Where Is the World’s Largest Hot Air Balloon Festival?


Interest in hot air ballooning has been growing steadily in the United States since the early 1970’s. As interest has grown in the United States and throughout the world, several hot air balloon festivals have popped up all over the globe.

The largest hot air balloon festival in the world is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. As the name implies, it takes place every year in Albuquerque, New Mexico, attracting over 500 balloons and 900,000 attendees!

There’s a lot that goes into such a large event. From it’s colorful history to its variety of events today, there’s so much to explore!

History of the Fiesta

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta dates way back to 1972, and it wasn’t so international when it started. It all started as part of a birthday celebration for the manager of a local radio station, Dick McKee.

Dick asked Sid Cutter, the first man to ever own a hot air balloon in New Mexico, if Sid’s balloon could be used at the party. Dick wanted to know what the largest gathering of hot air balloons was to date. At that time, the number was a measly 19.

Determined to beat this number, and with help from a third man, Oscar Kratz, the earliest form of the Fiesta began to take shape. On Dick’s birthday, April 8, 1972, 13 balloons launched off from the Coronado Shopping Center parking lot in Albuquerque.

The Fiesta has really taken off since then (pun intended). Numbers of balloons and attendees grew each year for decades. In 2001, and again in 2009, the Fiesta has put a cap on the number of balloons allowed due to a lack of space.

In 2018, the Fiesta hosted 550 hot air balloons, 650 balloon pilots, and 886,307 attendees.

What to Do at the Fiesta

There’s a lot of fun to pack into a week at the Fiesta! The first Fiesta in 1972 hosted one balloon race, a thrilling experience at the time. Today, the Fiesta has different events each day, some balloon related, and some not!

Hot Air Balloon Rides

First, the obvious: you should definitely catch a ride in a hot air balloon while at the Fiesta! Balloon Ryders’, Inc. is the official balloon ride service for the Fiesta. Going to the worlds largest balloon festival without actually riding in a balloon would be the travesty of a lifetime.

The Mass Ascension/Glow

The next thing to you have to check out is the mass ascension! This is where every balloon registered for the Fiesta will lift off at the same time. You read that right: every. single. balloon. That means upwards of 600 balloons, all the size of large buildings, will simultaneously take flight. A must see!

If you’re going to be present for the mass ascension, you should also attend the glow. The glow happens at night when the balloons will flicker their burners off and on. It’s like the most fireflies you’ve ever seen, and they’re all massive. Some people have said this is the most breathtaking moment at the Fiesta!

Other Events/Competitions

Outside of these can’t miss events, there are also some other excellent options. A fan favorite of late has been the special shape rodeo. This event showcases the many varieties of designs in hot air balloons.

If you’re an early bird, the dawn patrol is where you can watch balloons take off in the early hours of the morning. In the darkness, this is almost like another glow event!

There are several different competitions to attend as well. These events can be particularly humorous as the pilots of hot air balloons are almost entirely at the mercy of the wind. Winning is closely associated with good fortune in these challenges!

If you ever feel ballooned out, there are also a handful of non-balloon related events! From chainsaw carving to music fiesta, there’s plenty of things to do that don’t involve craning your neck. Because you’re in a park, hacky sack and ultimate frisbee have also become favorites over the years!

How to Prepare for the Fiesta

Nobody wants to show up to an event ill-prepared, especially one that lasts a little over a week! Here are some helpful suggestions to help you as you prepare to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!

Schedule way in advance. This event can be attended by well over 900,00 people. Spots at hotels, room in balloon rides, and sign-ups for some of the activities can get filled up quickly. The city of Albuquerque is VERY hospital around the festival, but 900,000 bodies are still 900,000 bodies.

Along with advance scheduling, plan out your time! Getting a map and a schedule of all the events from the Fiesta’s official web-page is a great idea! You wouldn’t want to miss an event because you double booked or because you didn’t realize the events were far apart.

A good piece of advice for any event, make sure to bring extra money. This event is actually extremely cheap in comparison to other events of a similar size. That having been said, you never know when a couple of extra bucks come in handy.

ALWAYS have a camera ready! This point can’t be overemphasized. This event is breathtaking, and you’ll want to save these memories. If your camera is your phone, make sure it’s well charged.

Also, don’t forget to bring good walking shoes! The Fiesta takes place in a beautiful but large park. This is because of the size and number of balloons, as well as the variety of events. Happy feet make happy people.

Lastly, don’t try to do it all your first time! The Fiesta happens every year, so just enjoy yourself.

Are you hoping to get some great pictures?

Be sure to read our 21 Helpful Tips for Photographing a Hot Air Balloon Festival to help make sure you can get some great photographs.

Fiesta Fun Facts

Over it’s long and colorful history, the Fiesta has been home to lots of records and interesting occurrences. Here’s just a few:

  1. In 2000, the Fiesta was host to 1,019 balloons! This large number of balloons is what drove the event organizers to set a cap on how many balloons could participate.
  2. In 2011, the Fiesta broke its own record for most balloons launched in an hour with 345!
  3. In 2018, the Fiesta was largely funded by the camera company, Canon. That is because it is the world’s most photographed event! Each Fiesta sees an estimated 25 million photos taken!
  4. Balloon Fiesta Park, the park where the Fiesta takes place, is also home to the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.
  5. The city of Albuquerque is quickly running out of landing zones due to its rapid urbanization. Because of this, the city offers prizes for residents who will leave large white X’s on their property to designate a safe landing zone!
  6. The Fiesta is the LARGEST international event held in the United States. It has a massively larger attendance than other events like the Sundance Film Festival, San Diego Comic-Con, and Mardi Gras.

Other Balloon Festivals

While the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest balloon festival, it isn’t the world’s only balloon festival. There are several balloon festivals worth mentioning, some which may be closer to where you live!

The U.S. Bank Kentucky Derby Festival Great BalloonFest is a part of the celebrations leading up the the Kentucky Derby horse race! If you’re interested in balloons and horses, this is definitely the event for you!

Sometimes, of course, it’s nice to get out of these land locked areas and see the ocean! If you feel that way, you might consider attending the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival. This festival in Alabama also gives out free t-shirts!

For our balloon enthusiast north of the border, the International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu is the largest balloon festival in Canada! This festival hosts many of the same activities as the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival.

Jumping across the pond, we come to the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta in England. This balloon festival sports some the most internationally diverse balloons!

The Taiwan International Balloon Festival just had one if it’s biggest years in 2017! This festival is known for its unique balloon designs and accompanying music festivals.

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Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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