When flights dropped to $200 per person, Ellen and I hopped on the opportunity to go to the world's largest hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The trip was 6 days long, but we really only had 4 full days to spend in the state. What started as an adventure to witness hundreds of hot air balloons turned into a 6-day adventure to embrace slot canyons, New Mexican pueblos, white sands, hot springs, adobada, and more.
We also went to Santa Fe on our trip, but didn't document any of our activities. In total, I spent less than $750 USD for the entire trip. I would describe myself as a budget traveler. It helped that I have a national park pass, so many of the outdoor attractions that we visited were included in the pass, which costs $80 USD.
Below are mostly pictures describing the sites we visited. I've also created a short video, which details some of the local experiences that we went on.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument - Included in America the Beautiful Pass
Our Airbnb host, Casey, provided a ton of recommendations for us to check out. We told him that we are both outdoor enthusiasts who aren't super athletic, but appreciate the good nature. On the top of his list was the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, which was only 1 hour away from the Airbnb in Albuquerque. When we arrived, there was a line of cars waiting to get through the first gates, which is also where you pay for admission. The ranger here told us that the park closes at 4pm, so we were quite nervous since we got there pretty late. All we wanted to see were the slot canyons, so we took our chances by waiting. A miracle must've happened, because not only did we get inside of the park, but also made it pretty far before a ranger turned us around.
If you visit, bring at least a bottle of water because it was so dry and hot when we visited in early October. We spent about 1 hour here.
Old Town Albuquerque - Free
Old Town is a touristy spot with shops, restaurants, and souvenir stores. We visited a rattlesnake museum here. Parking was quite difficult during the fiesta season, but we parked across the street at a Walgreens. In total, we spent about 1.5 hours here.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta - $16.50 per person
Ellen and I decided to ditch the car and buy the admission that came with shuttle transfers. After extensive research, we found that people have gotten stuck in traffic while on their way to the fiesta and unfortunately missing the whole show. We didn't want that to happen to us. There were many locations to board a shuttle, which was actually a yellow school bus. We went to one of the stops at the mall, which must've had at least 50 or so yellow school buses. It seemed endless.
We went to the fiesta on the very first day that it opened, and the shuffling of people onto the buses were a bit unorganized as I think the staff members were trying to figure out an efficient structure. We arrived about 15 minutes before the buses were supposed to depart. There were plenty of parking available at the mall.
When we arrived, we managed to go straight into the fiesta without ticket validations. I'm not sure if it was because we arrived on a shuttle or if it was because the staff were still trying to arrange a validation system.
The first time we went to the fiesta, the balloons didn't lift off nor inflate due to weather conditions. Ellen and I stayed as long as we could until it became too cold. On the first day, we just laid on the grass, ate lots of yummy food, and walked around the site. Once we felt like we had enough, we just hopped back onto the shuttle.
Our second attempt at the fiesta also resulted in no lift off, but at least they inflated! We got to walk around hundreds of balloons to take pictures. Since there was no lift off yesterday, we were able to reuse our same tickets to get on the shuttle and enter the park.
Can you tell that the balloons inflated AND lifted by Ellen's excited expression? It only took 3 attempts to finally witness what originally motivated this trip. To be honest, we were very tired and beginning to lose hope in the balloons lifting off, but we felt that it was necessary to give it at least one more try before completely giving up. We managed to squeeze in another attempt right before we headed to the White Sands. This time, we drove to the site and somehow managed to get free parking and admission. The ticket booth staff scanned our original tickets and let us in. I think it was still "free" because the balloons didn't lift off on the previous day.
Lessons from my experience:
- Keep your ticket because you can keep reusing it if the balloons don't lift off
- Give yourself 2-3 days to spend at the fiesta because the show is weather permitting
Petroglyph National Monument - Included in America the Beautiful Pass
The Petroglyph National Monument wasn't as fascinating as I thought it'd be. It's pretty small. Some of the petroglyphs were questionable since they were images of Hello Kitty and other modern characters. When we arrived, there was a shuttle driver volunteering to bring people to the bottom of one of the sites so that we didn't have to walk there. It's a nice gesture, especially for disabled visitors. I remember it being extremely windy here. We spent about 30 minutes here.
Riverbend Hot Springs - $12 per person
If you find yourself going to the White Sands National Monument, make sure you add a stop in Truth or Consequences to your itinerary. You won't regret it. Our Airbnb hosts told us about Riverbend Hotsprings in T or C and we made sure to stop by. After many days of adventure, a relaxing break was very much needed. It only costed $12 for the property pass which included 1 hour admission to any the common grounds, sauna, and hot springs. The facility even had a changing room which came with 3 showers and plenty of clean towels.
The springs were incredibly relaxing. The area we hung out at overlooked the river and mountains. We wish we could've spent more time here, but we spent about 1.5 hours including showers.
White Sands National Monument - Included in America the Beautiful Pass
We unfortunately visited the White Sands on a fairly cold day. It was also cloudy. The pictures didn't turn out so nice, so we didn't try too hard to take pictures because we wanted to embrace feel the whole experience. It was cold and chilly, but that didn't stop others from changing outfits and taking photos. Ellen and I went to Target the day before to buy some objects for us to sled down the sand on. We ended up with cardboard Halloween trays that we later converted into a flat surface. It didn't work. Thankfully, a kind lady who was leaving the park gave us her bright orange sled that she purchased at the souvenir shop. That also didn't work. Nonetheless, the place was beautiful and we spent a lot of time appreciating the surroundings. We spent about 1 hour here.
It was really hard to slide down any of the sands at the park. I'm not sure how people manage to... The sand was really soft on the foot but hard at the same time. It was also kind of hardened by the cold weather. It's not as lush as it looks in pictures.
Check out the video! It's less than 5 minutes long.
Summary of Trip Itinerary
Day 1 - October 4
Day 2 - October 5
Day 3 - October 6
Day 4 - October 7
Day 5 - October 8
Day 6 - October 9