5 popular hot air balloon festivals around the world

Hot air balloons of various shapes and shades fill the Albuquerque in New Mexico skies every October. — CAROL M. HIGHSMITH/Wikimedia Commons

During certain seasons in some places around the world, if one were to look up at the clear, blue sky, what he or she may witness is a fleet of balloons floating serenely by.

Generally shaped like an inverted teardrop, hot air balloons are quite a spectacle to behold as they form a kaleidoscope of colours way up high. It’s no wonder that visitors flock to hot air balloon festivals around the world to enjoy watching or even riding in them.

Some balloons up the ante by coming in novelty shapes – think cartoon characters, a coffee mug or even a pirate ship – which differ greatly from the usual aforementioned teardrop, spherical or elliptical shapes.

Here are five international festivals that hot air balloon enthusiasts can familiarise themselves with should they wish to strike visiting one off their bucket list.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

One of the oldest hot air balloon festivals in the world, this popular fiesta has been held in Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, the United States, since 1973.

Held at Balloon Fiesta Park for a duration of nine days every October, a typical day would see the morning kicking off with a mass ascension at 7am – during which over 500 balloons are launched en masse from the park in two waves.

Evening events may vary, but more often than not, they will involve something called “Balloon Glow”. The balloons will remain grounded, their lights illuminating the night sky.

Another highlight of this fiesta is the Special Shape Rodeo, where novelty balloons make an appearance. After this segment was initiated in 1989, other hot air balloon festivals across the globe would follow suit with their own part for special-shaped balloons.

This year’s edition has just wrapped up, but fret not, it already has next year’s dates set: Oct 5 to 13, 2024.

Every March, Australia’s capital holds its popular balloon festival for nine days. — NICK-D/Wikimedia CommonsEvery March, Australia’s capital holds its popular balloon festival for nine days. — NICK-D/Wikimedia Commons

Canberra Balloon Spectacular

As its name denotes, this festival is held in the small-yet-mighty capital city of Australia. First held in 1986, then going by the name Canberra Balloon Festival, it has now become a highly-anticipated annual event featured as part of the two-week long Enlighten Festival.

Instigated by the award-winning commercial ballooning agency Balloon Aloft Canberra, which has now been running the show for more than three decades, the event sees hot air balloons of various shapes and sizes gather at the lawns of Old Parliament House every March.

This year’s notable novelty was the sloth-shaped hot air balloon named Tico. Every year, visitors can expect to see new characters like this adorable sloth making their debut at the event.

Entry to the Canberra Balloon Spectacular is free, though the same does not apply to the balloon rides.

La Montgolfier Nocturne can be witnessed at this balloon festival in Japan’s Saga prefecture. — NTOSHI/Wikimedia CommonsLa Montgolfier Nocturne can be witnessed at this balloon festival in Japan’s Saga prefecture. — NTOSHI/Wikimedia Commons

Saga International Balloon Fiesta

Come late October till early November, the skies of this coastal prefecture in Kyushu, Japan, are often dotted with colourful hot air balloons.

They are not floating in leisure, however, as these balloons carry the participants of the flight competition held every morning throughout the festival – which, this year, took take place from Nov 1 to 5.

Once the competition wraps for the day, visitors may then be able to experience the rides themselves by taking part in the Hot Air Balloon School, where they will learn everything there is to know about flying one.

Debuting as a smaller scale event in 1978 in Amagi City, it grew exponentially following its relocation in 1980 to Saga prefecture.

Now touted as the largest hot air balloon festival in Asia, visitors may also indulge in local food and gain cultural knowledge at the event. Its highlight is La Montgolfier Nocturne (or Night Mooring), which provides quite a spectacle as all the balloons are lit up at once.

Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Also known as MyBalloonFiesta, this annual family-friendly event was typically held in mid-March to coincide with the school holidays.

Having taken place in Malaysia’s third federal territory since its inception in 2009, the festival relocated to Desa Park City in Kuala Lumpur once in 2018, before returning to its namesake city the following year.

Typically held for a duration of four days, approximately 20 hot air balloons – some uniquely shaped like pop culture characters – from various countries would participate.

Visitors not only get to experience tethered hot air balloon rides and witness balloons that lit up the night sky, there are also usually plenty of other activities to enjoy, such as helicopter rides and archery.

Unfortunately, this festival has been in limbo ever since the 11th edition, which was originally scheduled to be held in 2020, but was indefinitely postponed due to the pandemic. However, Malaysians are still holding out hope that it will finally make its comeback in 2024.

Myanmar has a different take on the hot air balloon festival. — CHRISTIAN HEIMIG/Wikimedia CommonsMyanmar has a different take on the hot air balloon festival. — CHRISTIAN HEIMIG/Wikimedia Commons

Taunggyi Hot Air Balloon Festival

After three years of absence since it was halted by the pandemic, this “fiery” festival in Myanmar is set to make a comeback next week from Nov 21 to 27.

An annual event held in conjunction with the traditional Tazaungdaing Festival, it will once again take place at Taunggyi’s Awaiyar hot air balloon square.

Going by several monikers, the Fire Balloon Festival is perhaps the most apt as this isn’t the typical hot air balloon festival one may find elsewhere across the globe.

Akin to Chinese sky lanterns, these balloons – which range from small to absolutely massive – are released unmanned.

Meant as offerings to ward off evil spirits, the ones released on the final night even include fireworks – making for a spectacular, if not particularly dangerous, display.

Tourists looking to experience hot air balloons in Myanmar in the more traditional sense instead may opt to do so in Bagan, where various companies offer balloon rides that take flight during sunrise throughout October to April.

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