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 a balloon ride 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 perspective on 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 had an unobstructed view of a bathing hippo pod. The animals swam with their snouts peeking out 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.

Wildebeest Migration from the Hot Air Balloon Safari.

A group of Ujuzi travelers got this amazing view of the wildebeest migration during a hot air balloon safari 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. Inhale the fresh dawn air while you sample coffee, tea and refreshments prior to your flight.

No two flights are exactly the same. The direction you go and highlights you see depend entirely on the wind. The flight itself typically lasts about forty-five minutes to an hour, although it may go shorter or longer depending on the day’s weather conditions.

three colorful hot air balloons launch in Sossuvlei dessert Namibia

Top row, left to right: A hot air balloon hovers over Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, by David Berkowitz; a balloon offers this spectacular view of Hartbeespoort, South Africa, by South African Tourism; balloon travelers explore Mara on the Tanzania-Kenya border, by imke.sta. Bottom row: Hot air balloons take off in in Sossusvlei, Namibia, 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 rim 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.”

view of the Serengeti plains from a hot air balloon

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 and Tarangire National Park
  • Uganda—Murchison Falls National Park
Hot Air Balloon Safari in Africa

It is an exhilarating feeling to view the Namibia Desert’s red sands from above in a hot air balloon.

In Their Words…

“There were animals as far as the eye could see – wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas. 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.”

Bill S.

“Being above all the animals and seeing the herds of wildebeest was truly an incredible experience.”

Becky R.

“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.”

El N.

“The perfect ending to a fantastic trip.”

Joyce B.

“It was phenomenal. … It felt like something you’d see on TV. Absolutely amazing.”

Susan T.