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Up, Up, and Away on a Hot Air Balloon Ride
A hot air balloon ride will not only provide you with an exciting and unforgettable travel experience but you will also see your destination from a totally different perspective.
This is not hot air I am talking here. Well, yes I am, of course, but in a hopefully interesting way. If you have never experienced a hot air balloon ride, then you are definitely missing out on a very special activity. Imagine yourself hovering over your chosen destination. Housed in a gondola or wicker basket, you will have an exceptionally peaceful experience, not to mention a bird’s-eye view of the scene below. Why is it called a hot air balloon? Simply because it is propelled by heated air, which allows the balloon to rise and hover.
Just a little background on the hot air balloon… the first manned flight was in 1783 long before aeroplanes were invented. Obviously, with the increase in scientific knowledge, the hot air balloon, as we know it today, is very different and was perfected in the mid 20th century, as we see them now.
Many rides are taken at sunrise and sunset which, quite honestly, are the best times to try this out. The air is clearer and in the hotter climes, cooler. It is possible to have your own private balloon if so desired, with, naturally, a pilot on board, or simply join a small group.
So where in Goway’s world can you participate in this activity? Let’s take a look.
If you are going to be in Queensland, you have several choices on your Australian vacation. In Cairns, which has one of the best-suited climates for this, you will get to see the scenic Atherton Tablelands with their rainforests and mountains, as well as the world-famous natural marvel, the Great Barrier Reef. What could be more spectacular than that! Another Queensland destination is the Gold Coast. From here, you will see the hinterlands including Lamington National Park, which is renowned for its rainforests and ancient trees as well as its attractive mountain terrain. Take in the skyline of the Gold Coast to get a real perspective of where you are staying.
In Victoria on Australian tours, a great place for a ride is the Yarra Valley, with its rolling hills and green landscapes, approximately a one-hour drive from Melbourne. This is a wine-producing area so you get to see not only the vineyards but also the Yarra River and the rainforests and surrounding mountains. You also get to observe wild kangaroos at play.
Over in New Zealand, Queenstown, on the South Island, is one of the most scenic places in the country so imagine seeing it from the air. The breathtaking landscapes include the Hobbit film locations plus the serene Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding Remarkables mountain range. The view will appear different in each of the seasons on a New Zealand vacation.
Africa and the Middle East
South Africa is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful countries anywhere. So where can you experience it from above? There are several places, actually, on a South Africa vacation. If you find yourself in the fabled Sun City, you can head to the adjacent Pilanesberg National Park. What a way to see the wildlife below. This park is home to the Big Five as well as many other animals. These hot air balloon rides are aptly called safaris. You will be transferred from Sun City to the take-off site. A similar ride can be taken over the famous Kruger National Park from Hoedspruit. Again, it’s a fantastic way to view the abundant wildlife in the park. An interesting aspect is to see the various game lodges from the air. If staying in Cape Town, consider a ride over the Winelands from the town of Paarl, not only a wine-producing area but an extremely picturesque region, with its brilliant colours and attractive mountains.
Moving up to Botswana, another country with an abundance of wildlife, hot air ballooning can be done in the Okavango Delta. Again, here is the opportunity to view the Big Five roaming over a wide variety of terrain. The Okavango Delta is one of the largest inland delta systems in the world, filled with water channels, lagoons and islands, all viewable from your balloon on Botswana safaris.
Never underestimate the beauty of Namibia, and what better way to enjoy it on a Namibia vacation than from a balloon ride. One of the most spectacular places in the country is Sossusvlei, in the Namib Desert, famous for its colourful and massive sand dunes which are believed to be five million years old. They shimmer in the sunlight and the more intense the colour, the older the sand dune.
Animal viewing and balloon rides again mix in East Africa. One of the most important national parks here spreads itself over two countries. In Kenya, it is known as the Masai Mara, while in Tanzania, the Serengeti. Wildlife knows no boundaries, so for them there is no border. There are several take-off and landing locations in each of the two and transfers can be arranged from your lodge of choice. Imagine taking a ride to view the Great Migration on the open plains when thousands of wildebeest herds and other animals head for the wetter parts of the combined parks. This happens from mid-December to early April and again from mid-May to early July, while on a Kenya safari or a Tanzania safari.
Witness the Great Migration in East Africa
In the Middle East, Jordan is an amazing place to visit. On a Jordan vacation, Wadi Rum, also known as The Valley of the Moon, is a desert region used to film the excellent film, Lawrence of Arabia. It is a very isolated and relatively untouched area with the only inhabitants being Bedouin nomadic Arabs. Planted all around Wadi Rum are low mountain ranges rising out of the desert, and it is this feature that gives the moonscape appearance. The last time I was there, the vehicle I was travelling in got stuck in the sand and help had to be summoned to pull us out. In a hot air balloon, you will not have this experience, but will instead see the whole of Wadi Rum beneath you.
Have you yearned to see the archaeological wonders on a trip to Egypt? There is no better place than Luxor, on the Nile River. This is, in many ways, the cradle of the Pharaonic period. It is the home of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, plus the Luxor and Karnak Temples – all icons from that era. A balloon ride here will take you up and over all these phenomena, as the early morning sunlight lights up the temples and mountains below. There is no other way to see the whole of the region in one go.
