Hot Air Ballooning Over Teotihuacán

Filed Under: Travel

The first touristy thing we did in Mexico City had very little to do with Mexico City, and everything to do with touristing.

We took a ride in a hot air balloon.

As a disclaimer, this is the type of thing I specifically avoid doing. I hate tours in general, particularly ones geared towards “providing an experience” as it’s almost always an experience I’m not that interested in having. I also feel group excursions like this are too far on the “tourist” rather than “traveler” end of the spectrum. So it’s not really my jam.

We decided to go anyway, however, because like many of you we’re transportation enthusiasts, and thought the aerial view of the complex at Teotihuacán would be worth it. The schedule seemed convenient as well — an early start, a sunrise balloon ride, time to explore the pyramids, then back to Mexico City before Andrew’s flight landed in the early afternoon. My husband is an amateur photographer, so the potential combination of ruins, mountains, and sunrise pushed all the right buttons.

Unfortunately, none of that really happened.

The company that we booked through provided transportation from Mexico City for a nominal fee. Given it was going to be our first full day in the city that seemed like the easiest option, so we arrived at the designated meeting point at 5:45AM for our 6AM departure. The driver didn’t arrive until 6:20AM.

And that messed up the entire morning.

Like in any city, finding that pre-traffic window is key. Because of the delayed departure, we didn’t arrive at the Globopuerto (best name ever) until 7:30AM — an hour after the scheduled departure, with the sun already high in the sky. It took several minutes to fill the balloon (which was crazy fun to watch), have everyone sign their release forms, etc., so it was nearly 8AM before we took off.

Heating (filling?) the hot air balloon


This is a long process, but fun to watch

Vertical! (Note the bubbly for arrival)

And because of that (this is totally like the old lady who swallowed the fly), the wind had changed. We could see other balloons heading towards the pyramids, but ours went further and further away.

Still waiting…

The experience of lifting directly off the ground was super fun though. If you’ve never been ballooning, it’s a very different experience.

Airborne, with views towards the pyramids

Other balloons over the pyramids

The other three couples in our balloon were all Spanish-speakers, as was the entirety of the staff, with no communication in English. I think there was an explanation as to the directional change, but all I caught was something about “el viento” and “más o menos de acuerdo al plan.”

Operating a hot air balloon takes a lot of work

And looking out over the edge of a basket is a bit disconcerting

We ended up floating over some farms for about 40 minutes, and while the ballooning itself was sorta interesting, the valley itself isn’t that scenic otherwise. The haze also increased as the morning wore on.

Small farms outside of Mexico City

Worsening haze

Much worse.

Packing up the balloon also took a lot of time. We stood around in some poor farmer’s field for about half an hour while the crew bundled up the balloon and loaded the basket onto a trailer.

Fields (not the one we landed in)

Packing up a balloon is as complicated as setting it up to begin with!

From there, we headed to a local hotel for a breakfast that was included in the trip. This is on me, because I didn’t ask the right questions when I booked, but I didn’t realize the breakfast was a buffet, nor at a separate location. Based on past experiences I’d expected something simple, like coffee and pastries at the landing site, not a full-on restaurant meal. Which is great, and certainly a better value for those looking for the whole experience, but by the time we arrived it was already 9:30AM, and we’d planned on being finished climbing the pyramids by 10AM.

I realize this obsession with the timeline sounds a little silly, but time is my biggest commodity. I travel hard and fast. It might be different if I had dedicated vacation time (or maybe not, since I’d likely value that time even more). Of course it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s worth being aware of if you’re considering doing something similar.

And mainly, it just reinforced my belief that these kinds of things are not for me.

Other than the tardiness the company was professional, the equipment was well-maintained, and everyone we interacted with was friendly. I was a bit surprised that no one spoke English, given the website and email confirmations were all in English, but that wasn’t a big deal.

So, I wouldn’t really recommend the balloon for the purpose of viewing the pyramids based on this experience. If you’re looking to take a hot air balloon for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the US, go for it, as the value is certainly there.

But if you’re mainly interested in Teotihuacán I’d just take public transit down to the complex, as that would likely be more efficient, and you wouldn’t run the risk of the wind going the wrong direction.

Have you been ballooning near the Mexico City Pyramids? How did it go?

  1. How much is the whole hot air balloon experience? I would love to go back to Mexoco again and try it out

  2. I went to the Pyramids last month, and I avoided the balloons myself. I loved the pyramids, but I am a chicken! And if the pilots aren’t FAA registered, I’m not flying.

  3. “I realize this obsession with the timeline sounds a little silly, but time is my biggest commodity. I travel hard and fast.”

