There’s nothing like seeing the ruins of Luxor up close or looking into the soulful eyes of an elephant. For a bird’s-eye view, though, you can’t beat a hot air balloon ride. Whether you’re flying over wildlife or taking in vast landscapes from a fresh perspective, these are four of the best hot air balloon rides on the African continent.
Hod Hod Soliman gets points for its friendly, safety-conscious staff. If you’re doing a ride in summer, you’ll be picked up as early as 3:45 a.m. to be in the balloon in time for sunrise. Caffeinate with tea or coffee on the short boat ride across the Nile to the balloon launch site in Luxor’s West Bank. When you’re up in the air, watching the sun rising over the Valley of the Kings and illuminating the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, you’ll forget about your painfully early wake-up call. The flight lasts 45 minutes to an hour, depending on weather conditions.
Namib–Naukluft National Park, Namibia
Namib Sky Balloon Safari’s ride takes place in Sossusvlei, a landmark set within Namib-Naukluft National Park (which includes part of Namib Desert, believed to be the world’s oldest desert). You’re picked up 45 minutes before sunrise. Once you hop aboard, you’ll float across the valley for roughly an hour, watching in awe as the light changes on the dunes and spying the shadows of the wildlife as they move about. The flight ends with champagne breakfast at the base of a dune consisting of house-made granola, buttery croissants, eggs, fruit and yogurt. Nancy and Eric Hesemans, the wife-and-husband team behind Namib Sky, are not only committed to feeding you well but they’re also firm believers in sustainable tourism; the balloon base and crew housing is solar-powered and uses bio-degradable cleaning products. Additionally, Namib Sky also runs Little Bugs, an early childhood development center for local children.
Just after sunrise each morning, Marrakech by Air’s balloons take off. Over the hour-long flight (weather permitting), the balloons climb up to 3,280 feet. Riders get views of the desert, the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and the surrounding Berber villages. You’ll be picked up before dawn from your hotel and driven to the balloon launch site, where a light breakfast — coffee, tea and croissants — is set out. Don’t fill up here, though, because there’s a more substantial breakfast after the flight. During the actual trip, the good-natured pilots will have you in stitches with their jokes. Once you land, prepare for breakfast number two in a Berber village consisting of fruit, eggs, Moroccan breads and, of course, mint tea. This is followed by a drive to a camel-ride area where you can go for a quick trek or just watch the procession.
Maasai Mara, Kenya
The pilots working for Balloon Safaris Ltd. have a minimum of 1,000 hours ballooning experience, and it shows in their immaculate handling of the aircrafts; they’re often able to bring them to just eight feet off the ground, enabling you to hover just above the animals below. You’ll cruise for an hour above the Maasai Mara Reserve, generally flying towards the Mara River. Below you’ll spot lions, zebra, wildebeests, gazelles, impala and, if you’re lucky, elephants off in the distance. Breakfast is a feast; in the shade of an açaí tree, toast to your balloon safari with bubbly as you tuck into quiche, yogurt, muesli, eggs and croissants.