Full of Hot Air: Great Ballooning Adventures
To ascend over Kenya's Maasai Mara Game Reserve at dawn's light is without a doubt one of the greatest thrills in ballooning. Suspended in stillness, you watch the night mist clearing on the plains below, as herds of antelope and zebras rise to greet the new day. As you pass over watering holes crammed with all variety of creatures, flocks of birds lift in flight, spooked by the balloon's slow-moving shadow. On the open veldt below, lions stalk their prey while baboons and wild dogs stare up curiously at your silent craft. It's a remarkable sensation.
Because the Maasai Mara in Kenya is the most popular ballooning site, flights are available from many locations within the game reserve. These include the Mara Sorova Camp, the Mara Serena Camp, Governor's Camp, the Keekorok Lodge, and Taita Hills Lodge. At present no commercial operator runs point-to-point balloon safaris in Africa. Instead you'll have to settle for 60- to 90-minute dawn flights which typically cost $350 to $400 per person.
When booking an African balloon excursion, choose an established, bonded operator. Reliable picks are Balloon Safaris Ltd. (Nairobi. 01125.4250.2851. http://balloonsafaris.hypermart.net Departs from Keekorok and Taita Hills Lodges) and Musiara Ltd. (Nairobi. 01125.4305.2273. Departs from Governor's Camp.) For ballooning over Tanzania's famed Serengeti Plain, contact Serengeti Balloon Safaris Ltd. (Arusha. 01144.1379.853129 in the UK or 57.8578 in Tanzania. www.balloonsafaris.com). All of these companies employ American or European pilots, use modern equipment, and carry liability insurance.
Most African safari companies can add a Kenyan balloon trip to any East African safari itinerary. You can book through your travel agency or a safari specialty agency such as Wildlife Safari (800.221.8118. www.wildlife-safari.com). Wildlife Safari offers ballooning over the Maasai Mara as a regular part of its Wings over Kenya tour; alternatively, the balloon trip can be added to any Kenya safari, time permitting.
Although it's prudent to book balloon flights in advance, you can occasionally save money by waiting until you arrived in Africa to reserve a flight. The staff at your lodge will ordinarily assist you with making reservations with the local balloon operations.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication