Hot Air Balloon Safaris—An Amazing Way to See Africa
Ujuzi traveler Bill Starr has jumped out of airplanes. Every year, he goes fishing in Alaska among wild bears. But he says no experience compares to the hot air balloon safari he took over the Serengeti. “There were animals as far as the eye could see—wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas,” he said of his experience. “Nothing tops that. I could tell you about that balloon ride until the cows come home, but you really have to see it to believe it.”
Hot air balloon rides offer an amazing bird’s eye view of African wildlife. They are perhaps the best way to view the Great Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, the other-worldly desert landscape of Sossuvlei, Namibia, and the flowing waters of Murchison Falls, Uganda.
When Becky Raab’s family traveled to Tanzania with Ujuzi, they also opted for a balloon safari. She was amazed by the panoramic views, but also surprised by how intimate the animal encounters could feel. Flying low over a pond, they watched a pod of hippos. The animals’ snouts peeked above the water, their broad bodies visible just below the surface.
Later, Becky and her family watched hundreds—possibly thousands—of wildebeest gallop across the plains. “Being above all the animals and seeing the herds of wildebeest was truly an incredible experience,” she said.
A group of Ujuzi travelers got this amazing view of the wildebeest migration during a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti. Photo by Tony Raab.
What to Expect on a Hot Air Balloon Safari
While the experience varies depending on the unique characteristics of each location, balloon safaris typically launch just after dawn to take advantage of the beautiful light, cooler temperatures, and abundant animal activity that takes place as the sun rises. Watch the balloon being inflated as you listen to the sounds of the wilderness waking.
No two flights are exactly the same. The direction you go and highlights you see depend entirely on the wind. The flight typically lasts about forty-five minutes to an hour, although it may go shorter or longer depending on the day’s weather conditions.
A hot air balloon hovers over a hippo pool in the Serengeti, by David Berkowitz; a balloon flies over animals on the Masai Mara; a balloon’s shadow touches Hartbeespoort, by South African Tourism; balloons set sail near Cape Town; hot air balloons take off in in the Namibian Desert, by Wolwedans.
But many things are in your pilot’s control, including the altitude of your balloon. Depending on what’s around you, your pilot may fly at treetop height, sometimes lower, offering a unique perspective and great photographic opportunities of the wildlife below. At other times the pilot will ascend to more than 1,000 feet to show you the enormity of the landscape.
Upon landing, it’s typical to enjoy a post-flight champagne toast. Morning flights are often followed by a full English breakfast served outdoors near the landing site, surrounded by the scenery you previously watched from above.
Viewing the world from above is a magical experience for children.
Can Kids Go on a Hot Air Balloon Safari?
Yes! If you’re traveling with kids, a hot air balloon ride is an excellent way to experience the landscape together. In general, balloon operators accept passengers 7 and older who are at least 4 feet tall. Passengers should be able to stand unassisted, follow directions from the pilot, and see over the side of the basket.
Susan Thurston traveled with her son and family friends to Tanzania on a safari arranged by Ujuzi. The group included two preteens and two teenagers, and a balloon ride together was one of the highlights of their trip. “It was phenomenal,” Susan said. “We were just catching the beginning of the Great Migration. … It felt like something you’d see on TV. Absolutely amazing.”
In Their Words…
“I truly enjoyed the hot air balloon excursion. It was the perfect ending to a fantastic trip.”
“We really enjoyed the hot air balloon safari. Seeing the animals from a different vantage point was awesome.”
“There were animals as far as the eye could see—wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas. Nothing tops that.”
“Being above all the animals and seeing the herds of wildebeest was truly an incredible experience.”
“We floated over a lion kill with a wildebeest, and could even see the family structure in terms who was eating where, and who was waiting.”
“It was phenomenal. … It felt like something you’d see on TV. Absolutely amazing.”
Ujuzi traveler Tony Raab captured this amazing panoramic view of the Serengeti from a hot air balloon. Can you find the balloon’s shadow?
Where to Enjoy a Hot Air Balloon Safari
Hot air balloon rides are available at national parks and other scenic areas throughout Africa, over landscapes as varied as river deltas and deserts. We list just a few below.
- Botswana—Okavango Delta and Seloko Plains (near Chobe Riverfront)
- Kenya—Masai Mara
- Namibia—Sossuvlei in Namib Naukluft National Park
- South Africa—Drakensberg Mountains, Kruger National Park, Cape Winelands, Pilanesberg National Park, and Cradle of Humankind
- Tanzania—Serengeti National Park, Ruaha National Park, and Tarangire National Park
- Uganda—Murchison Falls National Park
- Zambia—Kafue National Park
An elephant watches balloons rise over the Masai Mara, Kenya.
Planning a hot air balloon safari
Ujuzi loves to help travelers plan a hot air balloon safari (or two!) as part of their safari activities.
Hot air balloon rides need to be scheduled well in advance, before you head to Africa. We can help you figure out the best places to go on a hot air balloon ride and where to fit the activity into your itinerary.
We generally recommend planning your hot air balloon safari for earlier on in your visit to a specific park or area, rather than for the last day you’re there. That’s because inclement weather can delay balloon launches. You have more room to adjust your itinerary if you’re not leaving the area the same day.
Want to explore your options for the safari of your dreams? We’re here to help. Contact us today.