What used to be the gigantic Armijo hacienda is now just a bunch of shops that sell touristy memorabilia--much of it having nothing to do with Albuquerque--at ripoff prices. A lot of the stores carry mostly stuff with their own logos most prominent, as if you'd be so proud of having visited Store X that you'll pay extra money to have it on your pocket knife.
Unique Suggestions: These shops probably often draw unpleasantly large crowds, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't visit Old Town. Just walk around a bit and enjoy the atmosphere. Or, better yet, read up on the Armijo family and their hacienda. Walking around Old Town with my little brother, I would point out which buildings used to be stables, servants' quarters, etc. (Pretty much all of them have been converted to shops now.)
Fun Alternatives: Like I said, read up on the history before coming! The more detailed, the better. Can you spot the former brothel (now a shop)? Go inside and try to find the doors that used to be the secret customer entrance from the alley. Two prostitutes once got into such a nasty fight at that door that one of them was killed. (There is actually another building that at one point also served as a brothel, and is now a restaurant.) Can you find the former stables (now the Hacienda Restaurant)? In the 1880s, one of the Armijo daughters caught her fiance in a tryst here and hacked him 28 times with an ax (he died). History is fun!
Do not under any circumstances go ballooning with Sweet Escapes! My parents lined up this trip 4 months in advance and the company cancelled on them 30 minutes prior to take-off. Sweet Escapes had no back-up plan and no insurance and would not refund the $ my dad spent on a gift certificate for my mom. They're a SCAM!!
The High Finance is the restaurant on top of Sandia Crest. You can reach it by foot or by tram, but whether or not you can reach it by by car as I said previously in this tip, I don't know! A friend told me you can't drive there, you have to hike from the parking lot at the ranger station, and I don't know because I took the tram there. The website makes it sound like you can drive, though. The views are amazing--you're TWO MILES above sea level, one mile above the city--but so are the prices, and not in a good way. If it's worth $37 to you to have a dish of plain pasta and one beer, so long as you can do it at this altitude, then by all means, allow yourself to be suckered in.
Picture coming soon, or check out
Unique Suggestions: Get a seat by the window. It's the only thing that makes the place anything close to worth it. Of course, you can get the same view from OUTSIDE the restaurant too, for free.
Also, if you take the tram, you get a discount at the restaurant, or maybe it's, if you eat the restaurant you get a discount on the tram... oh, what the hell, it's still too expensive.
Fun Alternatives: Bring a picnic! There are plenty of clearings along the edge of the cliff if you take the Sandia Crest Trail, or for those less daring, there are seating areas within a safely-railed-off area with the same view. (Of course, if you're with your parents and your mom INSISTS that you must go to the restaurant and have a beer at 10,000 feet above sea level, well, you can't disobey Mom.)
The Balloon Fiesta happens in the fall. I don't know when. I just notice that around the time the mornings get chilly, I see balloons in the air on my way to work. This is apparently the most-photographed event in the world, if you buy the hype. It's pretty cool to check out once, probably cooler if you're with little kids, but for those who can't afford to plunk down $100+ on a balloon ride, there's not a whole lot to it.
Unique Suggestions: Get up super-early and get a good spot to watch the morning ascension. The picture is of the dawn patrol--a few balloons are sent up before dawn to scout the wind conditions, etc. I took this picture from the rooftop of a friend's house; travelers can wait in an endless line and take out a loan to pay for parking at Balloon Fiesta Park, or just make sure you get a hotel room with a northeast-facing window or balcony. (Balloon Fiesta Park is in the far northeast heights.)
Also, later in the day, watch for balloon-chasers--the people with big balloon-storage trailers attached to their cars following the balloons to their final resting place.
Fun Alternatives: Sleep in. Later, look at the pictures on the brochure. Seriously, all the pictures look the same, don't waste your film.
OK, so it's the biggest hot air balloon fiesta in the world and the colors are amazing (it's no wonder that Kodak sponsors this event). BUT, this is THE tourist event of the year for Albuquerque. THEREFORE, expect to spend an hour in traffic at 6 am to park your car. And beware that the event may still be cancelled at the very last moment if it's too windy; you'll be left with 1000 other tourists staring at pickup trucks. It's worth the first time if you have never seen a hot air balloon before, though.
Unique Suggestions: Get coffee, a good CD for the car, and prepare yourself for disappointment if the weather looks bad.
To avoid spending money and time in line, find a place to park away from the balloon fiesta grounds and watch the balloons from a distance.
Or to make the experience really worth it, shell out the money for a balloon ride that you will probably never forget. Be sure to schedule with a balloon ride company ahead of time.
Fun Alternatives: If you're a tourist and you're comming for the Balloon Fiesta, than nothing in this tip should stop you. Be sure to check out the rest of Albuquerque wile you're here. There's several excellent museums, restaurants, and historical places to visit.
The Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It has become a 'world-class venue' and heavily corporately controlled, leaving the locals who created and built it in the dust. I know because we did the weather for fourteen years and were recently summarily dismissed without so much as a thank-you.
This is not exactly a tourist trap. It is definitely a place for tourists to spend money. A lot of the jewelry looked the same. It cost a little less out side of the bigger cities.