A burnt orange glow gradually giving way to hazy, purple & pink skies.
And then suddenly, you have what feels like all of Africa laid out before your eyes.
Taking a hot air balloon safari over the Masai Mara in Kenya, to watch the sunrise, is definitely one of the most magical things we’ve ever experienced. The sheer expanse of the Mara is breathtaking; plains so vast you could never comprehend it all on four wheels. Our hot air balloon glided seamlessly over the endless savannah, allowing us to watch the animals from the air. Everywhere we looked there were zebras or herds of wildebeest, buffalo or giraffes grazing peacefully on the grass.
They say travel far enough and you’ll meet yourself, and we couldn’t agree more. Travel is the ultimate inspiration, education, relaxation, rejuvenation, and pure soul food. Not only that, but it’s highly addictive and its rewards are immeasurable.
To find yourself in the midst of the untouched wilderness, where wildlife has roamed freely since the dawn of time, is both life-changing and awe-inspiring. It forces you to feel present; to breathe; to observe. It makes you forget about the trivial things in life, like chores and groceries and the six o’clock news. And most importantly, it reawakens the love affair we all once had with the natural world when we were children.
Awake before dawn and set out in the early morning moonlight to the designated launch site and watch excitedly as the balloon is brought to life. Giant, hot bursts of flame slowly inflate the brightly colored nylon and soon it’s time to clamber into the basket, which rests on its side. Once everyone is in, seatbelts fastened (just for take-off and landing) and hands firmly on the sidebar, the balloon gently lifts and begins its peaceful ascent.
Balloon safaris should be booked in advance due to high demand and limited space available. The night before your balloon safari confirm with your camp what time you will need to depart and get to bed early. The morning of your flight you are required to be at the launch site by 6:00 a.m. or earlier depending on sunrise time. Ideal flying conditions are early in the morning to see the African plains from high up is utterly romantic and dreamlike. We stayed at Keekorok Lodge Masai Mara, from there we were taken to Tree House Lodge (about 45 mins drive) where the staff delivered coffee to us at 4:45 for a much-needed wake up before we took off to the launch site for their balloon safari. Be sure you know what to wear on safari because mornings can be especially cold in the early morning, while quickly getting hot once the sun rises. We would recommend a full sleeve jacket with jeans and a T-shirt.
Takeoff feels surreal because it feels like literally nothing at all. One minute you’re on the ground and the next you’re drifting above the treetops in the middle of your balloon safari and you don’t even realize it. Unlike helicopters, planes, or an elevator the lift is so gradual it still feels like you’re standing on the earth’s surface while in the balloon. Have you ever flown like a bird in your dreams? Well, that’s what a balloon safari feels like – it’s the closest thing to a flying dream we have ever experienced.
A View From Above
Hot air ballooning over the Masai Mara offers a totally different perspective of the landscape. On game drives, you see that there are patches of the forest but mainly time is spent on the grassy plains. From up above, the landscape takes on a new life. It’s from the hot air balloon that you see how the Mara River snakes through the Great Rift Valley and its’ tributaries trisect the landscape.
It’s also from up above where you truly understand how such large animals seemingly disappear. Balloon Safaris pilots do their best to fly low so that you get a birds-eye view of the wildlife up close.
We saw just about everything from the air. Soaring low over the grasslands, we saw the herbivores like buffalo and topi. It’s also either very early in the morning or late in the evening when you tend to spot hyenas, and we saw the only hyenas of this trip to Kenya hunting from the balloon.
The average flight lasts about one hour; however, it can be more or less depending on the weather conditions. We got lucky and it was ten minutes longer than expected – an expected and rare treat. On landing, be prepared for the balloon to land on its side. Seats are specially designed and with a great pilot, you feel a few bumps before coming to a comfortable stop on your back. After landing the support team quickly scoops guests up and takes them for a bush breakfast in the middle of the Masai Mara. Champagne and mimosas accompany a hot and delicious breakfast while guests celebrate a stunning morning and safe balloon safari.
The bush breakfast was one of the best we’ve ever had and left you wanting for nothing. Already on the table ready and waiting for us to dig in were platters of fresh seasonal fruit like watermelon, bananas and pineapple, various Kenyan slices of bread, bacon, sausages, potato latkes, and baked beans. Along with this, we were given a selection of champagne and coffee, tea, fresh juices, and hot chocolate were also available to enjoy over breakfast. Nearby a chef cooked up eggs & crepes over balloon burners for us to enjoy.