A Guide to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Arts & Culture
Food & Wine
Albuquerque, New Mexico is a vibrant city that fuses ancestral and colonial culture into what is now a cultural destination. It is also the host city for the annual International Balloon Fiesta every October, gathering hundreds of hot air balloons from all around the world in its sky. This event is a sure bucket-list opportunity to watch the show in childlike wonder by morning, day and night. And when you've seen enough balloons, Albuquerque's Old Town is a treasure chest of exploration and adobe architecture. There’s even something for visitors who love nature and hiking and those who want to venture out on a road trip to nearby cities like Santa Fe, New Mexico. Albuquerque is a true gem year-round, but its sky lights up even more with hundreds of beautiful hot air balloons in October.
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Where to stay
Inspired by Chaco Canyon and its Pueblo history in Albuquerque, this thoughtfully designed hotel has an interior filled with commissioned artworks from local Native American artists.
Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm
Heaven for nature lovers, this 45-room inn sits on 25 acres of lavender fields and cottonwood trees in Albuquerque’s North Valley.
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Pet-friendly hotel featuring works from Native American artists in Albuquerque.
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Things to do
You're in for a treat if you’ve planned your trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, around the Balloon Fiesta that runs for nine days in October. Many of the event rituals make it a fun time for everyone. For example, start with watching the Mass Ascension or the Dawn Patrol Show. The Mass Ascension is a chance to see hundreds of colorful balloons worldwide launch and fill the sky. Visitors are invited to wander through the park and watch the crews work. The early birds are invited to come in at 6 am and watch some of the first balloons ascend to the sky before the Ascension. The Balloon Glow, on the other hand, is the night show when the balloons inflate their burners, lighting up from within in the night sky.
One can also take their own ride on one of the unique balloons. Of course, there are traditional balloons, but the highlight is in the shapes of ones like Rainbow Unicorn, SpiderPig, Penguins, Tweety Bird & Sylvester, Flying Pig, Giant Dreamland Dairy Cow, Yoda, Darth Vader, Humpty Dumpty and so on! It's an unforgettable and unique perspective of the Balloon Fiesta. There are a limited number of rides available, so reserve early!
Check out the food trucks and stalls parked at Balloon Fiesta Park. The “New Mexican” food style is unique, so grab a breakfast burrito. There are also local artists and craftspeople selling their art. There is also a great selection of beers if you’re looking for a boozy libation.
Venture Into the Old Town
Old Town Albuquerque, along the original Route 66, is the historic center. Its architectural style is very much adobe-focused with a twist of colonial elements. The Old Town is home to many historically significant buildings and churches.
The Rio Grande flows through Albuquerque, New Mexico also venturing into trailheads, hiking, biking, skating paths, nature centers and picnic areas to enjoy nature and the national park. In addition, you can take an independent or guided canoe, paddleboard or kayak tour to see the park. This is also another fun way to see the balloons.
The Albuquerque tramway is one of the longest in the world and takes you up to over 10,000 feet elevation. When you get to the top, you can hike, take in the views and/or visit the restaurant. It is possible to take the tram up and hike on the way down if you want a more active day.
This restored historic lumberyard building is now an urban market with local merchants, restaurants, and bars. The light and airy space also has a community gathering space and outdoor fire pits to enjoy in the colder months.
Santa Fe is an easy one-hour drive from Albuquerque for a quick day trip. You can park in the Santa Fe Plaza area and walk everywhere. First, walk through the Governor's Palace at the New Mexico History Museum. There are a variety of museums in the area to choose from, too: Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts and New Mexico Museum of Art. Then, indulge in shopping around the Plaza, where vendors offer beautiful handcrafted jewelry, crafts and art.
A note from Kris
If you are in Albuquerque on a Sunday, visit the Rail Yards Market. The city of Albuquerque rehabilitated the historic rail yard building into this cavernous covered market that spills out into the outdoor area. It's a combination of farmer's markets, food stands, artists and musicians.
Eat & drink
Alburquerque, New Mexico, hosts unique cuisine that blends Spanish, Mexican and Native American flavors. Hatch chilis are the backbone of New Mexican cooking. Every restaurant will ask if you want red or green chilis with your food. Insider tip: If you don't know, you can ask for Christmas to get them both.
Frontier Restaurant: Large, barn-shaped diner next to the University of New Mexico that serves delicious breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros with homemade tortillas.
Weck's: A local chain serving traditional diner breakfast and lunch.
Farmacy: Home to the best bacon in town, excellent breakfast tacos, waffles and mimosas by the pitcher.
Rebel Donuts: Check out this shop when you need some carby goodness. They serve delicious classic donuts, but you should also try the red chile chocolate bacon or the apple green chile fritters.
Lunch & Dinner
Range Cafe: Spanning several locations in the city, this joint serves traditional New Mexican food with a twist. You can expect delicious blue corn chile rellenos, green chile chicken stew and even a combination plate with various items to try. The location also has great desserts too. (I love their chocolate cake!)
El Modelo: An authentic Mexican restaurant with over 90 years in business close to the Old Town. It is best known for its giant handmade tamales and light and delicious handmade tortillas. There are also many combination plates to choose from.
Sadie's of New Mexico: An iconic Albuquerque spot that has been in business for a long time and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. (CAUTION: It serves the spiciest chile in town!) Try the carne asada and finish the meal with sopaipillas.
Trombino's Bistro Italiano: Italian family-style restaurant with a traditional menu.
Dion's Pizza: A good option for a non-chile-based menu. This is the spot where the locals get pizza.
Need to Know
Dreaming of Alaska? Check out my guide to Juneau: Best Things to Do in Juneau, Alaska.
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