Now in its 19th year, the hot-air balloon festival in Clark, Pampanga is one of the most anticipated local events in the Philippines. The festival, which is also known as ‘A Weekend of Everything that Flies,’ is considered the longest running aviation event in Asia. If you’ve never been to the festival before and your first time attending this year, the few pointers discussed below will be a big help.
Drive early (or stay overnight)
If you are planning to witness the activities from Day 1 to Day 4, it would be advisable to stay overnight. There are hundreds of hotels and bread and breakfasts in and around the Clark Freeport Zone. Alternatively, you can stay in a relative or friend’s house.
Since it is a peak season, the hotel rates are slightly higher but definitely worth it. First, you need not wake up really early (as in 1am, if going from Manila) and second, you can just walk to the main entrance while leaving your car in the hotel parking area. The venue charges a parking fee, depending on the type of vehicle. Another good thing about staying in the place is some hotel actually offers a shuttle ride from the hotel to the venue.
Speaking of driving early, you need to leave Manila around 2am. The travel time is about 1 and ½ hours with no heavy traffic. Even without traffic though, lines start building up at around 4am; gates open at 4:30am. Make sure that you bought the tickets online in advance though general admission tickets are available at the main entrance.
It is alright to skip the long queues in the morning. However, the organizers advise the attendees to be at the venue at least 30 minutes before the start of the activity that they are rooting for. Throughout the day, there will be various flying activities such as aerobatic exhibitions, fly-bys, formation flying, skydiving, etc., not just hot-air ballooning.
Based on the official program, the hare and hound hot-air balloon flights will occur between 6:40 and 7:40am. It could be earlier than the schedule since inflating and lifting off the balloons will depend on the weather condition.
Don’t be disappointed if any of the balloons will not be able to fly. It would be better that way than to endanger the spectators.
Foods are allowed inside the venue. If you are driving, you may simply buy your breakfast at any drive-through stations of fast food chains that operate 24/7. Of course, you can also bring home-cooked meals. It would be wise to bring a picnic mat and foldable chairs where you can eat your breakfast comfortably while waiting for the program to start.
At the venue, there will be food stalls where you can your lunch, snacks, and dinner. However, there is no guarantee if the stalls are already open by 5am, so bringing your own breakfast is the best contingency.
Mornings of February are still very chilly. You might as well dress in layers because the mid-afternoon can get so hot. Bring a lotion with high SPF, hat or umbrella. There could be occasional drizzles, too. Unless you are staying in the air-conditioned lounge area, the place that you will be staying in for the day will be covered. However, if not, be reminded that the venue is an open field. So, make sure that you have some sort of protective gears with you.
The drive, the weather, and all other hassles, however, must not hinder you from attending the festival. Just be mindful of the reminders noted above and your day will surely be an enjoyable one! After all, there is no aerial show quite like the hot-air balloon festival in Pampanga, Philippines.