    This is the typical attitude toward time in the United States. In Latin America, however, the attitude very different, and time is viewed as an unlimited resource as long as you live. You will enjoy traveling in that part of the world much more if change your view of time, instead of getting frustrated when others in those countries don’t change theirs.

  4. brteacher is right, you unfortunately carried the US/European time attitude to a country with a totally different understanding. Under mexican understandings your driver was absolutely on-time at 06.20. And everyone knows about the traffic problems. It once took me two hours to get from Polanco to Coyoacan in the south. So the first thing I do mentally when arriving at MEX, I put away all my German attitudes about time and punctuality and switch to “Mexican time”. If you do the same, you will have a wonderful time in Mexico.

  5. @brteacher I’m all for that view when in different countries, and very much respect it, but sometimes that’s tough to reconcile when one has only limited time to explore a place. And really, even when I’m in places where, culturally, time is viewed as an unlimited resource, it’s still pretty easy to continue my “hard and fast” pace. It just requires doing fewer group-y, touristy activities, like Tiffany mentions.

    By the way, I loved the distinction of “tourist” and “traveler” as being ends of the same spectrum. It nicely encapsulates how I feel when I travel. I prefer Airbnbs in residential areas, I prefer taking public transport, and I prefer walking around in a meandering way, taking in the feeling of a place, eating the same food I see people at the neighboring table eating, etc. Probably not too many locals who are taking hot air balloon rides! I totally respect those who want to hit up the main sights and do more touristy things, though. And often, even though these labels are on opposite ends of the spectrum, doing tourist-y and travel-y things aren’t mutually exclusive.

  6. I did this when I went a few year ago, and we got private transport and our own balloon. I can’t remember if we paid extra for it, but I want to say we didn’t. We had some type of voucher with some company or something, I can’t totally remember. It was a great time though. While peaceful and quite pretty, we did find the whole ballooning aspect to be a bit boring 😮

  7. Some commenters don’t seem to realize that Tiffany isn’t really on vacation, she’s working. Not only is she getting content for a post, she has to spend part of the day doing the things she does at home ie. answering emails, booking awards, etc. It’s all well and good to switch to “Mexican time” when you are there for a week or two on vacation, but when you only have a few hours to explore somewhere new, then have to go back to your hotel to work online, it’s a completely different matter. 😉

  8. @ cinti lingus — What about shopping at local markets, exchanging banter with the woman across the alley as you both hang your laundry, or spending the evening in a tiny tavern where everyone speaks the native tongue?

    Fortunately for all of us, there isn’t a certification process or need to become a “true” traveler in order to enjoy more authentic experiences — which are the ones I generally prefer. To each their own.

  9. @ Kelt — Including the transportation to/from Mexico City it was ~$125 per person. We booked at the last-minute, so it’s probably possible to shop around for a better deal, but that’s significantly less than what we’d pay in California, so we were okay with the price.

  10. @Robert Hanson
    My comment does not gave to do anything with beeing on vacations or on a working trip. I am working in Mexico, too (as the Mexicans do as well). And working there also is much more relaxing, if you agree to the working conditions at the place you are. So wether working or holidays trip: do as the locals do or the whole trip will be frustrating…

  11. I hate this new ‘traveller’ over ‘tourist’ dichotomy. Tourism and travelling are by definition inauthentic. Neither meet the ‘live like a local’ fantasy. Just accept they are but two of many ways of seeing places you don’t usually live in, and one is but different from the other, neither superior or inferior.

    In addition, many of us move fluidly through these categories as we travel. Sometimes living in 5 star suite luxury, and other times living in a seaside hut. It’s the choice that makes the privalege of life and travel.

  12. The most important question is this – did you get to see the pyramids or not? At any point of your trip? I saw them a few years ago and it was an amazing experience. Would highly recommend

  13. $125 is a steal! My hubby did a hot air balloon trip in India last year, and you can’t really do things cheaper than you can do them in India, and it was $250, so great deal at $125!

  14. No offense, but this is borderline hilarious. $125 for this is a steal? I had a balloon tour including ground transportation, a boat to the island of the launch site and breakfast for $25 in Luxor, Egypt. The views of the temples, green fields and the river Nile were spectacular and the pilot/guide explained the history of each temple in perfect English. Overall, a tour of spectacular quality. $125 is outrageous.

  15. For those who need help understanding the tourist/traveller distinction:

    me = traveller
    everyone else = tourist

  16. @papa roach: Spot on!

    Only people who fancy themselves hipsters would make statements such as in this post about “tourists”. It’s even more hilarious that someone who was surprised and naïve about Mexico City would make such a claim.

