Albuquerque’s azure skies become a surreal sight in early October when dragons, cows, princesses and even Darth Vader and Yoda take off during New Mexico’s annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
This year’s Canon sponsored theme Where Dreams Take Flight, the world’s largest balloon festival and most photographed event on earth, sees more than 550 hot air balloons from 18 countries and 45 states take off each day during the first week of October.
An estimated 500,000 people will attend the early morning launches and evening balloon glow throughout the week.
Yoda from “Star Wars” wows crowds at the 2014 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He, his friend Darth Vader and 548 other balloons – nearly 100 of them special shape balloons – are returning to Albuquerque for the first week of October. — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
New for 2015, Parabatix is a group of international freestyle paramotor pilots (motorized paragliders) who race and perform acrobatics over the balloon field after morning balloon rides.
Also new this year are morning and evening laser light shows, where laser art uses inflated balloons as screens in displays choreographed to music.
All week long, balloons launch in waves starting at 5:30am. In the evening, tethered balloons create a forest of bright colors across the 78-acre lawn, followed by fireworks.
Balloon competitions test pilots’ skills as they compete for prizes such as trying to hit ground targets with beanbags.
Hundreds of vendors offer everything from breakfast burritos to collectible balloon pins.
On Saturday 10th October the Music Fiesta will be headlined by The Band Perry with support acts Gloriana and Two Way Crossing.
Music begins at 1:15 p.m., and Music Fiesta attendees receive free entry to the balloon glow and fireworks display that follows. Tickets start at $8, with reserved seating at $50.
General parking is $10 per session and admission is $8 per morning and evening session. Children up to 12 years have free entry.
Park-and-ride buses avoid traffic and take visitors directly to the park for a total of $20. Free bicycle storage is available for those who prefer to cycle to this unique event.
Visitors should wear layered clothing as mornings can be cold. But it warms up quickly once the sun rises above the Sandía mountains.
For a new way to experience the balloons, consider a guided tour kayak tour on the Rio Grande to see balloons floating along the river, avoid the traffic and get a workout with the Routes Bicycle Rentals Balloon Fiesta Bike Tour.
After the balloons land, be sure to explore the rest of Albuquerque’s unique attractions, such as the Sandia Aerial Tramway, one of the longest in the world.
Or visit one of the best restaurants near the Ballonfiesta site.
The 2015 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is scheduled for Saturday, October 3rd through Sunday, October 11th. For a full list of events see Ballonfest website.