveling on a budget, the International Balloon Fiesta is the perfect event to attend for a day during the weekend. If you plan to stay all week, you’ll have access to specially themed balloon launches.
Spend less and gain more on your trip by going with someone who enjoys seeing magical things like hot air balloons and it will be a trip worth remembering.
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