Did you know that the first hot air balloon passengers were a sheep, a rooster and a duck?! Back in 1783 they didn’t know if mammals could survive at such high altitudes, and when that first “Montgolfière,” made out of paper (!) and filled with farm animals, ascended from the Palace of Versailles, the world was forever changed.
Lucky for us the world of ballooning has developed quite a bit, and lucky for that sheep, he was declared a National Hero and got to live the rest of his days grazing the grounds around Marie Antoinette’s stunning Parisian cottage!
For those of you who don’t know, the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon event IN THE WORLD! What started back in 1972 with just 13 balloons, now draws hundreds of thousands of guests who watch the nearly 600 vibrantly-colored balloons take over the sky… and ground below!
We had been dreaming about the day we would finally make it to this magical place and when we arrived, it literally blew us away!
So, you want the inside scoop on the fiesta so you don’t miss a beat, or balloon? Here are 10 essential tips to ensure your mind is inflated with all the right info when fiesta time comes rolling around each year!
#1. Balloonists rise and shine before the sun! We’re talking 4am wake-up call early, and if you want to experience every incredible moment, you best be waking up then too!:If you want to beat the parking lot traffic and want to see the mesmerizing Dawn Patrol balloons blinking like giant light bulbs in the dark morning sky, plan to arrive to the fiesta by 5:30am.
#2. Attend Mass Ascension: starting at 7am, this launch of all the participating balloons has been a feature of the Balloon Fiesta since its earliest days and is the most spectacular display of sound and color in all of aviation!! Yes, it really is as amazing as it sounds!:
#3. If you’re not up for a breakfast of fried everything and hot dogs, bring snacks and a fun picnic spread to share!
This “friendly” piranha likes to snack on fingers?!:
We had an RV roof to chill on, but plan to bring a tarp/picnic blanket or foldable chairs otherwise, there are wooden picnic tables you can chillax at while you watch the carnival in the sky take place!
#4. It’s cold! In the morning typical temperatures at Balloon Fiesta Park are in the 40’s! Wear layers, a beanie, closed-toe shoes and bring a thermos, otherwise you’ll be trying to take refuge inside someone’s balloon!
Or you can always wear a wizard coat and put a cat in your back pocket for added warmth, like this dude below:
#5. You HAVE TO ride in a balloon. Either become a pilot, volunteer as part of a chase crew, reserve your spot for about $300 per person, or if you’re lucky like us, run into a legendary balloonist, aka. Gary, while hiking in Zion, become great friends and eventually be able to fly in “Gary’s Balloon,” seen below 🙂The moment we stepped into that balloon for the first time, it was like stepping into a dream. We gazed lovingly at the sky we would soon be floating in and as soon as we were buoyant, the ropes released and thousands of spectators below cheered and waved as our ballooning cherries were popped!:
The views from the air were unlike anything we could have imagined.
We went from having giant balloons all around us – above, below, beside – to seeing everything shrink away, like tiny toys, getting smaller with every passing breath.
#6. Learn from “Lindy” the balloon and bring your sunnies 🙂
#7. Balloon landings. We had no idea what this entailed, but basically the Balloonist utilizes the wind speed and direction at different altitudes to direct the flight and once he has spotted an ideal landing pad he tries his best to steer clear of winds that will push the ballon into trees, power lines, etc.
They may even brush against tree tops to help slow the balloon down!
Once the balloon is on the ground the “Chase Crew” arrives in the “Chase Car” to help deflate the ballon, roll it up into its envelope, put the basket up onto its platform and take everyone back to Balloon Fiesta Park to celebrate with Champagne!
View of crews deflating their balloons from above:
Very fun Fact: Common tradition among balloonists is to have a champagne toast upon landing after every successful flight! Legend has it that early French aeronauts carried champagne to appease angry or frightened spectators at the landing site… luckily we didn’t meet any of those 🙂
#8. This one is going to seem as obvious as day, but just in case, bring your camera, tripod and every lens you own! We fell in love with ballooning at first sight:
Notice the guy and girl balloon behind us, they’re married! They actually had a marriage ceremony for them and everything! Complete with a champagne toast of course 😉
But we have to admit, the bees were our absolute favorite:
Fun fact: The bees start out with their hands velcroed together and as they ascend, usually kissing with their little baby bee nearby, they eventually go buzzing their own separate ways, making for some of the most adorable moments at the Fiesta!
Everywhere we looked there was something completely out-of-this-world AMAZING to capture!
Darth. Vader. Get this, the entire crew dresses up in Star Wars attire!
Anyone ever heard of a Tri-bird? Three birds in one!
Sushi, the adorable flying gold fish:
Or how about chicken not-so-little:
The photo ops were absolutely endless.
#9. One day is NOT enough. We went the first Saturday (all day) for Mass Ascension and Glow aka. Night Magic, Sunday morning for our inaugural First Flight, Monday morning as Chase Crew, Tuesday morning to observe, Thursday night for Glow, Friday morning for our final ascent and we still couldn’t get enough!
The sky, winds and balloons change every morning, creating a completely unique experience every time you go!
Notice Gary’s perfect little balloon in the bottom right of the frame:
#10. Last but not least… Explore Albuquerque! Once the clock strikes Noon everything at the festival starts to close up and the pilots and their crew retreat for nap time. This is especially true on nights that don’t have a Glow scheduled, but have no fear, there’s a ton to choose from!
All you Breaking Bad fans may recognize Walter White’s house above! You can opt for a guided BaD Tour, or if your like us, follow Lonely Planet’s DIY Breaking Bad Tour! Check out Walt’s car wash below where you can actually get your car washed!
Another must-do, located on Balloon Fiesta Park, is the International Balloon Museum! For just $4 you will learn fascinating balloon facts and see some of the most valuable artifacts in ballooning history!
One thing’s for sure, going to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta made “Balunatics” out of us! It’s an experience we hope to be a part of again, but there’s something about your first time that you never forget.