Seeing the world from above often gives a refreshing perspective: peaked mountains transform into jagged land masses under your feet and rivers meander around like snakes. From above, land stretches beyond the horizon, revealing all the secret corners that one would have missed while on land. Atop a hot air balloon, it’s also easy to to see and feel the enormity of the world. Our planet Earth has been blessed with some gorgeous landscapes and terrain, some of which are best viewed from greater heights. Here’s my take (based on my own travels and readings) on the world’s best places for a hot air balloon ride.
1. Cappadocia, Turkey
Cappadocia is one of the most famous hot air ballooning spots in the world thanks to its strangely unique landscape and favorable weather conditions. An expanse of sandy brown desert and limestone rock mountains, this area in Central Turkey features whimsical fairy chimneys and cave churches scattered amidst steep valleys and green olive groves. Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia is a dreamy experience: floating above these magical rock outcrops at dawn and rising above the red canyons upon sunrise impresses even the hardened travelers.
2. Wadi Rum, Jordan
Also known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is a mishmash of rose-red sandy plains and jagged peaks in Southern Jordan. With so much to see and plenty of surprises at each corner, Wadi Rum is an excellent place for hot air ballooning. At an altitude of 7,000 feet, you’re treated to a jaw-dropping view of the vast desert and its peculiar rock formations, sand dunes and the occasional natural springs. Located close to the Israeli border, this is definitely one good spot to catch a glimpse of Israel and the Red Sea.
3. Maasai Mara, Kenya
The Masai Mara National Reserve is a massive game reserve in Southwestern Kenya, most famed for the Great Migration that takes place here every year from July to October. Millions of zebras, gazelles and wildebeests travel long-distance through the park each year in search of water. This is an exceptionally phenomenal sight, especially when seen from the air, making hot-air ballooning in the Maasai Mara an essential experience if you’re visiting the park during this period of the year. Adventure tours often include this hot air balloon flight as part of the itinerary, but if your program doesn’t include, book directly with the company.
Flickr photo by Nigel Wedge
4. Napa Valley, U.S.
As one of the best wine regions in the world, California’s Napa Valley is a perfect getaway for the well-heeled traveler in search of good food, luxurious accommodations and a natural setting. Floating above the vineyards, the mishmash of olive groves and plunging valleys are spread out below your feet. Fields of yellow sunflowers and patches of brown earth create a beautiful palette of colors. After descending into a meadow of mustard and wild flowers, celebrate to a glass of champagne with your loved one.
Flickr photo by Meg Lessard
5. Queenstown, New Zealand
Dubbed the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown packs a punch in terms of adrenaline-pumping activities. Located in the south-west of New Zealand’s South Island, Queenstown is built along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, a long Z-shaped lake formed by glacial processes. Surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains and lakes, Queenstown features dramatic scenes straight out of the Lord of the Rings movie. If bungee jumping and skydiving is not your cup of tea, then hot-air ballooning would be the best way to witness Queenstown’s natural beauty at a leisurely pace.
Flickr photo by Peter Harrison
6. The Outback, Australia
The Australian Outback can be hot, dry and brutal but its beauty is undeniable. Located right smack in the middle of Australia, the Great Red Center is more than just a desert. From a vantage point, you’ll be treated to a view of the red soil, the Ayers Rock and nearby Mount Olga. Uluru or Ayers Rock is perhaps the most famous landmark in Australia and once here, it’s easy to see why. The 348m-tall sandstone formation is not only majestic but it also appears to change colors at different times of the day, glowing red at dawn and sunset.
Flickr photo by Paul Arps
7. Bagan, Myanmar
Myanmar is one of the few remaining places in the world that steers clear of the well-trodden tourist trail and retains a sense of authenticity. The most visited area in Myanmar is Bagan, an ancient city in the Mandalay division. Located in the dry central plains along the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady River, the ruins of Bagan were constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries, during which Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire. Atop the hot air balloon, you will float above the 5,000 pagodas of Bagan and taking in the serenity of the sunrise. Note that hot air ballooning in Bagan is suspended during the rainy season (from the beginning of April to end of September).
Flickr photo by Roger Price