The month of February is not all about hearts, flowers and candies. It is also the month when the Hot Air Balloon Festival is held! I am so excited for this year’s festival because I finally got to go!
Held from February 12 – 15, 2015, the 19th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is also dubbed as “A Weekend of Everything that Flies”. What started as an endeavor to jumpstart the local economy of Pampanga after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, evolved into not just an event to showcase the balloon flying skills of international balloon pilots but also into a festival of different aviation disciplines. Some of the flying activities are: hot air ballooning, aerobatic exhibitions, powered paragliding, skydiving, etc.
The Hot Air Balloon Festival is being held at the Clark Freeport Zone. Going there from Manila should not take more than a couple of hours (leave at dawn!) and should be easy. For those who’d drive to the event, take the North Luzon Expressway from Manila and exit at Dau, Mabalacat. Take a left turn towards Angeles City, and through a little Angeles City/Dau traffic. This should bring you to within an easy right turn of the Clark Zone itself. For those taking buses, take the Victory Liner bus bound for Dagupan and get off at the Dau common terminal. Walk a bit towards the highway where jeepneys or tricycles are available. These public utility vehicles can take you to Clark. The events start early and the gates open at 4:30 am. Make sure you get there early to get a good spot for a good view.
Tip: the parking lot and the event venue is very, very dusty. Make sure to bring something to cover your nose during the march from the parking lot to the venue. And also, think which you’d prefer: dusty shoes or dusty, dusty feet. Then wear the corresponding footwear.
The Official Program of the 19th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival
Tickets for the event started selling by the second week of August 2014. No ticket reservations are accepted, but not to worry, tickets are also available at the gates during the festival. Tickets cost P300 each and are valid for only 1 day. Note that these tickets are only for entrance into the spectators area. Tickets for discovery flights on balloons, tandem paragliding, and other aircraft will be made available at the [Aircraft Rides] section.
Tip: Look around for some roving ticket agents who sell tickets to the Hot Air Balloon Festival. They would save you plenty of time from lining up (one approached us at the parking lot and they were selling legit tickets).
My Experience at the Hot Air Balloon Festival 2015!
So it is true that it could take only 1-2 hours to get the Clark Freeport Zone from Manila. But only if you leave the house at around 2am. We left Alabang at 2am and got to Clark at around 4am. That early, lots of people had already been lining up for a host of things: entrance tickets, food concessionaires and even at the portalets. Parking was still easy but as I’ve already mentioned, very dusty.
Through clouds of dust we trudged to the spectators’ area and found that a lot of groups had already set up blankets and tents. Most of the people had settled near the stage but we found a grassy area where we set up our own blanket and waited for the start of the fiesta. There were plenty of food stalls but of course, some sold their goods at a higher price.
By 6:20am, they started to inflate the first balloon: a barn with some animals, quickly followed by others. The hot air balloons came in all shapes and sizes, not just the typical inverted tear type. And while the balloons were being inflated, skydivers dropped in from a plane, and one particular Philippine flag-bearing skydiver signaled the official start of the program. Twenty minutes later, the first balloon took flight.
My fascination with hot air balloons started when I was a kid after reading The Wizard of Oz, one of the few books that impressed me as a child. And seeing all these hot air balloons float up and fly through the sunrise, it really felt like a magical moment.
But as time really seems to fly when you’re having fun, the last hot air balloon left the grounds 40 minutes later.
After that, people started to drift from the main spectators’ area to the covered area to hide from the sun or towards the many food stalls around. Later on, lots of kids and adults alike entertained themselves with colorful kites. Despite the heat, it felt like a really relaxing way to spend the day.
Tip: Bring sunblock. Put on sunblock.
The Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Foundation, the event organizer, is reminding guests of the following:
- food and non-alcoholic drinks may be brought into the fiesta venue, except for bottled drinks.
- only foldable chairs are allowed inside the venue.
- portable toilets are available around the venue but there will be no lavatories or diaper-changing facilities available.
- there won’t be any ATM’s available inside the venue, but there are nearby banks, convenience stores and gasoline stations around the area.
- the venue closes at 10:00 PM. Only authorized personnel with proper ID’s are allowed to stay in the fiesta grounds after hours.
- pets may be brought to the fiesta venue, but owners should be responsible to clean up after them.
- for safety reasons, smoking is not allowed inside the venue, except for designated smoking areas, which will be properly marked.
Wanna have a go?
One of my main goals for going to the Hot Air Balloon Festival was to find out how much it would cost to take a ride on one of those hot air balloons and do those other activities that they have. Here are the answers:
Hot air balloon ride: 300USD per pax
Tandem Paragliding: 100USD per pax
Tandem Skydiving: 400USD per pax
Discovery Flight: 120USD per pax
Woah, right? But to be fair, the hot air balloon ride lasts until they have run out of hot air and have decided on a safe landing spot. It could last for 30-60 minutes depending on current wind velocity. Pas mal, if you ask me. But I’d really have to actively set aside money for that. Maybe next year…
For more information, visit their official webpage at: http://www.philballoonfest.net/