Dawn is breaking in the Masai Mara. The violet of the early-morning sky is giving way to the African sun, tinging the land a gentle orange. The only sound to break the silence is the soft hiss of a burner – slowly filling the cavernous, rainbow-coloured balloon with hot air. Before long you’re rising into the sky with barely a rustle.
As you climb higher you might hover over the forest canopy, gaining a privileged close-up view of tree-top birds, or glide over the Mara River. As you reach the zenith of the ride you’ll have a panoramic view of the great plains, stretching into the horizon. A balloon ride offers a unique way to experience the African wilderness and will give you life-long memories. Here are some key facts if you’re considering taking a hot air balloon ride in Africa.
A hot air balloon ride is a calming experience, to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Balloonists have no control over the speed – they make the balloon rise and fall. The speed and direction is entirely dictated by the wind. Hot air balloon wind limits: as a general rule, balloons won’t fly in wind speeds of over 10mph. The ideal pace is between 4-6 mph – perfect for taking in the savannah as you float high above.
Hot air balloon rides can hold different numbers of people, depending on the size of the basket. Governors’ Balloon Safaris operate a fleet of balloons that hold either 12 or 16 people at full capacity. Your balloon pilot will arrange all the passengers into the compartments of the basket to ensure a safe and even weight distribution.
The highest altitude a hot air balloon has ever gone is 68,986 feet – about double the average height of a cruising airplane. At this level, you’re more likely to see the stars than any wildlife! A more common altitude for hot air balloons is between 1000-3,000 feet.
To get good sightings of wildlife though, you’re likely to be much closer to the ground, getting as close as 100 ft – imagine witnessing a crocodile lie in ambush in the waters of the Mara from above or a herd of elephants parading across the grasslands. The higher you go, the wider your focus – take in the expanse of the Masai Mara National Park, encompassing river, forest, flatlands, and mountains in the distance.
Hot air balloons fly in fair weather and the Masai Mara has some of the best ballooning conditions in the world. As it’s an early morning activity, it’s a good idea to come equipped with a few layers of clothing against the cold freshness at that time of day. The temperature drops by about 4 degrees for every 1,000 feet you ascend, so it can get chilly at the limits of cruising altitude. Another good idea is to bring a hat for the ride, as the burners, when firing, can feel quite warm on the top of your head – a hat provides a nice barrier to the heat.
A hot air balloon ride is a unique way to see the Masai Mara. Hanging suspended in the silence of the morning sky, you can gain a privileged perspective of the natural splendor of the land. As you gaze out from beneath the balloon, your view will encompass forests, plains, the river Mara, and distant mountains.
Governor’s Camp offers hot air balloon safaris from the launch site at Little Governors Camp in Riverine Forest. After drifting with the wind high in the sky, you’ll come back down to a glass of sparkling wine and cooked breakfast. Take a look at what else our hot balloon experience entails.