5 Things Not to Do at a Hot Air Balloon Festival

This past weekend I traveled north for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We went super last minute. In fact last week was so busy I decided I wasn’t going to get excited to attend until I was actually leaving town. This was a mistake. I, the perpetually prepared trip planner had fantasized about going to this hot air balloon festival for a long time. Like all of college. I remember scrolling through all of the photos of friends going on Facebook longing to be there. Because even if it appeared to be freezing cold with a million people present it was a quintessential New Mexico experience. I highly recommend you go, but please do adequate research beforehand. Below we’re going to discuss 5 things not to do at a hot air balloon festival!

This whole thing was a hot mess. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t organized properly. It does mean that this is the last trip that I ever don’t go overboard and plan in fifteen-minute intervals. Even though everything that could go wrong went wrong I thoroughly enjoyed it because I was with my best friends. They just made everything fantastic even though it was technically a wreck.

5 Things Not to Do at a Hot Air Balloon Festival

Drive Yourself

As someone who spent like an hour and half sitting in traffic (literally sitting hardly moving) I would strongly encourage not driving yourself. I know that it’s only $15 per car to park once you’re there. Look me in the face right now – it is NOT WORTH IT. I wasn’t even driving. It was one of my friends who lived in Albuquerque for four years because we thought she would be more comfortable. There were so many people trying to get to the same destination that a half hour trip did not take half an hour. Let me put it this way for you – they shut down the city buses for the duration of the event in this area. It’s also very confusing for the driver to navigate the various road closures and designated lanes for those driving, buses, etc. when it’s dark out.

The only thing that made this whole journey to the Albuquerque international balloon fiesta enjoyable was the fact that is was frankly hilarious and that my friends and I have a solid sense of humor. It was also super helpful that we were pumped full of caffeine and donuts with access to a Pandora station. In fact it was so difficult for us to attempt to drive there that we considered just going the following morning instead.

But then we would have had to brave the craziness again and we just didn’t feel like it would be worth all the trouble.  So we trodded on in our car barely moving until we couldn’t take it anymore. This is why I would highly recommend the Park and Ride service offered. It is more expensive per person but includes the cost of admission, is far less hassle and they have several pickup locations.  This brings me to my next recommendation.

Wear Cute Shoes

We all know that you want a photo of yourself taken to document this experience. I can dig it. That’s why my outfit was adorable. That’s also why all three of us got up at 3 AM to put a full face of makeup on. Part of my outfit was the most adorable booties known to woman – pictured below. Once we realized there was no way were going to get to the hot air balloon festival at the time we wanted (which was 7 AM for the Mass Ascension) as we were stuck in traffic the next best option was to – you guessed it – walk.

I came across the idea when I noticed there were tons of people walking on the sidewalk. Initially I was just thinking that this was Albuquerque and people walked more frequently there than in Las Cruces. (Keep in mind we were all running on three hours of sleep or less so we were perhaps a little sleep deprived). Actually, these were the smart people getting to their destination while we gawked in our cars held prisoner by the ever growing line of tail lights.

So we parked at Burger King (having no other option if we wanted to make it there on time to see everything). Then we used google maps and we walked. We walked for a little over half an hour. We finally made it. I have no problem with walking, really I don’t. Just remember that you have to walk back later if you do this bit. Whether you walk to the park or just inside the park just ditch the cute shoes. Most likely no one is going to photograph your feet anyway.

I have six blisters that could’ve been avoided and when we were finished that morning my feet were so on fire I couldn’t walk back to the vehicle. Uber wouldn’t pick us up very close. So I just sat stranded at the non-working bus stop while my fabulous friends brought their car.

Forget the Sunscreen

hot air balloon festival

Let me put it this way – you are going to the zoo. Treat attending a hot air balloon fiesta like going to the zoo, or like any other outdoor excursion. That means prepare for the sun! Bring sunscreen, bring sunglasses and bring a hat with a brim to protect you from the elements. Heck – bring an umbrella. These are all very necessary once the sun rises. If there’s anything that you would bring on a trip to the zoo it is probably necessary for your trip here!

Spend All Your Money on Expensive Food Vendors

Now let me be clear, I spent a fair amount of my money during the trip on eating at this event. I chose too. Because where else can you find a hatch green chile lobster roll or loaded mac’n cheese. For me, it was all a part of the experience. You should be able to feed yourself a meal for $10-$15 per person. But if you have a family, this can get pretty expensive. Or if you’re a compulsive snacker like myself.

Let me let you in on a little secret : As long as it’s not alcohol and there is not glass, you can bring it into the park. You can literally wheel in an entire ice chest of food if that is going to make your heart happy. Any large bags are subject to search upon entry, but as long as you’re just carting food this is a great way to be thrifty!

This is a great way to not only skip the lines with the masses, but also stick to a diet or simply feed your picky two year old easier. I would recommend warm beverages in the morning (they say that 5 AM arrival is ideal at the park). If you don’t bring food and are willing to wait in line and pay borderline obscene prices they have you covered.

Plan for Rest

The other thing that many forget about this hot air balloon festival is that you are going to get tired. It might be that you want to rest after you have walked to the park. Or that after walking inside the park you are tired. Or it may be that you actually want to sit down while you eat (the horror). You can pay for the much more expensive Gondola Club tickets (which in all honesty might be worth it if you can stomach the cost). There are many things that differentiate these from general admission. One of these is seating. Seating, and private bathrooms. Tables are few and far between. They are also probably quite messy after seating every Tom, Dick and Harry before you.

Bring your own seat and enjoy resting comfortably.

It’s also very important to note that if you are not present at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta at 7 AM, it is okay. We thought we would miss the whole thing. We barely got there at 7:12 AM. But as long as you arrive prior to 8:30 AM, you’ll still get to see the multitude of balloons stretched across the canvas of the blue sky.

Don’t forget to bring your phone. A Verizon kisosk was available for free when I went which is a heaven sent!

Have you ever been? What are your tips for visiting the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta?

I did really enjoy this event. With proper planning I’m sure the hot air balloon festival would have been even more fun! One of the things I loved was all the people watching, I’ll publish a post on that later.

Thanks for reading!



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