Up, Up and Away

2 min Read April 12, 2024

Up, Up and Away

One of our favorite activities while on safari is floating over the open plains of the Serengeti and Mara, or the Namib desert in a hot-air balloon.

The experience really comprises of three adventures in one. First there is the 5 am wake up call, followed by a 15- to 90-minute drive to the launch site,  hopefully arriving in time to watch the inflation of the massive canvas (A typical balloon is about 55 feet across and 60 to 80 feet tall and the basket is compartmentalized for up to 16 passengers).

Next of course, is the flight itself. Weather permitting, this will last about an hour. In Kenya Susan climbed into the basket, while in the Serengeti, Vanessa took off lying down in it. You’ll get plenty of help from staff to get in the right position either way, and it’s an exciting part of the experience. Dress in layers as it can warm up as the sun rises and it can be warm if you are seated close to the burner. Tuck in loose clothing and tie up long hair. You don’t want to get anything caught while the balloon floats up.

Once you are hovering over the magnificent landscape it’s time to get out the cameras. At this time of day, there’s no turbulence, so it’s easy to take photos. The burners make quite a noise, so some wildlife will run away while they are on, but the moment the pilot turns them off, all you’ll hear are the birds singing and perhaps some hippos grunting. If you are lucky to witness the migration, looking down at the pathway patterns made by the hooves of millions of ungulates crisscrossing over the entire landscape is awe inspiring. They join together at waterholes like a giant, natural join-the-dot tapestry. As you skim the tops of the acacia trees, look out for baboons and monkeys, sunning themselves in the canopies. In Namibia, rather than game viewing, you soak in the stunning beauty of the dunes changing color as the sun rises over the mountains. All too soon, the magical hour is over, the pilot selects a landing site, and it’s time to sit down and get ready to land. Landings can be bumpy, you may be hauled along the ground for a few yards, but the padded seats will protect you. Another reason flights are only in the early in the morning: Little to no wind makes for easy touch downs.

Champagne on arrival is a fine ballooning tradition. And even in the bush, they’ve found a way to serve it perfectly chilled. Once everyone has toasted the captain and had a glass or two, the adventure concludes with an al fresco “Out of Africa” breakfast. Whether you are out on the plains of East Africa or the Namibian desert, you can anticipate sizzling sausages, eggs and bacon prepared and served by a smiling team of support staff. The pilot will probably hand out souvenir certificates before everyone disperses on game drives back to their various lodgings – one more lifetime memory richer.

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