Hot air balloon rides are at the core of luxury travel and have earned their firm place on our collective bucket lists. As cool as they can be, hot air balloon rides are also known for being pricey and many travelers simply discount them for being ‘just not worth it’. Although we agree that throwing money at a travel experience is no guarantee of exceptional rewards, there are a few special places where hot air balloon rides are worth every penny; where the stunning experience makes you forget the price. And isn’t that the most glorious travel experience of all?
Cloaked by the early morning darkness, you are ushered through a gorgeous lodge in the heart of the Serengeti Game Reserve, one of Africa’s most astonishing wildlife refuges. The excitement builds as you’re offered a hot cup of tea. It’s surprisingly chilly here, before the sun rises. Uncannily quiet too. The wild animals of the Serengeti are making their slow way back to the den after a night of chasing prey.
Your safari experience is taken one step further on a Serengeti hot air balloon ride; a mammoth leap, in fact, as you ditch the 4WD and take to the skies. The sun kisses the horizon just as your balloon rises off the ground. The adventure begins at once and, with it, an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Revered for its astonishing wildebeest migration, the Serengeti is the poster-child of Africa, a park home to lions, zebras, warthog, giant African elephants and countless gazelles, impalas, giraffes, buffalos, as well as leopards and cheetahs.
UNESCO-listed and internationally revered, Serengeti is the one wildlife place you need to visit when you can only visit one. And a hot air balloon ride (which happens to conclude with a stunning champagne English breakfast in the wilderness) about the best way to soak it all up.
Where from? Serengeti Game Reserve
By whom? Serengeti Balloon Safaris
How long? One-hour flight plus breakfast on the ground and return transfers from your Serengeti lodge
How much? USD 599 per person. Steep but soul-reviving!
Take an extended trip through Southeast Asia and you’ll be forgiven for developing a bit of temple and stupa exhaustion. Happens to the best of us. How to combat that? Well, you can skip all the in-between stuff and head straight for Bagan, in Myanmar, the reputed headquarters of the region’s Buddhist faith and home to a mind-boggling concentration of ancient religious architecture that’s an absolute feast for the eyes.
In Bagan, stupas and temples are scattered in the most picturesque tropical plains of all, creating an atmosphere that’s otherworldly, most especially in the early morning when the rising sweltering sun creates stupendously misty landscapes. Even the most fervent atheist will find it impossible to not be moved by the spectacle. It is, indeed, out of this world.
Where from? Pick up from your Bagan Hotel
By whom? Several companies; Balloons Over Bagan are highly rated
How Long? 45-minute flight plus travel time
How much? Starting form USD 350 (flight only)
Mexico’s most famous archaeological complex is still shrouded in mystery which is astonishing considering it’s over 2,000 years old and has been the subject of international research for decades. These treasured pyramids are so old that we don’t even know who built them. The City of the Gods is an amazing place to visit and a spectacular one to view from above. Why? Well, because it is gargantuan in every sense.
Teotihuacan covers more than 32 square miles and boasts a main pyramid that’s 700” long and 230” high. We dare say it is impossible to get a true picture of this incredible complex and awe-inspiring construction of it if not from the air. The glass of bubbly that’s offered mid-flight and the guided tour of the complex once on the ground certainly helps make it an even more valuable experience.
Where from? Pick up from your Mexico City Hotel
By whom? Sky Balloons Mexico
How Long? One-hour flight + travel time & guided tour of the archaeological site
How much? Prices start from USD 140 on a shared flight.
Egypt’s famous Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens is a spellbinding but brutally hot place to visit. Skip the crowds and the high temps and take to the skies instead and you’ll enjoy an arguably better experience overall. Ancient, priceless and enticing, the treasures of Luxor are an absolute must-see yet dare I say the view from above is even more unforgettable than a close-up look on the ground. The super early morning start will make you rethink your plans (as in, what was I thinking?) but endure the sleepiness and you’ll enjoy the most magnificent sunrise experience ever. All compliments of Mother Nature and those ingenious ancient Egyptians.
Where from? Very early (3.30am – 4am) pick up from your Luxor Hotel or cruise ship.
By whom? Several companies; Sindbad Hot Air Balloons the best rated, by far.
How Long? One-hour flight plus (short) travel time
How much? Prices start from USD 92
Okay, I’ll start by admitting that I haven’t yet managed to tick this one off my bucket-list but an intrepid traveler can still dream, can’t she? The ride to trump all rides, a North Pole hot air balloon experience would seriously have to be the ultimate thrill, wouldn’t you say? Despite the fact that the flight is tethered to the ground (thank god, some might say, lest you land in the middle of the eyeball-freezing Arctic Ocean) soaring high above the northernmost corner of our planet and looking out over the sensational expanse of white, perhaps even spotting a polar bear and migrating whales, would surely make grown men weak at the knees.
The eyewatering prize of this particular delight includes a 14-day Arctic expedition, the only one currently offering hot air balloon rides at the North Pole as a titillating extra.
Where from? Departing from Helsinki, Finland.
By whom? Quark Expeditions
How Long? Part of a 14-day Arctic Tour
How much? A meagre USD 30,000 per person, with 5 cents to spare!