Get your camera ready: some of the world’s most beautiful places are best seen from a hot-air balloon.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Best Hot-Air Balloon Rides
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Each October, more than 500 colorful balloons take flight during early-morning mass ascensions at the International Balloon Fiesta, the largest such event and the most photographed event worldwide. The dedicated 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park just north of Albuquerque also hosts special-shape balloon rodeos and the popular evening balloon glow, when pilots fire up their burners at the same time and leave the balloons tethered. If you’re feeling inspired, Rainbow Ryders operates flights from within the park during the fiesta. Prices range from $299 to $499 per person for a 60-minute ride; rainbowryders.com. Advance-purchase festival admission for adults, $12.
Delayed flights, long lines, TSA pat downs—flying isn’t what it used to be.
But stepping aboard one of these hot-air balloons is a guaranteed way to rekindle a love of air travel. It’s an opportunity to revel in the world’s most beautiful landscapes, high above the fray. And it’s the kind of worthwhile splurge that you’ll be talking about long after you’re back on solid ground.
There’s nothing quite like floating over the yellow grasses of the Serengeti while lions and zebras frolic just a hundred feet below. Or watching the first rays of sun paint Myanmar’s ancient pagodas and temples in hues of gold. On average, baskets carry four to eight people, so the ride can be as intimate and romantic as it sounds.
Festivals also celebrate ballooning as a lofty spectator sport. Fans turn out in droves each October to watch as hundreds of jaunty balloons ascend en masse into the cerulean skies above Albuquerque, NM, making it the world’s most photographed event.
Although ballooning is now popular in all corners of the globe, it began in France as the whim of two brothers, Jacques-Étienne and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier, who, in 1793, wowed Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by sending a hot-air balloon aloft over Versailles with three passengers: a sheep, a duck, and a rooster. A month later, the brothers invited two Frenchmen to board, launching our love affair with exploring the wild blue yonder.
Whether you choose the birds’-eye view over a French château à la the Montgolfiers’ original flight or prefer to skim the treetops of the Costa Rican rainforest, your spirits are destined to soar.