Africa

Flying High: The Thrill of a Hot Air Balloon…What to Expect, Where to Go, and Why It’s Worth Every Penny

Ever thought about floating above an exotic locale in a hot-air balloon? You should.

Balloon over a foggy Bagan in Myanmar

A morning fog envelopes Old Bagan at sunrise

No matter how many adventures you embark upon, you’ll never forget a ride in a hot-air balloon.

There’s no feeling of speed or ascension, yet you know that you’re moving. It’s like standing 1200 feet in the air and your basket is resting on an invisible people mover, gliding over the countryside below.

Except for the periodic deep whoosh of the burner, and the “ooos and ahhhs” from your fellow travelers, ballooning is a silent affair, there’s no deafening engine to drown out the serenity of your journey.

And the view…. It’s 360 degrees of spectacular.

Balloon over cappadocia Turkey

Some of the sand stone in Cappadocia looks like puffs of meringue

What to expect

  • You’ll have to get up REALLY early: The weather is usually milder in the early morning, meaning you’ll be picked up while it’s still dark. You’ll be groggy for sure, but when you see the sunrise from midair you’ll be glad you dragged yourself out of bed.
  • Your pilot will tell you all that you need to know: You’ll be assigned to a balloon with a pilot who will go over all the safety rules and what you can expect before, during, and after the flight, which will last about an hour. Baskets range in size to hold 12-16 people depending on the number of reservations they’ve booked, and unless you’re part of a large group you’ll probably ride with other travelers.
Balloon to Balloon shot in Cappadocia, Turkey

A bird’s eye view a flight in progress in Cappadocia

  • Watching the balloons inflate is part of the package: When you get to your departure point, you’ll find a lot of activity as workers prepare the balloons for inflation. Once the pilots engage the burners to heat the air, it takes about 30 minutes for the balloons to fill and rise above the baskets, and the process is thrilling to watch.
  • The whole shebang ends with a champagne breakfast: Champagne after a flight is a worldwide tradition, but the size and bounty of the spread varies. I’ve enjoyed everything from yummy muffins and pastries to a full sit-down breakfast.
Balloons being inflated in Bagan, Myanmar

Workers ready the balloons in Old Bagan

Unfortunately, it’s not cheap

I’ve ballooned in different parts of the world, and while there’s a hefty price tag (it can run anywhere between $250-$450 per person) it’s worth the pre trip penny-pinching. Trust me

Balloon flies over herds of zebra and wildebeest on the Masai Mara in Kenya

It was cloudy and cold but to watch the herds of wildebeest and zebra from above was a real treat (Kenya)

Destinations Worth The Investment

Here are three of my favorite places to balloon, each are wonderfully different in both focus and view, but all are magnificent.

Cappadocia

Known for its mushroom like sandstone pillars the brochures call “Fairy Chimneys,” Cappadocia is all about its riveting landscape. It’s brimming with unusual rock formations bursting with color, and stone that looks plumped and pleated or like puffs of meringue.

Bagan

If you love the majesty and grandeur of old temples, you’ll find over 3000 ancient shrines laid out before you in Old Bagan, varying in age and some better preserved than others, but all magnificent. Sunrise is particularly beautiful because the temples appear to glow, and depending on the time of year, a thick morning fog may welcome you.

Kenya

It was cloudy and cold in Kenya during my flight, but it didn’t detract from the experience one bit.  We glided over herds of zebra, wildebeest and giraffe, and the sheer expanse of the Masai Mara from above was jaw-dropping.

If you have an adventurous spirit than a ride in a hot air balloon is tailor-made for you. Lets face it, it’s not everyday you get to see the forest for the trees, and in a balloon, you’ll see it all at once.

Have you ballooned someplace fabulous? I’d love to hear about it.

 

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