    The only real separate class of “travelers” might be iconic explorers and pioneers such as John Wesley Powell, David Livingstone, Earnest Shackleton, the Polynesians who spread across the Pacific in small boats, Charles Lindbergh, etc. Everyone else including you, me, Tiffany, Ben, @QR*, etc. are just tourists! And that’s perfectly alright.

    *Using Airbnb and taking public transit doesn’t make you anything special…thousands of other tourists are doing the same.

  17. This comment includes bits related and unrelated to the specific posting. I live in Albuquerque which has a “balloon fiesta” every year. It is a big deal income maker for the city and wildly commericalized, but then most of 21st century life is.
    The whole ballooning thing does not interest me much and once in my life (as with gliding and parasailing was quite enough. Mostly I found these things more boring than thrilling and heaven knows time-consuming
    BUT, a few things to keep in mind:
    1. Nearly every year someone gets killed during the one week of ascencions. Almost invariably the primary flyer is described as an “experienced balloonist.” The others are his passengers, grandchildren, whomever. Who knows.
    2. the conditions for the lift-off moment are almost always early morning, but the perfect moment is completely undependable.
    3. locals love the money the balloonists bring and hate the mess, the crowds, the general ignorance and disrespect, the “standing around in some poor farmer’s field.” That is the farmer’s livelihood, just as someone’s back yard is not a welcome place for the descent and packing up. But it happens, it happens all the time. The “balloon people” and the tourists their families are described as “the too-much-money crowd.”
    4. For an ascension, getting started and packing up takes A LOT of time, unpredictable time. Trying to do any ballooning on a schedule is either hilariously funny or desperately sad depending on your view of the world at this moment.
    Teotihuacan is one of the great sites of our planet. I am grateful to have visited it many times. It means something. It deserves a lot more consideration than the author apparently gave it.
    Working, not working, $125, $1,250 or $1.25, this whole article is sad and shallow.

  18. Hottest travel destination according to the NY Times they said. You’ll love all the local culture they said. MEH-xico City I say, based on the this series.

  19. I was very much looking forward to the trip report on the Teotihuacán site. I’ll be very disappointed if you didn’t actually make it to the Pyramids. I’m assuming you did, but if not… ;(

    I’ve been wanting to “tour” them for many years, and only my (apparently mistaken) fear of crime in MC has prevented me.

  20. I’m always interested in people who say “let go of your American (or European) sense of time.” Here is my primary question for any one who would say “we view time as unlimited”: I have, at most, 2 weeks a year that I can travel. The world is huge and fascinating, and I would like to see much of it. Given that I am unlikely to get back to this city, country, etc., are you saying I should slow down and just never see some of the many amazing things you have? For that is my only choice.

    When one is in Paris, okay that WILL require at least one more visit, but if I am in Mexico city, it is very, very unlikely I will be there ever again. I dislike being judged just because I want to see as much as possible.

    And, for the record, I am a proud “Tourist” with no desire or aspirations to be anything else.

  21. @Robert Hanson

    If you’re collecting pyramid experiences,

    Tula, to the northwest of Teotihuacán, has some interesting pyramids.

    Don’t miss Xochicalco in Morelos, to the south of Mexico City. And Tepoztlán in Morelos also if you like climbing trails; the pyramid is little but the view is amazing.

    And in Puebla, you’ll want to see Cholula’s pyramid also. It’s bigger than Teotihuacán but not fully excavated because there’s an intensely gold leaf decorated chapel built on top. This is the town with the world famous view of Popocatépetl.

    There are quite a few Mayan Yucatán pyramids in the safest part of Mexico to visit on a separate trip.

  22. @mbh
    Nobody wants to judge you and it is absolutely ok, if you want to see as much as possible during your vacation time. The one recommending “Mexican time” only know (from experience) that by chance it will be frustrating, if you plan such an itinerary and everyone around you is on a different time scheme (like being “late” for 1/2 h at appointments) or the traffic slows you down. These are things you cannot change, so in my opinion it is much more relaxing to accept them from the beginning.
    BTW there is more to see in Mexico City than in Paris [yes, I know both cities :-)]

  23. @chilangoflyer

    I find your appreciation of “Mexican time” vs “German time” inaccurate and even offensive.

    Germans are raised being told over and over, in their schools and even on TV, how punctual, precise, and culturally superior they are… so when they are on time they say “today I am very German”, and when they are late they say “today I am not German, today I am southern”

    Guess what??? Taxis DO get delayed in Germany, and so do trains… and there is also traffic on large cities and highways as well…

    Punctuality for Mexicans comes in tow forms: personal appointments and fun are relaxed. Work appointments should be on time. That is at least the expectation.

    The biggest difference is that a German would be furious about the car being delayed, whereas the Mexican would just remain calmed since, after all, they made it on time… why suffer????

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