There’s a reason that so many New Mexico postcards feature colorful hot air balloons—they’re a unique part of the state’s culture. The crisp, high-desert air provides the ideal climate for ballooning, so locals are used to seeing a sky filled with them on their daily commutes, especially during the fall. But if you haven’t seen the balloons before, the experience is nothing short of magical!

The Artesia Balloons & Tunes Festival is your best bet for spending a weekend flying and chasing balloons, celebrating local culture, and learning more about the craft of ballooning. The festival has been a free public event in Artesia since the early 1980s, taking place on the first weekend in November every year, just as the air starts to get crisp. Balloonists from near and far flock to Artesia to launch and fly over farmlands and see the landscape of New Mexico from a different angle. Artesia locals look forward to this event each year and welcome the balloon pilots with concerts and festivities around town.

How to Enjoy the Festival

Before sunrise on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, the pilots meet to assess the weather. If conditions are right, they’ll be ready to fly as the sun is rising at Eagle Draw Park. If you’re an early bird, come out to the park and get a look at the balloons as they inflate and lift off, or take your time and enjoy with a cup of coffee in hand from afar (you can see the balloons from just about anywhere in town!). The Artesia Balloons & Tunes Festival is free to the public, so everyone is welcome.

Once the first balloon takes flight, the process is typically pretty fast and in no time, the sky is filled with colorful orbs.

If you’re in town with family, consider sponsoring a balloon. You’ll receive hands-on training on how to fly a balloon, and you might even get a ride! Even if you don’t choose to sponsor a balloon, don’t be afraid to interact with the pilots—assuming they don’t have their hands full. Balloon enthusiasts love talking about their craft, and you’ll probably hear a really neat story.

What to Do Around Town

Once the balloons are floating high in the sky, take some time to soak in the local culture. Here are a few of the must-do activities around town.

Attend the Fire Concert on Saturday Night

Aside from the grand launches on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the Fire Concert is the other main event at the Artesia Balloons and Tunes Festival. Come tap your feet along to a performance featuring the Artesia High School marching band and the balloon pilots.

Go Shopping Downtown

Main Street is just a few blocks from the park and is buzzing with life during the Artesia Balloons and Tunes Festival. Make sure to stroll into a couple of shops during the event—you never know what treasures you might find. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafés along Main Street where you can satisfy your hunger with a bite to eat.

Take a Self-Guided Tour of the Bronze Sculptures

Downtown Artesia has plenty of historical and cultural attractions worth exploring, and one of the most unique is a series of magnificent bronze statues along Main Street. The nine statues make for great photo ops and the plaques near each one will tell you the significance of each piece.

Try a Painting Workshop or Enjoy a Performance at the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center

Keeping art and education at the center of the town’s culture, the arts center offers concerts and events at the venue year-round, as well as dancing and painting workshops for all skill levels.

During Balloons and Tunes weekend, the Ocotillo hosts a canvas paint party with a hot air balloon theme. Reserve a spot early, because seats are limited!

Attend Tissue Paper Balloon Builds and Launches at the Artesia Public Library

With an impressive collection of books and a beautiful mural painted by Peter Hurd, the Artesia Public Library is worth a visit any time of year, but during the festival, the library hosts tissue paper balloon builds put on in part by the Balloon Explorium out of Albuquerque. The activity is fun for the whole family and you’ll get to see your work of art launched into the air just like a full-size hot air balloon!

If you’re looking for a fun and budget-friendly family vacation, visit Artesia on the first weekend of November for the Artesia Balloons and Tunes Festival. There’s plenty to do around town and best of all, you’ll get to experience the unique culture of Artesia, New Mexico firsthand.

Written by Sarah Strohl for Matcha in partnership with New Mexico Tourism Department.