From one major wonder of the world to another, Angkor Wat is in some ways, Asia’s answer to the temples in Egypt. It is the largest Hindu temple complex worldwide and is located just north of the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia. This complex was built in the early 12th Century AD using Khmer architecture. By land, it can take up to 3 or 4 days to see everything, it is so extensive. Hot air balloon rides are available in the early morning or at sunset, both excellent times for this. To simply view the vastness of the main temple of Angkor Wat on Cambodia tours would be reason enough to undertake this ride. Add the other temple areas and you will have a full and satisfactory experience.
Another temple complex in Asia, albeit very different in concept, is the one to be found in Bagan in Myanmar. Rather than a complex of different temple sites, Bagan has one enormous area of Buddhist temples and pagodas varying in size and style. On a hot air balloon ride on a Myanmar tour, not only will you view the thousands of temples, but also the Irrawaddy River which flows from Yangon all the way to Mandalay and beyond, and is Myanmar’s principal waterway. Also, you will catch a glimpse of the volcanic Mt. Popa in the distance. I quote one hot air balloon operator as it sums up perfectly what you will experience, “Slowly and magnificently Bagan reveals its secrets. The breathtaking site of temple after temple, in their hundreds, appearing through the delicate mist is quite unforgettable.”
If travelling to Guilin, in the south of China, you will be heading there for the spectacular and unusual mountain scenery. You will probably take the cruise down the Li River to the small and picturesque town of Yangshuo. It is here, on your China vacation, that you can take a hot air balloon ride over the amazing karst pinnacles that rise abruptly out of the ground along the riverbanks. As well, you will float over scenic rice paddies and the river.
There are so many places to consider on a trip to India. One of the cities which is on most visitors’ itineraries is Jaipur, in Rajasthan, known as the Pink City due to the colour of many of its buildings. On a hot air balloon ride here, you will travel over the revered imposing Amber Fortress, perched high on a hill overlooking the city. You will also drift over the several other palaces for which Jaipur is famous. The city is surrounded by dense jungle-like countryside which will be viewed as well as the Aravali Mountain range, all adding to the enjoyment.
South and Central America
The Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the most scenic parts of Costa Rica, easily accessible from San Jose. The main reason for visiting the park on a Costa Rica vacation is the imposing active volcano, with its very large crater which last erupted in 1968 after centuries of being dormant. On a hot air balloon ride, taken from San Carlos, there often needs to be a break in the clouds to view the volcano, but even with clouds, it is possible when flying over it to look down into its crater. Also on a ride, you will see nearby rivers and forests filled with monkeys and other animals, plus rainforests and mountain villages.
If you’re planning a Chile vacation, you may think a hot air balloon ride over a desert landscape would be most uninteresting… what is there to see? However, a ride over the Atacama Desert would not be so. It stretches for over 960 kilometres/600 miles in northern Chile and is noted for its salt lakes and moonlike landscapes. Many visitors are stunned by the variety of landscapes that make up this arid, rocky environment. A ride here from the town of San Pedro de Atacama includes a trip over the Licancabur cone-shaped volcano, part of the majestic Andes mountain range, and Moon Valley. At sunrise, you can experience a rainbow of different colours, from red to burnt orange and blue.
A Mexico vacation also allows for a hot air balloon ride experience. Just north of Mexico City and a one hour drive away are the Aztec pyramids of Teotihuacan. Known once as the City of Gods, it is home to the Sun and Moon Pyramids, the Temple of Quetzalpapalotl, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, and the Avenue of the Dead. All these can be seen from above, on your hot air balloon ride. Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000, making it at least the sixth largest city in the world during that era.
On a trip to England, one of the most attractive places is the Lake District in the north-west of the country. It is made up of a series of serene lakes, rugged mountains rising up out of the sides of the lakes, and several attractive, very British market towns. The principal lakes are Coniston, Windermere, Ullswater, and Derwentwater. Hot air balloon rides commence near the town of Windermere and there is another flight from near Grange over Sands on Morecambe Bay.
If you happen to be in Turkey, I suggest heading to Cappadocia, which, for me, is my favourite destination in the country after Istanbul. It is known for its moon-like landscape, its underground cities, cave churches, and houses carved into the rocks. During the Roman era, the region served as a shelter for the early escaping Christians who also used the underground cities as hideouts. So, imagine, on a Turkey vacation, looking down on this amazing and surreal landscape and seeing it in one panoramic viewing.
On trips to France, the Loire Valley, just southwest of Paris is the home of a large number of superb chateaux (a cross between a castle and a stately home, of which there are over 300 of them) and a number of medieval towns. It is also, of course, one of France’s most important wine-producing regions. There are several places where you can take a hot air balloon ride, including the town of Blois, Chateau de Chenonceau, Chateau de Chaumont, Chateau of Azey-le-Rideau, and Chateau Villandry to name but a few. This does not mean you only view that particular chateau. You will fly over many other important ones.
Want to really experience the Alps on a Switzerland vacation? Then the most enchanting and scenic way would be on a hot air balloon ride. Believe it or not, there are over 50 different locations offering this experience. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture the scene from above. The Alps make up about 60% of the country’s total area. Switzerland has more than 1500 lakes, which together with glaciers cover about 6% of the country’s terrain. 48 of Switzerland’s mountains are 4,000 metres/13,000 feet above sea level in altitude or higher. All this should be seen from above.
Worldwide, there are so many other opportunities to try out a hot air balloon ride. All you have to do is enquire and then, enjoy the experience.
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