Earlier this year I had an amazing experience - I took a hot air balloon ride for the very first time. And it was absolutely incredible - like a dream. Having had this experience I’m convinced that everyone should try a hot air balloon ride the next time they’re on a dream trip, anywhere in the world!
My balloon ride was booked as part of our safari trip in Tanzania, specifically to celebrate my dad’s 65th birthday. We woke up at 3:30 am to get ready and make the nearly one hour drive across the Serengeti. We arrived at the launch site pre-dawn, just in time for sunrise.
Once we arrived, we had another little wait while the sun rose and the crew prepped the balloons for flight. It was fascinating to see the process unfold - these guys are professionals and unloaded these huge trucks filled with the balloon equipment with speed and precision.
Then it was time to get briefed on security and safety. There were 3 balloons in total, and each balloon had one pilot about about 16 passengers. The basket was tipped on its side and we were instructed to hop in and sit rocket-ship style - crouched and facing upward. As the balloon inflates, the basket tips itself right way up and then we would be on our way.
Our flight time was scheduled at approximately one hour - they can never give you an exact time because so much depends on wind and outside temperature. And although we did eventually get fairly high up in the sky, we spent the first few minutes smoothly skimming the grass.
The balloons are quite loud as they are inflating, and then again when the pilot injects more hot air into them to take them higher. We could tell that the animals below us were scared by the sound because every now and then we would see a cluster of animals scatter as we rose over them.
Views from a hot air balloon are really quite incredible - not only do you see amazing views up to the horizon, but you also get to look down and see into trees from the top, which is a perspective I’ve never had before!
As I’ve mentioned, there were three balloons in our party, and the pilots would radio back and forth to give instructions on things to watch for on the ground. In our case we were over some of the most incredible natural wildlife habitats, and besides giraffes and antelope, we also saw our only leopard of the trip, hiding in a tree.
After about an hour, we landed in an open expanse - the trucks had been following us this whole time, and while we had our customary champagne toast, the balloons were quickly and efficiently loaded onto trucks and hauled away. I mentioned the customary champagne toast - the first hot air balloons were launched in France, and the pilots carried champagne on board as a peace offering for the farmers and landowners who owned the landing sites. The tradition has continued, and most commercial hot air balloon rides include a champagne toast at the end.
Our balloon ride went one step further and included a full English breakfast on the banks of a river. Once the champagne toast was complete, we loaded into a few jeeps and made our way to our breakfast spot. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and while you might think that the food would be mediocre in this setting, we had the softest, creamiest scrambled eggs I’ve ever had outside my own home!
Our pilot was American, and he spends the bulk of his year hot air ballooning in Napa. As in Tanzania, most balloon flights occur at dawn or a couple of hours before sunset, when the temperatures are cooler and the wind speeds typically lighter, making it easier to launch and land the balloon.
Hot air balloon rides occur all across the US, Europe, Asia and of course Africa, so the next time you’re on vacation, I highly recommend including a balloon ride as part of your itinerary.
What to wear on a hot air balloon ride
Since there is a little bit of physical activity in entering and exiting the basket, you want to be in pants. Wear something comfortable on top. I also wore a light jacket since it can get a little chilly once you’re up in the air. Our tour operator permitted small bags as long as they could be secured to your body (I had a small backpack) and my camera was in the bag until we were cleared to stand in the basket and take pictures. Check with your balloon ride operator for specifics for your ride.
If you wear sunglasses etc, you will want to secure these during takeoff and landing so clothing with zippered pockets is generally a good idea. No open toed shoes or heels - sneakers are probably your best bet.
Investment: Hot air balloon rides typically range from $250-$500 per person depending on location. Some operators offer a buy one-get one half off type deal so you can get a price break for two tickets.
Have you ever been in a hot air balloon? What did you think? Would you consider one? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!