Revel in 360-degree views of Earth’s most scenic landscapes, hovering high and low on a thrilling hot-air balloon ride. Only the adventurous need apply.
Photography: Getty Imageswww.cntraveler.com
Nowhere on Earth merits a hot air balloon POV quite like Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, where you’ll spot lions, hippos, and giraffes wandering through the acacia-strewn plains. The team at Micato Safaris can organize these airborne sojourns from four strategically located points in the national park, and will help tailor your trip to witness the seasonal wildebeest and zebra migrations from a balloon.
Hot air balloons in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve have served as the ultra-romantic backdrop of nearly every East Africa safari brochure since the early years of luxury tourism (we’re looking at you, Micato Safaris). Similar to the Serengeti, here, wildlife spotting is achievable year-round; but the vistas here are most spectacular when the wildebeest have migrated across the Mara River into the Maasai Mara, usually between July and October.
Ogle at the ethereal “fairy chimneys” of central Turkey’s Cappadocia region, where the striking limestone spires and pillars are now peppered with subterranean churches and dwellings etched into the rock. The ground level views wow, but this natural grandeur is best appreciated from above, traveling 16 to 3200-feet in the air with Kapadokya Balloons.
Push pause on the Napa Valley wining and dining to enjoy the region from an entirely different perspective with Napa Valley Aloft. You’ll take off from one of three launch points—either Yountville, Pope Valley, or Paradisa, depending on weather conditions—and will soon be privy to panoramas of vineyards and rolling hills. Keep an eye for Mount St. Helena to the north, the Mayacamas Mountains to the west, and on the clearest and most favorable of days, even San Francisco to the southwest.
The world’s tallest collection of sand dunes, Sossusvlei, in Namibia’s Namib Desert, impresses from any angle. Gawk over hues of red, rust, and orange, punctuated by bare tree trunks, and framed by pure blue skies. Organize your balloon expedition through your lodge with Wilderness Safaris or book directly with Namib Sky Balloon Safaris.
Prepare to max out your memory card during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a nine-day love affair of all things hot air balloons (which happens to run this year from October 1-9) and one of the most photogenic festivals in the country. Make sure you're on site for one of the four “mass ascension” events, when more than 500 vibrant balloons lift into the sky. If opting for the balloon's-eye view, go with Rainbow Ryders, the festival’s official hot air balloon ride operator.
A hot air balloon ride may not seem all that hard-core compared to other activities in New Zealand’s extreme adventure capital, but it’s still one for the bucket list. Here, the jaw-dropping Middle-Earth landscapes we admired during The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit come to life. It’s not bungee jumping or sky diving, but expect an adrenaline rush all the same on this early-morning adventure with Sunrise Balloons.
The medieval, fairytale villages of Château d’Oex and the surrounding Swiss Alps comprise one of the world’s few four-season balloonscapes. The experience is arguably most picturesque at the height of winter in late January, a time when the region hosts Semaine Internationale de Ballons à Air Chaud or International Hot Air Balloon Week.
In the Atacama Desert, drift over the arches of Valle de la Luna with Eastern Safaris at sunrise to see the landscape transition through colors. Don’t be fooled by the white-capped volcanoes below: They’re 100 percent salt—not snow—reminding us that we are indeed over the driest place on the planet.