An Albuquerque October: Perfect Weather, Balloon Fiesta

Along with chile and Breaking Bad, hot air balloons is kinda our claim to fame.

Let me start by saying that I have been meaning to get a post up for weeks (maybe even months)!  Autumn started off with a bang and there has been a lot going on around here.  I resigned from a job that was not a good fit for me in September, spent a few weeks as an unemployed person (which wasn’t so bad really, except for that whole lack of money coming in thing), and happily landed a job this month that is a much better fit for me (whew!).  Pepper all of that with some family illness/surgery/childbirth and you can see why writing hasn’t been at the top of the priority list.

As a side effect of all that’s been going on, my two upcoming vacation trips to Cuba and The Baltics have been postponed.  We’ll get there…sometimes the timing just isn’t right.  So, let’s not sit around and pout; let’s talk about the awesome things to do in October and get you planning your trip to Albuquerque for  2018!

Balloon Fiesta 2October in Albuquerque is a glorious time of year.  The weather is (mostly) picture perfect and October is the time of year when our biggest and best festival arrives.  If you haven’t been to the International Balloon Fiesta here in Albuquerque, please add it to your bucket list. It’s magical.  Now I know, many of you have seen hot air balloons before, but how many of you have seen hundreds of them at a time or had the opportunity to get up close to a balloon as it’s inflated or to go for a ride in a balloon?! You can experience all of this and you should.  It never, ever gets old.

Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta has been around since 1972 when it started with a mere 13 balloons in a mall parking lot.  In the last 45 years, the number of balloons has grown and the Balloon Fiesta has become the most photographed event – in the world.  The Fiesta now has its own park complete with a museum. Hundreds of balloons from all balloon fiesta 7over the world descend upon Albuquerque in early October. Ballooning is big here in New Mexico because we have the weather for it….little precipitation, the right temperatures, and the right winds. Along with chile and Breaking Bad, hot air balloons is kinda our claim to fame.

The Fiesta runs every year during the first week of October.  Festivities begin on the first full weekend in October, run for the full week in between, and then wrap up the second weekend in October.  Weekends tend to be the busier times, but there are events during the week as well.  In addition to the balloons themselves, Balloon Park is filled with events, and shops, and food.

So, here are a few things to know if you’re now convinced to plan a trip to Albuquerque next year for Balloon Fiesta:

  1. Hotels do book up fairly quickly, so plan to make your hotel reservations in advance. Albuquerque is a decent sized city (we’re about a million people), but lots and lots of people come to stay during this time.
  2. Parking at Balloon Fiesta Park is a nightmare.  Unless you like spending hours in your car with your tired family and friends, plan to take the Park & Ride.  (This option allows you to purchase a ticket that includes your bus ride to the park and your entrance fee to the Fiesta.  You catch a bus at designated parking lots around the city.)
  3. You will be getting up early.  Morning events get started early and you’ll want to be there to catch the whole spectacle.
  4. You’ll need to dress for about three seasons – in one outfit.  Our Octobers are typically mild.  Early mornings though, can range from cool to downright cold, depending upon the year, and we occasionally get rain or snow. The 10 minutes before sunrise are always freezing; however, after the sun comes out, you may find yourself warm.
  5. Weather can and does affect the balloon events.
  6. There is some special vocabulary associated with our Fiesta.  You can learn more about all of these events on the official event page (
    1. Mass Ascension – Sounds religious doesn’t it?  This is the early morning event in which all of the balloons take off in waves over the field.  It’s truly, truly spectacular.  You’ll be able to get up close to the balloons to watch the inflation process and to watch them launch into the air.  I have been going to the Fiesta since 1982 and this part of it hasn’t changed and I love that.
    2. Dawn Patrol – the small group of brave balloon pilots that go up in the air before Mass Ascension to test out the weather conditions and winds.  They help determine whether or not the rest of the balloons get to fly.
    3. Zebra – nope, not a zoo animal (though we do have a great zoo here in town!).  Think of the zebra as a kind of Balloon Fiesta referee.  Zebras help the balloonists navigate the big crowds during take-off and are dressed in, you guessed it, black and white stripes.
    4. The Albuquerque Box – these are the magical winds in our town in which balloons take off, float for a bit in one direction, then catch an up-draft that sends them floating back in the opposite direction.  When the box is in effect, you can expect to have hundreds of balloons hanging over you in the sky.
    5. Special Shapes – these are the balloons that are not your typical hot air balloon shape. They’re quite incredible and come in a variety of shapes: armadillos, bee, motorcycle, pig, frog, bird, stagecoach….
    6. Balloon Glow – an evening event in which balloons stay tethered. Pilots use their propane burners to make the balloons “glow.” And, the very popular, Special Shapes Glodeo…a balloon glow with just the special shapes.


In addition to our biggest tourist draw, Albuquerque has a few other interesting happenings in the month of October.

This year was our first year as a site for the Chinese Lantern Festival (running early October through mid-November).  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this until I headed to our local fairgrounds (Albuquerque is home of the New Mexico State Fair) to check it out.  Gorgeous, colorful, large lanterns were scattered around the grounds and it was beautiful.  This festival overlaps with Balloon Fiesta, so you could squeeze it in.  If you go, be sure to check out the show that goes on in conjunction with the lanterns.  Some incredible dancers, acrobats, and contortionists are featured.

If you choose to hang out with us through the month of October, I want to alert you to one other fantastic festival happening in our city.  It’s a smaller neighborhood festival that takes place in our South Valley neighborhood: The Burning of El Kookooee.  El Kookooee is a Mexican tradition in which attendees write their fears and worries down on pieces of paper.  Those fears and worries are stuffed into the Kookooee (a monster or boogeyman) and are burned, allowing everyone in attendance to celebrate their fears going up in smoke.  You might have heard about the burning of Zozobra or Old Man Gloom in Santa Fe (an annual tradition that happens every September) and you’d be correct in noting some similarities.  We really like to burn up negativity here in New Mexico.

kookooee2Each year, neighborhood children craft their version of the Kookooee and one of those monsters is chosen to become the large effigy that is burned on the field (except for 2016 when the effigy was our current President seated on a toilet throne.  You can interpret that however you’d like; this is not a political blog). There are food vendors at the park, so enjoy a refresco while you people watch, check out costumes, enjoy the fire dancers, and await the lighting of the monster.

The Burning of El Kookooee happens on the evening of the last Sunday in the month of October in the field behind the South Valley Library. The park opens at 5:00 PM and the burning of El Kookooee begins at dusk.


(If you’re planning a visit out for the Balloon Fiesta, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. )











Author: missheatherlynnp

Heather Pillman is a frequent traveler and a sometimes freelance writer, who wanted a forum to write about her travels and humorous misadventures. After encouragement from friends, she took the leap and started a blog about her travels. An avid hiker, nature lover and photographer, Heather is always looking for her next travel adventure. She believes fantastic travel is happening everywhere and loves to explore the sites in her own backyard and abroad.

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