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Nowhere is the staggering beauty of Africa’s wild landscapes more evident than from the basket of a hot-air balloon. Washed in the golden light of early morning, the country’s vast acacia-dotted savannas, glittering rivers, and undulating deserts have a particular majesty. Its inhabitants, too—sprawling wildebeest herds, snug tribal villages, giraffes and elephants whose bodies cast long shadows on the ground—seem especially striking when viewed from above. Floating in silence, punctuated only by birdsong, is supremely peaceful. Some safari-goers have even described it as near-spiritual experience.
Though uniquely magical, a hot-air balloon ride can actually be enjoyed as part of most any Micato safari itinerary. Whether you’re looking for exceptionally dramatic photos, a memorable family activity, or just a different perspective than you’ll see on game drives and foot explorations, a balloon journey won’t disappoint. Here’s some information to help you prepare for—and get the most out of—yours.
Since hot-air ballooning takes place at sunrise, the only less-than-blissful part of the experience is the required, chilly pre-dawn wake-up (typically around 4 a.m., when stars still blanket the sky.) But you’ll be fortified with hot coffee, tea, and snacks before driving from your safari camp to the launch site. While it’s still dark, you’ll get to watch your group’s balloons inflate with flame-heated air until they rise to their full height; then, as the sun peeks over the horizon, you and about eight others will clamber inside one of their suspended baskets. Takeoff will be noisy, as your pilot uses repeated heat blasts to send the balloon airborne. But once you’ve risen to your cruising height—typically no more than 100 feet—the flame burners will be cut, and you’ll drift in sudden, enthralling quiet.
The wind will dictate the direction your pilot takes you in, so the air currents—and, of course, the game park you are hovering over—will determine what you see below. If you’re visiting one of East Africa’s most famous ballooning destinations, the Maasai Mara or Serengeti National Park, you’ll almost certainly get to spot antelope and zebra, elephants and giraffe, and possibly even predators like lions or hyenas returning from a night of hunting. Between the months of July and October, ballooning in these parks also means you’ll have the chance to witness some of The Great Migration: two million-plus wildebeest moving across the plains as they make their annual feeding grounds. Your pilot will glide your balloon as low as is safe, to give you the best photo opportunities.
If your balloon flight takes you over one of the jewels of Southern Africa, however—like the Okavango Delta, or the Sossusvlei dunes—you may find the most arresting aerial views are those of the landscapes themselves. The Okavango’s sinuous braided waterways, forested islands, and verdant wetlands form a sparkling green oasis in the otherwise sere plains of the Kalahari Desert. And the Sossusvlei’s towering, fiery-red slopes appear even more awe-inspiring in the low-angled early light.
Since the temperature and light will change dramatically during the course of your balloon ride, you’ll want to bring a few items to help keep you comfortable (keep these in a small bag or pack, though; balloon baskets aren’t very roomy). Shoes that you can stand in for the duration of the journey, clothing layers that you can easily remove as the sun gets hotter, and sunglasses or a hat are all musts. Also important are binoculars (your Micato Safari Director will have some you can use if you don’t have your own), sunblock, and extra memory cards and batteries for your camera or video recorder—you’ll want to capture lots of images!
After about an hour in the balloon, your pilot will decide on the right place to land and begin your descent. Your actual landing might be bumpy—hang on!—but you’ll quickly be steadied by the team of ground staff that has mobilized to meet you. Once you’ve disembarked, you can enjoy a glass of celebratory champagne while an alfresco table is set, and a marvelous breakfast is cooked for you to enjoy.
Intrigued by the prospect of adding a hot-air balloon excursion to your luxury safari? A balloon safari is included on our Micato Grand Safari and is offered as an optional excursion on all other safaris. Speaking to one of Micato’s Safari Experts can ensure you have the best possible experience.