Every year in October, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, USA offers nine days of spectacular hot air ballooning events, a photographer paradise, As it has been canceled this year due to COVID, I thought I’d dedicate my weekly post and image-sharing to this stunning yearly event, the week it was supposed to happen this year! 😢
This festival is the largest balloon event in the world. It started in 1972 with 13 balloons, and, last year, there were 580 hot air balloons and 1 000 pilots from all over the world. More than 900 000 visitors attended the event in 2019. Yes, the little things at the bottom of my image are crowds of small humans packed together (hence the COVID limitations).
There’s still hope, though, and in 2021, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is scheduled to be held from October 2, 2021, to October 10, 2021. 2021 is an exciting year, as it will be the 50th anniversary of the festival so here is some advice and considerations for this:
1 – Go and shoot the most photographed event in the world…
Can you guess why CANON is the core sponsor of that event? With all the shapes and colors in the blue sky of New Mexico, photographer or not, you will definitively get amazing pictures and do the travel photography trip of a lifetime… Those make as well amazing photography prints for your home!
2 – Stay three days and plan for the best events…
Like every year, this is a 9-day event, so go and look for the scheduled program (which is already available) to decide on the best days to be there. While October is “ideal weather” in New Mexico, statistically, delay or cancellation of launch happens regularly due to the weather, so 3 days allows you to be safe and enjoy the event.
As a tip, the weekend has the biggest mass ascension and largest events, normally. Of course, those days are more crowded, but all days are packed anyway, and you’re shooting the sky, so don’t be afraid of the crowds!
3 – Be there early for the Dawn Patrol Show
Several balloons will take off before sunrise (normally around 6 AM) in order to check on weather and landing visibility conditions. Beyond safety, it is also a tradition for the participants and visitors to launch with music and is a great experience with balloons rising in the starry sky.
4 – Be there early for the morning glow
Yes, you have to be early again, sorry. This is where balloons will line up and activate their propane burners to light up while still being fixed to the ground before sunset. Very cool photography opportunity!
These balloons will then launch for amazing views – that will be different every day, at the whims of Mother Nature’s sunrise color decisions…
5 – Mass Ascension is a festival on its own!
This is where hundreds of balloons all launch in the same morning over a two-hour period, with two waves. You can walk around, watch the preparation, connect with some teams, and obviously enjoy an infinite number of amazing picture opportunities…
This is clearly a highlight of the Balloon Fiesta. If the weather is fine, mass ascensions start around 7 AM for the first balloons.
6 – See the special shape balloon events
Special shape balloons will be there across the 9 days, but there will be special events (rodeo, morning, and evening glow), so check for detailed planning.
There should be around 100 balloons with incredible, special shapes. For reference, a “standard” hot air balloon costs around $25 000, while a special shape balloon can cost up to $200 000 or even more. Nice toys!
7 – Watch for planes as well…
With a bit of luck (and proper planning 😎), you might be there to see the acrobatic planes airshow (and laser show) before the balloon’s elevation, like in my image below, with the planes seemingly exiting the balloon…
8 – There is a lot to see within the festival
There are many events within the main event, from a rock and country music festival to some impressive chain-carving competitions, and much more (including some of the most fried food I’ve ever seen in the US 😰). So just go around (or even get into a balloon) and enjoy this popular event!
9 – Plan the logistics before your visit
The Balloon Fiesta Park is located in northern Albuquerque. Remember that 1 million people will have also the idea to go there, so buy entrance and parking tickets ahead of time (online), you’ll save a lot of time. There are a lot of hotels and motels around, but they get fully booked well ahead of the event…
10 – Get in very early… and warmly dressed
As mentioned a few times, get there early to see and shoot the main events: early means 4:30-5 AM to also ensure that you don’t get in the mega traffic jams for the parking (or take the Park & Ride shuttle). The morning before sunrise can be chilly, so dress warmly and wear close-toed shoes!
Hopefully, exactly a year from now (October 2 to 10, 2021), COVID will be under control and the largest balloon event and most photographed event in the world will celebrate its 50th birthday!